Faith Like French Fries

French FriesAt the end of a challenging day, my mind can sometimes play strange tricks on me while I’m preparing dinner.  The other night while I was cooking steaks, I was suddenly visited by Marlin Perkins, the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, a show I used to watch during the 70s.  Sprawled out on our orange-plaid shag rug, a tribute to the only decade that could proudly spit in the face of good taste, my siblings and I would wait with breathless anticipation for the weekly episode.  Actually, we probably didn’t really have anything better to do, but I like to romanticize my memories.

Marlin Perkins was always a bit stiff in his presentation, the way a small child is a “bit stiff” when he suddenly develops rigor mortis while throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a parking lot.  Perkins’s stiffness was the perfect contrast to the excitement of the wild animals displayed on the show.  There was nothing quite like watching a pack of cheetahs hunting down their prey on the Serengeti and hearing it narrated off cue cards with the dispassionate voice of a golf commentator.

This same voice emerged through the steam as I prepared dinner and sensed the arrival of my pack of three young cubs.

A pack of big cats smells its prey downwind and creeps stealthily through the Serengeti.  Keeping them fed can be extremely dangerous, and they need an awful lot of food. Circling their victim, the predators lick their chops, waiting for the kill.  In split-second timing, they pounce.  No longer concerned with stealth, they open their mouths and shriek…

“WHEN is dinner going to be ready?”

“Fifteen minutes,” I answer.

“WHAAAAAT?  Fifteen minutes?  Aaaaagh!!!!!!!”  And the cats scattered back to the hills.

I shouted after them to “be patient,”  and then I remembered Voting Day.

This year I dragged my kids along with me to vote.  I thought it would be a good idea for them to experience the thrill of fulfilling one’s patriotic duty.  I thought it would fill them with a sense of good citizenship.  I thought I was an intelligent person, up until that moment.

Standing in line for two hours is hard enough without children.  But if you have them with you, and the end of the line is not something worthwhile like a ride at Disneyland, be warned.

The voting station was set up like a cruel mirage, making you think that if you only could just get to the next corner, the wait would be over.  We shuffled along like old men in slippers, but the line snaked on and on with no end in sight.  It didn’t help that the people who had finally voted had to pass by us on the way out, and they all looked like they had spent a month in a concentration camp.  How could I blame my kids for whining and complaining, when I couldn’t even feel my own legs anymore?  I guess adults are not much different from children when it comes to impatience.

Fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity for my kids to wait for a meal, and at first I was annoyed by their impatience. Ironically, I was impatient with their impatience. But while the rest of dinner was simmering, I took them on my lap and snuggled.  When you are waiting for something, you should make the most of the opportunity.

No one likes to hear that “patience is a virtue,” especially not kids waiting for their dinner.  Or adults waiting for their prayers to be answered.

Psalm 40:1

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.

Sometimes a prayer can take months or years to be answered.  This kind of patience is a hard pill to swallow in our fast-food society.  We expect prayers to be answered quickly, if not immediately.  Sometimes we treat God as though He is a vending machine.  We offer up a prayer and expect a bag of blessings to come falling out of a chute.  When the dollar bill keeps being rejected, we angrily shove it back in and demand our food immediately, sometimes kicking and screaming.  And God help us if we request Oreos but end up with pretzels instead.

God is not into fast-food prayers.

The older I get, the more time and effort that I put into my meals.  A good soup takes a long time.  Traditional soup is simmered for an entire day, but the hot, delicious soup is worth the wait. Canned soup can be opened in a second, but it contains miniscule chunks of mystery meat, which taste something like the can, but not quite as good.

When it comes to receiving an answer from God, we need to let the soup simmer.  Does God have the ability to answer a prayer as quickly as you can open a can of soup?  Of course.  But if we could receive everything  as soon as we asked for it, where would our believing be?  How would we ever develop our patience, strength, and faith?  And sometimes there is a battle going on behind the scenes that we can neither see nor understand.  When we are waiting for an answer, we need to keep praying and trusting that God is working on our behalf.

Romans 12:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…

God is not a drive-thru window.   Racing through life with faith like French fries will only result in heartburn.  And while we’re waiting for the delicious end result, we may as well curl up on His lap and snuggle for a while.

Angels and Wobbly Rocks

I have become somewhat of an expert on rocks.  Some people can look at a rock and tell you if it is igneous or sedimentary, and even characterize it according to the Mohs Scale of Hardness.  But what good will that do you?  I can look at a rock and tell you whether it is just small enough to get sucked up in the vacuum cleaner.  I can tell you which ones will get stuffed in tiny pockets just in time to go through the laundry cycle.  And most of all, I can identify which ones will get lodged in a child’s windpipe and win you a free trip to the emergency room while you are trying to make dinner.

My rock classifications are based on their potential to wreak havoc.  How much damage can the rock do?  Can it be thrown through a window or at someone’s head?  Will it trip me if left in the middle of the living room floor?  That being said, my favorite rock is the Rock of Gibraltar.  It’s nice to look at, but you can’t fit it in a pocket, swallow it, or throw it. 

During a recent leave of our senses, my husband Dave and I decided to take our three young children for a three-mile hike along rock cliffs.  Before you worry too much, please note that any fall would be cushioned by plunging seventy feet into the Atlantic.  Two-thirds of the path is in easy walking condition.  The other third, designed to give mothers heart failure, is a rough trail over the rocky shore line.  You have to scramble from rock to rock, and even with good shoes, the rock surfaces can be very slippery.

If I had my way, my children would stay in a playpen until college.  But they insist on being fed, and thus continue to grow in leaps and bounds.  Somehow I had let them out and ended up on the cliffs, watching them leap from rock to rock, and praying that God would protect them from the endless unpleasant possibilities. 

As we walked along the path, I discovered that rocks are God’s gift to boys, who then re-gift the rocks to their mothers as a sign of affection.  With each rock gift, I would classify it according to Mom’s Scale of Damage, and either keep it or accidentally drop it down the cliff.  Everything was going smoothly until the Land of Wobbly Rocks.

The person who was in front was the designated “scout” and owned the responsibility of shouting a warning to all when they reached a wobbly rock.  The rest of us would then adjust our paths to avoid the danger.  Any job description involving shouting is a perfect fit for a child.  During one section of the path, there was so much shouting going on that the nightly news probably reported a sudden inexplicable mass migration of sea creatures. 

I learned that when you step on a wobbly rock, your anatomy suddenly shifts to allow room in your stomach for your heart.  Our children demonstrated how to avoid those rocks with gusto and a dash of healthy fear. As we struggled along, I imagined angels trying to cover our walk along the “wobbly rocks” of life.  After all, God commanded his angels to guard us in all of our ways, and assured us that “they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 91:11-12)

ANGEL 1:  No! Don’t step there!

ANGEL 2:  (swooping in to the rescue) I got it!  

ANGEL 1:  (high-five to Angel 2) Oh yeah! What a save!  Let’s watch the instant replay. 

ANGEL 2:  Maybe now she’ll take the secure path.

ANGEL 1:  Don’t look now, but…WOBBLY ROCK!!!!…

During our treacherous hike, I was reminded that “the LORD is my rock.” (Psalm 18:2)  I know  that without Him, my life would sink to the bottom of those rocky cliffs.  But I think we could at least make life a little easier for our angels and keep off the wobbly rocks.

 

Resurrection: No Film at Eleven

The quiet moments.  There aren’t many of them when you have a house full of little kids, but those moments are the best.  You know, those times when the kids are completely still and silent – and then you wake up. Okay, there are actually some quiet moments when everyone is awake. 

Nothing beats the early morning, when the kids are still in their footie pajamas and yawning the day into existence.  They are calm and peaceful and make me wonder who broke in during the night and kidnapped my children. 

I’m sure it’s just as tranquil in the middle of night, but I’m too busy sleeping to notice anything.  In the still of the morning, you notice everything. Prism rainbows, reflecting from the sunlight onto the walls.  The lone ant, somehow separated from his tour group, trekking across the hardwood floor. 

Jesus enjoyed the bliss of such serenity  when he was resurrected from the dead.  For such a momentous occasion, you might expect a huge fanfare.  But there was no parade, no marching band, not even so much as a pan flute.  I would have even settled for a glockenspiel. Instead, when women showed up at his tomb so early in the morning that it was still dark, Jesus had already risen.

For that thrilling moment when Jesus first rose from the dead, he had no one to share it with but His Father.  Another humble beginning for the most humble man of all time.  It must have been dark and quiet, but what a moment it must have been when he saw God’s plan come to pass.  He died in painful agony hanging on a cross, but opened his eyes to eternal glory.

If the resurrection happened in today’s world, all of the network news crews would have been on the scene.  The moment would have been captured on film, an instant viral hit on the internet.  A press conference would have been held, during which reporters could ask idiotic questions.  So, how does it feel to be alive?

But then there would be no need for faith.

When Jesus first appeared  to his disciples in his resurrected body, Thomas was absent.  Where was he?  What was so important that he was the only one not there?  That’s like winning an Oscar and being in the bathroom when they call your name.  Was he out getting the coffee? Was it an errand? Here the poor guy comes strolling in from a trip to Home Depot, only to hear everyone say, “You missed it!  Jesus is alive and he came to visit us!” 

Even with the other eyewitnesses, Thomas did not believe that Jesus was alive, and was forever dubbed “Doubting Thomas.”  He remarked, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25).

How much fun it must have been for Jesus when he came through the locked doors and appeared before Thomas.  He could have really rubbed it in.  Can you see me now?  Instead, Jesus lovingly allowed Thomas to touch the nail marks.  With the physical evidence before him, Thomas finally believed.  Jesus told him:

John 20:29  “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Even though there was no film at eleven, we can believe.  Jesus came into this world and went out of it in a humble, unassuming fashion.  Only when he returns will there be any fanfare.  I long for that day, when he will finally get the celebration he deserves. 

Fish and Visitors

 

According to Ben Franklin, fish and visitors stink after three days.  I think fish pretty much stink all the time.  And we had a recent visitor who reeked the moment he crossed our threshold.   His name was Sickness, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a more rude and unwelcome guest.  The intrepid caller barged in uninvited and put his ugly feet up on my children.  Despite my pleas, he was planning on a long visit, and I didn’t like the way this smelled.

“I have no clean guest towels,” I pleaded graciously.

“No problem,” he answered.  “I’m a slovenly fellow.”

“But I haven’t made the guest bed.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll bunk with your children.”

I dropped the decorum.

“But you stink.”

“It’s my new scent,” he bragged. “A delicate blend of VapoRub and Hall’s Mentho-lyptus.  Get used to it.”

And get used to it I did, for this guest was with us for most of March.  The visit began innocently enough, with the trifles of a strained relationship. He left dirty tissues all over our floor, and his medicine cups became the centerpiece of our decor. At one point Sickness even left, and I prematurely celebrated.  It turned out he merely went to do some errands, for soon he was back on our doorstep again.  This time he was offended when I tried to slam the door in his face, and he really showed his ugly side. 

Every time Sickness opened his mouth to speak, one of my kids would hack or sneeze or feverishly whimper.  Then I just got angry.   How dare he invade my personal space and hurt my children.  My five-year-old got angry, too, and it showed in his prayers.  First he prayed that God would feed his germs to the sharks.  Then he asked God to feed his germs to evil people on a sandwich.  I was slightly confused by his grammatical structure, but I’m pretty sure the people weren’t supposed to be on the sandwich, just the germs.

Then Sickness fought back.  He tried to appease me, to bring me over to his side.  I felt myself getting sucked into the Vortex of Sickness. Quite frankly, I felt like Luke Skywalker holding on for dear life while Darth Vader reached out to him on the catwalk over the abyss. 

Click here to see the Vortex of Sickness.

God was the only one who could save me from falling.  But I had to be faithful in prayer and believing.  I have learned that God is not a vending machine, immediately spitting out the answers as soon as I put a coin into His slot.  We have to be steadfast and patient, not exactly long suits for a culture that freaks out if a pizza is not delivered within ten minutes.

Do we truly believe in God’s mercy and grace?  Do we believe that it is always His will for us to be healed? Jesus always did the will of God, and he always healed people.  Imagine hanging around with someone who would simply not tolerate your sickness. The only downside of being a disciple would have been the inability to call in sick to work.

            Peter:  Lord, I’m afraid I can’t make it in today.  I’m terribly ill.

            Jesus:  You’re healed.

            Peter: (aside)  Rats!

As difficult as it was for me to believe, God wanted my kids to be healed even more than I did. There was only one way to remove that nasty smell from our house.  I had to keep cleaning with the Master’s Hand.  One morning I woke up to discover that our guest had hit the road. He left in the middle of the night without even leaving a note. Good riddance, I say.  That’s one unwelcome guest I hope never to see…or smell, again.

Faith Next to Moldy Cheese

Open. Close. Open. Close.  I turned to see our son Nate opening and closing the refrigerator door with a puzzled look on his face.  He was crouched down in a squat position only possible for toddlers and professional baseball catchers with iron quads.  “What are you doing?”  I asked.  When you have a three year old, this is almost a rhetorical question; generally you don’t really want to know the answer. You brace yourself for comments such as, “I wanted to know what would happen if I took all of the stuffing out of the couch.”

“I want to see the light go out,” he responded.  Open. Close. Open. Close.

“You can’t see it go out,” I explained.  “But trust me, when you close the door, the light goes out.”

“Why?” Open. Close. Open. Close.  He tried to trick the light by varying the speed.

“Well, if no one is looking in the refrigerator, then there is no need to have the light on.”

That’s when I realized that the fridge must have been invented by a parent.  A parent who was tired of children forgetting to turn off the lights when they left the room.    I’ll fix this; I’ll invent something that automatically turns the light off when they leave.  And thus, the invention of the fridge.  Also, motion sensor lights, but that’s another story.

The refrigerator can be either friend or foe, depending on the circumstances.  On the one hand, I am extremely thankful that I do not have to cure my meats and store them in the cellar for the winter, à la Little House on the Prairie.  But the deeper the fridge, the more trouble you have getting to something on the back of the shelf without taking a trek through the frozen tundra and rearranging everything else in the front.  That is why items in the back of the fridge tend to be forgotten until they grow more fur than a newborn kitten.  If I could design my own refrigerator, I would make it shallow and wide, perhaps expanding the perimeter of the kitchen.  Oddly, Kenmore denied my job application. 

The one thing done right with the fridge design is the light.  How pleasant to have something so helpful for a change.  It’s like having your own personal mini butler waiting in the back of the refrigerator, ready to assist you with your search.  Then when you’re done, he thoughtfully turns off the light.  But my Nate thought this was a cruel idea.  How can you just trust that the light goes off without actually seeing it? 

God asks us to trust Him in the same way.  Even though we do not see Him, He exists.  It is challenging for humans to understand the concept of something existing without our influence, so we test Him a lot. Open. Close. Open. Close.  Still can’t see Him, but I know He’s there. He’s like that light in the back of the fridge.  Always there to assist us, and most of the time completely taken for granted.  We crouch down and twist around, trying to figure it out, but in the end, it’s just a matter of faith. 

I can’t help myself now.  Every time I open and close that refrigerator door, I think of Nate and his struggle to believe in what he can’t see.  For once in my life, I actually notice something in the fridge besides meats, cheeses, and moldy things I can no longer identify. I see a Light. And when I close the door, He winks at me. I never thought I’d say it, but I see my faith in the back of the fridge.