The Death of a Sponge

Cleaning under the kitchen sink is a dangerous job that should be left to professional bomb detonators.   Just the other day, I found a putrefied sponge that appeared to have been last used during the Carter administration.  It had shriveled into a miniature profile of Alfred Hitchcock, surely an ominous sign that this sponge was something out of the Twilight Zone.  I had heard that sponges can serve as a medium for harmful bacteria or fungi, especially when the sponge is allowed to remain wet.  Bad news for sponges, since they live in the ocean.

The sponge is one of the strangest animals in the sea.  Most sponges permanently attach themselves to the ocean floor, making them closely related to the human couch potato. They sit all day with their only friends, the corals, watching all of the other animals swimming and having fun.  Do the other animals mock them? Do they swim somersaults around the sponges while waving cans of Ajax in front of their faces?  Except sponges don’t even have faces.  They must remain expressionless, trying to even slightly expand their pores.  It must be a relief when a diver finally harvests them and ships them off to a Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

As I examined the remains of this sponge, I knew there was a lesson in there somewhere, deep within the shriveled pores of this creepy cleaning device.  Why did God create the sponge? I stared at it until I came up with a couple of thoughts.

A.  It is completely pointless to clean the house until all the children have left for college.

B.  How many are your works, O LORD!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:24)

C.  The success of SpongeBob SquarePants is further proof that Jesus is returning soon.   Please, Father.  It’s time; let’s end this now.

Somehow, while we were all apparently asleep at the wheel, SpongeBob SquarePants became the hero of the sponge world.  One day someone had too much time on his hands and decided to invent a new cartoon character.  He was probably excited about his creation until network executives canned his idea for SqueegeeBarb RhombusDress.  Instead they put a pair of shorts on a sponge, called him Bob, and made a billion dollars.  That’s it, I thought.  Tomorrow I’m putting a dress on my toilet brush and calling him Ralph.  Then we’ll see what happens.

I know I’m supposed to like SpongeBob, that lovable harbinger of mold and other household germs.   But to me, the eerie life of SpongeBob is a helpful reminder for all of us to soak our kitchen utensils in vinegar before we go to bed.  I decided to chuck the sponge before it burst into song and dance.

At that moment, my children came running down the stairs.  It was hard not to notice; when all three of them run together it sounds like a herd of elephants.  Or a stampede of women during a Christmas Tree Shop sale.

I remembered the old saying, “Children are like sponges.”  I have often thought of this in terms of their education.  A child’s brain can absorb massive amounts of information, but if it is not used, it will wither.

But this day I was thinking about love.

The previous day had not been “fun” parenting.  The kids had been acting up, and I had been much more firm and strict with them than usual.  As I held the withered sponge over the trash can, I understood that children are also like sponges when it comes to love.  They have so much capacity to absorb, but unloved children will shrivel up like a rotting sponge left under the kitchen sink.

I made a command decision to completely change my plans for the day, which is a miracle considering my granitic schedule.  Somewhere at a zoo, someone must have yelled,  “Hey, that leopard just changed his spots!”

I gathered the kids and made my announcement.

“We’re not doing math today.”

The children were so devastated that they broke down in tears.  Then I realized it was tears of joy, accompanied by a 20-float parade and mariachi band.

Instead of their usual math session, each child had to snuggle with me under the afghan as I held them and sang to them.  I told them stories of what they were like as babies.  I told them how much I loved them, and how excited I was for God’s plan for them.  For 45 minutes straight, I edified, encouraged, and poured out blessings. Basically, I filled up their sponge-hearts with as much love as they could hold.

Tomorrow, it’s back to regular math.  But I decided to do this more often (although it may get a little awkward when they’re in college).  After all, Jesus didn’t just talk about love.  His down-and-dirty feet washing session with his disciples had a purpose.

John 13:1c   Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

Jesus poured out his love in every way imaginable, even in death on the cross.  Every drop of blood that dripped was saturated with a savior’s love that never runs dry.  Once we accept that deluge of love, we can then wring some out on others.  How much we choose to give depends on our understanding of how much has been given.

Cleaning under the kitchen sink was a frightening experience from which I will not soon recover.  But I will always be grateful for the lesson I learned from the death of a sponge.

A Still, Small Voice and a Honk

The mercury in our thermometer is dipping, along with my desire to ride out another New England winter.  I never thought I would be so jealous of geese.  That unmistakable honking is actually geese laughing at those who can’t fly south for the winter.  And the V-shape flying pattern?  Just a reminder of the warmer climate where I won’t be heading: Virgin Islands.  Granted, at least I don’t have to fear being golden and crispy, spending Christmas at a timeshare silver platter with apple sage stuffing and a side of mushroom gravy.  Warm, but not in a good way.

The fear of impending arctic temperatures had me itching to go outside one mild November morning.  As I was homeschooling our children, I noticed their attention was plummeting due to the gorgeous autumnal scene beckoning from the bay window.  Surely their eyes had more glaze than an Easter ham.

I decided to chuck the planned lessons and allow the kids to learn more from an hour of exploring God’s world than they ever could from a textbook. When I announced that we were going for a walk, the kids awoke from their lesson-induced comas. I wiped the cobwebs off their brains and bundled them in more layers than a club sandwich, for the temperature had dropped below seventy and my blood was thinning.

The crisp, clean air punctured our lungs as we stepped outside and allowed autumn to intoxicate our senses.  We inhaled the scent of decaying leaves as we crunched through their corpses of crimson reds, rustic oranges, and earthy browns.  Their colors reminded me of apples, pumpkins, and cinnamon, and I suddenly felt the urge to bake a pie.

The half-naked trees stretched their arms to the heavens and reminded me that even when we are losing our leaves, we should still praise God for His goodness. We headed to the beach and trudged through the barren sand.  There is something achingly beautiful about a beach that has been stripped of humans for several months, and I felt mildly guilty for disturbing its solitude.

The kids ran freely into the wind, stopping only to collect seashells, which had been laid out for them like hundreds of tiny Christmas presents from the sea. As I surveyed the stark beauty of the moment, the feathers of tiny tears tickled my face.

Just when I thought nothing could disturb this reverie, I heard the sound of a goose honking, no, laughing at me from overhead.  No goose was going to ruin my mood with his fowl play.  I started to sing:

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…”

My four-year-old piped up, “Mommy, please stop singing now.”

I didn’t think the singing was that bad, but apparently Simon Cowell had appeared in miniature form beside me.

“You need to stop singing because I hear God talking,” Nate explained.

Now I wondered if God was sending a prophetic message that my singing had to stop.

“What do you hear?” I asked him.

“God is talking.  Don’t you hear it?”

I stopped and listened, but all I heard was the wind and the waves. “What does it sound like?”

“The wind! The waves!  Don’t you hear it?”

I love it when I’m reproved by someone who still has to use a step stool to climb up in bed. This young child was hearing the voice of God when I was too busy making noise to hear it.  I listened more carefully and realized that the only way to hear God is to shut out the rest of the world.

Psalm 46:10

Be still, and know that I am God.

I thought of Elijah, who was told by God to go out on the mountain and wait for the LORD to pass by.  Elijah waited through the hurricane, earthquake, and fire, only to hear God in a gentle whisper. 

1 Kings 19:13-14

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

My response? Um…you told me to come here?

Elijah’s response:  “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.”

Bingo, Elijah.  When we seek God and we are zealous for His presence, the world will be drowned out by His whisper. 

As I surveyed the deserted beach, I shivered, but not from the chill in the air.  Everything in creation was speaking to me–even His geese.  I had learned to hear Him in a still, small voice and a honk.