The Bull Fight and the Illiterate Sea Turtle

All I wanted was to get to the beach.  A string of unfortunate events had put us an hour behind schedule, and now I faced a stack of interlocked carriages at the grocery store.  Crammed tightly together, the red carts looked like a line of menacing, hunchbacked bulls awaiting their next victim.  As I tugged at the first carriage, I had the sinking feeling I was about to participate in my first Running of the Bulls.

The carriages were jammed, but the craziness of the morning had filled me with the confidence of a matador.  Granted, I didn’t have a red cape or a sword, but I glanced around for the only weapon I needed:  a sanitary wipe.  None in sight.  Barehanded, I attacked the tangled bulls and tried not to notice that a line had formed behind me, and the arena was now surrounded by a crowd of surly shoppers.  Not to mention the security camera which could land me on YouTube.

I didn’t want to give up my fight, but time was ticking, so I humbly accepted a stray cart being offered by an elderly store assistant. Slinking into the store, I walked about five hundred feet and noticed a station of sanitary wipes.  Great. Now that my flesh has completely melded with the handle, they offer me a wipe.

As to be expected, my cart had a wobbly wheel.  This was no day to end up with the Flintstone carriage, but I was not about to engage in another fight with the bulls.  My kids were becoming impatient, and I just wanted to get in and out quickly.  Except now I couldn’t find the almonds, and I walked through the maze of the store like Theseus searching for the Minotaur.

I couldn’t find any staff member to help me, because there are two types of shopping experiences.  The first is when you are just trying to browse, but an officious sales clerk leeches to your back.  And sometimes, like this particular morning, the aisles are filled with nothing but tumbleweeds and the eerie cricket-chirping of a ghost town.

When I finally made it to the checkout, I noticed that my cashier was wearing a cross with Jesus on it.  “I like your necklace,” I said.  “I’m a Christian, too.”

She self-consciously clutched her necklace and replied,  “Whenever I have stress, I grab it and know that everything is going to be okay.”

I suddenly realized that I was not having such a bad day after all.  It was a fighting-with-bulls-kind of day, but hardly a dying-on-the-cross kind of day.

Jesus never promised that our days would be perfect, but he did promise his peace.

John 15:27

My peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

When we finally arrived at the beach, the warm breeze tingled my nose with salt air, and my troubles drowned in the depths of the sapphire sea.  As we moved toward the water, the kids spotted a sea turtle on the shore.  We ran to get a closer look, but I soon sensed that something was terribly wrong.  Maybe it was the flies swarming around the turtle’s glassy eyes.  Or maybe it was the turtle’s entrails strewn two feet from its body.  I’m no crime scene investigator, but I recognize a butcher job when I see one.

“She’s dead,” Luke, my six-year-old, profoundly announced.

Our semi-circle formed a makeshift funeral around this mommy turtle who had given her life for her eggs.  We had just studied a unit on sea turtles, and we had read about the untimely death of many of these sea creatures.  The book had tried to console children by mentioning the passing of laws to protect these turtles, but Luke had asked the Question of the Year:

“But Mommy, if the sea turtles and other animals can’t read, how can they follow the laws?”

Only a child could think of such an insightful question, for it makes no sense for humans to post laws and assume that the laws of God’s animal kingdom would magically change.

Another group of kids spotted the dead turtle, but they were not as quick to grasp reality.  Two older children started running and screaming, “Water!  Get water!  Call the rescue!  Somebody help!”  They only stopped acting like a circus clown act when their much younger brother examined the turtle, licked his ice cream, and announced, “Guys!  I think you’re too late.”

My children seemed so full of life as I watched them frolic in the sand and sea.  Their vitality was only highlighted by the lifeless turtle beside us.  That hapless creature was a great reminder of the fragility of life.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

I dug my toes into the warm sand and breathed deeply. This had only been a late-for-the-beach kind of day, not a dead-on-the-beach-with-entrails-removed kind of day.

All I had wanted was to get to the beach.  Thanks to a reminder from an illiterate sea turtle, my day was redeemed.

Advertisements

A Movie to Make Men Flee

Samson was the strongest man in the Bible, which is impressive considering the fact that he didn’t even have a gym membership.  He makes the air-conditioned health club look like a playground.  Nowadays most guys pump iron while admiring themselves in a mirror, but Samson ripped his muscles the old-fashioned way, by tearing apart lions with his bare hands.  I’ve never seen that move at the gym, although once I saw a guy viciously tear apart the wrapper of a protein bar. 

Samson also happened to have long hair, a look that normally can only be pulled off by Conan the Barbarian or Fabio.  Put simply, Samson had what every Hollywood casting agent desires. The story of his life should be the greatest blockbuster hit of all time. But when you examine his story more closely, a woman would have to really convince her man to see this movie. 

WIFE:  Let’s go see that new movie, Samson.

HUSBAND:  What’s it about?

WIFE:  Um, I’m guessing by the title, a guy named Samson?

HUSBAND:  Thank you, Captain Obvious.  I mean is there action?  And does the action outweigh the dialogue by a ratio of 5 to 1?

WIFE:  The movie trailer showed lots of blood and violence. 

That’s because the movie trailer could never include the shocking truth of the story of Samson.  No guy in his right mind would ever want to hear it.

Imagine the voice; you know the one – the booming, familiar voice of the movie trailer narrator.  It’s always the same voice, which explains why there are so many starving actors out there.

MELODRAMATIC VOICE:  One man….with strength like none other… Only one thing could bring him down…One. Nagging. Woman.

Samson’s ruin came when he put his trust in a woman named Delilah, which might be the Hebrew name for “shrew.”  Delilah constantly tried to persuade Samson to tell her the source of his strength so that the Philistines could capture him.  That’s the kind way of saying it. 

Judges 16:16

With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

Samson eventually caved and told her that his strength was in his hair.  Confiding in a woman was one mistake.  But telling a woman that he had superior hair was the kiss of death. 

If there was true justice in this world, Samson should have been given his own line of luxury hair products.  Instead, he was betrayed by the woman he loved and then suffered a humiliating death after having his eyes gouged out.  I can just hear the male population fleeing in horror from the movie cinema.

Even though the story of Samson resembles a soap opera plot, it serves as a reminder that we should always put our trust in God, not people.  A painful lesson that my family learned the hard way this week.

Someone actually betrayed our trust, and the worst part was having to tell my children that the exciting plans we had promised them were coming to a grinding halt.  With tears streaming down my face, I prayed and agonized over how to break the news.  I just couldn’t bear to break their hearts, so I decided to lovingly hand the job over to my husband.  I’m expecting a “thank you” card any moment now.

Dave sat the children down and began by explaining that there are evil people in this world.  Mean people who will even hurt innocent children without remorse.  The kids listened attentively while their Daddy lowered the bad-news boom.  As I braced myself for screaming and crying,  I barely heard Grace’s sweet voice tinkling like wind chimes through the storminess of my mind.

“Oh well, I guess God must have a better plan for us.” 

Hurt, denial, grief, rage.  A myriad of unpleasant emotions had washed over me that day, but Grace chose to drown in God’s love and faithfulness.  I had been wallowing in anger, yet my seven-year-old knew exactly where to place her focus. 

Psalm 146:5-6

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save…Blessed is he… whose hope is in the LORD his God, the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

The world is full of Delilahs.  They crack open our hearts with the guise of sincerity and leave us with the empty shells of their meaningless words.  Thankfully, we do not have to accept the same sad fate as Samson.  Through Jesus, we have been given strength not only in our hair, but in every fragment of our being, and all we have to do is trust in the Almighty.  I always love a movie with a happy ending.

The Art of Not Listening

Many good quality videos are available to help us learn the art of canning, knitting, and gardening.  I might watch one if I wasn’t struggling just to find time to mop the kitchen floor.  If I do have time someday to watch an instructional video, I know I’ll never find one about the art of not listening.  That’s because society has pretty much mastered that one already. 

While out walking with my kids, our greetings and salutations meet their untimely death in the round, black earbud-coffins of our neighbors’ ears. So many people have these tiny headphones stuck in their ears, that I have seen the alarming future of teaching anatomy and physiology.  In a diagram of the ear, we will see the ear drum, cochlea, stirrup, and little black circles labeled “earbuds.”

Embarrassing moments can occur when you hear someone, but you don’t really listen to what they are saying.  I’ve had my share of cringe-worthy scenes.

HAIRDRESSER:     Enjoy your new haircut!

ME:     You too! (cringe)

Sometimes when my kids talk to me, I’m not really listening.  My perceptive children can figure out when I’m overtired, and I’m sure they hold secret meetings to determine the best ways to get what they want.  By the time they approach me, it’s a done deal.

— Mommy, can we skip bedtime tonight and just go hang gliding in the Himalayas? 

–Sure, honey, whatever you want.  Here, take my car keys.  

They finally got their revenge when we gave them all personal CD players for Christmas.  At first when the three of them sat on the couch and listened to music through their headphones, I congratulated myself for the brilliant gift idea.  As they drifted off into musical reveries, I basked in the unfamiliar paradise of tranquility.  But when I had to speak to them, they were able to completely ignore me.  With music streaming into their ears, I had become the indistinct voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Mwa-mwa-mwa, mwa-mwa-mwa.

Then they all began to talk loudly to each other without listening.  Nothing they said made any sense, but what does that really matter when you’re not listening anyway.

“CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Luke yelled to his brother.

 “NO!” Nate screamed back.

“YOU TOO!” Grace shrieked.

As my children sat there practicing the art of not listening, I thought about the times Jesus would say to his disciples, “Are you still so dull of hearing?”  Jesus had to present his lessons in parables, causing them to really think about what they were hearing.  What else can you do when your students act as though they forgot to remove the Q-Tips from their ears? I think if they had been wearing headphones, he would have flung them right over the side of the boat. 

Maybe they were visual learners.  Jesus didn’t have the option of giving a Power Point presentation.  The closest thing he had was drawing in the sand with a stick.  His students quickly learned that listening is a skill that needs to be practiced. 

Sometimes God has to speak to us many times before we hear him.  It would have been easier if He set us up like a giant Whac-a-Mole game, where he could just bop us on the head with a large mallet whenever we weren’t listening.  But He is really into this LOVE thing, so instead He does everything He can to get our attention, even when we just sit there with our headphones on, clueless in our own little world.

The Bible tells the record of young Samuel continually waking up his mentor, Eli the priest.  After hearing his name, Samuel kept popping out of bed and appearing at the side of Eli’s bed.  To Eli’s credit, he never lost his cool, but simply responded,  “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

After the third time, Eli finally realized that God had been calling the boy.  By this time, God must have been deliberating between writing on the wall with a laser beam or installing a P.A. system in Samuel’s bedroom.  Eli finally gave Samuel the advice he needed, and then rolled over and got some shut-eye.

It turns out that the key was that art form called listening.  The next time God called, Samuel was ready.

1 Samuel 3:10

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Instantly, God was able to give Samuel an ear-tingling revelation.  But it was only when Samuel was ready to truly listen. 

My four-year-old got upset with me this week when he was trying to tell me a story, and I listened while cleaning the kitchen.

“Mommy,” Nate fumed, “You are not LISTENING to me.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, “I heard you.” 

“No, you need to LOOK at me and listen.”

He quickly taught me the difference between hearing and listening.  People who are hard of hearing do not choose to be that way.  Being “hard of listening” is a choice.

In Psalm 81, God laments, “If my people would but listen to me…”

Imagine if everyone would but listen to each other.  Earbuds would be thrown to the wayside, right next to the dying art of not listening.

Dolls Without Heads

In a world with seven billion people, where is everybody?  Between ATM’s, automated customer service, and online shopping, I’m beginning to wonder if the most recent census included computers.   My laptop thinks we’re so chummy it can send me suggestions such as, Oops!  Did you mean… when I misspell something.  I just don’t know if I’m ready for such an intrusive friendship with my HP yet.

I recently had to call our power company to report an outage.  Of course, there was no human on the other end of the phone, just a robotic voice that needed to “ask a few simple questions in order to help.”  Don’t they realize how annoying that is in an emergency?  You reach out to someone for help and comfort, and all you get is a Voice that is about as excited as a professional golf commentator. 

As I answered questions about flickering lights and downed power lines, I realized that regardless of the topic, I had to listen to this detached, unemotional voice.

Is the roof caving in on you right now? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no.

 <yes>

I’m sorry to hear that. Are squirrels getting electrocuted in full view of your innocent children?  Press 1 for yes, 2 for no.

<yes>

 I’m sorry to hear that.

We seem to have lost the example of Jesus.  He was a man of the people, a man who thrived on relationship.  I imagine that his eyes must have been intense and compelling, the kind that could pierce a person’s soul with love.  Jesus loved without discrimination, and he could even touch lepers without repulsion. Sometimes I don’t even want to touch the ratty dollar bills I get for change at the store.

After learning of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus withdrew to a solitary place.  Like a relentless band of paparazzi, the massive crowds followed their superstar.  This would have been the ideal time for him to set up automated customer service. 

Is your skin falling off?  Press 1 for yes, 2 for no. 

<yes>

 I’m sorry to hear that.

Even when Jesus was sad, tired, or hungry, he never disconnected himself from his fellow man.

Matthew 14:14

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

This week our family decided to take a leisurely stroll downtown to see the Christmas window displays.  To my surprise, most stores had decorated with class and restraint, avoiding the usual appearance of Christmas in a high-speed blender with no lid.

Everyone was in a hurry, stressed, and ignoring one another.  People were texting and talking on cell phones instead of engaging with those around them. I wondered what happened to that Christmas carol, Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile, and on every street corner you’ll hear…silver bells, silver bells…  

Instead, it was Children fighting, people stressing, meeting growl after growl, and on every street corner you’ll hear…angry moms, angry moms…

My reverie was suddenly interrupted by my children’s exclamations:

“Dolls without heads!  Dolls without heads!”

My first thought was how that would be the perfect name for a rock group.  Dolls Without Heads is now headlining at Madison Square Garden.  Opening Act will be  Teddy Bears Without Eyes.   When I turned to discover the source of their despair, I saw headless mannequins in the store window.  I shuddered at the thought that somewhere there must be a giant warehouse full of mannequin heads.  A scary place, where an angry supervisor might actually roar, “Heads are gonna roll!”

My kids were right to be disturbed by this cold, impersonal display.  The faceless representation of the human body provided fitting symbolism for our modern world.  As people hurried by us on the street, I realized that we were being ignored.  To them, we were just more dolls without heads.

It reminded me of the time two men once knocked on my door and wanted to introduce me to Jesus.  “I already know him, and I love him very much,” I responded.  Ignoring my answer, they continued to read from a prepared script.

A couple of days later, I bumped into the same two men on a walk in our neighborhood.  Excited to see fellow Christians, I greeted them warmly.  Out came the script.

“I want to introduce you to Jesus.”  As he continued to read from the script, I knew that he didn’t really see me. He was looking right through me.

And there I stood, a doll without a head.

God formed us to have connections.  Not pseudo-relationships, where we connect via the internet in an attempt to feel popular and accepted.  Real relationships involve genuine caring and sacrifice from the heart. 

It would be impossible for us to give all decapitated mannequins their heads back.  The best thing we can do is to use them as a reminder.  Every time we see one, we can remember Jesus, a man who knew how to connect with people.  A man who could look people in the eyes and give them the integrity and respect they deserved. 

 

Call Me Strongman

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but nicknames can only be surgically removed. William Shakespeare could ask the profound question, “What’s in a name?” because that was back when people could wax philosophical.  Those men in tights liked to ask murky questions, such as “To be or not to be,” and others would salivate in the pool of obscurity.  Nowadays people just wane philosophical, which is why our deepest question is “Got milk?”

Certainly names are meaningful and powerful.  Will Shakespeare had nothing to worry about, since he was known as The Bard.  His nickname sounded cool – on par with The Rock. I bet he would have felt differently if people called him Wee Willie Winkie. 

Even people during biblical times had to suffer with nicknames.  Most people feel sorry for Thomas, who doubted the Lord’s return and will forever be known as Doubting Thomas.  But the Bible tells us that Thomas was also called Didymus.  Sounds like it’s roughly translated “out to lunch,” but the name is punishment enough. 

All of our children have so many nicknames that it’s a wonder they don’t have an identity crisis.  Our four-year-old, Nathaniel, will probably only discover his real name the first time he has to fill out a job application. We have always called him Nate, but he recently rebelled against this nickname and his real name.  His preference?  Strongman – a moniker given by my husband to build self-esteem. 

I first noticed the gravity of this rebellion when he started writing a large “S” on the top of all his papers. If he could manage it, he would probably make himself a cape and wear his underwear on the outside of his clothes. 

One day while we were eating lunch, he became irritated with me for using his real name.

“That’s not my name,” he huffed.  “I’m Strongman.”

“No, that’s your nickname,” I explained.  “Your real name is Nate.”

Actually, his real name is Nathaniel, but I wasn’t going to bog him down with the details. 

“No, Strongman is my real name.  Tiger is my nickname.”

It’s not easy arguing with someone who can’t even reach the sink to spit out his toothpaste.  But foolishness is not bound in the heart of a child only.  Round and round we went, like a couple of exhausted boxers who are so determined to win they can’t even hear the bell.

Finally, I delivered the knockout.

“What do you think Jesus calls you when he prays for you?”

This question stunned both my opponent and myself.  I knew with certainty when the words escaped my lips that Jesus really does pray for us.  What do we think he is doing on the right hand of God, playing Yahtzee? But I had never really thought about the fact that Jesus knows us so intimately that he would even know our nicknames.  What would he call us when he intercedes for us?

I remembered that Jesus gave Simon the nickname Peter, and he called him both names frequently. 

Luke 22:31,34

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail…

I tell you, Peter…

Jesus still wants to protect all of us from evil, and he prays for us, although you will have to imagine what name he uses for you.  And maybe update the simile.

[Insert name], Satan has asked to crush you like a bag of potato chips.  But I have prayed for you, [insert name], that your faith may not fail.

He’s praying for my faith? I don’t know about you, but I don’t even feel worthy of my Lord speaking my name. Yet when he died on that cross, his blood spoke all of our names loud and clear. I love you, [insert name]!

Now I wondered what the Lord was calling my son when he prayed for him.

Nate was in mid-argument when suddenly his eyes swelled and he grabbed his throat.  He was choking on his popcorn, and the world froze around me.  My blue-eyed angel was silently pleading with me, and I prayed as he writhed in agony.

Before I could even move, the kernel became dislodged, and my heart started beating again.  I was done arguing about names.

Then I smiled as I pictured the Lord during that scary moment.

Father, Nathaniel Hanson is in trouble.  Please heal Nate, and don’t let him die.  I love my Strongman. 

The Donkey Within

When God created animals, the donkey got the short end of the stick.  The bunny was designed to be unabashedly cute and the guaranteed first stop at a first grade field trip to the petting zoo.  God fashioned the horse with a sleek and powerful body to represent His own breathtaking majesty.  The donkey must have come late to the party, after all the best prizes had already been taken.  He stood before the Father, ready to have greatness bestowed upon him.

Donkey, you get to be stubbornness personified. 

Donkey must have left that party feeling like a broken piñata, beaten with a stick by a scary mob of sugar-laden children.  Thousands of years later, the melancholy Eeyore came on the scene and put the final nail in Donkey’s public image coffin. 

All is not lost, however. God gave us donkeys to help us understand when our child first has a public temper tantrum in a parking lot.  Oh, this is stubbornness, we think, as our child becomes one with the pavement. Pulling him and our egos out of the wads of gum and crumpled candy wrappers, we begin to wonder if we are fully equipped to handle this strange, new animal known as a “toddler.”

God also used a donkey to teach a lesson to Balak, the king of ancient Moab, who tried to persuade the diviner Balaam to curse the Israelites.  Balak accomplished this the mature way, by pestering the unwilling Balaam like a relentless salesman until he was driven to the point of insanity.  Balaam “saddled up his ass” (which does sound like a modern expression for “hit the road”) and set off on his mission.

God was displeased with Balaam, and He sent an Angel of the Lord to block the way with a sword.  The donkey kept trying to avoid the angel by pushing up against the wall, so Balaam rewarded him with beatings. Any other animal would have relented and curled up to take a nap, but not a stubborn donkey. 

To get Balaam’s attention, God had the donkey speak. And Balaam argued with the animal as if this was a perfectly normal occurrence.  As though every day began with a rousing conversation with his chair or the doorknob.  Donkey was not happy with the abuse.

Hey!  This is how you treat me after I’ve been lugging you around for all these years? You’re treating me like a I’m some jackass…

Uh, you ARE a jackass…

And the argument continued until God opened Balaam’s eyes and he saw the foolishness of his ways. The moral of this story is: Do not bother arguing with a donkey, or another stubborn creature such as a small child, for you will never win. 

Last week my seven-year-old daughter demonstrated that stubbornness is not just for toddlers anymore.  Having misplaced her beloved pink headband, she insisted that I had it.

“Mommy, I know you have it.  I saw you take it when you left my room last night.”

“No, you have it,” I responded. “I’m positive that I left it on your desk.”

This same conversation continued throughout the day, and I couldn’t believe how obstinate she was being.  I knew with all certainty that I was right, and I could not be persuaded otherwise.  Until God opened my eyes and I saw the foolishness of my ways.

I returned to my office and saw a glimmer of pink peeking out from a pile of papers on my desk.  It was either the headband or the interior of a mouse’s ear, but I wasn’t sure which one was more frightening.

The headband spoke.

 “So, I hope you like the taste of crow, since that’s what you’ll be eating tonight.”

I argued with it. 

“Come on, we all know this was a set-up.” 

But in the end, of course, I returned the headband and apologized to my daughter.

Could it be that we are all stubborn in our own way, and maybe I shouldn’t feel so sorry for the donkey? After all, who had the honor of carrying Jesus on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem?  It wasn’t a bunny or a horse. 

Zechariah 9:9

See, your king comes to you…gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Redemption, for the donkey within us all.

Eggs From the Basement

Have you ever wondered about the moment when man first decided that an egg could be food?  Since there is no YouTube video, we will have to use our imaginations instead.  Picture Adam and Eve in Eden, tending to the chickens.  Suddenly an egg comes shooting out from the back-end of a hen, just under its tail. 

Eve:  Whoa! Did you see that?

Adam:  I’m starving. Let’s eat it.

Eve:  I’m not eating that thing.  Did you see where it came from?

Adam:  Well, they don’t hack it up like a hairball. (Taking a bite) Hey, it’s…crunchy.

Eve:  Try taking the shell off. 

Hen:  Try cooking it first. 

Adam & Eve:  Oh!

Next thing you know, they were whipping up hollandaise sauce, and the breakfast buffet was changed forever. 

Our family consumes a large amount of God’s “perfect food” every week.  Last week at the grocery store, I had so many cartons of eggs that the cashier asked if we were dyeing eggs.  It’s November, so I’m guessing she was working a second shift and feeling a little delirious. 

I had just read an article about how to cook the perfect batch of scrambled eggs.  For some reason, I never question the authority of these informative articles.  So here I was taking advice about my eggs from some forty-year old guy named Vern, who probably still lives in his parents’ basement. 

Use a whisk, not a fork.  I had always used a fork with no problem, but Vern scared me into believing I had been a fool for all these years.  I took a huge risk by taking out my whisk, and I suddenly heard Elmer Fudd’s voice: Be vewy, vewy quiet; I’m taking a huge whisk. Snapping back to reality, I remembered the next piece of advice. 

Whisk with force. Vigorously.  Redundancy aside, I decided to give it a whirl.  Before I could begin, I heard the words that strike fear into the heart of a parent:

“Mommy, can I help?”

My son wanted to help me with the eggs.  I imagined my five-year-old splattering raw egg over the countertops, the floor, and my head.  But one look at his cherubic face, and I caved like a Yorkshire pudding. 

He started to stir the eggs with a fork, and he was doing just fine until I intervened.

“No, you have to vigorously whisk them.  Like this.”

I took over with my whisk, and I beat the eggs with so much force that one slimy egg yolk catapulted across the kitchen.  After a search, I finally found the yellow Cyclops eye staring up at me from the floor.  I threw it in the trash and fumed at Vern.

Yet, I followed his next instructions.

Use chopsticks for the perfect curds.  Not only was this unnecessary, but I felt like an idiot doing it. In retrospect, now I see that Vern was messing with people.  He just chose to be more subtle than “Wear underwear on your head and do the Hokey Pokey.” 

I should have just let Luke make the eggs.  He was doing a great job until I took charge. 

I thought about how a five-year-old Jesus would have wanted to help Joseph with the carpentry.  If he were my son standing there with a wooden dowel, I would have scolded, “You’ll poke your eye out with that thing.”  But any man who was entrusted by God to raise the Messiah would be smarter than that.

If only we believed in our children the way God believes in us.

Ephesians 1:4

For he chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Us? (look around) Really? 

God believes we are capable of doing what is good and right.  In an act of unprecedented trust, He made us the representation of His son.  He would never have stuck to this plan if He didn’t believe in the potential of His children.

Romans 8:29

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son… 

What if God took the whisk right out of our hands and scrambled the eggs for us?  Sure, they would be the World’s Best Eggs, but what message would that send us? God lets us scramble our own eggs.  That’s why sometimes in life we get stuck with pieces of shell, and other times we get burned.  But either way, He believed. 

As I looked at my son’s face, I realized that I had not believed in him the way that Joseph believed in Jesus.  Or the way God believes in me. 

Next time I will ignore Vern’s advice from the basement, and follow the counsel from above. 

A Shot in the Arm for a Lamb

How did we survive twelve or more years of schooling without being taught about the microscopic magnets inside the shinbone and the big toe?  Even with my limited science background, I have deduced that these body parts are attracted to some sort of magnetic field surrounding sharp corners on furniture.  We are warned not to run with scissors or eat paste, but none of that has helped me in life. I would have appreciated a warning about keeping a twenty-foot radius between my leg and the corner of the bed frame.  

This week I injured myself on two different pieces of furniture.  Feeling down about myself, I uttered the self-ascribed nickname “Clumsy Oaf” and then deliberated for a few minutes about what in the world an “oaf” is and why it is so much fun to say.  After snapping back to reality, I realized that the problem does not really reside in me, but in the manufacturing companies.  Furniture manuals give elaborate diagrams and details about the parts required for assembly.  Not once have I seen parts labeled Toe Stubber and Shin Splitter.  Hello, Freedom of Information Act, anyone?

I’m not exactly proud about how I handled the pain.  As I was crying out and leaping in circles like a one-legged grasshopper in a circus act, I suddenly pictured Jesus on the cross.  My histrionics came to a grinding halt when I realized he had remained silent even while his entire body was tortured. 

Isaiah 53:7

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers in silent, so he did not open his mouth.

In his brave endurance, Jesus left us some sage advice:  Take it like a lamb.

This week was also my four-year-old Nate’s annual checkup, and he was due for a shot.  If there is one thing I hate more than being in pain, it is seeing my children in pain.  As he stood waiting for the nurse to arrive, he looked so small and vulnerable in his Spiderman underwear.  All of his cuteness culminated in his protruding belly button, which I just wanted to beep like a car horn, but he had other plans. He called me over to his side and whispered in my ear. 

“I’m concerned.”  His blue eyes watered and swelled to the size of hard-boiled eggs. 

It’s funny how people can condescend to children, when here was the perfect example of a man’s heart living in a little boy’s body.  No need to patronize this guy.

“The shot is going to hurt,” I told him.  “But it won’t hurt for long.  I believe you can take it like a man.”

He nodded in agreement, as the nurse entered and prepared her portable torture chamber.  She asked me to have him look away, but my post-40 reflexes must have taken over, and I couldn’t react in time.  Oh, no.  He’s going to scream.  I braced myself for the worst. 

The needle entered Nate’s arm, and he was completely still.  I had witnessed the “calm before the storm” many times, the deafening silent scream which precedes the actual one.  But this storm must have gone out to sea, because nothing happened.  He just sat there and endured the pain without a sound or a tear. 

Try as I might, I could not help but flash back to my earlier injuries and the ensuing circus acts.  Here was my four-year-old, rubbing his Winnie the Pooh Band-Aid and grinning with pride at his bravery and fortitude. 

“Mommy, I took it like a man!”

No, my dear.  You took it like a lamb.

 

 

The Love of God in a Salmon

If we must have reality shows, then I would like to see a show on the Food Network that features a mother trying to cook a thirty-minute meal while fending off whining, argumentative children.  For years I scoffed at the book, The Joy of Cooking, wondering how anyone could have joy trying to julienne peppers while a screaming toddler pulls relentlessly on her leg.  I gave up trying to be Julia Childs and adjusted my standards so that a gourmet meal meant serving milk with the Cheerios.

My biggest culinary challenge has been my aversion to seafood.  I have always wanted my children to eat healthful meals such as grilled salmon, but how could I expect them to like something I have always loathed? 

For me, the challenge is looking the fish straight in his lifeless eye as he lies cold and humiliated with a lemon stuffed in his gaping mouth, wondering how he became Today’s Special for $17.99 with fries when just yesterday he was navigating the sunlit channels of the deep.  For some reason, I can scarf down a burger in a deluge of ketchup without imagining the cow’s last conscious thought.  But when I see a fish on the plate, all I can hear is his wife’s final sage advice, “Don’t go near that hook, dear.  It looks dangerous…”

Imagine my surprise when I read that Jesus even ate fish for breakfast.  He appeared to his disciples in his resurrected body and placed his order from the shore. Thankfully, this was before the age of garbled drive-thru microphones, so they were able to hear him.

John 21:4-5 Early in the morning…He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

I anxiously wondered why in the world he would want fish so early in the morning.  Was he searching for a pet goldfish, perhaps? 

John 21:10,12   

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

12 … “Come and have breakfast.”

Ugh. The Bible is replete with examples of seemingly godly people eating seafood. Jesus chose fishermen as his disciples, and they undoubtedly enjoyed many laughs together over a fish dinner. I would feel much better if he had selected cattle ranchers. 

As usual, God revealed some fitting reproof to me from His Word:

1 Timothy 4:4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

Everything God created is good and deserves to be received with thanksgiving – and perhaps some tartar sauce on the side. Everywhere you look, God has provided clever ways to feed man and beast. He even made the seas abound with fish and creatures to be consumed for nutrition and pleasure. It is no coincidence that the foods that are the most beneficial for our health are the ones which God provided. When Jesus returned, he wasn’t looking for nachos, but broiled fish.

God’s love can truly be found in all that He created. But could I find the love of God in a grilled salmon with a lime butter sauce?  In a moment of unprecedented bravery (or stupidity), I decided to find out. 

Something strange happened.  I actually enjoyed cooking the salmon.  Tuning out the insanity of the world, I focused on nourishing my family out of my great love for them. I pictured myself on the Food Network, surrounded by whining and crying children, yet smiling as I’m peacefully preparing a natural, wholesome meal.  (The stress would come later, with the mountain of dishes, but I’m still a work in progress.)

To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the taste of the fish.  Stranger still, all three of my kids were not only willing to try the salmon, but they loved it.  Their determination to love something that God designed inspired me to change my foolish ways.  For forty years, I had convinced myself that I hated fish.  When I saw my kids blissfully eating their dinner, three little words popped into my head:  Get. over. it.

Who would have ever thought that I would find joy in cooking.  And the love of God in a salmon.

Outstanding Performance by a Fox

It started out just like any ordinary hunt.  The tall grass tickled my belly as I crept stealthily through the trees.  Ignoring the ticks and other gifts left by the deer, I stalked my prey. Silent as the passing clouds, I sat back on my haunches and jutted my vulpine nose into the air.  The unmistakable smell of rabbit wafted on the summer breeze.  

Licking my lips, I began the chase.  There were three of them, all with bright yellow fur, which meant they didn’t have the slightest chance of camouflage. Giggling uncontrollably, the older two made a mad dash for the oak tree, leaving the four-year-old far behind and vulnerable to my clutches.  He panicked as I moved in for the kill, nipping at his heels. 

And then my cell phone rang.  Well, this was awkward. 

I didn’t want to relinquish my role as the fox. One advantage of being a fox is that everyone operates on the assumption that you are clever.  You could be as dumb as a post, but wave your bushy red tail in the air, and next thing you know you receive an honorary degree from Harvard.  Being a fox commands great respect, a foreign feeling to most parents.

The phone was still ringing as I hesitated. Although I have seen plenty of foxes in my lifetime, I have yet to see one chatting on the phone.  Conflicted, I answered the phone, much to the chagrin of my kids.  It was my husband Dave, and after I explained my dilemma, he played right along.  “This is the rabbits’ attorney,” he teased.  “Cease and desist.”   

A distinct line is drawn between performing and imitating.  As soon as I answered my cell phone, my performance as a fox ended.  I did not crawl back to the house on all fours, and I certainly did not eat rabbit stew for lunch. 

The Greeks gave us the word “hypocrisy,” which is to perform or pretend, to wear a mask and pretend you are someone different from whom you really are. (I think it’s also the root word for “campaigning politician.”)  In contrast, to imitate is to copy exactly and follow as a model.    

When God asks us to imitate Him, He does not want a performance. The Emmys and Oscars are for people who do an exceptional job of acting out a part.  Even an actor who loses has to clap and smile with a painted-on grin for the camera, trying to hide his disappointment. 

The best awards show will be the one hosted by Jesus.  By the love of God, there will be no cheesy musical numbers or lame joke deliveries that fall as flat as a shadow. There will be no statuettes given for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Role.  Instead, the most coveted award goes to… 

Outstanding Imitator of Christ. 

So far the apostle Paul is a frontrunner:

 1 Corinthians 11:1

Be imitators of me, as I also am of Jesus. 

I don’t care if I never win the award for Outstanding Performance by a Fox.  I have six little eyes that are watching my every move.  Six little ears that hear every word.  And six little feet that follow in my footsteps.  Life is the real deal; I’ll leave the performances to the professionals.