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.

Tile Grout Pancakes with No Substitutions

So many of my life lessons have come from mistakes, that at times I feel like a human eraser.  Instead of footprints in the sand, I leave eraser crumbs.  Maybe they were meant to be my legacy, kind of like how Washington has his monument and Jefferson has his memorial. If people actually travel to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, then perhaps they would enjoy my Biggest Pile of Crumbs. 

Of course, my biggest pile of crumbs has actually been in my kitchen.  It seems I have a little trouble sticking to a recipe.  Part of my problem is my annoyance with superfluous directions. 

  •        Take out of oven.  Serve.  Have any autopsies shown that a person actually died waiting by the oven for days, watching and wondering what to do?
  •        Serve and Enjoy.  What else are you supposed to do with it?  Keep it in the pan and despise it?
  •        Serve naked or with whipped cream.  What?  This is a Christian household, for crying out loud.  Oh, the dessert. 

My other problem is ignoring the rule “No substitutions.”  I recently studied the cookbook of a renowned bakery chef, who, in an act of extraordinary benevolence, decided to share her sacred recipes with the world.  She must have attended military boot camp, because in her strict guidelines she warns not to go substituting ingredients, or “If you do, you are asking for trouble.”  With shaking hands, I locked the doors and dimmed the lights, preparing to substitute several of the ingredients in her recipe for “World’s Best Pancakes.”

As I started adding things here and subtracting things there, I recalled a verse that warns of not following the rules of a “recipe”:

Deuteronomy 4:2

Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it,

but keep the commands of the LORD your God…

I was slightly concerned when the pancake batter seemed more suitable for grouting my shower tiles.  After dumping it on the griddle, my concern grew exponentially with the rising of the grout/batter.   Something was clearly wrong, here.  My pancakes were coming to life and resembling a high school chemistry lab experiment. 

My anxiety must have been obvious, for I heard my five-year-old son’s voice behind me:

“God, thank you that these pancakes turn out to be the best pancakes ever.”  Soon all three of the kids were praying for the pancakes. 

Now why hadn’t I thought of that?  I prayed, too, for God to give me guidance to fix this mess.  Or at least to fix the chipped tile grout in the shower.

I was inspired to do the unthinkable.  It was a moment of mind over batter.  I gathered the half-cooked pancakes, squished them all together in a heap, and dropped them in balls on the griddle.  It’s too bad there were no contests that week for “Ugliest Pancakes,” for our fireplace mantel would now be decorated with a fancy blue ribbon. 

I served the “pancakes,”   knowing there was no way my children were going to eat these things.  I sat back and cringed as they took the first bite.

“Mommy, these are the best pancakes ever!”

“Can you make these every day?”

“Can we have more?”

While devouring my “World’s Best Tile Grout Pancakes,” I realized that I had learned my lesson, and not just about following recipes.

Mistakes come when we veer off the path of God’s instructions.  In the words of Cookbook Lady, “If you do, you are asking for trouble.”  Only through prayer can He take our ugly results and turn them into something worthwhile.

Deuteronomy 4:30

When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you…

you will return to the LORD your God and obey him.

For the LORD your God is a merciful God…

Yes, God is truly merciful. Never underestimate the power of a prayed-for pancake.

  • Take out of griddle.
  • Serve with maple syrup and eraser crumbs. 
  •  And no substitutions, please.

The Best Calling Plan

The sea is teeming with millions of creatures that we just don’t need to know about when we accidentally swallow a gallon of ocean water.  It’s kind of like being licked by a dog, but at least when you’re in water, it somehow seems cleaner.  When I go to a restaurant, I don’t usually order the plankton and algae special with a side of seaweed.  It might be palatable with ketchup, but I always seem to forget my condiments when I go swimming.

Every child must learn the hard way to keep their mouth closed when they go under water.  This concept was especially difficult for my daughter to grasp.  If she is awake, she is talking. On many occasions, she has been hit by a wave in mid-sentence, only to earn a mouthful of salt water.  She takes a brief moment to gag and choke, and then the soliloquy continues.  As she once said, “I wouldn’t want to be a cow, because then I couldn’t talk.”  Forget standing in manure and being groped for milk at inhuman hours; it’s the limited vocabulary that would be torture.

It took a while for my kids to adapt to swimming with scuttling and slithering sea life.  I always enjoy their outrageous questions, which are inevitably screamed for the entire beach community to hear. 

  •         “Are these things dead?” …A handful of severed crab legs. 
  •         “Something just bit me!”  …A crab with legs still intact. 
  •         “This looks just like the jellyfish we saw at the aquarium!”  …Time to go home.
  •         “Is that a shark fin?” …No, just a rare sea creature called the “Snickers Wrapper.”

And then came the enlightening question that cleared out half the swimmers in thirty seconds…

“Hey! Do seagulls poop in here?!” 

My children frequently ask questions by drawing back their bows of innocence and piercing my heart with the flaming arrows of their insight.  One day my five-year-old had ventured out deep enough in the water to make himself worry.  He was not worrying about drowning, however.  He had far too profound a thought that was weighing heavily on his soul.  His small voice barely sailed to me on the wind.

“Can God hear me from way out here?”

For a moment I imagined how frightening it would be to lose connection with God.  But then I remembered Jonah.

Jonah had disobeyed God and suffered the consequences by being hurled into the sea and swallowed by a great fish.  Children’s books always show Jonah sitting on the massive tongue of a whale.  This never would have happened, since the fish actually swallowed Jonah. (Plus, the other creatures would have harassed the whale mercilessly for having a pierced tongue.)  That means Jonah would have been in the more unpleasant regions of the fish’s digestive system, if you catch my drift.  No turn-down service or mint under the pillow.

Even without five-star hotel accommodations, Jonah still had a wireless connection to God. 

Jonah 2:1-2

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God.  He said:

“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.”

I can’t get my cell phone to work in the back of the grocery store, but God heard Jonah from the innards of a giant fish. Talk about impressive coverage. 

After Jonah’s fervent prayer, God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. What a ride; one that I have yet to see at a water park.  Even on my worst day, I have never had to be rescued by body surfing a whale’s lunch. I’m sure Jonah would have preferred a helicopter replete with Navy Seals, but a rescue was accomplished nonetheless. 

Can God hear us, even from the depths of the sea?  Yes, He can hear us from the ocean, the tunnel, and even the frozen food section of the supermarket.  He can always hear us, even from the belly of a fish.