Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dead Bugs and Other Dead Things

“Mommy, I found a roly poly bug. It’s dead! I want to keep it as a pet!”

“You can’t keep it as a pet. It’s dead!” I told my 3-year-old.

“But I want to show it to everybody!”

During this conversation I was reading Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest. He writes, “Beware if in sharing your personal testimony you continually have to look back saying ‘Once, a number of years ago, I was saved.’ If you have put your ‘hand to the plow’ and are walking in the light there is no looking back.”

It’s so tempting to live in the past gazing on it with rose-tinted glasses remembering selectively the good times as better, easier or less confusing than the current state. I’ve noticed a tendency in myself to exalt such periods so that nothing in the present could possibly measure up to my slanted memory.

This is true especially in times of spiritual drought. I think back to the last time I felt close to God, more at peace, more alive. I try to conjure up good feelings about God and myself by doing good things or contemplating the last thing I remember that made me feel something. But doing that is like expecting yesterday’s meals to provide the sustenance I need for today. It only lasts for so long. If anyone goes on like that day after day depending on last week’s resources, they’ll become weak and eventually die.

I’ve never been more aware of my lack of resources than when I find someone else in need of refreshment, and I have nothing more to offer than my dead bugs. “Aren’t they lovely?” I ask. I know they’re dead, but once they were alive and man they used to move. You should have seen them then. Oh, the things you could have learned!” I know kind of gross. Time has allowed rot and decay to set in, and now only the shell of life remains, the memory of what once was.

Jesus said,

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” John 15:1-7

God doesn’t want us to live in the past. He wants us to grow from it as he cuts away the DEAD things that inhibit our growth. It’s exciting to think that He has something new and ALIVE for me today. I need only stop, ask and listen. I’m curious and expectant to see what he has in store. I just hope it doesn’t involve bugs.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

So you think You can dance

I think every family has a child that dances to the beat of her own drum. For ours that dancer is Haley, and I’m pretty sure she has her own band.

Haley is five years old, our second girl and the third of four children. She is by default our middle child, but she will not go unnoticed. She has built-in qualities that call attention to her individuality. In a house where every child is up by 7 a.m. Haley will not be moved before 9 a.m. Attempting to pry her from the cocoon she has created of her blanket promises a struggle and a long day. We have learned to let Haley sleep.

Of course these late mornings mean late nights where Haley has energy to spare at 10 o’clock in the evening. Finding no one awake enough to play with, she often searches me out and insists on quality Mother-Daughter time. This makes for many an interesting moonlit-chat.

This morning after emerging from her quilted shroud and picking through breakfast, Haley asked me to color with her. When I suggested we color a cute, little duck orange she piped brightly, “Let’s make it a colorful duck.” And so, that is what it became – a very, colorful duck and the perfect representation of Haley.

Color is important to Haley. At an early age we dubbed her our fashion Diva. Her fashion choices are surprising and complex – often choosing layers and mixing florals and plaids. Somehow she always manages to pull it off with a bright smile and a wild accessory – usually a hat. Hats are her favorite and mine.

As naturally unique as she is, she desperately wants to do whatever her older brother and sister are doing just in her own way. She and her older sister both love to cook, but Haley wants to create something original EVERY day. Experimentation is key in this process. For someone, like me, who doesn’t enjoy cooking all that much, she is hard to accommodate.

Today our exchange went something like this:

“Mommy can I cook something?!”

“Not right now Honey.”

“Ok, when you’re done writing...You know what I’m gonna make...a strawberry cake! I need frozen strawberries and some candy!”

“Honey, we don’t have any strawberries, and I really don’t want to make anything today.”

“Ok, I’ll make it by myself. It’ll be a surprise...I’ll make an ice cream cake or a candy mix cake but not an egg cake because nobody likes my egg cakes.”

She’s right. Her egg cakes consist of disproportionate amounts of eggs, oil, milk, herbs, sprinkles and a few other mystery ingredients. All this is mixed and then radiated in the microwave. Poor girl needs an easy bake oven!

Along with this stellar creative streak comes a powerful will, one that needs to be bridled without muzzling the wonderful spirit that defines her. It is a blessing and a challenge to be the mother given that privilege. I love being Haley’s mom. I love Haley.

Given all her eccentricity, I’m not sure if she’ll grow up to be a designer, a chef, or simply a really cool mom, but I am confident that whatever she does she’ll dance her way through with an attitude that won’t quit and a whole lot of passion. Sounds like a dance I’d like to learn.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Public Servanthood

We have largely dismissed the notion of true service – that service which requires something of us for which we gain nothing in return as if it were but a notion.

One may assume that a public servant is one whose duty it is to serve the public. While that may be true, how and in what capacity they serve is varied. The term public servant encompasses a large group of people who work in all sectors of government from police officers and technical staff to senators and governors. But when I see the title public servant I immediately connect it with an elected representative.

This elected servant fills his role by serving to represent the best interests of the body – that is his body of constituents – before his peers and those who enact law and public policy. In taking that oath of office he agrees to dismiss his own prejudice and determines to act lawfully on his constituents behalf. But there remains that potential for these public servants to imagine such self-importance that they are quickly reduced to those who simply serve in public. Can we in good conscience call this service? For what are they serving but to enhance their own ego and secure greater power for themselves and special interests?

What answer is there? What recourse when the discourse has become such that ordinary individuals are considered inconsequential – mere pebbles in the politician’s shoe. In the republic there is but one answer, remove the shoe of the politician so that he no longer must deal with the pressure of the pebbles which threaten to upset him. If he can no longer bear the abrasion then he may no longer serve the public that grates so frequently against his conscience.

It seems so few are immune to this reality, and it is unfortunate that history supports this. It is a wonder that any man or woman survives the political arena much less emerges unscathed. I have facetiously wondered if the rites to enter public office include the dismantling of ones principles along with their prejudice. Though there are exceptions, it is a tragedy that so many are blinded by power and influence. For too often what rises in policy bears little in resemblance to what many public servants promised when they left home and entered the capitol, be it in their respective states or in Washington itself.

Shall our public servants be the left alone to shoulder this blame? No. We have failed to hold them accountable either through our apathy or our ignorance. We can no more extricate ourselves from responsibility than we can remove ourselves from the human race. We have left inconvenient, albeit important matters in the hands of humans given to every temptation. When given license and free reign one may be prone to corruption with what is mistaken as the very will of the people at his back. He surmises, “The people put me here. They trust my judgment, and I indeed know what is best for them even if they do not know it themselves.” This logic gives rise to pride and pride gives way to the fall.

We can trace this to Adam and his original sin. Adam and Eve discounted God’s warning and gave in to the serpent’s temptation thinking it would put them on level footing with God. Even Solomon, noted as the wisest man who ever lived, pursued foolishness in his old age, forsook the living God and followed after his lusts, bowing down to wood and stone. Each of these individuals was given tremendous power only to squander it on their own passions.

In contrast, Jesus always sought the will of God before acting. This discipline allowed him to see beyond himself. Observe Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper before his crucifixion:

"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." John 13:14-17

Also, when asked about leadership positions in Jesus Kingdom, Jesus responded:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

This is the public servant which I long to see in myself and in my community - the kind that lays down his life and considers others before himself. I wonder what that job listing might look like.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Bible Gambling...Don't knock it till you've tried it.

For better or worse my husband has always played a game with the kids, which involves Bible questions and cash. Sounds holy doesn’t it? Read on it gets better.

The kids love this crazy game and look forward to it.

My husband begins by giving everyone eight pennies. In turn each child puts up the amount of pennies they are willing to risk and then they get their question. If answered correctly they gain the amount of pennies they wagered. If they get it wrong they lose their pennies. To be fair the questions are age appropriate, with each child usually surprising us with how much they have learned. Our younger kids generally get questions where the only answers are God or Jesus. We all cheer and everyone is very happy.

This particular evening I was observing the game and playing the phone-a-friend role while our youngest son dozed on the couch. Things were going quite well or as well as one might expect in the world of Bible gambling. Our oldest son would respond to everyone’s questions with, “That’s easy. Can I answer that one?” Our oldest daughter was raking in the cash with her total coming to 14 cents (that girl’s been reading her Bible). Sadly, our 5-year-old daughter could not be helped even with the largest of hints. After three tries she finally remembered that Noah built the ark.

The end of the game saw the 5-year-old trailing the other children, a fact which did not escape her. In frustration she commented that everyone had more pennies than she did. We tried to soothe her by pointing out that she had no pennies when we began but now had seven to keep. It was no use - reason was lost in the wake of emotion.

I didn’t help things one bit when I innocently praised her sister for how much she had been reading her Bible lately.

As a result we were hardly surprised when our 5-year-old announced rather loudly, “But I can’t even read!”

Classic! Clearly, I should have been more careful in my appraisal of the children and the situation. Our older daughter took notice.

As we wrapped up and everyone gathered their winnings, the girls sat conversing and before we knew it had come up with a plan. They declared to us that next time they would work together as a team, so that they could help one another with the answers to the questions and consequently split their earnings. What clever, communal and capitalistic thinking.

With bedtime approaching they ran upstairs, to read their Bibles I assume, and prepare for the next Bible match, date and time TBD. The last we heard was our older daughter offering to read while the 5-year-old promised to listen attentively. Ah, teamwork.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Ramblings from the mind of a 3-year-old boy

Last night around 11:30pm my 3-year-old son entered my bedroom. After a moment’s hesitation, I squelched the urge to send him back to bed and invited him to stay. As he climbed onto my bed I proceeded to ask him what he wanted to say to Daddy in the email I was typing. His response was, “I love you Daddy.” I was fishing for more, so I asked him to share with Daddy what he did today. He then asked, “Mommy, what did I do today?”

I continued to probe, and his response was, “You tell me.”


I somehow was able to catch a few more interesting little quips, but mostly just, “I love you Daddy.”

I sent the email and began to read my Bible. Of course my son would not be left out, so he asked me to read to him – from the book of Ezekiel. “We’ll see how kid-friendly this is,” I thought. To my surprise he started repeating each phrase I read, so I slowed my pace to allow him to keep up. He mirrored each inflection and did his best to say the right word. It was too cute. I wondered how long he could keep this up.

After about a chapter of Pete and Repeat he said, “Mommy, I can’t do this all day long.” “Why?” I feigned disappointment, “Because I’m ready to go to sleep,” he replied. But he wasn’t – he just changed the course of the conversation.

“Mommy, are there fireflies outside? It’s too dark outside. I wish I could catch a big firefly.”

“Mommy, are we going to a garage sale tomorrow? ‘Cause I need to get a choo-choo train.”

“Mommy, guess what I made up. Can you please eat them Sam I am? I do not like them Sam I am. I cannot eat in a car, or a tree, or a box, or anything. I CAN eat them on a table!”

I’m always curious to see what little roads we will travel down when he leads the conversation. I just don’t always have the time to wait and see, but for now...

“Mommy, don’t you know what that guy does? He smacks his face.”

“What guy?” I ask, “The guy on T.V. – on the movie tonight.”

I let him talk and talk, uninterrupted except for the occasional question to clarify. I mostly marveled at him and then thought about how we relate to God in prayer. God never turns us away and sends us back to our room when we come calling. He is never in a hurry. He invites me to stay and waits to hear from me - maybe hoping for an “I love you Daddy.”

How God must marvel at us as we go on and on and on about our day and our concerns. Like a parent with his child I imagine him smiling lovingly and enjoying the often one-sided conversation. What a pleasant thought, that God really enjoys listening to me ramble.