Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Be Careful What You Pray For

In retrospect, I realize I didn’t really mean what I said in that desperate prayer. 

What I was really hoping to see was a swooping deity coming to my rescue, fixing my stubborn lawn problem with a flick of his almighty green thumb completely apart from me, apart from anything that I would or could be doing. With the HOA and our relentless next door neighbor thus finally off my back, I would be able to return to living my life the way I always have. Everybody happy, everybody getting what they wanted. End of story.

Some of us are raised to believe that such is the nature of real miracles which happen to accompany real faith.  Anything short of that simply doesn’t count.

I can't pretend to be an expert on either prayer or miracles. You may say that God got me on the technicality – I indeed have said, Make me a gardener, even though what that meant to me apparently was significantly different from what it meant to God.

I guess He took me for my word and ran with it. In fact, He is still running with it. 

As they say, Be careful what you pray for. You may just get it.

Of course, hind sight being 20/20, with this twenty-ish year perspective I see how this has worked for my greater advantage.  I was asking for one thing,  but He chose to give me something far better than a quick fix, a 'Raman noodle' miracle.

Still, I realize that like Limburger cheese, some may find 'aged', 'slow cooker' miracles an acquired taste. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

It Takes a Rocket Scientist, a God and a Fool

I wasn’t aware of this until we bought our first house, but I was born with not just a brown thumb, but with all my fingers brown, both on my hands and on my feet (technically called ‘toes’).

Within the first year of the purchase we killed just about every plant on our property.  Mostly through dumb ignorance resulting in abject neglect, but during that time I also discovered that it is possible to kill by caring too much. Too much weeding, too much water, fertilizer, pesticide… you name it, we did it. We’d sunken a fortune into our front yard, only to watch it go down the drain – literally. We became known as neighborhood serial plant killers. My experience taught me that gardening is rocket science par excellence and I am not a rocket scientist.  

Still, if there was any hope for our yard, any hope at all, we needed a rocket scientist or gardener, or both.

Not a lawn mowing service that rolls around once a week, makes a lot of noise and leaves after 30 or so minutes.

And not purveyors of unsolicited gardening advice – God knows we had plenty of those but the only good they taught us was never to trust gardeners with manicured hands.

I looked closely to the right and to the left, but there was no one in sight. Finally it dawned on me that there was one thing that remained.  A long shot and rather foolish one, but at this point I had nothing to lose. So I took a deep breath and exhaled a foolish, impossible prayer.

God, you who created this world out of NOTHING, make me a gardener.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Recipe for Revival

Recently I was asked to write a piece on the topic of revival.

Revival?!!!? I can’t write about revival!, was my visceral reaction. Even I with my rich track record of foolhardy choices would think twice before blindly bumbling in where angels fear to tread.  

How do you write about the subject which is‘caught’ rather than taught? 

How do you transcribe the realm of existence where writers are like garbage pickers feeding on the scraps that fall off the ‘livers’ of life table? 

I tried to squirm my way out of it. Clearly not very successfully.

So, here I am, sitting at my desk on a rainy day writing about revival. As I look out of my window, I realize, it’s not a bad place to start.  My lawn, thoroughly saturated by torrential rains over the past several days, looks better, greener and lusher than it ever has.  I guess, one can say that it has been ‘revived’.  

If you knew the whole story, you would agree with me it truly is a miracle that it looks like this - not perfect, but pretty darn good, by my modest standards. Human, real-life good-enough good, not photo-shop, Better Homes and Gardens, Facebook good.  

This miracle, however, was long in the making. It's the kind of miracle that most people don't really care for - it's neither flashy nor instantaneous. The only miracles they believe in are the crowd-pleasing spectaculars which happen quick - like a magic trick or a drive-through burger on a squishy bun, except that you tag 'in Jesus' name' at the end of your celestial order. 

But this miracle didn't happen like that. It took many drawn out years for its wonder to unfold before our eyes.

I still remember clearly the time when our yard used to look just like our next-door neighbor’s now. 

Namely, dead. 

In sore need of revival. 

Their dried out wasteland brings fond memories of what was once our own.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Who is Taking Your Test?

Mrs. S, today I can use your help with this new computer assessment we are trying out. It's my day to help out at our kids' school, doing whatever the teacher deems most productive use of our time. There is a variety of jobs available, and this one seems easy enough. Still, she warns me,

 It’s been a bit of adjustment for all of us but we are slowly getting used to it. If you don’t mind, just monitor the process and assist the students if they get stuck.

I pull an extra chair next to the computer station and call the first name from the list. One by one, students came, type their login name and password, take the test with varying degrees of success, and are sent back to their desks with customized messages matching their final score:


Try again!

Better luck next time!

I begin to wonder what the fuss is all about when I call Jaeda’s name. She sits in front of the monitor, types her name but instead of the screen of the first page of the test, a different message is displayed.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have passed this test!
And in smaller font, a little note below,

There is no more testing available for this student at this time.

I try several times, making sure that the name and the password are typed correctly, but each time the computer comes back with the same message.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have passed this test!

Jaeda looks at me confused. She shakes her head, No, when I ask her if she has already taken the test. I call upon Mrs. D., and at first she seems as confused as we are. Then her eyes light up with sudden recognition,

I know exactly why it is doing that! In preparation for your coming I wanted to make sure that the program worked properly so I took the test, and it was in her name! I guess I already passed the test for her! There is no need for her to take it again.

We look at each other and burst into laughter. Jaeda, somewhat dazed, walks back to her desk, having a bit of trouble fully taking in her good fortune.

Nothing like having your teacher taking the test in your name – I wish they did that when I was a student…

In the echo of the laughter about the improbable exchange, I see with surprising clarity another improbable exchange that took place long ago. Today, I soak in afresh its wonder and thank the Teacher again for taking my place, and not just once, but once for all, passing the test for me.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21

Friday, May 04, 2018

May the Fourth Be With You

In keeping with the tradition, I am re-posting one of our family favorites. May the Fourth Be With You!

We can thank my mother-in-law for introducing Star Wars into our children’s lives by getting our 5 year old son his first Star Wars LEGO set. He ripped the boxes open and within seconds our home was invaded by the Imperial Stormtroopers and the Droids.

I was mortified.

Star Wars?!!! He is waaay too young for Star Wars!

It wasn’t the complexity of the building process I was concerned about, because that never seemed to be a problem for our pint-size engineer. What bothered me much more was a matter of introducing complex adult issues into his immature mind, and the challenge that creates for me as his parent. But, like it or not, the door was open and there was no going back.

From that day on, my son turned into a miniature Star Wars maniac. So far, he’s been mostly preoccupied with recreating cosmic wars against his little sister. Along the way he somehow acquired a prodigious amount of information about the characters and the plot and various twists and turns in the storyline. He learned the difference between the Imperial and the Rebel blaster, the who’s who and what’s what of the Imperial Army and the Rebel Alliance, and all the whys and therefores of the narrative that molded the worldview of generation after generation since the first movie was released. He bought a Star Wars Visual Dictionary with his own money(!) and would spend his free time memorizing its content.

Now, all this wouldn’t be so surprising if it wasn’t until this afternoon, years after the initial encounter, that he saw his very first Star Wars movie. Watching him watch the movie was as much (or more) fun as watching the movie itself. It was as if he had all these loose pieces of a puzzle, and he finally saw how they all fit together, he could finally place them in their exact spots in the larger, 4-D story-puzzle. His delight was quite contagious. During dinner, he continued chatting enthusiastically about all the fascinating trivia he picked up during the afternoon Star Wars extravaganza. In the course of the conversation, my husband casually mentioned George Lucas and what his intent might have been for the unfolding of the various episodes in a certain sequence.

George… Lucas?!!
 Our son muttered hesitantly… And who is this George Lucas? 

There was no doubt that he was utterly confused. You could tell that he was scrolling down the imaginary database of Star Wars names and faces, from Emperor Palpatine through Chewbacca and Ewoks, but there was no suitable match for the name “George Lucas”.

It was now our turn to be confused. How is it possible that with all these years of borderline obsession with the Jedi and their pecking order, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and R2D2 and Obi-Wan Kenobi, our son never ever heard the name George Lucas?

We looked at each other and burst into laughter.

Hmm …George Lucas…. George Lucas…. Well, he is kind of like God to the world of Star Wars. Without him, there would be no Star Wars, nor the galaxy, nor anybody or anything else belonging to this galaxy far, far away. He created it all. This amazing world exists because it first existed in the mind of George Lucas.

It took several minutes for the news to settle in his shaken-to-the core 9 year old mind screaming for a paradigm shift. Until this moment of revelation he was so preoccupied with the fascinating universe which George Lucas had created that for a brief while he simply couldn’t compute the information about the existence of the creator of that universe.

There…there is a George Lucas… there IS a George Lucas and I never even knew it!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Who Can Handle the Truth?

In preparation for the last high school play of the year, our daughter was volunteered by her Language Arts teacher to help paint the set and the stage props. Ms. L was probably thinking that she was doing the budding artist a favor. Giving her an opportunity to express her indisputable creativity she admired so much over the past few months. She just missed one tiny detail.

Our daughter loves to draw. 

She HATES painting.  

Maybe this is why they say that the devil is in the details.

Still, day after day she would hop on the activity bus and head to backstage where mess and chaos reigned. She would stay there for hours immersed in shades of acrylic up to her eyeballs, four pairs of good jeans and her favorite shirt from Serbia now all permanently decorated by splatters of blue, gray, green and brown.

We did our parental best to stop the madness - all to no avail.

But WHY??? Why are you doing this - torturing yourself? It’s not your job. We tried to reason, hoping it's not too late to teach our child the importance of knowing and respecting proper personal boundaries. 

There is no one else. Everybody abandoned the project and I am left alone to do it.

Throwing all thoughts of honoring proper personal boundaries aside, I did the 'Mom to the rescue' thing and volunteered with abandon:

I’ll do it with you. I LOVE painting. And I would enjoy being there with you. In my mind, I was already feverishly rearranging my schedule to make sure I can fit those several hours of backstage painting in.

No Mom. She said calmly. I can’t allow you to come. Kids are so mean and I don't want you to be subjected to that. 

I am both grieved and taken aback by this apparent role reversal. I also can't help but be somewhat amused by my child’s assessment of what I can handle. Of what I should and shouldn’t be subjected to from her peers. She means well. She wants to protect me… but clearly there is something wrong with this picture!

Then I realize this ridiculous scenario is repeated again and again in many forms and contexts – we do it to our friends, bosses, supervisors, team leaders, pastors. The higher up you are in the food chain, the less likely you are to hear the bottom of the barrel truth. Sometimes truth can be hard to swallow so we decide to lift a shield against it, to opt out - either by not saying what we really think or saying what we think they want to hear.

A lot of love, a lot of intimacy is squandered this way.

We do this to God too, as if He can’t handle the truth. 

We embellish our prayers and compose impressive soliloquies to him, while stuffing our true emotions and thoughts (if we are so lucky to even be aware of them).

I have to wonder what is going on in His mind when we act like this around Him.  Is He bored? Annoyed? Irritated? Does He roll his eyes? Does He feel betrayed, because no matter how much we proclaim our loyalty and our faith in Him, we don't really trust Him - the one person that can handle the truth indeed.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Bad News of Easter

Quite awhile ago, I heard somebody say,

If you were the only person on Earth, Jesus would still come to die for you.

Over time the statement got buried under tomes of theological head knowledge, its gritty truth never really trickling down into my heart.  

Year after year each Easter celebration I would give genuine mental consent and sincere lip service to the events in Jesus’ life that culminated on Friday’s crucifixion.

Knowing how the story ends, we seemed all too eager to hoppity- hop over to Easter with it’s colored eggs and chocolate bunnies celebrations, as if glossing over what killed Jesus is going to make it magically (or, some might say, miraculously) disappear.

With so many bad news in this world, we don’t want to dwell on the negative.  

Since we have the Good  news, we have to share it and have to share it quickly.

But, good news isn’t good unless you are willing to hear the bad news first.

So, with your permission, I'll share some bad news.

The cross of Christ is God’s final declaration on human goodness.

If we don't want to take God's word for it, life has a way of convincing us sooner or later.

What this means is that best, most wonderful, kind, industrious, talented, impressive, intelligent, good looking, successful person you and I meet (including the one we see in the mirror) has a dark, broken interior we all try so hard to conceal behind a façade.  Religious façade probably being the most grotesque of all.

Some of us are so convincing that we start believing our own Marketing and PR or Facebook feed.

As if this is not bad enough, it actually gets worse.

Our brokenness is unfixable.  We are irreparably messed up and there is nothing, absolutely nothing you and I can do to fix it. In fact, by trying to fix it, we often make things even worser (does that word exist in English language?)

This truth is so sobering, if we allow ourselves to linger in it for a bit, it has a potential to radically alter the way we see ourselves, the world and people around us. 

Some of us might be driven do despair. 

For some, this despair might be the best thing that happened in the lifetime of escapism and denial.

The Good Friday is God’s final heart-wrenching declaration on human goodness.

There is none.