Nose Flies and Other Biblical Outbursts

 

Have you ever said something brilliant and insightful, only to have everyone stop and stare at you as if you were suddenly demon-possessed? It’s happened to me repeatedly, but most recently in a ladies’ Bible Study. As we discussed King David and Psalm 23 particularly, a wise woman reflected aloud, “Thank God that Christ really is the Good Shepherd. What a beautiful picture of all He does for us!” This attracted nods and sincere looks of gratitude. In total agreement, my cup ranneth over.

“He even cares about the flies in our nose!” The woman next to me gawked at me wide-eyed, seemingly convinced I was speaking in tongues.  This is one of many examples of why I have not been asked to do a Biblical commentary. However, this is my blog and the time has come. People need to know why Jesus cares about the flies in our noses. With that, I give you an abridged commentary on the lyrics recorded in David’s 23rd Psalm that deviates from the usual important points.

First, David is a wonderful writer who follows the basic rules: Write about what you know and write from the heart. In the first 4 verses, David paints an analogy he knows.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Sheep are really stupid creatures- smelly too. To my knowledge, they are the only animal that does not have some way to navigate or tell direction. Left to their own devices they naturally wander off. Bees dance their way to the hive and eventually the cows come home, but the natural state of sheep is to be lost. Furthermore, they have no discernible means of defense. They can’t fly, outrun a predator, burrow, or use their bodies as a defense. They have no quills, natural body armor; even the skunk has better resources. Poor sheep. Even their wool is defenseless against rain and humidity.

Without anything going for these poor lambs, a shepherd must step in to lead and protect them. Interestingly, sheep follow the voice of the shepherd, even when they can’t see him. If another called, the sheep would not follow the strange voice; they would wander instead. This is one of the reasons Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep hear me and know my voice.” Shepherds had individual calls for each sheep that would come only for their shepherds.  The shepherd knew each sheep from birth. It is up to the shepherd to defend the flock not only from their natural wanderings, but from prey. He did both with the rod and staff; it was used not only to hook around a sheep and bring them back into the fold, but as a weapon against predators. The tool that disciplined the lamb and brought it back into the fold also fought off predators that would attack and devour the sheep. A careless shepherd would maintain distance and leave the sheep to their own devices. A shepherd who used the rod on the sheep instilled them with a confidence that the rod would not be spared against if they came under attack. 

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.

Okay, there is where the flies come in. Here we seem to make a transition to humans as sheep don’t have tables prepared before their enemies, but the second verse has applications for humans and sheep.

David’s beginnings were somewhat humble; he was a shepherd and youngest of 7 brothers. When the prophet showed up and announced to David’s father, Jesse that the king would come from one of his sons, he didn’t even consider David. He had to be called in after every other brother had been considered and God had said, “Not it!” It seems Jesse was not the dad videotaping at the second grade spelling bee. Still, David’s head was anointed with oil, ceremonially declaring he was an heir to the throne. Anointing was extremely symbolic for a king, and it is often mentioned. However, I’d like to return to the sheep.

Sheep are dirty and have very little means to swat away insects. Their ears and stubby tails are no match for flies and (gag alert) sometimes flies would even lay eggs in their moist nostrils of the sheep. Blech. To keep the flies from pestering his poor sheep, a shepherd would sometimes put oil across the heads of the sheep, which acted as a bug repellent. Without much of an immune system (another lack of defense) a minor disease would quickly spread and kill the sheep. While flies were a minor inconvenience compared to attacking wolves, wandering sheep, dangerous terrain, and thieves, a good shepherd still anointed his sheep because he cares about the little inconveniences.

Surelygoodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwellin the house of the Lord
     forever.

Again, this seems like humanity, but like Mary’s little lamb, a devoted sheep would be at the heels of its shepherd. In the times of ancient Israel, sheep were used for sacrifices. This began with the Passover, when a lamb was brought into Israelite homes, slaughtered and eaten, and its blood covered the door posts as a protection. Each year when the time came to sacrifice a perfect lamb, a family had to bring it into the house. Imagine a home with small children who played with a small sheep for several days. (Don’t name it! Then you’ll get attached to it!) After an attachment was formed and time was spent caring for the lamb, it was indeed a sacrifice to kill the lamb. The household saw firsthand the cost of sin; something blameless had to die as the cost of reconciliation. This is why Christians call Jesus the “Lamb of God”, the ultimate sacrifice that paid the debt.

 Sacrifices were also made in the temple, where God came and physically dwelt with his people.  I’ve often read over the verse about the temple without letting in register that there was no temple in the time of David. When he wanted to build a temple, God actually commanded him not to, ordaining his son to build the temple. In his later years David helped Solomon prepare and plan for the temple, sparing no expense. As a result, the glory of Solomon’s temple is still a standard of beauty and honor for the Lord.  Despite all the skills, beautiful materials, and devoted worship, the temple would have remained a man-made marvel except for one important factor: the presence of GOD. It was the presence of the Lord that allowed David to be fearless. A bold sheep may bravely set out alone, but when darkness and danger come the sheep will bleat for help. Likewise, I can be happily going along when suddenly I encounter some form of terror (death, poisonous snakes, large rodent intruders, humidity) and I am quick to call for help.

As David penned many of his psalms, he was literally running for his life from the blood-thirsty King Saul. A gang of outcasts and misfits traveled and fought with him for years, moving from place to place. David was a growing man without a home. I am sure he longed to return to his father’s house or even to the palace where he played the harp for Saul and found a best friend in Jonathan, who willingly abdicated the throne for the Lord’s anointed. As he hid homeless, he was followed by assassins, soldiers, and most likely, a keen sense of fear that never allowed him to put his guard down. No wonder David longed to have goodness and mercy follow him and to dwell in the Lord’s house.

Despite his years of suffering and hardships, God-ordained discipline, consequences for poor parenting, and the losses of many he dearly loved, we are hard-pressed to find anyone who loved the Lord and worshipped as “the man after God’s own heart”. David, the beautiful eyed poet-warrior and king who established the “city of David” where the Messiah would eventually reign, sang and danced before the Lord. This man was a shepherd, a king, a soldier, a skilled musician, and a worshiper of the Most High God. Although it would be many generations before the birth of David’s descendant, The Good Shepherd, David clung to the promises that one day he would be king and one day a Messiah would come. Only a trust in the Most High God allows a terrorized and hiding shepherd boy to pause from running from his life to say, “I shall not want,” “I will fear no evil” and “he restores my soul”.

Whether you are dealing with the shadow of the valley of death, facing wolves in sheep’s clothing, or just longing to lie down in green pastures and have your soul restored, come to the Good Shepherd. Jesus will not only save you and lead you; he will anoint you as royalty and keep the flies out of your nose.

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You’ll Understand When You’re Older

I recently had a great day in my grocery shopping therapy progress (reference earlier post about grocery stranger danger).  At 9:00 am my clean, happy boy and I wheeled through the fruit and veggies, discussing colors and shapes. Okay, I mostly talked to myself about the colors of the apples, but I’m using my teachable moments. Thus, my child will be the 4 year old in Sunday School who sees a picture of Eve looking longingly at some unknown fruit in a snake-wrapped tree and exclaim, “NO Eve! I know it looks ripe and is probably rich in vitamin C, but don’t eat it!” My apologies, future teachers.

With a few healthy items in the cart, I wheeled around to the ears of corn, which were being blocked by an inattentive older gentleman and his cart. I wheeled around and sidled up to bin when he blurted, “Sorry. I’m just waiting here for my wife!” Oh dear, he thought my comment about pulling back the husks to check the corn was to him, not my son. “She takes forever in the supermarket!”  He was obviously a frustrated husband who had endured years of this. I smiled. “We women can really take our time. You’re obviously a patient man, and God love ya for it.” This man needed a hug but I was not volunteering. “No, she goes up and down each aisle, will have an item in her hand and then put it back for the one next to it. She takes an impossibly long time.” This poor soul was fired up now. He continued, “Oh, it takes me maybe 30 minutes to go down each aisle. She can take 2 to 3 hours each trip! I understand you trying to hurry with a little one. I have 3 and now 7 grandkids!” Oh my. Three hours? No wonder he was camped out waiting next to the corn; he really needed an ear. (Groan. I taught high school! Puns are inevitable.) He ended on the comment that immediately triggers my annoyance: “One day you’ll understand.” I smiled and replied, “Well, when I am a grandmother I am sure I will look back on the conversation I had next to the corn. Have a good day, Sir.” Whew.

I find it so frustrating to hear, “You will understand later”, “Just wait” and “You’ll learn”. Apparently I run into only strangers who were born perfect and learned everything with ease. Perhaps having clean hair and a cute outfit with a toddler in tow screams, “Tear this woman down! She thinks she has it all together! Clearly she must be set straight!” Whatever runs through the heads of the commentators, I am sure I wouldn’t understand. No, I don’t know what it’s like to have a teenager or a child go off to college—he’s 1. I don’t understand what it’s like to have 20 years of Army experience—we’re on year 5. No, I haven’t experienced the joys of menopause—but with this pregnancy and your detailed descriptions, I just can’t wait. Pass the hand-held fan and hormone pills! If I am in a rush to gain experience and arrive at understanding, I’ll miss the wisdom I could glean from the here and now. If I’m too busy listening to the all-knowing supermarket voices, I’ll miss the wisdom that will come out of the mouths of babes.

In 8th grade we had a teacher intern for a Social Studies semester. On one particular week we had a quiz related to geography and political changes in the early 1900s. The quiz questions were unclear and the map was indistinguishable; we all crashed and burned. The next day the teacher came rip-roaring in, smoke blowing out of her nose. She screamed about us pampered kids being uneducated and having no understanding of the world in which we live. I mean, we couldn’t identify the third richest man in the world by picture—clearly we are idiots without hope.

She instructed us: “Take your hands, make a C like you’re holding a can, and move them left to right. Now make a ‘beep’ sound.” We obeyed. “Get used to this. If you can’t figure out a quiz this simple then you’ll be working at HEB for the rest of your life.“ I’ve often kept this in mind as I’ve written test questions.

We all know “experts” who have studied for years and seem to have total understanding on a subject, but they lack the experience to go with it. This may be that they are just young or new to a field. It may be that they aren’t able experience something personally. At my last visit with an outstanding OB, he looked at me and said, “I’ve had four kids, so I understand the stress of juggling more than one.” Aw, you sweet man.   It was your wife, Sir, who had the four kids. This is much like a friend of mine who once said, “You know what it’s like to be hungry and even to miss a meal but you’ve never had the fear that comes with not knowing when you will eat again.” She was right; sympathy and empathy do not equal full understanding. It can be very frustrating trying to explain something to someone who just doesn’t have the experience to understand.

The Bible mentions a few times when God got a little frustrated with those of us lacking understanding, especially when we question Him.  Job got a few chapters full when he said, “I just don’t understand! Why me?” I don’t see God’s response as snippy so much as a clear, “I have this under control. My powers are so beyond your comprehension that you can’t understand, but I will demonstrate it in ways that you can comprehend.”

Even Jesus had similar moments with his disciples and those who questioned Him. Can you blame Jesus? The Son of God who was present and active in Creation is dealing with the finite minds of mere men. When Nicodemus questioned the Messiah, Jesus evaluated him with, “You are a great teacher in Israel and yet you do not know this.” Ouch. Then again, I am so thankful to have a God I can’t fully understand. If I could understand every minute detail, I could take control. Worshiping a God I could fully control would lose its luster in about a minute.

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I often remind myself that the “experts”, while full of knowledge and worthy of respect, are also human. Not all teaching is correct and accurate; apparently Pluto isn’t even a planet anymore, and mixing Coke and Pop-rocks did NOT make Mikey’s head explode. As a teenager it seems people who “know better” and can’t wait for you to grow up and gain some wisdom ooze with contradicting advice. Add a few hormones and the result is a muddled mess. One of these teenage days I was reading through the Psalms in search of clarity and found one of my favorite verses for the duration of my time in academia.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.

 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.

 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. Psalm 119:97-99

I am becoming more steadfast in my belief that true wisdom and unchanging truth can only be found in the Word of God. He who designed and made it all wrote the book. I still have a lot to learn and many years before I will truly understand a lot of things. Some things will always be an enigma. (Why do babies immediately poop in clean diapers? Why do people think a turn signal is an invitation to speed up and cut me off before I can change lanes?)   I don’t have to know everything; just where to find the answers. That is something I do understand.

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.” Proverbs 2:1-8

There’s NO Crying in Baseball!

No matter what your feeling is about America’s Pass-time (that would be baseball) or how much you know about the game, I am confident that even the most ignorant among us know one thing:

 “There’s no crying in baseball!”

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This morning was full of crying, whining, and general crankiness. I’m not talking about myself—just my 14 month old. The poor kid doesn’t know which end is up after several major changes this month. After four hours of struggling with my inconsolable son, I finally looked into his tear-filled blue eyes and asked exasperatedly, “What is it that you want?!” His little lip quivered and he pitifully answered with a tiny wail, “Dad!”  Unfortunately, trying to explain deployment to a 1 year old is like teaching an outfielder how to know where to throw to make the out; it’s possible, but for it to work it will take some time and experience. Today I was thinking of one of the finest baseball movies of all time, A League of Their Own.   Really, being on the home-side of deployment a lot like baseball…except there is crying. When mothering young children and wartime collide, there can be A LOT of crying. Hence the humor in seeing Stillwell (Angel) getting smacked with a mitt. Those who don’t think there’s crying in baseball have never endured 4 year old t-ball. (When 90% of the kids are crying, call the game and go get ice-cream to fall back and re-group.) The outstanding script has several quotes and scenes that resonate with my present situation.

When the boys go to war, those left behind try to do what the men do and fill in the gaps while still maintaining their femininity and carrying out their roles.  There were very few moments of all-out crying, feeling sorry for oneself, or really dwelling on the weight of the situation. Instead the girls formed a team, worked together, and had the experience of a lifetime. In the moments where a sister needed help, they rushed to the rescue. When the character of Shirley Baker couldn’t find her name on the roster and was overwhelmed by a barking coach, a fellow player rushed and asked the obvious question, “Can you read, Honey?” She didn’t mind her own business or belittle her—she used her knowledge to help and then celebrated a victory with a new teammate. By the end of the season, Shirley has been taught to read despite the questionable content provided by “All the way May”. The girls laughed, sang,  painted nails, danced, and played ball. Despite their issues, these women were on a team, working toward the same goal. In baseball, no one is victorious alone.

Then there are the more difficult scenes that less than 1% of the population can personally relate to, although every viewer emerges emotionally stirred. As Dottie and Jimmy ride on the bus he reassures each other that mailboxes aren’t on every corner in combat zones; no news is good news.  The night before the World Series as Dottie sobs in her room, her husband knocks on the door, surprising her with an early return from war. In those first few minutes of having my uniformed husband home from the warzone I have often echoed Geena Davis’ thought, “Can we just stand here and hold each other for the rest of our lives?” Unfortunately, the real life injury and death notifications and military funerals are not quite as beautifully acted as the heartbreaking scene where the two military spouses, Dottie Henson and Betty “Spaghetti” hold their breaths and wonder whose season will have been cut short by a yellow telegram. I have played the role of Rosie O’Donnell who silently cries with sympathetic heartbreak as my fellow wives pay the cost of war that no Defense budget can offset.

Despite all the wins, home-runs, phenomenal catches, and sometimes even carrying all of Stillwell’s toys to the World Series, there are still days where I just feel like it’s too hard. Thanks to my movie quoting brain, Tom Hanks immediately enters the scene with the advice I cling to on days where it gets too hard:

“It’s what gets inside you and lights you up. You can’t deny that!”

“It just got too hard.”

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

No matter how devoted a family may be to the military life and to the support of their soldier and nation, there are days where we look forward to it all being over. Then invariably someone will jump in and tell me that despite the moving, goodbyes, fears, losses, and time apart, I will miss it. Enter Geena Davis:

“Miss it? You think I’d miss putting on all this gear, playing a double header in 100 degree heat? Pushing the bus through the mud? Getting slammed into every other day by a base runner?” Then the voice of reason, which has usually jumped into the mouth of another sister-in-arms will respond emphatically, “YEAH!”  At the end of it all, it is my hope that my hero will one day look at me as Bill Pullman did when he watched Geena Davis in the World Series and proudly yelled, “That’s my wife!”

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Yes, military life is still a lot like baseball. The uniforms have changed, the salaries have improved, games are more expensive, clichés abound, the players ‘are dealing with a lot of crap’ (Bull Durham), and there are lots of onlookers who will never be happy 100% of the time.  The rules may change over time, but the game remains constant.

“The one constant throughout all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, erased, and rebuilt again but baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds  us of all that once was good and will be again.” – James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams

Whether it’s young motherhood or active duty during wartime, it’s just for a season—just like baseball. Right now it’s the beginning of my season. God bless the supporters that continue to cheer when there is no home-field advantage. My devoted season ticket holders, thank you for being there on the hard days and being willing to pinch hit until my hero touches home plate.  Those who mow our yards, watch our kids, send care packages, and come to visit help us keep our eye on the ball during double-header days. I have no prayer of batting 1,000 or pitching the perfect game this season, but I will do my utmost for  the love of the game, the love of my soldier, and the love of my country– “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Play ball.

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“Batter up! Hear that call! The time has come for one and all to play ball.”

Learning to Put a Lid on It

An epic gender battle is raging in households everywhere. Yes, marital health is being diseased by an oval, 2 foot object—the toilet lid. My husband and I have only had one serious discussion about this topic due to his impeccable raising and my patient understanding. Said conversation occurred after a pregnant 3:00 am potty break unexpectedly turned into a night swim and a full 30 seconds stuck like a flipped turtle, followed by a shower. Sadly, I have it on good authority that I am not the only woman who has fallen into a toilet during the middle of the night due to an upright lid. No, in our household the toilet lid epic battle is 95% an internal struggle. The other 5 % is against the curiosity of a 1 year old.

Sadly, we aren’t even in the world of potty training yet, but the bathroom is already on my son’s Most Fascinating Destinations list.  We don’t have the childproof locks for the toilet yet because

 A) If the lid is closed he still doesn’t/can’t flip the lid open

B) I would need an intensive training course in operating those buggers, at the risk of being the second household member that wets their pants.

Up. Down. Up. Down. Crash. Splash. Wipe. Bleach. Up. Down. UP. Splash. The lid has more daily ups and downs that a 13 year old girl the week of the Winter Formal.

Today’s mail contained a magazine for Mothers Of Preschoolers, which this year is entitled Momsense. It’s truly outstanding. As I looked at the cover with my son on my hip, I realized that unbeknownst to me, my son’s photo had been used on the cover! Someone had come into my home with a camera and snapped a shot of my kiddo while I wasn’t looking. The intruder didn’t even have the decency to take my kid out of the toilet. No doubt she looked on from an outside window and I played with him and kissed his feet shortly after.  

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Pictured here, my son’s twin is about to dip his toe into the waters of life. Honestly, my son doesn’t find an open lid often and has yet to drop an item in. Usually things just dangle in and get a little splash, or he smacks the water. Soaking one’s chest with toilet water is not my preferred method of requesting a new outfit. He has also learned that upon discovery, he should look at me wide-eyed and say, “Nonono!”, reach out his hands, and prepare for a good hand-washing.

It seems that right now this is MY potty-training. Keeping lids down, tightly shutting doors, and keeping soap well stocked. A mother can never be on her guard 24/7, although it often seems we must maintain such vigilance. The second we are attending to one child or turn to check a text, another child will run out into traffic half naked and peeing, wielding a sign that says, “I am an abused, unloved child! Please, save me and put my mother onto a talk show to make her pay for what she’s done!”

This week as I cleaned off the high-chair tray, my son ran down the hall, opened the door, and discovered my negligence in lid-closing. Soon I heard a familiar splash. On top of it all, I had just finished mopping. As I rushed in to begin a dreaded toy-extraction operation, I saw what was in his plump little hand. The correct end of the toilet brush was in his hand and the bristles were busy scraping the sides. He was cleaning the toilet bowl.  I was stunned for a moment; I’ve not yet seen a man do this in my home.

I am fully aware this is a model of both wonderful and terrible mothering. On one hand, I am clearly modeling this cleaning behavior, which indicates I neglect my son and most likely have an overly shallow OCD personality (according to Parenting magazine and the expert book writers). On the other hand, it shows I am dedicated to creating a clean, healthy learning and living environment for my family in a true model of Christian mothering perfection. (Eye roll.  The Proverbs 31 woman’s scarlet garments weren’t bleach-stained and she paid servant girls. Still waiting on life application for that one, thank you very much.)

This instance of watching my 1 year old help me clean the potty is filed under “I’m not mad, I’m just impressed!”  Of course, I quickly caused crying and commenced the usual sanitizing ritual, but not before smiling and giving myself a pat on the back. Granted, my belt or his foot may end up in the toilet next week, but for a brief shining moment I looked in and saw something amazing. This was a spectacular graduation from a few months ago when he swept up his spilled Cheerios with a push-broom…before using it as a spear to impale the couch cushions.

I am a mom. Not a bad mom or a good mom; just a mom. I forget to close doors. I don’t wrestle my son to the ground to read him books daily. I leave diaper bags at play-dates.  I use pizza crusts as teethers. I also pray diligently over my son, take him outside to play or stroll every day, attempt to feed him extra vegetables, and chase him on my hands and knees around the living room despite my rounding silhouette because it’s his favorite play activity.  I also apparently teach him good cleaning habits. Hopefully one day I will look at my future daughter in law and say, “He is fully trained to help around the house. His first time cleaning the toilet was at 14 months old and he’s been sweeping the kitchen since 9 months.” Yesterday he also tried to load the dryer, although it was with the dirty clothes that were about to enter the washer. The baby steps are still in the right direction.

 For now I will pretend that I am modeling excellent behavior and ignore that he enjoys unraveling toilet paper and using empty rolls as a tiny swords. After all, he’s a boy…but he’s my boy. Love may be a battlefield, but the bathroom is a warzone.  Our battles will change as we go from my potty training to his potty training, but hopefully we can all learn to put a lid on it. Added ironic bonus:  My husband finally has a good excuse to remind me to put the lid down.

An Heir and a Spare

 

The image on the black and white screen was easy to identify. Legs, rear, and most definitely not the umbilical cord. “Oh, it’s a boy!” I said with gusto. The technician, a kind, middle-aged mother of three boys herself, compassionately smiled and said sweetly, “You wanted a girl.” I looked at her and said honestly, “A few people will be disappointed and a girl would have been great, but I am really happy to have another boy. It’s like getting a million dollar raise with this one!”  The tech stood to go get the doctor and said, “Well, now you can have a third to go for that girl!” Her head bobbed away over the curtain and I said definitively, “Nope!”

Asking a woman who isn’t even into her third trimester if she’ll try for a third is like asking a freshly minted high school graduate about plans for a doctorate thesis. It’s not unlike asking a college sophomore when she’ll land herself a man, get married, and have the first baby…and then which color scheme she wants for the nursery.  It may happen one day and be a wonderful experience when it does, but easy does it.

I am amazed at how many people have just flippantly dismissed this unborn wild child to dream of another opportunity to buy bows and a wedding dress. I think the idea of two superheroes flying around the backyard in their capes or two pirates dueling to the death with safe pool noodles in a padded room, far away from anything breakable sounds darling. I just get to buy adorable bows and dresses for the other little girls in my life. I will be concerned enough about walking barefoot on Lego booby-traps in the night—omitting the Barbie heel spikes of death is just fine.

I can list dozens of advantages to having two boys right now, but I’ll spare you.  I think the winning quote goes to my mother, for “Now I have built-in pall bearers!” God Bless Texas. There are just as many advantages to having a girl. It’s just fascinating to me that the greater population feels that everyone should have one of each to be happy. At my first pregnancy I was highly encouraged to have a boy to help preserve the family name that would die off without a son. In fact, the morning after my wedding, my husband’s grandmother sat beside me and asked, “When can I expect grandchildren from you?” I was taken aback, as her 6 grandkids were all in the wedding.  A discussion of deployments, potential infertility issues, and desire to be married for a while first occurred. “Well, don’t wait too long! I’m not going to be around forever!” she warned. Four years later I called the matriarch to announce that I would be producing a male heir to her line. She was overjoyed and on still calls him the “heir apparent” on occasion. Thus, I have a Princess Diana complex. Now I have even produced an “heir and a spare”, as Diana used to say with William and Harry in tow.

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With this in mind, I’d like to recreate the scene.  I have a precocious toddler, an expanding belly, and a calendar countdown with question marks covering three weeks in November. Once again I will be wondering who will arrive first– my newborn son or my husband from deployment.  My past 72 hours has been a blur of calls from doctors, nurses, and appointment lines, trying desperately to be seen for additional screens and testing for some “concerns we have from original test results that indicate genetic problems.”  It’s very hard to prepare for the unknown. After a weekend spent in prayer and a remarkable amount of quiet, I was finally taken back to have a doctor take a look at this baby.

Now the doctor came in and shook my hand, taking his time to thoughtfully explain every step, marker, possibility, and what he saw. He looked relieved as I said, “We can skip the termination talk. This baby is going to be loved and kept regardless of the outcome.”   Every measurement was normal; the motor skills were off the charts. “Oh look, the hand movement is a good sign! Rapid finger movement is a great indicator of brain and motor function.” I looked at the screen and watched a tiny hand mold into a thumbs up. Gig ‘em, Buddy. As I watched this baby do Olympic pool laps and make things challenging for the poor doctor trying to measure various moving parts, I was overjoyed.  We were prepared to welcome a specially blessed, differently-abled child. I have been abundantly blessed by people who have lived life with a “new normal”. Notice that the majority of the time Jesus spends doing ‘great miracles’, He is healing the sick and curing physical impairments like blindness, lameness, leprosy, bleeding- and even death.  When the religious leaders asked why a man had been born blind, Jesus answered that it was not by anyone’s fault, but so that He could be glorified. Still, indications of a lovely, healthy baby are worthy of a happy dance and prayers of thanksgiving.  

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So as strangers and friends smile to hide disappointment that I am expecting another boy, I am amused. I walked into Maternal Fetal Medicine with questions, concerns, and hopes. I walked out with every indication of a healthy, highly active son who can already throw a “gig em”.  I’ve decided my pregnancy mantra is NOT “If at first I don’t meet your expectations, try, try again.” I am quite happy being the princess with an heir and a spare. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to introduce myself to the ER nurse and request my own parking spot at the hospital.

Watch Your Rear…and Your Heart

The sun was shining, it was a breezy 82 degrees, and I was headed unaccompanied into Sam’s Club to load up on the essentials: Goldfish crackers, chocolate protein bars, and other things that scream “I have a toddler”.  I walked in and tried to grab a cart from the line, which clung for dear life to the cart stuck behind it.  As I yanked these two unruly carts apart and stifled my instinct to threaten to separate them and give them a time-out, I looked to the end of my cart. It was literally abutted against a pair of navy cargo shorts. I had rear-ended someone!  Oh, the embarrassment.

My victim was about my height, build, and age; for goodness’ sake, we both had in pearl earrings! Worse, it was obvious from my dress on this Sunday afternoon that I had just come from church.  Yep, go ye into all the world and ram people with your cart.  I immediately gushed a heartfelt apology. “I am SO sorry! It just came flying out!” I sputtered in a totally incoherent but genuine manner. She half-turned her head to look me over out of the corner of her eye and then proceeded on without a word. Without a word. Not even a cross-ways glance or scathing evil-eye!

As I pushed my weapon of mass destruction down the aisles, I was confused as to why my heart had sunk due to this encounter. Excuses flooded. She was stopped right there and didn’t move! Neither of us were really watching.  How rude not to respond! Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she just wasn’t raised correctly, bless her heart. I understand that I live in a state where it is not commonplace to greet a stranger, smile, or even breathe someone else’s air. It’s not a friendly place by my definition. That’s not the issue. I had made a mistake, taken responsibility, and tried to verbally make it right with the person I’d wronged. I’m sure if I’d rear ended her car, she’d have a few things to say, but there is something fundamental in not acknowledging another human being. By the time I got to the Whole Grain Goldfish (I’m NOT the worst mom ever, thank you very much) I came to a conclusion. I was hurt because I had been wholeheartedly ignored when I had tried to apologize and beg a pardon.

Being wronged by an unrepentant, unrelenting loved one can be heartbreaking. Realizing you were the wrong-doer and desperately trying to make amends with someone who won’t forgive you crushes the heart. We are taught to say, “It’s okay”, even when it’s not. Perhaps it’s because as children we are taught to say, “I’m sorry” even when we are not. When my siblings and I were little-bitties and would get into fights, my mother would make us sit down, talk it out, and then apologize. We have a special ability to use words to cut to the quick, so rather than hug, we had to compliment our sparring partners. Soon my brother’s standard compliment to us girls (eye roll included) became, “You’re good at soccer.” One day I could take it no longer.  “I don’t play soccer!” I shouted, totally exasperated. He shrugged and said, “I said something something nice!”

The problem really comes when we really, really are SORRY. Remorseful, apologetic, repentant. SICK to our stomach sorry. When that receives indifference or an unforgiving response, it is an entirely different hurt that poisons us thoroughly.  Just a few hours earlier a woman beautifully belted a song during the Sunday church service. I’d never heard it before, so the lyrics stuck with me. “I know what it’s like to look back on things I’ve done and be ashamed. I know what it’s like to have truly hurt someone… but thanks to Jesus I can say, ‘I’m forgiven!’ ”

Do you ever struggle to forgive yourself for things others have forgiven? Do you make your baggage carry-on when it needs a terminal checking? I’m guilty of it. Forgiveness gets a lot of ink in the scriptures, particularly red ink. We are called to obey extremely difficult, counter-intuitive commands. We have to be re-programmed to love our enemies, forgive our accusers, give extra to those who rob us, and go an extra mile. That is HARD. Worse, trying to do so puts one under a spotlight, allowing others to easily spot when we fail miserably and struggle to make our hearts yield. It’s easy to admit that we make mistakes, but we’d rather not have people offer specific examples.  It is SO much easier not to admit guilt, not to accept fault, not to let the grudge or hurt go, and not to seek forgiveness.

When we do ask for genuine forgiveness, I truly appreciate that Jesus provides an absolute guarantee on the forgiveness of sins. The other religions have a goal to reach, but no guarantee that you’ll reach it despite your .  Jesus won’t look me over and ignore me because I’ve wronged Him. Even in unpleasant judgment, Jesus never ignores those who cry out. The New Testament is full of people who are chasing Jesus down to ask for things; healing, security of salvation, miracles, answers- even a free meal. Some declared a need for mercy, Barabus declared himself a sinner, but no one asked the Savior for forgiveness before asking for something else. Yet as Jesus heals and performs miracles, He emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and a healthy heart- one that isn’t poisoned with pride, ungratefulness, worry, fear, shame, and unrepentance.  Isn’t it interesting that the majority of the time people are crying out for forgiveness and mercy in the Bible, it is to God in the Old Testament? That “Old Testament” God who is full of wrath whose favorite hobby is smiting? Yep. The same God that is hailed as the great forgiver and granter of loving-kindness and steadfast faithfulness to those who sought to be his people. His people were repeat offenders of wandering away from God, chasing worldly passions, and blatantly sacrificing to idols- even burning and killing their own children. Though angry, frustrated, hurt, and sorrowful, when God heard the desperate cries from his remorseful and grief-stricken children he forgave and accepted them.

Jesus doesn’t want a shrug and a forced, “I’m sorry! You’re the Son of God and really Holy. I bet you’d be really awesome at soccer.” If we are truly honest about ourselves and who we’ve wronged, a genuine, repentant apology wouldn’t be hard to muster. We indeed have an Accuser who glories in shoving our mistakes in our face- but it is not Jesus. Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven” and “Behold, I am making all things new”.It’s an unfortunate fact of life that consequences are inevitable and not all apologies are accepted. Bitterness, anger, hatred, and unforgiveness are a part of the deal. Only Jesus provides a way to have a blank slate; humans…well, we’re not God. (Sorry, Philosophy prof… my chair is not God. Logic 201 taught me that if I am God, but I am the same substance as my chair, then my chair is God. That makes me have to ponder the meaning of Ikea.  I’m so not going there.)

Whether we are charging through life ramming people with our cart like Black Friday lunatics or simply rear-ending the unsuspecting that come into our path, let us be mindful and able to take ownership for our actions. Even if we are correct or just made a mistake by accident, let’s ask for forgiveness. When someone asks genuinely for it, even if you can’t grant a full pardon right away , look the person in the eye and acknowledge the situation. When we gloat, hold grudges, or ignore others, it dishonors Christ.  “To err is human, but to forgive is divine”- in that case, go for a degree in divinity. In the meantime, watch your rear around the cart corral. Those carts just fly right apart.

Fruitbasket-Flip over

I suppose I should start with an apology. It’s a very good place to start. All the amazing people who were a part of the children’s ministry team with me in Georgia have been traumatized at some point, most pointedly by a song I have brought into their lives forever; the Fruit of the Spirit song. With that said, excuse me as I throw my hands up into an “O” and belt it, Baby.

“OOOOOH! The fruit of the Spirit’s not a watermelon! Uh! (Squat as if holding a watermelon…unless you are very pregnant and want everyone to think you are in labor as they peek in.) The fruit of the Spirit’s not a watermelon! So if you want to be a watermelon you might as well hear it- you can’t be a fruit of the Spirit ‘cause the fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-controoOOOL!”

I’ve received many calls over the years saying that kids now can’t eat fruit salads without breaking into song or that fellow workers can’t hear preaching on Galatians 5:22-23 without imagining the preacher in a watermelon squat. Just trying to make a difference for Jesus, people. You are welcome.

Honestly, lessons, crafts and the Fruit of the Spirit consumed my Sundays and most of my evenings for over 2 years as I wrote a children’s curriculum and then watched remarkable teachers bring it to life in ways I could not have hoped. By the last Sunday I was wondering who would arrive first- my husband from Afghanistan or my firstborn son…mix that with self control week and I was a bit of a Fruit Loop.

Chatting with my amazing college roommate this evening, she mentioned Galatians 5:22 and the difficulty in having all the fruit at once. It’s true; anyone who has seen me in full-on joy-mode knows that my hugs won’t be gentle and self-control is out of the question. Thank goodness for the power of the Holy Spirit.

I got to thinking about the last several years of sermons I’ve heard. Regardless of the topic, it seems the first fruits usually get more honorable mention. It’s easy to bring up love– Jesus’ love, love your enemies, love one another, love the Lord your God… Joy: Joy isn’t terribly hard either. ‘Consider it pure joy when youface trials of many kinds’, right? Goodness, that could be a sermon series. Peace: ‘Live at peace with one another inasmuch as you can’, there will be peace in the last days, ‘Come to me ye who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’

Then at patience we hit a different type of fruit- the kind that would benefit from a scoop of Bluebelle or some Kool-whip sweetness. This is when we get to the ‘new motherhood fruits’. These are the ones I don’t hear too much about from the pulpit, but Bible Studies and devotionals for new mothers are chock-full of teachings on these gems.

Patience: Paaaatieeeence. (Mom, mom, mom…repeat for 18 years). Aside from the examples of Jesus’ patience with the disciples and the patience of Job, I can’t recall too many in-depth sermons on patience.  Kindness: Share. Be kind to one another. Show compassion. Take care of one another. Try to be thoughtful. Care for others. Be a friend. Be an example of Christ’s loving kindness. Are these lessons from seminary or pre-school?

Goodness: Parents, teachers, new puppy owners, spouses…we are all familiar with goodness. We often put our palm to our forehead as we say, “Oh, goodness!” and prepare to handle life’s little delights. This one may be easier on a pre-school level. Defining exactly what ‘goodness’ is can be challenging for some adults. It’s every quality of God; a total purity. Unless of course, you have kids, in which case goodness is about our intentions and their behavior.  “Good moms” have ‘good intentions’. “Good kids” obey, eat their vegetables, share, etc.  I’ve heard many mentions of the goodness of God, but usually as a road to get to the “greatness of God” highway. Bummer. There are amazing mysteries of God’s character waiting to be mined and shared.

Now for the bottom layer of the fruit salad. It’s kind of juicy when you dig deep and get to the bottom of things. If these fruits are mentioned in a context other than Christ exhibiting them in the gospels, the pastor gets a personal congratulatory note from me.

Faithfulness: Oh my. We can point to the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, to the faithfulness of the patriarchs, or to the martyred early church members, but it’s much easier to talk about the faithfulness of the Trinity than to talk about ours, isn’t it? We live in a world where tv couples can’t stay faithful for a full season, New Year’s gym resolutions are abandoned by February, and a handshake is now replaced by 15 pages of legal documents for every business transaction. How faithful are we to our God? Not just in service to him, to church attendance or tithing, but really faithful in our love and dedication to Him? Plth. I found some seeds.

Gentleness: It’s easier to be gentle in some areas than in others. I can gently calm my crying son or speak gently to him, but put me in traffic with the certifiably crazy and gentleness is redefined as not honking my $2 kazoo-horn and raising my voice. When my patience is on life-support, gentleness is often in the bed next to it. ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath’ is easy to quote, but hard to remember when someone’s sour grapes turn a simple misunderstanding into a Steinbeck novel.

Self-Control: Oh, the grand Pooh-Bah fruit. If there is one fruit that is a universal struggle it is with self-control. Only self-control consistently receives the verb “exercise” before it. Like a muscle, it’s not enough to have it; self control must be worked on, used, and maintained lest it atrophy. Self- control is where I need the most accountability. A friend of mine committed to watching her yelling and raising of her voice with her kids. For over a year now I have held her accountable and marked significant progress over the phone alone. She’s an inspiration to me, and has encouraged me in the same area.  We often know when we’ve lost self-control, but we need true accountability to say in love, “It’s NOT okay.” It is very easy to mark when someone has lost self-control. No pastor wants to preach on self-control to a congregation anxious for lunch. Self-control is the fruit that most consistently rots in the fruit basket of the Spirit. I’d much rather control the things I can’t rather than have control over myself- the thing I can control (in theory).  I can’t control my tongue when my son wears me down. I can’t stop at one Thin Mint. Already at 4 months pregnant, I can’t go more than an hour without a bathroom break! I struggle with self-control in all areas.

Perhaps what we need is a fruit-basket-flip-over. An apple a day is nice, but it gets boring and makes for an unbalanced diet.  Perhaps the more bittersweet fruits of self-control, gentleness, faithfulness should be added to the mix with the sweet fruits of love, joy, and peace more often. When we are filled with the Spirit and eating the Bread of Life, it sure is sweet to have some fruit spread.