Hidden Glory

When I was growing up, my sisters and I loved to look at Highlights magazine. Our Aunt Jo would renew our subscription every year so that the magazines would keep showing up in our mailbox each month.

 

We liked to read the short stories and the jokes. We marveled at the drawings made by kids from all over the country. We shook our heads at Goofus and his bad choices in the “Goofus and Gallant” comic strips. We fought over who got to circle the answers in the “What’s Wrong?” and “Hidden Pictures” sections.

 

When my own children began to receive Highlights magazine, I realized some helpful tricks when looking for those sneaky “Hidden Pictures.” For instance, scanning the picture for things that seem slightly out of place usually leads to a hidden item—often a toothbrush, a pencil, or a bell.

 

If only everything we search for was found so easily.

 

When Moses had received the Ten Commandments and God was ready for him to lead them on to the Promised Land, Moses asked for some assurance of their success. He said, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.”

 

It wasn’t as if Moses was unfamiliar with God’s ways. He had seen God’s power played out on a very large scale in Egypt. Even with his unusual access to God, he knew that much of God’s glory was hidden.

 

The parts of God he couldn’t see were frightening to Moses. He felt that in order to rely on Him and truly lead His people to and through Lord-knows-what, he had to improve his understanding of God, thereby distinguishing the whole group as something special. To Moses, God revealing His glory equaled God bestowing His favor.

 

Even if Moses didn’t/couldn’t comprehend what he was asking, God did. And God knew Moses was in for a real shocker.

 

The Lord told Moses He was pleased with him and He would grant his request, but with one caveat. The only way Moses would survive being exposed to such glory would be at an angle.

 

The Lord said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live…There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

 

There is something so intimate and gentle about God covering Moses as he stands, trembling, in the crevice of a rock. It isn’t a forced showing of God’s splendor. After all, Moses asked for it. It’s a fatherly, protective action.

 

I wonder at times if God hides things from me for my own protection. There are elements of His character and motives behind His actions I will never, ever, ever understand. But the best possible response I could ask for is what the Lord told Moses: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” and “I know you by name.”

 

Then, if I’m brave enough and my trust is in Him, I can respond like Moses and say: “Now show me your glory.”

In the belly of a whale

I was raised on the importance of Sunday school. Nary a week would pass without my sisters and me getting our Sunday best on (tights, slips, leather Mary Janes, homemade dresses), hopping in our station wagon or minivan, and heading to church.

 

I was taught by flannel board lessons and word find sheets hot off the mimeograph machine. Puppets sang to me, exhorting me not to be “grouchy like a rooster” and reminding me that Jesus loves me “for the Bible tells me so.”

 

Of all that went with going to church—the sermons and the songs and the sacraments and the sense of belonging—my favorite part was the stories. The Bible has witches and giants. There are heroes and villains. There are gruesome tales of battles, beheadings, and bad behavior. There are redemptive stories of angels and infants and everlasting love.

 

We would open up our Bibles—the ones with the white cover with Jesus holding a lamb and sporting a 1970’s windswept hairdo—and we would sneak a read at Judges or one of the Kings. We’d read about daggers being plunged into fleshy, fat bellies or queens tumbling out of their windows to be ran over and eaten by dogs. With wide eyes, we’d read of a woman hammering a tent peg into the skull of a runaway enemy king or laugh at the thought of a talking donkey.

 

Among my all-time favorites was the story of a man named Jonah. He had to be one of the most relatable men in the Bible, and yet he found himself in one of the most extraordinary situations.

 

Jonah was called to preach to the pagan people of Nineveh but he just didn’t want to go. So he jumped in a boat and tried to go the opposite direction. Out in the middle of the sea, a storm blew up and threatened to drown Jonah and the rest of the crew. Jonah realized that his disobedience was the reason for the storm, so he begged the crew to throw him overboard. As soon as he was in the water, the sea became calm.

 

At this point, God could’ve said, “Serves you right, Jonah.” But instead God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah and save him. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized what that fish was. I had always assumed being swallowed by the fish was his punishment. The cartoon-drawing of the story always showed Jonah inside the fish with a lantern, looking bored or maybe penitent, kind of like Pinocchio inside of Monstro the Whale, just riding it out.

 

But now I see the fish as Jonah’s salvation. When you read the prayer Jonah composes inside the fish, you see a description of someone falling to the depths of the sea with death as the only logical outcome. Then Jonah remembers God and cries out for help. Who know what kind of help Jonah would’ve chosen but what he got was the relative safety of a fish’s belly.

 

For three days (the longest three days ever!) Jonah prayed and lived and prayed some more inside that fish. Finally, God made the fish spit him out and Jonah went on to Nineveh. When he preached to the pagan people about their imminent destruction, they actually listened and changed their ways. Rather than being pleased with their transformation, Jonah fussed at God.

 

Jonah said, “See God…this is why I didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place. I knew you would forgive those people. Now I wish I could just die.” You can just see his pouty face and arms folded across his chest.

 

God had had it up it here with Jonah’s whining. He sat him down in the time-out chair and said, “Listen. I’m fed up with you. Stop complaining about everything.” I wonder if God was thinking what other kind animal belly He could stuff Jonah in for another three days.

 

Sometimes God sends what looks to me like a punishment as my rescue. Sometimes He gives me what I ask for and I’m still unhappy with the outcome. Sometimes I fold my arms and frown, sure that God has made a mistake.

 

The Book of Jonah ends with God’s scolding. We don’t see if Jonah fixes his attitude or sulks himself to an early grave. For me, I want another chapter. I want to trust God and learn from my mistakes. And I’d rather get to that point without spending any time inside a giant, man-swallowing fish. We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way!

Leather Sandals

When I was little, my mother would buy each of my sisters and me a pair of brown, leather sandals every year. She would caution us to take care of them so that they would last the summer. They had thick, yellow, rubber soles and brass buckles on the side. For some reason, we hated them. I don’t remember reaching this opinion on my own, so I’m guessing I was convinced of their utter ugliness by my older sister.

 

Not satisfied with only corrupting our opinions of the leather sandals, she also convinced us to methodically destroy them. Behind our house, along the property line where our backyard met our neighbor’s backyard, there was a ditch. When we received very much rain, this ditch would become a shallow creek of grass and muddy water. When it was high enough to cover our feet, my sister would instruct us to put on our sandals and wade out into the water.

 

Her diabolical plan was to get the sandals wet enough that they would fall apart and it would all look like a harmless accident. (Everyone needs an older sister like this.)

 

So we would do it and over time, our sandals would fall apart. I can’t remember what shoes we wore after that or how my mom reacted to the news, most likely completely frustrated since she was trying to make ends meet on a preacher’s salary with three young kids. What I do remember is the feeling of standing in the ditch with those wretched sandals on. I felt a mixture of guilt and delight as I wriggled my toes and felt the cushion of the insole fill up with water.

 

Why does disobedience often feel good at the time? I knew I was disobeying my mother when I blatantly disregarded her instructions and didn’t take care of my sandals but I did it anyway. The knowledge of my disobedience didn’t stop me, and in some it ways it was actually thrilling.

 

Now that I’m the mom correcting the disobedience of my own children, I have a new seat to watch this disregard of carefully spelled out instructions. I must sometimes witness their disobedience and deliver consequences for their actions. As the parent, I have more information and experience to back up the instructions I give my children—information and experience they don’t always feel justifies my right to correct them, but in the immortal words of my sister, “Tough noogies.”

 

We can identify with King Solomon when he wrote in the Book of Proverbs: At the end of your life, you will be sad that you ruined your health and lost everything you had. Then you will say, ‘Why didn’t I listen to my parents? Why didn’t I pay attention to my teachers? I didn’t want to be disciplined. I refused to be corrected. So now I have suffered through just about every kind of trouble anyone can have, and everyone knows it.’” Perspective.

 

Obedience doesn’t always come naturally, even for wise kings, but the consequences aren’t far behind. I discipline my children because I love them and I have to cultivate a trust in my Lord who also disciplines out of love and wants to me to be obedient, even when I can’t see it from His perspective.

A day is like a thousand years

How often do you say the following: “It seems like just yesterday” or “This is the longest week ever”? A minute will always last 60 seconds and an hour will always last 60 minutes but it doesn’t always feel like it. Time should be a concrete concept but it seems so fluid.

 

I have a friend who recently told me about an out-of-body experience she had while holding a new mom’s infant daughter. A precious 4-month old sat in her lap and my friend was instantly transported more than 17 years in the past to the nursery of her own now-teenaged daughter. The years disappeared in a mist. Suddenly she was the new mom with the tiny daughter. The sweet, baby smell, the touch of soft baby skin—it felt like it was just yesterday. Tearful, my friend felt that time had passed too quickly.

 

When you’re anxiously waiting for something to happen, time seems to slow to a crawl. It was true when you were a kid, waiting for summer vacation or Christmas morning, and it can still be true for adults. Time stretches out in front of you like an endless horizon. It’s January, bleak and cloudy, and you look at your covered swimming pool, thinking, “We’ll never get through with winter. Summer seems so far away.”

 

Then there are periods of time and phases of life that seem to go quickly and last forever simultaneously. The anniversary of something tragic like the death of a loved one or a long illness or the day a spouse moves out and moves on, can create a desire for introspection. Upon examination, you might realize that while you’re living through it, your heightened feelings make time tick slowly. Your anger and frustration burn so brightly that little else enters your mind. This concentration slows everything down. But when the phase is over, you look back at the towering mountains you climbed and the raging rivers you crossed, and you wonder how you got through it in the amount of time that has passed.

 

Intellectually, we know that time is a fixed thing. We check clocks and watches and cell phones often throughout the day to gauge what we should be doing and where we should be going, and we rarely question what we see. But emotionally, time is not fixed. And our perception, however unreliable, can become our reality.

 

It’s okay if time feels fluid. In the Book of James, we read that “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” He measures time differently, too. So maybe, in the end, it’s not the quantity of time we’re given—the number of seconds and minutes and hours that pass in a lifetime, but how we spend those minutes that really matters.