Surprise ending

I rarely watch a movie or read a book more than once. There’s a part of me that says, “I already know how this ends, so I’m not really interested in going through all of it again.” I mostly prefer the excitement of finding out what happens more than moving step-by-step through the plot. Still, there are times when I will get so engrossed in an already familiar story that either I forget what will happen or I hope it will turn out differently this time (pointless, I know).

 

The beauty of hearing a story for the first time, with no spoilers or hints of the final outcome, is that you are evenly informed with the protagonist. You, the spectator, know as much as the main character. There are some stories I’ve known from infancy that I wish I could hear as an adult but for the first time.

 

One of those stories is the account from the Book of Genesis about Joseph. Here’s a quick summary: Jacob, Joseph’s father, gives Joseph—his favorite son of his favorite wife—a special coat. This gift along with Joseph’s penchant for telling his dreams which feature his brothers bowing down to him gets Joseph thrown in a pit by his scheming brothers and eventually sold as a slave to a wealthy Egyptian named Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to our boy Joseph and when he thwarts her advances, he gets put in prison. While in prison, Joseph interprets the dream of a baker and a butler. The dreams come true: the baker is killed and the butler is released from prison. After which, the butler tells dream-vexed Pharaoh about Joseph and his ability to explain dreams. Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream and Joseph replies, “I can’t explain it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” Joseph explains that Pharaoh’s dreams mean that the land would have 7 years of good crops followed by 7 years of famine. So Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s right hand man. Joseph puts his plan into action, saving up good grain for those bad years. Eventually, Joseph’s brothers back in Canaan become desperate for food. Ten of his brothers (all except the youngest—Benjamin) go to Egypt to collect the grain. Joseph plays some crazy mind games with them because they don’t recognize him, the brother they long ago assumed had died. Joseph calls them spies and thieves. He even puts them in prison, all a ruse to get his youngest brother Benjamin to come to Egypt. (And maybe exact a little sibling revenge?) Finally, after Joseph runs out of tricks, he reveals his identity. He weeps as he holds his brothers who tremble at thought of their persecuted brother now holding their lives in his hands.

 

It’s a wild ride. There are soap operas with fewer twists. But, in the end, this is what Joseph tells his brothers in Genesis 45: “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you!” (NLT)

 

When young Joseph was sitting at the bottom of that dark and dirty hole, listening to the whispered voices of his big brothers above who argued over how to punish him, he wouldn’t have thought in a million years that the hole was a part of a bigger plan to rescue those same jealous brothers from starvation. And when he sat in chains in the prison of a foreign land for a crime he didn’t commit, Joseph couldn’t have known he would eventually be sitting next to the throne of the most powerful man in the world, advising Pharaoh and ordering servants to obey Joseph’s every command.

 

This is a reminder to me that when things aren’t working out the way I’d hope and I can’t figure out why it’s so difficult, it’s best to rest in God’s faithfulness. Four times in Genesis 39, we read “The Lord was with Joseph.” Joseph knew he wasn’t alone in the hole or in prison. The Lord was right there with him, crafting a surprise ending to Joseph’s tumultuous story.

Bad Luck

The past couple of weeks have been pretty hectic around the Rosser house, and most of that bad luck has been aimed at me. Sickness and doctor’s appointments, broken clothes dryer and backed up sewer line. (FYI: I’ve realized that a working sewage system is one of the things I most take for granted.) It’s been weeks of mopping and wet/dry vacuuming and remembering to take my antibiotics. To add to my misery, the check enginelight just came on and my van is shaking like nobody’s business, so now I’m without my handy-dandy minivan until they can fix the problem.

 

I’m a glass half-full kind of girl, so I can spin a lot of things toward the “it could’ve been worst” zone. What if the sewer line had backed up while we were gone for Fall Break? That would’ve been a disaster! What if the check enginelight came on while I was with my daughter looking at a college out of town? We would’ve been stranded in the middle of Arkansas! And of course, I can always tell myself, “Stop whining! Even with a basement covered in sewer water, you’re still a million times more fortunate than most of this planet. If you have a clean mattress to sleep on, know how to read, and eat vegetables every day, you are richly blessed!”

 

Even with that kind of pep talk, this much bad luck this close together might still find a chink in my optimism armor. That was the day I got a tag on the trash can telling me I didn’t put it out before 6:00 am, in time for pick-up, even though I had it out the night before. The reprimand was such a little thing, but it pushed me over the edge. “Are you kidding me?!?” I wanted to yell to someone in charge.

 

When you’re feeling like you’re in the middle of one of those frustrating movies where everything goes wrong for the main character to the point of absurdity, go to the Book of Psalms. They get you there.

 

The world has just recently lost the very insightful Eugene Peterson, pastor and author of The Message. His paraphrase of Psalm 73 makes me think he understood a little about bad luck, just as the original author—Asaph, the leader of King David’s choir—must’ve also experienced some fairly awful days.

 

“What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?Nobody’s tending the store.The wicked get by with everything;they have it made, piling up riches.I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;what has it gotten me?A long run of bad luck, that’s what—a slap in the face every time I walk out the door…Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache, until I entered the sanctuary of God.Then I saw the whole picture…When I was beleaguered and bitter,totally consumed by envy,I was totally ignorant, a dumb oxin your very presence.I’m still in your presence,but you’ve taken my hand.You wisely and tenderly lead me,and then you bless me.” Psalm 73:11-24 (The Message)

 

On those Bad Luck Days, I yearn to see the whole picture, to see how it all fits together and why it’s still important for me to hunger for righteousness. In the meantime, I’ll just hold God’s hand and allow Him to bless me, even if I can’t always discern the blessings from the bad luck.

Sudoku

In a house with 4 kids who go to 3 different schools, weekday mornings can be hectic. Breakfast must be eaten. Backpacks must be packed. Lunches must be made. Pajamas must be traded for school clothes. The majority of my kids are relatively self-sufficient, but I still need to be available to monitor the morning progress if I want everyone out the door and to school on time. So the busyness of the morning makes completing the newspaper puzzles fairly difficult.

 

Since my older sister homeschools her 4 kids, her mornings are a little less hectic (but the rest of the day is pretty busy!). Therefore, she prioritizes her morning time and her newspaper puzzles. She has told me, “I do the top left scramble, then the sudoku, the bottom scramble, the crossword and then the cryptoquote. Brain work!!” She said that the first 4 puzzles are her prep work for the tricky and often perplexing code-breaking exercise of the cryptoquote.

 

If I do get around to completing any puzzles, I usually only do the sudoku puzzles on Mondays and Tuesdays. This is not because those are our less crazy days of the week. It’s actually because I’m aware of my limitations. The difficulty of each sudoku puzzle is noted with a number of stars. Monday is usually a 1-star and Tuesday is a 2-star. I’m just not willing to devote the amount of effort to a puzzle that’s more difficult than that. Call it lazy or call it self-awareness, but it’s true.

 

According to sudokudragon.com, the name sudokuis “abbreviated from the Japanese suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru, which means ‘the numbers must occur only once.’” Because of its name, many might assume the sudoku puzzle is a Japanese invention, but there’s a lot more to its origin story.

 

It started out as the invention of a Swiss mathematician named Leonhard Euler in the late 1700’s. It eventually made its way to French newspapers between 1890-1920. Then the puzzle showed up in an American magazine in 1979. By the 1980’s, Japan started printed the eventually-named Sudoku puzzles in their magazines and newspapers. The Japanese people love a good puzzle as much as anyone but found that the structure of their language and lettering made it difficult to construct a Japanese crossword puzzle. A number puzzle worked much better for them.

 

For those who don’t really care for newspaper puzzles, the history of the sudoku might seem as mind-numbingly boring as actually completing a sudoku puzzle, but there’s an interesting evolution to its existence and popularity. This grid made up of 81 boxes and a few well-placed numbers, has changed over the last 250+ years as it was altered by various cultures. Instead of keeping it just so, when a new group discovered it, they would look to make it better or more challenging or more universally appealing.

 

Though the name Su Dokumeans “number single,” its persistence in so many diverse places shows its multiplicity. It’s an excellent example of the melting pot theory. Learning from and sharing what we love with others can create some pretty amazing things.

The lost remote

We have three remote controls for our living room television: one for the TV, one for the DVD player, and one to navigate all of the extras (Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, etc.) It is a necessity of the fallen nature of our world that at least one of those remotes should go missing every day.

 

The AWOL remote can usually be found fairly quickly by taking all of the cushions off the sofa and throwing them on the floor. The slippery little devils love to slide down into the bowels of my sofa, hiding in between cloth-covered boards and consequently reminding me of how crumby those hidey-holes can get even though my children are NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT WHILE SITTING ON THE SOFA. (Apparently goldfish crackers can swim to the sofa all by themselves. Isn’t Nature amazing?)

 

So when my youngest son was ready to watch his afternoon “chill-out” movie, the required remote could not be found. We took out all the cushions and checked the drawers of the hutch and the TV stand and the end tables. We checked in nearby rooms—the bathroom and the kitchen—but still no luck. When we looked under the sofa and the loveseat we found naught by giant dust bunnies, an orange bouncy ball, and a broken pencil.

 

My son continued to search for the remote (his desire to seeMulan 2was this strong!), but I shifted my focus to the dust bunnies. I brought out the dust mop and the vacuum. I ridded the hardwood floors of their gray layer of filth and vacuumed the living room rug which is known to be a prolific shedder.

 

After I had the floors in “company’s coming” appearance, I stood up and glanced at the mirror hanging above the loveseat. I found the greasy imprint of a face—forehead, nose, and puckered lips—a gift from one of my dear darlings, no doubt. I put away the mop and vacuum and turned my attention to the Windex and paper towels. One thing led to another and before long I had cleaned most all of the glass surfaces in the living room, kitchen, and sunroom.

 

This was not my plan. I had planned to get a movie started for my youngest and work on supper, but something clicked inside my head. A voice said, “Enough of this madness! You must cleanse this place!” The dust and the grime I walk past all too often finally mounted up past my level of tolerance to the extent that I was compelled to act.

 

At those moments—those fanatical dusting, sorting, purging moments—my spirit gets all up in the Book of Ecclesiastes. The invisible preacher in my head starts saying things like: “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Sometimes the Preacher morphs into King James Version if I get really worked up.)

 

It’s weird, because the mess had been there for days but I was finally moved to act when I was searching for something else. It makes me wonder what other messes I am unaffected by, possibly because the job to clean them up or the frequency of the chaos is too great. I wonder if there’s an injustice I’ve ignored or a misery I don’t want to think about, but I’m actually supposed to get to work in that place. Maybe as I’m searching for some distraction, my eyes will be opened to a place that needs my care and attention.

Tow truck

Last week the alternator in my husband Brent’s truck went out, and we had to get it towed. I met Brent in the parking lot down the road from our house where he was stranded, then he took my van and headed to work while I waited for the tow truck.

 

When the driver arrived, he expertly backed his behemoth truck behind our vehicle and lowered the bed. He maneuvered levers and switches to release chains and hooks to attach to the undercarriage of our pickup truck. In a few moments, he had pulled the pickup onto the bed and slowly raised it to its original position. Then the driver knelt at the front of the pickup to attach a few more chains.

 

In order to get these chains in position, he had to stick his head and half his body under the pickup. I watched in amazement as his blue jean-clad legs and leather work boots moved slightly while the rest of his movements were concealed from my view. It was like watching a lion tamer place his head in a lion’s mouth, except that instead of the threat of sharp teeth, this guy had to risk a Ford F-150 rolling over him.

 

He escaped unscathed and invited me to join him in the cab of his tow truck. Now I have been driving for nearly 3 decades, but this was the first time I had ever had the privilege to ride in a tow truck. It was quite a leap to get to my passenger seat but once there I looked around. I saw a big box of individually-wrapped Rice Krispies Treats, a 12-pack of Gatorades (with a few missing) and a slew of bungee cords in varying colors and sizes. He asked me where I needed to have the pickup dropped off, and he put the address in his GPS device.

 

The driver and I discussed normal things—traffic, kids, living here as opposed to living in his hometown. I complimented him on his reverse skills, especially since I’ve been teaching my teenaged girls how to drive for the last year. He said that early on he practiced frequently, first on a computer game and then on the real thing.

 

I asked him if he was dreading the summer heat which would inevitably flare up as the day went on. His answer surprised me. “I don’t mind it at all,” he said. “I love my job. I love being outside and helping people. I work for a great company. The heat isn’t really a big deal.”

 

I told him that he was lucky that he enjoys his profession. “I bet there’s a lot of people who wish they could say that they love their job,” I told him.

 

His approach to his tow truck job would be helpful to be apply to everyday living: 1) Have a good attitude. 2) Figure out where you’re going. 3) Have faith even when it’s scary. 5) Practice things that are difficult. 5) Always have Rice Krispy Treats.

The day the lights went out

One mid-morning last week the power went out at our house unexpectedly. There were no storms or other obvious reasons for the outage. I was unloading groceries from my van and then, with a click and a fading whir, everything just stopped. I waited to see if the problem would be remedied quickly and magically and without my assistance, but nothing happened. I checked the breaker box and saw that all of the switches were facing the correct direction (that’s the extent of my electrical expertise). I stepped outside to listen for any noises associated with electricity coming from neighboring homes—HVAC systems humming, garage doors screeching. All was quiet.

 

I finished unloading my groceries, grouping items requiring refrigeration together so that I could sneak them into my dark refrigerator stealthily to let out as little cold air as possible. Then I called the electric company to report the outage.

 

I never do this. I always expect someone else to make the call when the power goes out, but this time I started thinking about how few people are home on a Monday at 10:00 am and how none of our neighbors might even know that the power went out.

 

Another thought which crossed my mind was how foolish it would be for me to sit down at my kitchen table and twiddle my thumbs while I waited for others to take steps to get everything turned back on. Additionally, how foolish it would be to assume the electric company would act if no one alerted them to the problem.

 

When I called, the friendly electric company employee seemed surprised by the outage and told me that no one else had reported any issues. An hour or so later, everything revved back up, including the lights in all of the rooms I had earlier entered and automatically flipped on the switch even though I knew the power was out.

 

I moved from room to room, turning off lights and changing the time on the flashing digital clocks. (Side note: I forgot to change my husband’s alarm clock and the next morning he woke up at 4:20 am, showered and dressed and drove a mile before he realized it was an hour earlier than he thought. Oops!)

 

There are times when an issue rears its ugly head and we must report it, when bad behavior or unfair treatment must be dealt with. Ignoring the power going out wasn’t immediately a problem for me—it was warmish in the house and I didn’t have anywhere pressing to be so the garage door could stay open for a while—but it would’ve become a major issue eventually. When my food began to spoil and the night grew cold, I would be forced to act. Unless I was planning to become Amish, forsaking all electricity, I would have to take steps toward correcting the situation, even if I was limited by my own power and skill to completely rectify the problem.

 

We face life-altering dilemmas every day and the complicated enormity of these problems tempt us to ignore them. But we can’t sit at our kitchen tables and twiddle our thumbs, assuming others will make the call. We need to draw clear lines and act when those lines are crossed. There’s no good reason to sit in a cold, dark room or to let others do the same when we have the ability to get the lights turned back on.

No Fair!

This morning my 6-year old Ezra woke up on the grumpy side of the bottom bunk. In his defense, it was a dark, rainy Monday, and none of us were really thrilled about the 6:30 am wake-up call. But as the morning progressed, there was a definite theme to his dialogue.

 

When I grabbed a pair of socks to give to his older brother Knox (Knox has a broken ankle, otherwise he’d be getting his own socks), Ezra said, “No fair! Knox has undies and socks in the same drawer! Why can’t my socks and undies be together?”

 

I mostly ignored this question due to its absurdity and hustled Ezra to the kitchen. I saw my husband eating what I assumed was a bowl of cereal, and I said, “I thought I used up all the milk last night,” and my husband answered, “This is yogurt.” Then Ezra said, “No fair! Me want milk!” To which I replied, “But you don’t like milk.” Ezra stomped back to his room in a huff.

 

After he eventually returned to the kitchen, Ezra overheard me talking to Knox (you know, the favorite child whose undies and socks get to hang out together in the same drawer) asking him if he wanted to bring leftovers in his lunch and warm them up in the cafeteria microwave. “No fair!” Ezra cried, “Why Knox get to use the microwave? Why me no have microwave at my school?!”

 

And so forth and so on went the morning.

 

It’s comical to think of his lamenting over such trivial stuff because he’s six and most likely forgot the whole exchange by the time he stepped into his classroom. I wish I could say that 6-year olds were the only ones who flew the “Unfair” banner so carelessly.

 

As adults, we may not whine over the same topics as children do, but the whining does happen. Claiming “No Fair” often occurs after we unnecessarily compare ourselves to others. “Why does she have that ___________ (insert house, car, weight, clothes, marriage, etc.) and I don’t?! It’s not fair!” Talk about feeling as gloomy as a rainy Monday morning–that line of questioning will ruin anyone’s day.

 

Other than the negativity these comparisons create, the other travesty is that there really is rampant unfairness in the world. And the people who cry “No Fair” aren’t usually the ones with the most valid reason to say it.

 

So instead of concentrating on the inconsequential issues that threaten to spoil what could turn out to be the most blessed day you’ll spend on this planet, take advice from the Book of Isaiah and look for ways to help those whose lives truly are unfair.

 

“Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” (NLT) Isaiah 1:17

Just a regular Wednesday

There are some mornings when it doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Take this morning, for instance.

 

I killed a wasp in my bathroom. Getting to our master bathroom involves a series of turns—five turns from the front door, to be exact—so it was a bit of a surprise to see it buzzing around my mirror. I had a bad reaction to a sting this summer, so I have to admit I went a little Rambo on the poor creature. I ran to the garage to get wasp/hornet spray. I drenched the insect (and my mirror and everything on my side of the sink) with the horrible stuff until it fell, paralyzed, into the cup full of Q-tips. Then I dumped out the cup and beat the wasp to a pulp with a flip-flop. Not a very romantic way to go.

 

My nostrils full of pesticide, my husband texted me from work to say he left his coffee on the kitchen table. I told him I was having a similar kind of day.

 

Then I listened to a voicemail from my bank saying my debit card was suspended due to questionable charges. Seeing as how someone once stole my credit card to buy a subscription to Soap Opera Digest, I took the call seriously. I got it all sorted out and wheeled my bike out of the garage to go for a ride.

 

I paused in the driveway, weighing the risks. With the way the morning had been going, would it be more prudent to stay indoors?

 

Because that’s a lot of what my day boils down to: balancing the risks and the rewards. Should I drink the milk a day after the expiration date? Should I stop at the yellow light or keep going? Should I introduce myself to that person? Should I quit this job to take that one? Should we buy that house? Should I start an adoption?

 

As I walked my son to school this morning (before the wasp episode and the call from the bank), we talked about his classmates and what the day might bring. He told me that he was worried no one would play with him or talk to him. He feels unsure of how to make friends, though we have seen him win over most anyone in a one-mile radius of him with a giant smile and a side-hug. I asked him if he thought he should go back with me and do school at home. He chewed on the thought for a few seconds, then he said he should go to school.

 

“Me make friends,” he said, adjusting his backpack and squaring his shoulders resolutely. “School hard but good.”

 

Risks and rewards. Totally worth it.

Doors and windows

Every year or so I get that home renovation itch. Sometimes the itch gets scratched with a couple cans of paint, but there are other times when the projects get a little bit away from me.

 

For example, take our recent home improvement scheme to replace 7 of our interior doors. The ones we had were 30 years old, hollow and banged up quite a bit. I had painted them once, a few years ago, but even that paint job was showing a lot of wear. It was time to replace them.

 

My husband and I felt equipped for the project. We bought 7 doors—upgraded a bit to paneled doors—and I painted them a semi-glossy white. We planned to take the hinges and knobs from the old doors and put them on the new ones (never mind the adage about new wine in old wineskins), so we thought it would take a couple of days. Oh, how the exalted will be humbled!

 

Then YouTube videos revealed the need for carving out the spot in the door where the hinge would snugly fit and the convenience of a router, a power tool we now own. Each door had its own challenges—the type of thing we’ve come to expect from an older home that has expanded after various additions and alterations over the years (something the house and I have in common). It took a week but we finally finished. If you come to our house, I beg you to NOT look closely at our carpentry skills, or the lack thereof.

 

At about the same time, we had new windows installed by PROFESSIONALS. Our utility bills were whispering conspiracy theories about possible leaks and inefficiency, and a few of the windows were damaged, so we swallowed the price tag and spent our money the boring, adult way.

 

All in all, both projects have turned out great and, hopefully, improved this home we love. You don’t realize what a difference replacing something mundane like windows and doors can make until you do it. But these components of most every house are actually very important.

 

A door gives you privacy. A window gives you a view.

A door shuts others out. A window lets sunlight in.

 

A life with all unlocked doors would be easy but unchallenging.

A life with doors and windows requires a person to decide when to walk away and when to weigh the risks and decide to jump.

 

Or as Maria says in The Sound of Music, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”

Driving lessons

One of my 15-year old daughters just passed her “knowledge test” (a.k.a. driver’s permit test). Now comes the hard work of teaching her to do the thing I do nearly every day without really considering how I do it.

 

The first time I took her to a church parking lot to practice driving, she spent the first half of the 30-minute session just coasting. She didn’t use the accelerator much at all. When she did finally give the gas pedal a gentle tap to get the minivan up a slight incline, we reached the minimum speed to make the automatic locks click, giving her a bit of a surprise.

 

While she was behind the wheel, most everything had the ability to surprise her—a leaf falling from a tree or a low flying bird. All her senses were on high alert. Code orange! There’s a lawnmower! Watch out! Don’t hit that curb that’s coming at you at 5 MPH!

 

After a few more parking lot only lessons, she took a short drive on a real road. I don’t know who was more nervous, me or her. It consisted of driving from one church parking lot, down a back road, into a different church parking lot, and back the same way to the first place. (Thank goodness for so many church parking lots!)

 

There are many skills we have to learn slowly, step-by-step: you have to walk before you can run, learn your ABC’s before you can read, tie your shoelaces with “bunny ears” before you can do it the grown-up way.

 

We often want to skip all of those first steps. We’d like to think we can get where we want to go without learning the lessons along the way. We want to make the perfect pancake from that first pour of batter. Maybe that does work sometimes, but mostly we have to make several ugly, misshapen pancakes before we get a good one. We need someone to teach us which pedal is the brake and which is the gas. We need a teacher to sit next to us and tell us how to use the blinker (and how to turn off the windshield wipers when we move that lever accidentally instead).

 

Research shows that it can take as little as 2 months and as much as 8 months for a new behavior to become a habit so don’t get discouraged if it takes a while for a new habit to stick. That’s a lot of little steps to complete a journey. That’s a lot of choosing carrot sticks over candy bars. That’s a lot of driving lessons before we hit the interstate. That’s a lot of weird-looking pancakes.