Stockpiling God’s blessings

Our two sons are both on travel soccer teams. This means that they seem to be playing ball all the time. In the winter, we’ve watched them play in high school gymnasiums and indoor soccer facilities, but most of the action is outside. We’ve stood under umbrellas watching them play in the rain. We’ve stamped our feet to keep warm at spring tournaments where there was still snow on the ground. And there have been plenty of games where we have sat, sweaty and sunburnt, in the blazing heat. This was our experience the last weekend of August.

 

Last Saturday, our older son played in Murfreesboro on those beautiful new turf fields. As nice as they are, that hunter green rubber grass also seems to draw in the heat, creating an atmosphere similar to the surface of the sun. Now I’ve been watching him play soccer for more than a decade, so I was mostly prepared for the magnitude of the heat. I started the morning drinking from my water jug, hours before I ever sat in my camping chair in the noonday sun. I had chugged 32 ounces by 10:00 a.m. and brought along more to drink during the game. I knew from experience that once you begin sweating, it’s almost too late to start drinking water. You have to start before you even feel thirsty.

 

This idea of storing up what you need before you get to a moment of crisis isn’t particularly profound. You can see it exhibited in the grocery stores at the first sign of a snowflake. The bread aisles left bare, with only a few loaves of raisin bread remaining. But there’s more to stockpiling necessary goodness besides just water and other staples. We can also store up sweet memories and miraculously puzzling developments. The light of these reminiscences brightening future darkness.

 

You have to wonder if Mary, Jesus’ mother, did just that as she held her newborn in her arms. She couldn’t have known the scope of Jesus’ ministry or the horrific death he would suffer, but the Book of Luke paints a beautiful picture of a mother treasuring the sweet moments in her heart.

 

Mary had given birth. Then a pack of shepherds came bursting inside the stable where Jesus was born. They must’ve blurted out crazy stories about an angelic choir announcing the Savior’s birth. They were joyfully spreading the news all over Bethlehem, and people were listening. Then, in one brief verse, we read that “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” (The Message) She tucks away the image of the shepherds and the story that they told about the hillside concert, almost as if she knew she might need this precious memory for later. Perhaps she knew she’d need to take out the sweetness of that night and hold it, turning it over in her mind to escape a challenging time.

 

How are you preparing your heart for future difficulties? What’s the spiritual equivalent of building a Y2K shelter? Make a list of the good things God has done for you, counting your blessings and thanking the One who provided them. Commit Scriptures to memory, giving yourself an arsenal of God’s Word to have at the ready. Store up treasures, just like Mary. Ponder them and then share them with a thirsty world desperately in need of relief.

The Invention of the Microwave

When I was 6-years old, my dad bought our family’s first microwave oven. It was a giant behemoth with its own designated piece of furniture, a cart made of lightly stained oak which sat on little caster wheels and had a cabinet underneath to store all the sundry accouterments a microwave might require. This included cookbooks full of recipes designed especially for the microwave, such as the Betty Crocker one which contained such favorites as “Parmesan Sole with Mushrooms” and “Chicken Fricassee with Parsley Dumplings” and “Egg Foo Yong Casserole.”

 

If memory serves, my grandmother wasn’t overly pleased with it, at first. Those of us who do a lot of cooking aren’t always quick to embrace newfangled gizmos when it comes to making our tried and true, ordinary weeknight to special holiday recipes, but my mom was sold. She used the microwave for everything—from cooking eggs to making meatloaf, boiling water for iced tea to browning meat for spaghetti sauce. In the years that followed, it became a regular occurrence for Mom to leave a side dish in the microwave. We’d finish up our meal, and then she’d remember it—the  covered Corningware dish full of corn or the broccoli slathered in now-congealed blobs of Velveeta still sitting in the microwave. Disappointed, she would place the uneaten dish in the refrigerator to be eaten at the next meal, easily warmed up in the…yeah, you guessed it…the microwave!

 

Microwaves are fairly commonplace now, but when they first hit the scene in American homes, the major selling point was their ability to simplify our busy lives. This rationale was revealed by the ad slogans for some of the brands: “Life becomes more convenient when you have one of the Easy Waves from Toshiba” and “Whirlpool…making your world a little easier.” The commercials would show frazzled housewives who can barely keep it together. They had to deal with various disasters and distractions, simultaneously: the son knocking over a lamp with his baseball in the living room and the daughter screeching away on her violin and the dog running through the kitchen with muddy paws and the phone ringing incessantly. Enter the microwave…ta-da! In spite of her crazy household, she now has a perfectly roasted chicken, in no time!

 

With school starting back for my four kids and all that goes with it, I feel a little like that woman before she gets her time-saving microwave. I’m always in a rush, always behind, always wondering what I’m forgetting. But I’m finding that the easy way isn’t always the best way (just like microwaved Egg Foo Yong Casserole might be fast, but not so tasty!) There’s something to be said for taking it slow when we can.

 

I love this passage from Isaiah: “The path of right-living people is level. The Leveler evens the road for the right-living. We’re in no hurry, God. We’re content to linger in the path sign-posted with your decisions. Who you are and what you’ve done are all we’ll ever want. Through the night my soul longs for you. Deep from within me my spirit reaches out to you…In the land of right living, the wicked persist in wrong living, blind to the splendor of God.” (The Message)

 

I’m pretty sure there are way too many times when I am “blind to the splendor of God.” I think I need a microwaved day, quickly done and over with (and not cooked all the way through in the center), but then I’d miss the contented lingering our Father offers. Microwave ovens have their good points, but don’t zip through life too quickly and miss out on one of God’s guiding sign-posts.

Worst Enemy

I had a friend in elementary school named Jill who was allergic to chocolate. I knew she tried to avoid it, but I didn’t know exactly why or what would happen if she ate it. That is until we were in the same homeroom in the 3rd grade…

 

Without any warning or explanation, Jill jumped up from her desk and ran out of the room. She just bolted like a flash of light. My teacher instructed me to go after Jill and see what was wrong. Now, had this been any other teacher, I would’ve asked where I should look for my friend. I would’ve requested more guidance as to how I should best care for Jill, but this was Mrs. Yells-A-Lot. She was mad all the time and not so very fun. I was a ball of anxiety for all of 3rd grade, because this teacher was as predictable as a tornado. You could see her coming across the horizon, but you didn’t know which way the funnel would swerve, toward you and your paper without a name at the top of the page or toward your neighbor who had forgotten to clean up his crayons. (Crayon Kid was probably Kevin, a boy who was a bit disheveled and indifferent to learning and always in her path of angry destruction. To make matters worse, when the teacher would holler, “Kevin!” it would inexplicably sound like she was saying my name and I would answer. Then she would yell, “Is your name Kevin?!” I was so anxious I would say, “I don’t know!” and start gnawing on my Smurf erasers. Yeah, I was a stressed out 8-year old.)

 

Back to Jill…I also ran out of the classroom to search for my friend. Using the detective skills I had learned from The Bloodhound Gang, I determined which way to look for her: to the right which would lead toward an outside door and eventually the nurse’s office or to the left toward the bathrooms? I found the clue I needed when I saw a trail of blood on the linoleum floor to the left. I followed the little red drops to the girls’ restroom. (The restroom which, according to school lore, was home to the Bell Witch, a ghost who could be summoned if you said, “I hate the Bell Witch” three times while staring at the mirror. Then she would savagely claw your face with her razor-sharp fingernails. Childhood is such a magical time.) When I threw open the restroom door, I saw Jill standing at the sink, her blue and white romper with the smocked pictures of hot air balloons across her chest now covered in blood. She turned to look at me, blood dripping from her chin, and I scanned the room for any sign that the Bell Witch still remained, but Jill just squeaked out, “I ate chocolate! I know I shouldn’t do it, but I did it!” And then she broke down and sobbed.

 

Just like Jill eating chocolate even though she knew it would cause her to have a severe nosebleed, most of us do the opposite of what we know we should do. In this way, we’re all too often our own worst enemy. The Apostle Paul knew this. In the Book of Romans, Paul says, “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking…I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.” (Living Bible)

 

But thankfully that’s not the end of it. “So there is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit—and this power is mine through Christ Jesus—has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.

 

Praise the Lord that we aren’t stuck slouching over that nasty sink in a haunted bathroom with the temptations and anxieties of the world keeping us on a never-ending loop of our own foolishness. There’s a better way and a heavenly prize waiting for us. “For all creation is waiting patiently and hopefully for that future day when God will resurrect his children. For on that day thorns and thistles, sin, death, and decay—the things that overcame the world against its will at God’s command—will all disappear, and the world around us will share in the glorious freedom from sin which God’s children enjoy.”