KRISPY KREME FOR THE SOUL

KRISPY KREME

Recently my husband and I realized that we have a hole in our spiritual lives caused by an absence of corporate worship time together.  Sunday mornings for us are exhausting: the good is that we are fully utilizing our spiritual gifts, however we are giving and giving without being refreshed ourselves.  I’m an adult Bible teacher, he is a Pastor of Children’s Ministry, and rarely have we shared time sitting together in the same worship service since he began his latest position.  Thus the hole was created and why we began looking for any churches in our area that had a Saturday evening service, a service in which we wouldn’t have any formal responsibilities, except to listen, pray, center on God, and let God just do whatever He wants to do.  Needless to say, a huge benefit also would be able to make some new friends, ones who would just let us be us without expecting us to perform.

This past Saturday night we attended a church my husband found online.  We didn’t know the church or its culture, but we were open for an adventure.  It definitely entered the adventure category.  We walked in with a feeling of anticipation and discovered maybe 30 people attending the service, but the number of worshippers was a little hard to determine because the meeting room was windowless and painted black.  It was really dark (like spooky funhouse dark) even with the lights on. Center stage was a box for the drummer which looked like a huge fireplace and there were red strobe lights in vertical lines on the walls.  On the floor were light boxes which were illuminated once the worship team began and then the strobe lights began flashing and lights were circling the audience.  Apparently no one had ever told them that for people with epilepsy, strobe lights can trigger a seizure.  The music was amped up for a venue which should have been approximately 4 times the size of the existing room.  I’m all for loud music but there is the great little maxim of “one never appreciates crescendos without the decrescendos”.  For my old rocker friends, “House of the Rising Sun” would never have become a hit if it started full tilt and stayed there.  How has our culture bought into the value that louder, brighter and bigger are always better?  Do we think that God is going to hear us clearer when we constantly scream full throttle?  Is God better able to locate us in a dark windowless room filled with flashing lights and noise?  How has God become blind and deaf?

As humans, could we ever appreciate a rainbow if the colors were all one and the same yellow?  Can one learn to value the beauty of a bird’s single song if the listener only has ever heard the cawing of crows at full throttle?  Whatever became of the God Who has created a beautiful world filled with all kinds of shades of color, sounds, and feelings?  What has become of the God Who created variety?

I thought about this issue of worship and styles this entire week and wondered why do many churches either go all one way or the other in style, forgetting the richness of variety?  Why have we allowed ourselves to get polarized in worship wars such that churches publically advertise their service schedule with the tags “Traditional” or “Contemporary”?  I have even seen a local church advertise their early service:  “The ideal time for the early riser who only has one hour for church. Join us for a few hymns, a shorter sermon.”  Seeing that ad truly gave me pause.  Was that the equivalent of a Krispy Kreme donut for the soul or was it possibly a quick way to check off a religious duty in half the time?

When did worship become all about us:  about our own schedule, our own business, our own monochromatic life?  Can you picture Jesus laboring in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane while waiting to hear the sweet sound of the microwave beeping to announce that his extra butter popcorn was cooked?  Maybe the story of Him preaching to the 5,000 should be updated so that He breaks it off after 30 minutes because His favorite TLC TV show is about to commence.

This past Saturday night did give me a great deal to think about.  When we left, we felt a little emptier in the soul than when we entered.  There was lots of noise and lights, but little room for thought.  There was no quiet for just being still before our wonderful, creative, versatile, colorful and interesting God.

Just pondering and thinking.

MADE FOR MORE THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE

Lonely People

I was in a coffee shop last week and ended up having a conversation with a young man who works there.  I asked what he was going to do to celebrate the new year and he told me “watch a movie marathon by myself and get totally drunk”.  He went on to share that’s how he celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving.  I asked him if he had friends to celebrate with and he told me “it’s a whole lot more fun to be by himself.”  I commented, “You can be totally alone while you are in a crowd”. The loneliness of the human spirit.   It calls to mind the lyrics of the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby:

Father McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.  No one comes near; look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there.  What does he care?

All the lonely people; where do they all come from? All the lonely people; where do they all belong? 

Eleanor Rigby, died in the church and was buried along with her name.  Nobody came.

Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave; no one was saved.

All the lonely people; where do they all come from? All the lonely people; where do they all belong?

Now, if that was the end of this blog, one could get totally depressed .  A world of loneliness, desolation of spirit, and futility of purpose does nothing for the heart..

As I look at the new year, I have got to tell you, there is a whole lot more out there for us.  Lately I have been reading an absolutely wonderful book, Kay Warren’s “Choose Joy Because Happiness Is Not Enough”.  What I appreciate most about this book is that it is totally real – it was written out of Kay’s experience of losing her son to suicide.  Yeah, terrible tragic things can happen to delightful people.  Sometimes it seems the worst things happen to the best people.  It all happened long ago to Job.

Yesterday I read, “God is the only true source of joy.  God will be there when all else is shaking.  He will be there when the people you love let you down or leave you or die.  He will be there when the place you though would make you happy doesn’t satisfy any longer.  He will be there when the possession is lost or gets broken.  He will be there when your position changes or is given to someone else.  He will be there when your personality just isn’t enough.”  God will be there when the alcohol runs out and the DVDs are finished.  God will be there when all own personal walls of defense have fallen in defeat.

In Ecclesiastes 3 there is a very famous passage from which were taken the lyrics of the song “Turn, Turn, Turn”.  After the “There is a time for everything” paragraph, there is a further thought which explains what I call the empty hole in our hearts which many people feel deep inside:

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart…14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.

2014 was an extremely chaotic year for me personally.  A brief historical background of 2014:  my husband had been out of work for about three years, I had knee replacement surgery (which did not go well), we were on the brink of foreclosure on our home, my husband’s arthritis took a turn for the worse.  Then we got into November 2014:  within two months we had to pack up our house and move to a two bedroom apartment, my husband’s back procedure didn’t work and he ended up in agony, I had seven weekend craft shows in a row, my vocal performing group did a complete restructure, and every night after work I spent driving back and forth between house and apartment with loads of stuff to either move or discard at Goodwill.  I thought I was going to melt down in a big way.  There was no more strength in any bone of my body.

What gave me hope is that “He has made everything beautiful in its time”.  One day I had made two trips down to the house (my husband was laid up with extreme back pain) and I was beyond the end of my own strength.  God’s surprise was when I arrived back at the house that evening there was a family of friends who not only unloaded the van, making the trek up the two flights of stairs to the apartment, but they also invited us to lunch the next day and arranged to have more family and friends move two more loads of household goods after lunch.  They were beautiful angels from God.  They were also an example of “everything God does will endure forever”.  God’s strength and resources don’t give up when mine do.  This was totally a God-thing.

This life is very very short.  Even though this past Fall seemed at times to never end, it has been a blink of the eye in the time span of our eternal God.  The true blessing of all of it is that God has been there every minute, for every tear, every hurt muscle, every sleepless night.  Everything God has done in the midst of this has been good.  I repeat it is GOOD!  Yes, we have lost the house, yes, my husband is not employed fulltime (however now he thankfully has 2 part-time jobs), yes we have had to get rid of years of possessions.  But God has been right there in the thick of things.  For that I am eternally grateful.

Even when I have felt the loneliest, as I was driving back and forth with yet another load of stuff, or my husband was crying with pain, or I was at my wit’s end = God has been there.

So my dear friend who is watching a marathon in a drunken stupor to blot out the pain – there is way more to life.  You were made for more.  You were made for eternity.  In fact, all of you reading this blog, you have been made for eternity!!!!

A REALLY REALLY REALLY GREAT WORK!!!!!!

Child in Wall

I listened to a message from Andy Stanley recently which I thought was excellent not only for the parenting class I’m teaching but to the mission of families everywhere.  The message was entitled “This One Thing” and if this tickles your interest, download Andy’s message at http://northpoint.org/messages/this-one-thing. The text chosen was Nehemiah chapter 6 in which Nehemiah declares:   “I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down.”  The historical context of it is Nehemiah coming to Jerusalem and leading the project of rebuilding the protective walls around the city which had previously be decimated by invaders 70 years previously.  The pushback and dangers Nehemiah encountered for this undertaking were huge.  Look at the passage (written from Nehemiah’s vantage point):

6 1-2 When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that there were no more breaks in it—even though I hadn’t yet installed the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent this message: “Come and meet with us at Kephirim in the valley of Ono.” 2-3 I knew they were scheming to hurt me so I sent messengers back with this: “I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down. Why should the work come to a standstill just so I can come down to see you?” 4 Four times they sent this message and four times I gave them my answer. 5-6 The fifth time—same messenger, same message—Sanballat sent an unsealed letter with this message: 6-7 “The word is out among the nations—and Geshem says it’s true—that you and the Jews are planning to rebel. That’s why you are rebuilding the wall. The word is that you want to be king and that you have appointed prophets to announce in Jerusalem, ‘There’s a king in Judah!’ The king is going to be told all this—don’t you think we should sit down and have a talk?” 8 I sent him back this: “There’s nothing to what you’re saying. You’ve made it all up.” 9 They were trying to intimidate us into quitting. They thought, “They’ll give up; they’ll never finish it.” I prayed, “Give me strength.”

The goal of Sanballat and his buddies was to do anything to derail Nehemiah and his God-appointed project.  They lied, they threatened, they schemed all with the purpose of “trying to intimidate us into quitting”.  Nehemiah’s consistent response was to say, “I’m doing a great work; I can’t come down” and Nehemiah prayed for strength from God.

The personal challenge from all of this is to view your family, your children as a great work.  Whether or not you feel this way at the moment, God has given you this wonderful task and this terrific opportunity to make a difference.  As you go into this new year, make a point of each night to look in on your sleeping children (no matter that day what conflicts, victories, opposition, or moments of wondering what planet your children came from) and view your kids as a great work.  Let God be in the thick of it and don’t give up.  Remember, when the battle seems most intense with Satan battling you, that is when often victories can be closest.  The key is to stick with it, give it to God, and rejoice that God has given you this splendid great work.

What’s Stuff Got To Do With It?

Garage

As I was making yet another trip to our old house last week to clear out even more possessions which we at one time had thought were important to our well-being and quality of life, I was struck by the fact that very few of these things ever had to do with genuine joy.  The stuff may have been convenient (though I wonder at the wisdom of thinking the possession of four snow shovels is the height of convenience);  they may have been cute (though three crates of Boyds’ bears goes beyond cuteness);  they may have been handy (though having had a bucket of driveway sealer for five years and never having used it lacks a little bit of handyman ability); and they may have been practical (though having eight full size kitchen chairs takes up a lot of space).  Get my drift?  I have spent the past three months going through forty years of stuff and found that very little of it is important.  However, I have discovered the removal/disposal process is economically important to the manufacturers of pain relievers – noting all the muscle pains we have endured moving these mountains of stuff.  The crowning moment of pain was when the process severely hurt my husband’s already damaged back.

I can’t tell you all the hours we have spent sorting possessions and the donation trips to Goodwill, the local library and the recycling center.  I have made a multitude of walks out our lane to dump stuff on the curb with items which I think someone else will think are a treasure and take home with them. I have found it astounding how fast stuff can disappear when people think it is free. I have bagged and bagged trash and lugged out to the dumpster those things which had no value whatsoever.  A friend of mine who is a collector of discarded “treasures” came by and filled an entire van of what I considered junk.  The youth at our church have had a great number of items donated for their spring auction.  All of these things had taken up space not only in our house, but also in our minds and hearts. If I had to estimate the percentage of our possessions which we could have done without, I think it be about 80%.  Living the “American Dream”  has somewhat turned into the American Nightmare.

It has been a back-breaking process and a mind numbing process to go through all the stuff accumulated from years of living in a full size house.  We were now moving into a 2 bedroom apartment.  As we are finally arriving at the last stages (hallelujah, a junk man is going to haul away the residual this afternoon!!!), I read Psalm 119: 35-37 today:  “Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. 36 Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. 37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”

As I go into 2015, I pray that in this new life God has positioned us both geographically and spiritually that our eyes would continue to be turned away from the worthless and turned instead to the Eternal God Who is the source of countless joy.  My prayer also is that never again will we ever buy a plastic crate in order to store old stuff so that we can make way for new stuff.  The only new stuff I really want in my life is to daily delight in  walking in God’s way (without the crates!) and helping to make a life-changing difference in the lives of others. Tina Turner once sang “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”.  My new song is “What’s Stuff Gotta Do With It?” – the joy of possessing items is just a second hand emotion….

Jack and Jill on the Farm, as Retold by Dr. Phil

Unhappy child

Mr. Leroy was the smartest and creative person I have ever known.  He had a huge farm right out in the middle of nowhere and it was the most productive farm I have ever seen.  If there was a plant that could be grown, Mr. Leroy grew it.  If there was an animal that could be raised, Mr. Leroy had experience taking care of it.  He was a wonderful veterinarian, farmer and father all rolled up in one.

That brings us to the children Mr. Leroy raised. There never was a Mrs. Leroy in the family which has caused some to question this story.   The children were called Jack and Jill.  Jack and Jill had the most beautiful childhood ever.  They had the freedom of roaming over the entire farm, swimming in the beautiful lake and enjoying the fresh fruit that perfectly dropped off the trees at the supreme moment of ripeness.  You never saw such intelligent children, but of course with a father like Mr. Leroy one couldn’t expect less.  Mr. Leroy loved them greatly and made sure they had regular chores to help occupy them, however some say that Mr. Leroy went a little overboard in the responsibility experience.  Every evening Mr. Leroy would spend hours with Jack and Jill lovingly talking with them about their day and about their experiences. Some would even say Mr. Leroy didn’t give his children enough “space”.

Mr. Leroy’s children were given only one rule.  This was called the One Rule and Mr. Leroy said, “Please Jack and Jill, remember that you shouldn’t eat of that tree, okay?”.  Mr. Leroy always asked his children permission before he gave them a rule;  afterall, he believed in democracy. In the middle of the farm was a huge tree named the Gee Tree.  There were hundreds of different plants and fruit trees on that farm but Mr. Leroy made sure that they knew they were not to eat from the Gee Tree because it would be fatal.  Now Jack and Jill didn’t quite understand what “fatal” meant because they had never seen anything die, and every day they questioned why in the world Mr. Leroy wouldn’t let them eat from that one tree.  They thought he was treating them like little kids and they just didn’t appreciate it at all.

Things were going okay on the farm until around noon on that memorable Tuesday.  Mr. Leroy was out doing chores and Jack was in the barn.  Now anyone knows that a really good parent should always be there, making sure there are no bad influences on their children, so why in the world was Mr. Leroy out of the picture?  Jill already had her chores done so she was playing near the Gee Tree.  She looked around when she heard a rustling in the grass and there was the stranger.  Why in the world didn’t Mr. Leroy teach her ‘Stranger, danger!  Stranger, danger!”?  Mr. Ser didn’t look like anyone that Jill had ever seen before.  He had clear blue eyes and spoke with the most beautiful voice Jill had ever heard.  He introduced himself as Mr. Ser and right away started asking her about the Gee Tree which was only a few feet away from where they were standing.

Mr. Ser in a smooth smoky voice asked Jill, “Did Mr. Leroy really say to you that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?”

After slowly pondering it she said, “Oh, Mr. Leroy lets us eat the fruit from trees all over the farm except for the Gee Tree. He said that we are not to touch it or we will die.  Now I’m not quite sure what “die” means, but that’s how Mr. Leroy put it.”  Jill had some “issues” with Mr. Leroy and why he had to keep showing his authority.  One would think that Mr. Leroy didn’t want to be her best friend and who made him boss after all?.

Mr. Ser looked quite surprised and laughed a little at Jill’s answer.  In his silky voice he said “Don’t worry about it, you certainly won’t die!  Mr. Leroy just wanted to make you a little scared about the tree.  There is a secret that Mr. Leroy never told you about that big old tree.”  Mr. Ser got a little closer to Jill and whispered, “If you eat it, you will be just as smart as Mr. Leroy and instantly know things you never would have imagined.”

“Aha!”  thought Jill.  “That is the real reason why Mr. Leroy has kept me away from the tree. Mr. Leroy just isn’t fair!.  I deserve everything on the farm, including the fruit from the Gee Tree.” There was probably some truth to what Mr. Ser was talking about.  Possibly, Mr. Leroy had a secret he was keeping to just to himself.  Maybe Mr. Leroy didn’t care for them as much as Jill thought.  After all, Jill had just seen her favorite TV show “Dallas” the night before and she knew that fathers don’t always have their children’s best interests at heart. Jill looked at the Gee Tree and it was certainly beautiful.  Just about a foot above her head dangled the biggest piece of Gee fruit she had ever seen.  It was bright red and glistened in the sun.  It even smelled wonderful.  Jill thought she could probably easily reach it.  After all, she had been going to gymnastics classes and meets since she was three years old and she could beat the daylights out of any of her competitors.  Last week at Sunday School Class she had tripped little Sally after Sally told Jill that she thought she could jump higher than Jill.

Jill thought a little bit more and realized that basically Mr. Leroy just didn’t respect her at all.  She then reached out her hand and grabbed that piece of fruit.  Before you can even blink an eye she took a huge bite of it. A rush came over her like she had never felt before and she ran away, fruit in hand, looking for Jack.  She realized she was finally going to be free of Mr. Leroy and all his stupid, stupid rules.

As soon as Jill saw Jack she told him what Mr. Ser had said, how wonderful the fruit looked and tasted, and Jack didn’t even think before he tried a big bite of it himself.  Jack always wanted whatever Jill had and he made sure he took a bite even bigger than Jill had.  At first Jack felt that same rush that Jill had felt, but then he really looked at Jill for the first time and thought she appeared differently. Whoa baby, Jill was naked!!!  Those pictures looked like all those ones he had been watching on the internet the night before.

Jack did start wondering what he was going to tell Mr. Leroy that evening when Mr. Leroy came around.  He didn’t understand why Mr. Leroy had to know everything that Jack was doing.  He wanted to tell Mr. Leroy to “get a life”.  Everything was now different in Jack’s eyes and for the first time Jack thought he knew the real truth.

A few hours went by and Jack and Jill began to get a little worried about Mr. Leroy’s daily visit.  They heard Mr. Leroy coming from a distance and for the first time, Jack and Jill hid from Mr. Leroy.  Mr. Leroy called and called for them and finally Jack stood up from the bushes where he had been hiding and said, “Mr. Leroy something is wrong.  I heard you coming and I was afraid.  I never realized before that we looked this way and so we hid in the bushes.”

Mr. Leroy said, “Who told you son what you looked like?  Have you eaten from the Gee Tree, the only tree in the whole farm that I told you not to eat from?”

Jack piped up right away and said, “It’s Jill’s fault.  She put that piece of fruit right in my hand and I ate it.  Why in the world did you put me on this farm with this moron?”

Mr. Leroy blamed himself entirely.  He had made a huge mistake in putting Jack and Jill on the farm together.  Mr. Leroy then asked Jill what had happened.

Jill said, “There was a stranger on the farm today by the name of Mr. Ser.  He fed me a whole pack of lies about the Gee Tree and I took a little bite.”

Jack and Jill had not noticed that Mr. Ser had silently snuck up behind them.  Mr. Ser didn’t look so friendly now and Mr. Leroy was mighty mad at Mr. Ser.  Up to this point, they had never seen Mr. Leroy get angry at anyone or anything.  It sounded like thunder in the sky when Mr. Leroy looked at Mr. Ser.  Mr. Leroy said, “Mr. Ser I have told you so many times not to be around the children.  Would you please go away, okay?  I told you three times today to knock it off and here you are with them again!  What did your counselor tell you last week about working through your childhood issues?”

Jack and Jill rolled their eyes at Mr. Leroy.  “Good grief, here comes another lecture from the old man!”.  Mr. Leroy spoke to Jill.  He said “I blame myself for this entirely.  I should have posted extra signs around the tree.  I won’t let this happen again, your darling child.”

Mr. Leroy said to Jack, “You listened to Jill and hurried to break The One Rule I gave you. You have just been running with the wrong crowd.  I’m going to pull you out of the public school you have been going to and send you to Christian School.  I’m sure those teachers there can figure out what is going on with your life.”

There was something new in the air, a coldness they had never known and Jack and Jill were shivering.  Mr. Leroy then did something Jack and Jill had never seen him do before.  Mr. Leroy knew his charge cards were about maxed out, but he drove Jack and Jill to Park City and said, “Kids, you deserve this.  Pick out any clothes you want, the sky is the limit.  I saw some really cool clothes on a commercial this morning – Jill, I think a couple of those outfits will help make you the most popular kid in school.  As for you Jack, look at those clothes over there – those are like the ones that Robin Thicke wore on his latest video.”

Mr. Leroy then did the most difficult thing of all.  He made Jack and Jill go to bed without their cell phones that night and he limited their time on the internet to just four hours that night.  Because of Jack and Jill’s issue with the tree, Mr. Leroy chopped down the tree.  Mr. Leroy had another tree that Jack and Jill didn’t even know of, the Tree of Life, and Mr. Leroy said he would put a larger sign around that one just to make sure that Jack and Jill were okay.  After all, he knew his children always made wise choices.

Mr. Leroy then drove Jack and Jill to Dairy Queen and they celebrated what a great family they were.  After all, any child of Mr. Leroy would always be a winner.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER:

  1. If you read my earlier version of this, it was much truer to the Genesis version with Mr. Leroy representing God, the perfect parent.  In this version, Mr. Leroy represents us, the imperfect parents.  What mistakes did he make?
  2. What effects does sin make in this story even from the beginning?
  3. What attitudes did Jack and Jill exhibit?
  4. What is neglected in this version?
  5. What basic truths about families are ignored?
  6. Why aren’t they really a great, winning, and happy family as described in the last paragraph?

The Story of Jack and Jill and What Really Happened on the Farm

FARM

Mr. Leroy was the smartest and creative person I have ever known.  He had a huge farm right out in the middle of nowhere and it was the most productive farm I have ever seen.  If there was a plant that could be grown, Mr. Leroy grew it.  If there was an animal that could be raised, Mr. Leroy had experience taking care of it.  He was a wonderful veterinarian, farmer and father all rolled up in one.

That brings us to the children Mr. Leroy raised. (There never was a Mrs. Leroy in the family which has caused some to question this story).   The children were called Jack and Jill.  Jack and Jill had the most beautiful childhood ever.  They had the freedom of roaming over the entire farm, swimming in the beautiful lake and enjoying the fresh fruit that perfectly dropped off the trees at the supreme moment of ripeness.  You never saw such intelligent children, but of course with a father like Mr. Leroy one couldn’t expect less.  Mr. Leroy loved them greatly and he gave Jack and Jill the privilege of naming every creature on that farm.  He also gave them regular chores, to care for the animals and grow and bring in the harvest.  Every evening Mr. Leroy would spend hours with Jack and Jill lovingly talking with them about their day and about their experiences.  The end of the day was the high point for this loving family.

Mr. Leroy’s children were well behaved and so obedient that he only gave them one rule.  This was called the One Rule and they were told that under no circumstances were they allowed to break the One Rule.  In the middle of the farm was a huge tree named the Gee Tree.  There were hundreds of different plants and fruit trees on that farm but Mr. Leroy made sure that they knew they were not to eat from the Gee Tree because it would be fatal.  Now Jack and Jill didn’t quite understand what “fatal” meant because they had never seen anything die, but they took Mr. Leroy at his word and they obeyed their dear father.

Things went well on the farm until around noon on that memorable Tuesday.  Mr. Leroy was out doing chores and Jack was in the barn.  Jill already had her chores done so she was playing near the Gee Tree.  She looked around when she heard a rustling in the grass and there was the stranger.  He didn’t look like anyone that Jill had ever seen before.  He had clear blue eyes and spoke with the most beautiful voice Jill had ever heard.  He introduced himself as Mr. Ser and right away started asking her about the Gee Tree which was only a few feet away from where they were standing.

Mr. Ser in a smooth smoky voice asked Jill, “Did Mr. Leroy really say to you that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?”

Jill had never thought a whole lot about the One Rule before, but after slowly pondering it she said, “Oh, Mr. Leroy lets us eat the fruit from trees all over the farm except for the Gee Tree. He said that we are not to touch it or we will die.  Now I’m not quite sure what “die” means, but that’s how Mr. Leroy put it.”

Mr. Ser looked quite surprised and laughed a little at Jill’s answer.  In his silky voice he  said “Don’t worry about it, you certainly won’t die!  Mr. Leroy just wanted to make you a little scared about the tree.  There is a secret that Mr. Leroy never told you about that big old tree.”  Mr. Ser got a little closer to Jill and whispered, “If you eat it, you will be just as smart as Mr. Leroy and instantly know things you never would have imagined.”

Now before all this had happened, Jill was positive Mr. Leroy always had her best interests at heart but she started wondering.  Maybe there was some truth to what Mr. Ser was talking about.  Possibly, Mr. Leroy had a secret he was keeping to just to himself.  Maybe Mr. Leroy didn’t care for them as much as Jill thought.  Jill then started to look at the Gee Tree.  It was certainly beautiful and just about a foot above her head dangled the biggest piece of Gee fruit she had ever seen.  It was bright red and glistened in the sun.  It even smelled wonderful.  Jill thought a little bit more and then reached out her hand and grabbed that piece of fruit.  Before you can even blink an eye she took a huge bite of it.  A rush came over her like she had never felt before and she ran away, fruit in hand, looking for Jack.

As soon as Jill saw Jack she told him what Mr. Ser had said, how wonderful the fruit looked and tasted, and Jack didn’t even think before he tried a big bite of it himself.  At first Jack felt that same rush that Jill had felt, but then he really looked at Jill for the first time and thought she appeared differently.  Jach was also wondering what in the world he was going to tell Mr. Leroy that evening when Mr. Leroy came around.  Everything was now different in Jack’s eyes and for the first time, something was definitely wrong on the farm.

A few hours went by and Jack and Jill began to feel even worse about their plight and and before they knew it, it was about the time that Mr. Leroy would come by to visit at the end of the day.  They heard Mr. Leroy coming from a distance and for the first time, Jack and Jill hid from Mr. Leroy.  Mr. Leroy called and called for them and finally Jack stood up from the bushes where he had been hiding and said, “Mr. Leroy something is wrong.  I heard you coming and I was afraid.  I never realized before that we looked this way and so we hid in the bushes.”

Mr. Leroy said, “Who told you son what you looked like?  Have you eaten from the Gee Tree, the only tree in the whole farm that I told you not to eat from?”

Jack piped up right away and said, “It’s Jill’s fault.  She put that piece of fruit right in my hand and I ate it.”

Mr. Leroy looked with his penetrating eyes at Jill and asked what she had done.

Jill said, “There was a stranger on the farm today by the name of Mr. Ser.  He fed me a whole pack of lies about the Gee Tree and I took a little bite.”

Jack and Jill had not noticed that Mr. Ser had silently snuck up behind them.  Mr. Ser didn’t look so friendly now and Mr. Leroy was mighty mad at Mr. Ser.  Up to this point, they had never seen Mr. Leroy get angry at anyone or anything.  I sounded like thunder in the sky when Mr. Leroy looked with blazing eyes at Mr. Ser.  Mr. Leroy said, “Mr. Ser you are now cursed above all livestock and all wild animals!  Your legs aren’t going to work anymore and you will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life.  There will be a hatred between you and Jill and between Jill’s children and yours.  Her child will crush your head and you will strike her son’s heel.”

Jack and Jill’s eyes darted in fear and then Mr. Leroy aimed his laser vision at them.  First he spoke to Jill.  He said “I will make your pains in childbearing a tortuous experience and you are going to have lots of pain in having children.  Before you and Jack were equal partners, but now he is going to rule over you.”  Jill’s heart filled with dread.  She didn’t understand half of what Mr. Leroy was talking about, but she knew life was going to be bleak for her.

Mr. Leroy looked so sad about when he was talking to Jack and Jill.  He looked even sadder when he turned his eyes on Jack.  He said, “You were such a fool.  You listened to Jill and hurried to break The One Rule I gave you.  From now on, all the ground you walk on will be cursed and all those harvests that were so easy before are going to be exhausting.  You will have weeds and thorns and thistles choking the life out of your plants and every day is going to be a painful day for you farming day in and day out.  Also, you will work so hard and your body is now so different that you are going to die.  You were created from dust and to dust you will return.

There was something new in the air, a coldness they had never known and Jack and Jill were shivering.  Mr. Leroy then did something Jack and Jill had never seen him do before.  He killed some of the animals and made clothing for them.  Mr. Leroy then did the most difficult thing of all.  Because of Jack and Jill’s disobedience, Mr. Leroy banished them from the farm.  Mr. Leroy had a tree that Jack and Jill didn’t even know of, the Tree of Life, and Mr. Leroy said that because Jack and Jill now knew good and evil that they couldn’t be allowed to eat of the Tree of Life because they would be eternally dying since they had sinned.  Mr. Leroy then drove Jack and Jill out of the farm and posted a high electric fence around it that glowed and flashed to keep them from eating from the Tree of Life.

Epilogue

After the incident at the farm, Jack and Jill went on to marry (they relocated to a state that would allow them to marry, despite their close blood ties).  The trauma of the farm effected them but despite all of this they became the parents of two strong young men:  Sugar and Humble.  For some reasons, Sugar and Humble had issues to the point that they could just not get along.  One of their worst fights was over religion concerning something to do with Mr. Leroy.  Their parents actually sent them for counseling from Mr. Leroy, but Sugar just didn’t want to change.  Things escalated and one day Sugar committed a first in the new society: he killed his brother.

Mr. Leroy confronted Sugar about his actions and at first Sugar denied all the facts but Mr. Leroy didn’t let up.  No one has ever been successful in arguing with Mr. Leroy.  Mr. Leroy already knew the sad outcome of Sugar’s actions.    Sugar ended up joining a motorcycle gang that roamed the earth always looking for work, but never succeeding.  The other inhabitants of the area were angered over Sugar’s actions and for Sugar’s own safety, Mr. Leroy personally gave Sugar get a huge tattoo on his forehead.  The tattoo was a representation of Mr. Leroy and that scared the dickens out of people so they wouldn’t annihilate Sugar in revenge for killing Humble.

In case you haven’t noticed this, the story is a very very loose retelling of the Garden of Eden.  If you are a parent and as you think about the story as a parent, contemplate:

  1. With Mr. Leroy representing God, the perfect parent, why did things go so wrong?
  2. What does this tell us about our own children?
  3. How does this story give us hope?

LIVING WITHOUT BREATHING ROOM

scribble page

During the past several years a painting of my life would look like a margin-less page. Sadly, there have often been no margins and no empty space. There has been little breathing room. It took me quite a while to come to the realization that empty space is not necessarily negative space.  The pages of my life looked like the picture in this post – no room to hold the book comfortably; the type disappeared into the middle gutter; and there was no place for page numbers.  No one living or reading a life like that enjoys the experience.  It is margin-less living; living without air; suffocation. 

“Just one more thing” thrown on the stack of things I had to get done always stretched my margin even thinner.  Even the normal easy things in life become stressful and the pain of the workload was off the scale.  I had an ongoing hum in the back of my head telling me there was just nothing left to give. One slip at any point could spell disaster, whether it was emotional, spiritual, financial, or physical.  My life became a prison of responsibilities.

 Last Christmas season was what I fondly call the “Mother of all Christmas Nightmares”.  For years I have had one reoccurring dream:  I get up one morning and realize that I am scheduled for a concert that morning but I can’t locate the music or the venue for the concert.  Frantically I am running late on the clock and when I arrive at the destination, the concert has already begun.  In part, that dream was last Christmas. I was running multiple concerts with my acappella choir while at the same time directing a big event with a children’s’ choir, an adult choir, and multiple solo musicians.  For the grand event I made the unwelcome discovery that the support staff I had anticipated (and thought was promised) did not exist.  The night before the large concert my husband and I were setting up platforms, chairs, and microphones, and I found that all my emails indicating our sound equipment needs had gone into someone’s circular file.  This was death’s door for a person like me who usually plans months ahead down to the last detail.  Though the final concert ended up going extremely well, I was totally spent in mental and physical energy.  I rediscovered how limited my strength is.

 This year I am trying to bring into my life the margin of contentment versus living in chaos.  In God’s sense of humor, I am presently teaching a class that deals with the entire subject of stress.  I think the angels have chuckled over that one! 

 The Apostle Paul wrote from a jail cell most of his letters which are included as books in the New Testament.  I like The Message paraphrase of a portion of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4: Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.   With a philosophy like this, I think that Paul found balance, even when circumstances didn’t appear that way.  I don’t think he would have found himself perpetually running late, short tempered, and blowing a gasket as I frequently found myself doing.  I remember the time I was late getting out the door for work because I had been frantically looking for a Tupperware lid for my lunch.  My dear husband had decided to be helpful and relocate them to a different location and neglected to inform me.  I should have looked for the stuff the night before, but I was way too tired from the rat race I had placed myself in.  The words out of my mouth that morning weren’t happy and relaxed and they definitely weren’t the words out of Paul’s mouth when he found himself stretched beyond his limits.  I don’t think Paul would have stressed over expectations of people that were simply beyond their abilities.  Paul wouldn’t have become overwhelmed and erratic. Paul would have sat down with Jesus and “chilled”.  Paul would have made sure he had that open time in his margin and made it Jesus time.

 So what have I learned from all of this?  There is the saying that “The minute a person goes into debt, he loses a portion of his freedom”.  My paraphrase is that “The minute I make a commitment which I do not have time to effectively do, I will be imprisoned by that commitment”.  I’m exhausted from living in this type of slavery.  Changes are necessary.  This Christmas there will be no large extravaganza concert.  There will be small venues, but they will be manageable venues.  There will be no screaming in my house when I can’t find the Tupperware lids and no frustration over expectations of people who don’t have the capabilities of meeting those expectations. There will be peace and contentment.  I may have a smaller list of responsibilities in my hands, but the only way that list will land in my hands is because God directly put it there (after I thought and prayed about it a great deal).  The items won’t end up there due to a sense of guilt, other peoples’ expectations, or my own problem with expecting too much from my own small hands.

Paul couldn’t have said it better:  It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.  The life truly given to Christ produces a life supplied with margin, oxygen, and peace. That’s the kind of life I want to live, a life with Spirit-filled breathing room.BABY SLEEP