The Snail Whisperer
For the last couple months it has been my joy and pleasure to be with my three-year-old granddaughter and her baby brother. We spent some of that time in her home, some in mine, and some traveling for a family gathering. My daughter, Jordyn’s mom, is very selective and careful about screen time, but when driving in the car passing the hundredth cow or the thousandth acre of flat farmland, it’s time to bring out the video entertainment. Such entertainment is also useful when every adult in the household needs some down time and the kids are still at the top of their game. During the weeks we were together, Jordyn became captivated with a particular movie and its spunky and endearing character, an ambitious little land snail who became known as Turbo. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Turbo has a dream to be a racer, and when he winds up flowing through a car’s fuel system and becomes infused with nitrous oxide, he is able to live out his wish, and he actually wins the Indy 500! I will spare you reiteration of scenes and quotes, which I definitely could do because we watched the show at least ten times. We also read and learned about land snails and their water-inhabiting cousins, and Jordyn became quite the expert in all things snail.
God, of course, was observing all of this even more intently than we were, and he chose to give Jordyn a special blessing. When we arrived at my son’s house that is in a small, gated community in southern California, much to Jordyn’s delight, the lower part of his house was a snail haven. The funny thing is, though there were snails here and there on other homes in the neighborhood, the majority of mollusks had decided to take up residence on Uncle Kris’ abode, and there were numerous sizes and choices with which Jordyn could engage. And engage she did! Of course, every snail received a name from the movie, most of them “Turbo.” Jordyn would hold one each day, and interestingly, these little creatures would reveal themselves while in Jordyn’s hands. They would stretch their mushy bodies out of their shells, and with their knobby eyes they would view this little girl that had become so enamored with them. She would talk softly and insure them that they needn’t be afraid and that they were in good hands. If you are unaware, the natural response a snail would have to ANY creature picking it up would be to take refuge inside its shell and stay there until put back into a safe environment. Somehow Jordyn had acquired the knack of making these little creatures feel comfortable enough to share time with her. To my mind, it is quite the accomplishment both on the part of Jordyn and her shell-bearing friends.
I wonder if I can be so receptive and comforting to those who are taking cover in their own shells. Not snails, of course, but individuals who are encased in armor built of shame, fear, self-degradation, addiction, or the myriad number of habits and heartaches that are not their homes but their means of incarceration. Do I have an open heart, mind, eyes, and ears to welcome a person needing to reveal inner thoughts and feelings without being threatening or judgmental? Can I be a confidant for one who may have a view that I myself do not hold? Can I be more like Jesus who sought to save the lost by meeting people where they were, helping them to have a better understanding of God, and sending them on their way healed, filled with hope, and aware of God’s unique purpose?
The Bible reminds us in James, “Know this, my beloved bothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV). It surely is an accomplishment to be able to put these things into practice and make people feel comfortable enough to open up to us and share what is inside. As we carefully engage with others and give them a place to feel safe and understood, we will bring God’s love and grace to those who are hurting. We just may be able to bring them out of their shells and set them on a path to healing, filled with hope and purpose.
Thank you for the lesson, my little snail whisperer! I look forward to watching Turbo with you again sometime soon.
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Several weeks ago I was reading Matthew’s account of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. As I contemplated his great sacrifice and the eventual victory he experienced, my thoughts brought me to Jesus’ forty-day temptation in the wilderness. The report in the book of Mark indicates that it is likely the devil sought to tempt Jesus to sin in various ways and many times more than what is written in Matthew and Luke. The three instances recorded in those books reveal temptations regarding provision, position, and power. In each case, Jesus used Scripture to combat the wiles of Satan. It occurred to me that when Jesus resisted the enemy, he exhibited two important virtues – self-control and patience. He was willing to wait on his Father’s timing in the short-term to satisfy his hunger, and for a much longer period to inherit his kingdom and to wield the authority that accompanied his rightful role. He took no shortcuts, he did not claim entitlements, nor did he push his way through to a place of ease and adulation (though legions of ministering angels were always at his disposal – from Matthew 26:53). Jesus manifested patience throughout his life and ministry, taking a much longer and harder road to the cross. His selfless act made it possible for his Father’s perfect plans to be fulfilled.
As we navigate through challenges that certainly could be characterized as those of biblical proportions, tremendous opportunities are open to believers to live out our faith in new and interesting ways. As we open our hearts fully to the workings of the Holy Spirit, we can show the same virtues that Jesus did to those around us – our children, our parents, co-workers, neighbors, and friends, even while keeping social distancing in mind. In the book of Galatians these virtues are called “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23a, ESV). Along with patience and self-control, the characteristics of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness are listed. These all testify to a genuine faith in the Lord and a willingness to yield to his ways and promote his values and principles to the world.
In the first of a series of pamphlets entitled “The American Crisis” Thomas Paine, a British-born political philosopher turned American and supporter of American independence, wrote in the midst of the revolutionary war era in 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” While some of his philosophical writings are not in line with Christian doctrine, presently, we can relate to that particular statement. It is hard to live through such a time when there is so much sickness and death, businesses folding, and financial hardship in millions of households. Perhaps most heartbreaking are the accounts of people who are either ignoring authority, taking advantage of others’ needs, or willingly sacrificing civility, displaying concern only for themselves. These “works of the flesh” have been evident since Adam’s fall from grace. God desires that we his people show others the best of who he is through attitudes and actions that are counter to human nature and in line with his character. It comes down to a simple choice: selfishness vs. selflessness. Through the Holy Spirit at work in us we can be patient and self-controlled in the midst of trial as well as demonstrate true love, joy, peace, and the other fruit of the Spirit in ways big and small.
A couple weeks ago before stay-at-home procedures became the mandated norm in her state, my daughter, Katie, was at a store with her little girl. As she waited in line, a mother near her gave her young son four quarters and told him it was all he could have to get a little squishy ball from the adjacent vending machine for himself and for his little brother. My three-year-old granddaughter, not wanting to be left out of the procurement of such a valuable treasure, began to express her desire to get one too. Mama held her ground as Jordyn gave way to her emotions over the thought of leaving the store without a ball. Obviously seeing her distress, the little boy turned around to my daughter and asked, “Can I give her mine?” Not wanting to steal his joy and with tears in her eyes, Katie allowed Jordyn to receive the precious gift. This small act of kindness speaks volumes in a world that often encourages a “take what you can” mentality. As we go through what may be the biggest crisis of our lives, let’s pray that God will allow his Spirit to rise up in us so we can be more like his Son and like that little boy. May the fruit of the Spirit be so evident in each of our lives allowing selflessness to triumph over selfishness, and we will open the door for the perfect plans of the Lord to be fulfilled. “Now the works of the flesh are evident… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:19a, 22-23, ESV).
We pray you had a very blessed Easter. In spite of the times, “He has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6b, ESV) and that gives us cause to celebrate no matter what is happening around us.
Thomas Paine,The American Crisis, Wikipedia, edited update: April 11, 2020, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
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The Heart of Communication
It is no secret that in this world filled with technology, we living in relative prosperity have become attached AND distracted by said technology. As I am writing in a busy airport terminal, in row after row of passengers I see screens of every type. Viewing cell phones, e-readers, and tablets, very few people are engaged in conversation with each other, though I will say there is a din (travelers likely in momentary discussions over seat assignments, delays, or where to find a good cup of coffee). It is apparent that while we may be sitting within spitting distance of family and friends, let alone people with whom we are unfamiliar, people in general, and particularly this younger generation, are more likely to have Herculean-strength thumbs from tapping a cell phone all day than they are able to engage in meaningful conversation for more than a nanosecond (likely to ask if they can plug into a shared outlet). It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway—what a changed world we live in! Yes, I know that in many ways there are benefits and betterments. But there are also many things we are losing due to the technological advances society has made, especially in the last fifty years.
I have a fond memory of a fourth grade unit we did in school. It was a series of lessons on the telephone. The telephone booklet, which I have saved in a scrapbook of school memorabilia, walked us fourth graders through the mechanics of the telephone including how to dial, the proper way to speak into the receiver, information and emergency calls, and use of a phone book to find both personal and business numbers. Among the pertinent information are several pages on telephone manners. It was definitely something we practiced. With two telephones in the room, each classmate had likely more than one opportunity to participate in a polite exchange. Among the booklet’s phrases are recommendations for passing on a message to another household member, letting the caller know that the intended recipient of the call will soon be available, apologizing for making a call to a wrong number, and kindly responding to someone who has made the wrong-number call. It is also interesting to see that proper phone etiquette includes hanging up the phone gently so as not to cause a banging noise in the caller’s ear.
If you and/or your children were scratching your heads throughout most of the last paragraph, let’s move into the twenty-first century. We, of course, largely communicate through the devices mentioned in the first paragraph. I’m fairly certain that schools do not teach a unit on a proper way to make calls and converse on the cell. Nor is there some sort of tutorial on polite messaging of any kind. We have largely moved away from verbal (deep) conversation on a device, and we especially lack the skills to do so face-to-face. Probably one of the oddest practices is to see people texting each other not only in the same building, but in the same room! Their messages are not only concise, but they can be downright cryptic! “BTW,” “TY,” “RTN,” “K,” and the ever-popular “LOL” are all a part of accepted text conversation. Alexander Graham Bell invented the original telephone in 1876, and he is either gleeful about the advance of his invention, or he is turning somersaults in his grave at the loss of true, heartfelt communication among members of the human race.
As with all matters, it is important to look into God’s Word to see what he has to say about communication and connection. First of all, God invites us into the most intimate relationship with him, calling us his children and making himself known as God the Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, ESV). He has opened an avenue of communication with him through prayer. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5b-6, ESV). His desire is that we spend time with him just as Jesus modeled many times. “In these days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, ESV). It is clear that the Lord also wants us to have fellowship and connection with each other. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
In Ephesians 4 and 5 we find advice to guide us in our communication: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor,” (4:25). “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (4:26). “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32). “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (5:4). It is apparent that the Bible promotes healthy, loving, encouraging communication to develop and enrich relationships among us. We would be wise to heed the Lord’s direction.
Of course, Jesus did not carry a cell phone in the back pocket of his tunic, but he has always known the future of communication, both to the positive and negative sides of the matter. His desire has always been for us to speak in real and affectionate ways to our heavenly Father and lovingly and truthfully converse with one another. This is the essential art and the true heart of communication.
Bell Telephone System. Audio-Visual Materials Consultation Bureau, College of Education, Wayne University. The Telephone and How We Use It. Copyright © [1964?]
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Perfect Surroundings; Christmas
For those of you in colder climes where the appearance of snow is a winter norm, there can still be something unsettling about the amassing of the white powdery stuff, especially if it appears too early in the fall or hangs around too late in what should be spring. For me, there is really only one time of year when cold and snow feel absolutely right—the Christmas season! That will surely make sense to you when I share that I grew up southeast of Buffalo, NY within five miles of Lake Erie. But even when we lived in a basically one-season part of the US, locals suggested turning the air conditioning down to about fifty degrees on Christmas Eve and donning sweaters to pretend we were spending an idyllic Christmas in the perfect surroundings. In truth, even during the years in Buffalo, we would often have a dry, green Christmas Day and then an Easter with three-foot drifts. Those are the times when the environment did not seem to match the occasion.
Our first snow here this year in The Springs was on 10 October, way too early in my estimation. We were out of town when the next storm hit, and then at the end of October, Mr. Snow showed up again. By that time, I was beginning to do some early shopping for Christmas since we were traveling for Thanksgiving, and it made sense to take Christmas gifts with us versus shipping them to each family. The snowfall had subsided by the time I drove, and with the sky still a nice US northeastern gray (only appreciated by those of us who grew up there), I donned my sweater, winter coat, scarf, and gloves to keep me cozy. It felt like the perfect day to get holiday shopping started. One over-eager radio station had even started playing carols in their mix. It all went really well until the sun emerged through the clouds. At our altitude, the sun appearing can bring up the temps quite quickly and intensely. I turned off the heater, and I began shedding layers faster than a Siberian Husky relocated to the tropics. By the time my left ear began to burn from the sun in the driver’s side window, I was not going to continue the drive, much less the quest for the perfect Christmas gifts that had been “so much fun” just an hour before. The environment had changed, and my desire to make some early purchases melted with the snow on the ground.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem on what we now refer to as the first Christmas morn, the environment could not have been more out of place for a coming King. The first roof over his head was a stable. His first bed was a manger filled with hay. His welcoming committee, aside from his mother and earthly father, were common animals. His first visitors were the lowest of the low in society, shepherds. Nothing could have been further removed from true royalty, and yet, there he was in such humble surroundings, born into the world for ALL of the world! God knew; God planned for it to be just so. As much as he deserved the finest reception for his advent here, his entrance in humility opened the door for anyone with a needy, repentant heart—rich and poor, intelligent and ignorant, young and old, the mighty and the weak—to come to him and receive his loving embrace and saving grace. Only God in all his wisdom knew that his Son, the King, would best come in a time and place that would defy the world’s preconceived notions and norms so that he could change the hearts and lives of any and all who would turn to him.
So, come to the place where he lay. Imagine the environment where he first entered the world, and know that in spite of what you may see around him, here lies the Savior. The occasion of his coming can melt the heart of all who choose to bow before him and make the biggest change in each repentant life. Those who trust in him can look forward with anticipation and joy to a perfect time and glorious surroundings when he comes again. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:7-11, ESV).
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The Whole Ball of Wax (One Thing Leads to Another)
I must begin my writing today with a confession. Perhaps some of you will follow my lead, if need be, and just get this out in the open once and for all. Ready? I am lousy at taking my daily supplements! There. I said it. I’m not sure what it is about it, save possibly that some of them seem like horse pills, but other than that, one would think that it would not be a major issue to swallow a few (ahem—too many) capsules each day. I decided that one of the things I could do to make taking them as easy as possible would be to keep them in a more accessible place. After all, a walk across the kitchen can be a sufficient deterrent. So, I made the decision to move them, at least several days’ worth, onto the area where I eat breakfast, which happens to be my center island. To keep the island looking organized, I also determined that I needed a nice container in which to hold them. Since it is the fall season, I looked around for something that would be fitting fall décor. I hunted through cabinets and closets, rejecting this basket because it was too large, and that bowl because it didn’t look at all like an autumn piece, and that plastic holder because, well it was just pretty ugly. Then I looked in my corner cupboard and found a perfect vessel—a pretty fall-themed ceramic mug. I felt like Goldilocks upon her discovery of the perfect bear bed—the mug was not too big, not too small, but it was just right! There was only one problem—this ideal receptacle had at one time been used to hold votive candles, and the bottom third was still filled with wax.
Easy fix you say. I beg to differ with you, though at first I thought the same thing. I tried to just dig it out, but that was akin to pulling out a healthy adult tooth—it wouldn’t budge! So, I thought that maybe if I poured boiling water into the cup, I could pry out the stubborn wax blob and move on. I had very gradual success, and to make sure I did not put wax down the drain, which would have brought on a whole new set of problems, I used a strainer to catch the candle remains. Of course, some of the candle wax melted and did not come out in a nice big disposable blob, but in a stream that hardened once it hit the strainer. I did not let that fact deter my removal project, and I poured and chipped and scraped and strained until I was down to only a very light smear of wax that I was certain would dissolve in the dishwasher easily and without ugly consequences to the machine. However, now I had a strainer that I still wanted to be able to use for its original purpose, so I got an enamel pot in which to rinse the strainer with boiling water. That allowed the strainer to be ready for the dishwasher, but then I had wax floating on the surface and adhering to the sides of the pot! Eventually I poured the cooled water from the pot through a paper towel, rubbed and scraped out the rest of the offending wax, and placed the pot in the bottom rack of the dishwasher. Happily, all three items were restored.
Thinking back through the unwelcome and time-consuming experience, it seems that this is a pattern that can so easily ensue in relation to sin. Maybe there’s one problem that causes us to stumble. We don’t dig it out, but we cover it up, and inevitably it carries over to something else so that it stains another part of our being. We don’t stop there either, and we allow sin to continue to consume more of our hearts and minds until it is just one big ugly ball of wax. We are left alienated from God and his ultimate purpose for us.
The Bible speaks about sin in this way: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15, ESV). Ouch! Thankfully there is a perfect solution. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:9-10, ESV). How much easier life would be if we were so in tune with God that we would immediately recognize and admit our offenses against the Lord and confess them to him without delay! It should be every believer’s desire to be so transparent with him and to always ask his forgiveness for those things we might have done and those things we have left undone. God’s cleansing is complete, and it restores us to a pure and right relationship with him, a perfect vessel (with no wax buildup) that can be used for the purpose he has in mind.
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