Are You Smarter than a Hadley Cow?

I was driving on a back road in Hadley when I spied a cow that made me laugh.  You would have laughed, too.

He was part of a gang of cows.  His buddies were pretty nondescript.  Munching contentedly on yellowing grass, they gazed impassively at the passing cars.  Standard cow behavior.  But the cow in question stood out from the rest of the herd.  He was grazing right at the edge of the field, very close to the road.  His forelegs were bent while his rump was raised high in the air.  He was craning his neck through the opening of the wire perimeter fence trying to reach a patch of grass just beyond his reach.

He looked so ridiculous that I actually laughed out loud.  There were literally acres of pasture land behind him where he could have munched to his heart’s content, but that one little clump of grass just outside the boundary of the fence was apparently irresistible.  Not only did he look silly, he also looked quite uncomfortable in his undignified posture.  I was wondering if he would need the cow equivalent of physical therapy when he went back to the barn that night.

That cow just didn’t have the smarts to recognize that he had all he needed right on his side of the fence.  Thankfully, the farmer had the foresight to install the fence so that his cows would be kept safe.   If he hadn’t, I am pretty sure there would be one less cow in Hadley tonight.

So, I’m wondering.  Are you smarter than a Hadley cow?

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.   Paul the Apostle, circa 60 AD

I Still Have a Long Way to Go

I have so many things for which I am grateful.  There are really too many for me to list, and even if I did, my list would probably look a lot like yours.  So instead of telling you about all the blessings in my life, I am going to let you in on a little secret: sometimes I struggle with discontent.

Oops.  Did I really say that?  Yeah, because unfortunately it’s true.  There is a part of me that tends to whine.  I really don’t want to, but there it is.  I can find fault with my job, my church, my family, my house, even the dog.  Nothing is exempt when it comes to my periodic episodes of whining.

Even in the midst of my grumbles, however,  I do know that the real problem is me.  I have not yet learned the secret of being content in every circumstance; it just doesn’t come naturally for me.  I wish I could learn it through osmosis. I would go to sleep at night under an osmosis gadget and wake up fully contented.  Why does contentment have to be learned?  And why does the lesson have to revolve around difficulties?  I have learned that trying to wiggle out of the lesson does no good.  Sometimes I feel like I am stuck on the equivalent of “See, see.  Oh see.  See Dick”,  but if I don’t master the simple lessons, I am not allowed to move on.

We really don’t take kindly to the idea that hard times can teach us contentment.   We prefer to think that contentment flourishes when our life is filled with sunshine.  But Paul, the great apostle, said he learned contentment during times of plenty and hunger, and abundance and need.  Did you know that Paul was shipwrecked three times?  Or that he spent a day and a night floating in the open sea? Receiving thirty-nine lashes from the Jews on five separate occasions is horrific beyond description, and yet at the end of it all, Paul said he had learned to be content.

I still have a long way to go in learning the secret of contentment, but I am definitely on the learning curve.  I am not where I want to be, but because I have a wonderful Teacher, I am not where I started.

I am learning that contentment gives birth to thankfulness.  The more I get that God truly is sovereign, and that His plan for my life truly is good, the more thankful I become.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember Show and Tell?

I think “Show and Tell’ is a brilliant idea as a safe introduction to public speaking.  You probably remember doing this yourself.  You would take something to school that you deemed special and hold it aloft while you gave your squirming, fidgety classmates a bit of  information about it.  I think it is safe to say that without that little prop in your hands, the attention span of your classmates would have been just about zilch.  First, kids don’t have great attention spans, and second, let’s face it, you probably weren’t a compelling speaker.

I mean, seriously, think about it.  Have you ever listened to a young child earnestly retelling an event from their day and you have NO idea what they are talking about?  You nod and say “uh huh” and “Really?” but you are still clueless.  But when they can show you something, along with their words, it begins to make sense.

I enjoy listening to The Moth Radio Hour on NPR.  It features live performances of people who, without notes or props, tell true stories of ordinary life  in such a way that the listener see life in a different way.    Unlike the young listeners of Show and Tell, these storytellers have no problem holding their listeners’ attention.   I think the strength of a good storyteller is that rather than making a bald statement,  they show a truth about human nature simply through their story.

I was reminded of this recently as I starting reading a novel set just after the crucifixion of Jesus.   The story started out well enough with the author showing how a centurion, charged by Pilate to find out the truth about the ‘stolen body’, goes about his task.  He eventually meets up with Joseph of Arimathea who tells him this:

But how did we respond to this gift?  We crucified him.  We all stand convicted, guilty of a crime so horrendous that the very heavens shook.  I was there that day, Roman.  I witnessed an astonishing event.  The curtain between the Temple’s inner chambers and the Holy of Holies, where our Lord God is said to dwell, was split from the top to the bottom.  Do you hear what I am saying?  From top to bottom.  This is impossible, for no man can reach that high. Yet it happened, without anyone touching it.  Why is this important? Because it means the division between God and man has been abolished.  Vanished.  How?  Because the great Jehovah, the One whose name may only be whispered once each year by the anointed high priest, had sent his Son to be crucified.

Really??  Why did the author feel the need to insert this little sermon right into the middle of a story? It’s not that what he said is untrue.  I just wonder, did he think that the story did not speak for itself? Did he doubt his ability to effectively communicate the story of a life changed by Jesus?   To be honest I can’t actually tell you the outcome of the story because that sermon was enough for me.  I closed the book and read no more.  It was too contrived, too preachy, too improbable that this kind of statement would have been made shortly after the death of Jesus.

Reading that book got me thinking about the trap some Christians fall into.  It seems that we doubt that our lives are showing the story of a life redeemed by Christ, so we resort to telling people.  When I say this, I am not at all referring to evangelism.  After all, Romans 10:14 says:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?

What I am referring to is the way we sometimes communicate with other believers.  Christians are adept at saying things they think will enhance their ‘spiritual image’.  We want to look like we have a Thomas Aquinas/Martin Luther kind of faith, but we aren’t really sure that we do, so we resort to telling people what kind of faith we have.  Frankly, I think people are pretty astute about these things and we are only fooling ourselves about the quality of our inner life.

If we want people to see Jesus in our lives, He needs to really be there.  And we have the promise that the more time we spend with Him, the more our lives will show it.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.  2 Corinthians 3:18

Happy Mondays!

I think I am in the minority, but I look forward to Mondays.  No matter how hectic the rest of life gets, Monday is an oasis of joy.  It is my Sofia day.

This week, as she draws near to her first birthday, I think back to the first time I saw her sleeping in her hospital bassinet.  As I leaned over and drank in the sight of the dark cap of hair on her tiny head, the perfectly formed little nose, the smooth curve of her soft cheek, my eyes filled with tears. I was overcome with awe at the amazing workmanship of the Master Designer.

I marvel at how much she has changed in one short year.  From a little six pound bundle of squishy softness, unable to lift her head or control her movements, there has been a transformation into a little dynamo of activity and intelligence.

Her ears are tuned to familiar voices and she turns to look when she hears her name.  Outside, she listens attentively to the chirping of birds and other sounds of nature.   It seems that daily she discovers something more about her vocal cords and how to make new sounds using her tongue and lips.  She delights in laughter and sometimes giggles just for the pleasure of hearing the sound.

Sofia also uses her hands to ‘talk’.  She points to express her wants, and claps to express pleasure.  We know her tummy is satisfied when she signals the end of a meal by signing “All done.”   Her sturdy little hands reach for toys but also have the more refined ability of picking up small objects with her thumb and forefinger.  She is enchanted by small bits of lint and fuzz and works diligently to get them into her mouth.

Stretched out legs, piles of laundry, or an odd assortment of toys and books are no obstacle to this little monkey/mountain goat child.  She takes satisfaction in conquering every mountain that she encounters during a day’s adventure.  When she takes off down the hall with a grin thrown my way, I know she is headed straight for the stairs…. which are theoretically off-limits.  Nani stands behind her to guard and protect as she makes her way to the top.  Once the summit is conquered she bestows a triumphant smile on me and crawls off in search of another adventure.  Such a bundle of non-stop energy!  I can get tired out just watching her escapades.

Evening brings a familiar routine.  Dinner is followed by a splash in the tub. Afterwards, she has taken to quietly cuddling on my lap as I sing to her.  I inhale the scent of freshly washed hair and sweet baby smell and want to linger forever in that time and place.

As I considered the changes in Sofia over the last year, both physically and intellectually, I wondered about myself and whether there have been any changes in me.  I know that at my age the growth spurts are not nearly as impressive as they are for an infant, but I want to think that I have grown.  As I was mulling this over I remembered something the apostle Paul said:

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.  Romans 6:13

How have I offered myself to God this year?  Are my ears more tuned to hear His voice and do I respond more quickly when He calls my name?  Is He pleased with the way I use my words?  Are my hands, feet and mind engaged in missions of eternal importance or have I been distracted by ‘small bits of lint and fuzz’?  Have I learned this past year how to rest more quietly against my Heavenly Father?

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.  Psalm 131:2

For a child, growth is almost inevitable.  As an adult, ‘growing in favor with God and man’, takes effort.  It also takes effort to sit and rest quietly against my Father.  I’m still learning.

Spring is Delayed and for this I Rejoice

The sun shines weakly from an anemic blue sky.  Snow covers frozen ground.  Bare branches reach imploringly toward the heavens as if to say, When will we be clothed?

How long, O Lord?  How long must we wait?

Longings begin to stir in the body that has huddled for warmth against the chill of winter.  For what does it yearn?  Warm sun to caress an upturned face.  Brown, matted grass returning to life.  Buds breaking free from the bonds that have held them captive.  Birds celebrating with song.

How long, O Lord?  How long must we wait?

It is not just the outer shell that huddles for warmth.  The innermost part may shiver with cold and cry out for relief.  When will this benumbed heart feel the warmth of the Fire?  When will the warm Oil flow over the frozen recesses of this battered heart?

How long, O Lord?  How long must we wait?

And yet, as we enter into this Holiest of Weeks, is it not right and good that the Lord has said, “Wait” ?Is it not fitting that, along with the shivering soul, all of nature hold its breath waiting for the Son to rise?

The calendar says spring is here, but it is certain that the reality of the season will also come.  How soul-satisfying it would be for the sun to share its warmth on the day we celebrate the rising of the Son.

It is because of the Son that our souls need not live in winter.  Indeed, even spring can be bypassed    as the soul basks in the warmth of His love.

He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light, and he can bring thee summer out of winter, though thou hast no spring. Though in the ways of fortune, understanding, or conscience thou hast been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied, now God comes to thee, not as the dawning of the day, not as the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon.      John Donne