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Lessons I Learned From My Kids

Kids know a good thing when they see it. Imagine the scene – so many children running up to Jesus that the disciples feel they must step in and stop them. Sort of like protecting the Good Humor man when he rolls his truck into the neighborhood! Jesus encourages the children to come forward and holds back his well-meaning desciples with a sharp rebuke. He tells them that they can only receive the kingdom of heaven if they can do so as a child. Strange advice to give grown men, but Jesus is referring to the absolute openness and trusting love of  kids. Children always see the wonder of life while adults see the pitfalls. As a child, I recall the Jersey shore boardwalk as a magical place of pure fun. The store lights twinkled like stars and the smells of caramel popcorn, salt-water taffy and warm-from-the-griddle waffles and ice cream would make your mouth water. Going back to the shore as an adult, I saw every splinter in the aging wooden walk (I walked it barefoot as a kid!), the twinkling stars were really gaudy neon and the sweet smells could be nauseateing if the wind was right. However, as I looked at my kids, they were fairly quivering with excitement as we paused to get our bearings. The amusement parks, concession stands and souvenir shops are as exciting to them as I remember them being to me way back when.

That’s what happens as you get older, though. You no longer see all things as being possible, but instead can point out every possible problem. Case in point: kids choose bike helmets for the cool colors and designs while parents look at the safety rating. I remember my kids  sleigh riding each winter in our backyard. They stood at the top of the hill, surveying the slalom-style run that their dad had helped them with and dreamt of the best sleigh ride ever. As I watched them, I was mentally navigating all the roads and intersections between my drive way and the nearest emergency room. Children are innocent wonderment: adults are jaded and cynical. Children see the entire world opening before them, adults see only obstacles. No wonder Jesus instructs us to become more like children. Faith is a matter of the heart and their hearts are still soft and supple, not yet scarred and clogged with cholestrol.

The Bible give us many examples of such uncluttered, simple faith. There’s David, dancing for all his might before the ark. His joy is uninhibited in the same way that my son would run through a sprinkler on a hot summer day. He’s not worried about the water being too cold, or tripping over a tree root, or stepping on a bee. He’s just running for sheer joy. Look at Mary, whose trusting response to the angel is a simple “May it be as you have said”. I would have had a lot more to say to that angel and not much of it would have been exactly positive.

Of course, there is the outspoken side of childhood, too. I’m reminded of Peter at the Last Supper. When Jesus washed the apostle’s feet, he was giving them a two-fold lesson in humility and unconditional love. The apostles didn’t understand and were shocked by Jesus’ actions (you’d think they would know better by know, but some things never change- even today). Peter is the only one to ask the question that they are all thinking, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” It is too humiliating to think of his Lord and Master crouching down to massage his dirty toes. But Jesus assures him that even though he doesn’t understand, he should allow Jesus to do this thing. It will become clear to him later. Still Peter refuses; in fact he gives Jesus an outright “No!” Jesus explains that unless Peter sticks out those troublesome feet of his and allows Jesus to perform this act of service, Peter cannot enjoy the fellowship of his Master. Looking back through history, we can see the symbolic overtones. This act of humble love will be eclipsed by Jesus’ ultimate act of love and service on the cross. Unless we accept that Jesus’ death was a gift to reconcile us to Himself then we can have no fellowship with Him. Peter, lacking the benefit of such hindsight, has no idea of what Jesus is talking about, but he recognizes that rejection of Jesus in not an option. With the exuberance of a child who doesn’t know what he’s getting into but still jumps headfirst anyway, Peter offers his whole body to Jesus.

These are examples which God has set before us. These three people are open, loving, trusting, hopeful and totally focused on God. Our own children continue the lesson today. They exhibit such excitement about God’s creation whether they are catching fireflies in a jar or snowflakes on their tongues. So I’ve been trying to spend more time with kids, not just my own but the neighborhood kids, church kids, school kids. Maybe by hanging out with these children, I can catch a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about. Maybe, just maybe I will see Mary or David or Peter as they clamor up the back steps to ask for more Kool-Aid and another bag of popcorn. Maybe, just maybe my heart will lighten and my eyes will open as I laugh at their silly jokes or revel in their hugs as they come bounding off the school bus. And maybe, just maybe I’ll find myself loosening up and becoming more like them and consequently more like Him.


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Bringing it on Home

ImageIt’s a little disconcerting when you realize that you cannot know what your future holds. You can make all your plans and sketch out what type of path will get you there. But when you strip away all the “I wish” and the “I hope” plans, you will have to admit that you don’t have much to hold onto. You will find only one thing that is left to you and that is the love of God. I can’t tell you what will happen tomorrow, but I can tell you that I will be loved by God. I know and trust that every path His love leads me down is  meant to eventually bring me back home.

In Ron Howard’s classic movie “Apollo 13”, the space capsule hurtling three astronauts to the moon suffers a crippling explosion. NASA is forced to come up with a new plan to bring what’s left of the capsule and the astronauts back home before they run out of power. The movie is an incredible testament to courage and man’s ingenuity under duress. Yet in the middle of the nail-biting action, the director inserts a newsreel flashback in which Apollo Captain Jim Lovell recalls his days flying planes during WWII. He recounts an incident where he is flying over the sea of Japan at night. His electrical equipment shorts out and the plane is dangerously low on fuel. In preparation to ditch the plane at sea, he turns off the emergency lights. As the cockpit goes dark, the sea beneath him seems to light up. It takes him a moment to understand what he is seeing. There is a huge cloud of fluorescent algae near the surface of the water. He knows that this type of algae is routinely stirred up in the wake of a large ship when it passes by. As he follows the trail of algae, he realizes that the large ship is indeed the aircraft carrier that he had originally been heading for and had lost hope of finding without his equipment. Had he not turned off the lights, he would never had caught the faint glowing trail in the sea below. Captain Lovell ends the interview by saying, “So you never know what events will transpire to get you home.”

Though I cannot see the path that God has laid for me, I know that the path is there. There will be those scary times when I will have to turn of my emergency lights, all those earthly things that we rely on for guidance, just to see God’s next heavenly step. There are those times when you have to let go of the things that are safe and sensible to follow His directions. Lovell’s act of desperation and plan to jump from the plane actually helped him to see a trail that would eventually bring him home. I can’t help but wonder what leaps of faith that God will ask of me? There have been quite a few already. They didn’t make much sense at the time, but looking back I can see how much I learned and grew from each experience.

I may not know how God will get me to my heavenly home, but I can honestly say that in every twist and turn of the path, I have felt His presence. Sometimes as a strong guiding hand, sometimes just a dim flicker as I panicked and ran from Him. My path thus far, has had times of wild adventure followed by quiet stretches meant for rest and rebuilding. I have felt the frustration of being in a holding pattern when I am forced to wait for Him to open the next door. This is especially painful for those of us who struggle with that virtue of patience. But I can see that had I rushed in, I wouldn’t have been as prepared for the ordeal that lay ahead as I was when I stayed within God’s plan. And for those times when I did rush ahead……well, you can guess.

God is really very straight forward with us. He loves and tell us to love and therein lies His plan. The thing that is so wonderful about God’s plans is the central idea that He does love us despite our best efforts. His plan for us is simply to bring us home to Himself. How incredible, how gracious, how amazing! So I will keep trying to turn off the distracting emergency lights that flash in my face each day and try to follow the quiet, little trail stirred up by a big God who goes before me and whose ultimate goal is simply to bring me safely home.

 

 


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Heavens Child (for Troy)

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(I wrote this song for Easter about ten years ago.  It’s a little about Mary and a little about me and a lot about a compassionate God. I think any parent who has lost a child looks at Mary a little differently than the rest of the church.)

Heaven’s Child

I tend to think of Mary

as a mother only can

standing on that hillside,

was she questioning your plan.

for you trusted her with your son

an infant needing care,

then you made her watch him suffer

as her eyes filled with tears.

for that baby was a man now

and the hope at his birth,

had given way to your purpose

a mother’s tears fill the earth.

and did Mary say….

If he can’t be in my arms, I’ll put him in yours.

he was yours from the beginning, mine for just a while.

I held and I rocked him this precious Heaven’s child.

now though you are the Master

a father’s heartbeat I have felt,

and I know you were with Joseph

at the manger as he knelt.

and if Mary cried her tears

at the foot of Calvary,

how much greater was your sorrow

you could have stopped the tragedy.

you could have reached and stilled the hand

of the soldier with the nails

but you let the thing play out

with all the pain that it entails

and did Mary say…

if he can’t be in my arms

then I’ll put him in yours.

he was yours from the beginning

 mine for just a while.

I held him and I rocked him

this precious Heaven’s child