It was so windy the day we laid my dad to rest the tent at his gravesite nearly blew away. Funeral home representatives and a few tall cousins literally had to hold onto the four poles and even then I think I saw one of them lift into the air with their feet off the ground. A pastor suggested the weather phenomenon could be a thousand angel wings carrying Dad home, and asked if we could feel them. I could. God’s presence was felt on that hill top even though our hearts were in a valley shadowed by death. After the service I overheard two country men, who’ve always lived close to the earth, comment they’d never seen the wind blow hard and steady all day like that.
Could it have been the presence of God? I get teary-eyed thinking about how God comforts us. John 14:16 reminds us of Jesus’ words, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” The Helper is the Holy Spirit (aka the Comforter), who has arrived before on the wings of the wind. Acts 2:2 describes the arrival of the Holy Spirt, “And suddenly there came from Heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”
I recently heard a story about how sheep in the dry desert appear to be grazing on rocks, but upon closer investigation, they are actually nibbling small blades of grass. There is a wind that blows off the Mediterranean Sea carrying moisture into the desert causing vegetation to grow enough to provide substance for the sheep. Every afternoon the hot sun destroys any remaining blades, and every morning (like with manna) the wind once again brings moisture thus producing substance just for that day. May we likewise be sustained, one day at a time, by God’s comfort and love.
A few days after the funeral, we were writing notes of appreciation and recording all the ways people have blessed us during this difficult time. If someone gave us flowers or sympathy cards, their name got written in a memorial book we received from the funeral home. My 6-year-old great nephew took great interest in the process and was determined to get his name in the book. He borrowed some paper and crayons and after a few minutes returned with a card he gave Nanna that read, “I love you no matter what.” Then he stood there waiting, until she wrote his name in the book. It blew me away. I wondered if that’s what Jesus meant when He said we need to come to Him as the little children do…We need to do all we can to get our name in THE Book.
To be clear, I don’t believe for one minute we get in that divine registry by our own works…but it does require our response to Jesus. We’re not perfect, but Jesus fixed us a way into salvation.
As a side note, my dad understood fixing things. He fixed a chimney top using a hubcap. He fixed a hole in a muffler with a soup can that had both ends cut out. And I even saw him fix Nanna’s broken toe at the beach with a pair of underwear and two Popsicle sticks!
And Jesus—how did He fix our imperfection problem? He paid the price for our sins on the cross. Maybe we have a sordid past, are in a current lifestyle we weren’t designed for, have an unhealthy pattern of returning to a vice, or are broken by the loss of someone who was a big part of us. Some things are hard to talk about, but I thought maybe someone else needed to hear this. Whatever our brokenness is and whichever way the wind blows, Jesus’ response is always the same, “I love you, no matter what.”
A steady stream of cars and pedestrians pass by Metrobot every day without so much as a glance. The large robot-like statue stands on the corner of 6th and Walnut Street in Cincinnati and seemingly leaped out of the pages of my college art history book and my memory. I recall Dr. Gillespie telling us how it was created by Nam June Piak, one of the first cool artists to utilize technology in his creations. Even though Metrobot is 27 feet tall, throngs of people are just too busy to notice him.
Busyness isn’t always the problem. Sometimes we can just be standing around and still be oblivious. I discovered this when I darted into the Scripps Building downtown hoping to powder my nose. While the security guards were conveying they had no public restrooms, a large painting at the end of the lobby caught my eye. Forgetting my mission, I asked them, “Is that a real Lichtenstien?!” They shrugged as if to say “Don’t know. Don’t care.” So obviously I had to investigate. As I left the building, I told the guards it was indeed the real deal and commented jokingly “Sometimes we’re in the presence of greatness and don’t even know it.”
It’s safe to say occasionally we have identity issues. One source growing up that taught me a lot about identification was 4-H. We learned about various plants, trees and bird species. There’s bedstraw, used by the pioneers to make mattresses because it has a natural insect repellent. Those are touch-me-nots, which means, of course, you have to touch them and watch the fun way seeds disperse. And have you ever heard the legend around one of my favorite wild flowers, the Queen Anne’s Lace? Usually, the more we learn about something and gather details, the greater the appreciation.
This becomes even truer when we consider people. I’m convinced everyone has an interesting life story and often the seemingly ordinary people who cross our path might just be the real deal so to speak. Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” What if we treated everyone as though they might be angels? We’d probably be more patient and hospitable and more humble in our responses.
When my sister, Cindy, was a high schooler she worked as a waitress in the restaurant at Holly River State Park. During an annual Youth Conservation Day held there, she actually knew she was in the presence of greatness because her customer was none other than the great Maxine Scarbro. Her name sounds like a superhero, and to us 4-H kids she sort of was. She was the director of the WV Youth Conservation Program, sponsored by the State of WV Department of Natural Resources and The Sears and Roebuck Company. Out of the 3000+ people in attendance that day, Maxine Scarbro ended up at Cindy’s table…and in her awestruck adoration, Sis poured her a cup of coffee…and kept pouring and pouring until it overflowed onto the table. Like the end of Psalm 23:5, her “cup runneth over”
I propose our cup too will runneth over when we recognize we are in the presence of Greatness. We just have to open the Bible and read scriptures which will teach us identification. Instead of various leaves and plants, we’ll learn to identify God’s character and our purpose. And we learn the greatest things around us aren’t statues or paintings…There’s 100 percent probability that even right now you’re in the presence of Greatness. Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” I pray we’re not too busy or too carefree to notice Him.
In the suburbs restless and wayward kids play a game called Ding Dong Ditch where one of them is dared to approach a house, ring the doorbell and then run away unseen. The homeowner opens the door puzzled to find nobody there. If it’s repeated, it quickly becomes annoying. This game was certainly not part of my childhood growing up in rural WV. First of all, the hunting dogs would have announced your presence long before you even got to the house. Then there was the likelihood of getting shot for trespassing…so Ding Dong Ditching never really caught on.
I have learned a thing or two about ditches though. Our driveway is steep and if the ditches aren’t kept shoveled out, the water will wash away gravel and erode the tire paths. For anyone feeling inspired to clean, we keep a handy shovel stuck in the ground next to the pieces of guardrail (open culverts) laid across the driveway. I’m always amazed how even a few tiny rocks can clog up the flow of water. It’s very satisfying to clear the path and see water diverted to a better location.
My infatuation with ditches started when we were little and walked to church around the bend. On warm spring mornings we would stop on our way home and catch penny back newts hiding under fallen leaves in the ice cold ditch water. Where the ditch widened at the top of the driveway, there were usually spring peepers. During my teenage years that same beloved ditch stole one of my sneakers when we were chasing cows--and I had to keep running barefoot when the mud would not surrender the shoe. We never did find it!
Daughter Alex got familiar with the ditch recently driving Nanna back from the post office and meeting an enormous log truck in a sharp curve on the one lane road. She bravely drove into the ditch (her only option), and when the truck passed, put the Jeep in four wheel drive and skillfully drove out of it. Her tracks were there two weeks later, reminding us of God’s mercy.
One time my sister and her husband were driving back from town and something in the ditch caught her eye so they went back to investigate. It was a woman passed out amongst the leaves! She began to stir when they asked if she was alright and started to grab for a nearby, almost empty, bottle of whisky, which my brother-in-law quickly kicked it out of reach as they phoned for help. It’s interesting how sometimes when we find ourselves in a ditch, we reach for the very thing that got us into the ditch in the first place.
I’ll conclude with a happy ditch story. The year was 1959 and Dad was driving Mom to meet his parents for the first time. Due to heavy rains, the dirt road had been carved into deep ruts and the mud pulled Dad’s 1950 green 4-door sedan into the ditch. “As not to get his shirt dirty”, he took it off, much to Mom’s embarrassment. Flustered, she remained in the car while Dad jacked it up and pushed it over, jacked it up again and pushed it over more, until he finally got it (and her) out of the ditch.
What have I learned from all this ditch talk? Like my daughter with 4X4-Drive and Dad with his muscles and car jack, we need to be equipped to get out of the figurative ditch. Simply put, that preparedness comes from reading scripture and praying. We also need a friend (or be that friend) to help us out--to kick things that hurt us to the curb and tell us when we’re reaching for the wrong things. And I say this as much to myself as to anyone else, when it comes to “ditching”, don’t be a ding-dong!
Family vacation is often the place where rubber meets the road. We discover who we are, growing in a rolling petri dish of personalities. One particular station wagon odyssey I remember my younger cousin grumbling and giving voice to all of our miseries, “Even my hair hurts!” she whined as she begged my aunt for a Band-Aid.
Road trips are still part of our family tradition and I’m pleased how well my teenage kids travel without complaint--except when the dog’s digestive system takes a wrong turn. Without warning there will be intermittent expressions of putrid hell-stench, which causes us all to gag and grumble.
My mom on the other hand gives us a proper example of tolerance for life’s minor inconveniences. It was the big family vacation at Kings Island Amusement Park and Campground. Uncle Jack had meticulously made a military-style canvas tent large enough to shelter two families. It didn’t have a floor, but we didn’t mind. In the morning when we all rose, Mom casually asked sweetly without angst, “Has anyone else been bothered all night by the ground fleas?” Nobody had, and when we returned from the bathhouse, we saw the problem. She’d placed her pillow directly in an ant trail! Poor thing swatted at them all night as they made their way determinedly over the treacherous terrain of a giant Mt. Rushmore that was her face.
Now imagine an epic family vacation that lasted 40 years, required walking in the hot sun with 600,000+ cousins, and lots of pets. One might expect some grumbling. But God doesn’t give them a pass. Instead He uses His chosen people as an example to show us how complaining can be a serious offense. In His eyes it shows lack of gratitude and trust, which damages any relationship. If we think whining is merely annoying, we need to think again. On that desert journey, the Israelites initially complained and received substance of bread and water which was good (Exodus 16-17). But when they became dissatisfied again, God rained down FIRE! (Numbers 11:1)…And when they grumbled yet again He sent a severe PLAGUE! (Numbers 11:33)…And when they were still whining impatiently a few chapters later, God sent VENOMOUS SNAKES and many Israelites died! (Numbers 21:4-6) It’s seriously offensive to Him.
I am convinced the problem in our country is we have lost our fear of God. We have been a grumbling group of grouches for too long (some for the past four years and some ever since last November). The good news is we have a chance to recognize this flaw in ourselves and ask for God’s mercy and grace to rain down on us.
In Chris Tomblin’s contemporary Amazing Grace he sings, “And like a flood, his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing Grace.” The song’s original version was written by a captain of a slave ship who converted to Christianity, became a minister and helped abolish slavery. His transformation came as a result of a violent storm at sea. I pray ours is less harrowing yet equally effective.
One possible way to transform our negative thinking is called “rubber band therapy”. Simply place this unassuming office supply around your tender wrist and snap it smartly when a complaint is on the tip of your tongue or has already escaped. It’s called aversion therapy and is supposed to break unproductive thought patterns. I think it’s humorous but at least it’s effort. Perhaps more effective would be memorizing Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
May we march on Christian soldiers to fight the good fight…like ants undeterred by obstacles in our path. And when it comes to complaining or whining, let’s try and avoid it like the plague! Snap!
Janet Cowger- Fliegel