“Be mindful of the sharks!“ My mother-in-law shouted as we headed out the door to the beach. While our kids never set foot in the ocean that vacation, her cautionary phrase has become a family favorite. It reminds us to be intentionally aware of danger.
Growing up on a farm teaches you a lot about being mindful... bees when you are weed-eating, poison ivy, rushing water, and copperheads around the edge of the barn. Cows are also worth their weight in deserved caution. You must always be mindful of the bull’s location and when walking close to a cow, stay away from her back legs, which can kick you into tomorrow.
These days it seems like much of culture wants us to be mind-less instead of mind-full. Laws are even being passed to promote yet another substance to dull our thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, the practice of emptying our minds as some religions or philosophers encourage might simply open the door for evil to come in and fill it. Instead scripture tells us in Philippians 4:8-9 to FILL your mind with things that are good and deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable...and God will give us peace.
Being mindful is harder than you think and occasionally things go awry. A recent magazine photograph showed several individuals lying on mats in a botanical garden. The caption said the establishment, which I’m sure is run by intelligent people, offered “mindful forest bathing“. I chuckled to myself at the absurd idea and then wondered if I could make mindful forest bathing profitable in rural West Virginia when I move home. I was brought back to reality when I heard my mother-in-law‘s words echo through the fancy botanical branches “be mindful of the sharks!”
Early this summer Mom and I strolled through the Vineyard on Balli Mountain checking grape status and became cautiously optimistic. The vines were loaded with more pods than we’d seen in years! But—some had already gotten that tell-tale black spot. We’d seen it many times: the black spot fungus gradually overtakes the grapes until they are nothing but shriveled up hard “mummified” ruins. Admittedly, part of the problem is a huge pile of pruned, discarded (and diseased) vines left at the edge of the Vineyard. Regardless, Mom and I vowed to spray the grapevines faithfully throughout the summer and see if we could save the grapes.
Interestingly, God knew he had my attention and I realized a life lesson would come through this year‘s harvest OR a failed crop. Being mindful of our “shark” (the black spot), we called a higher authority – the Department of Agriculture who recommended a specific fungicide. Then mom and I intentionally took action. We sprayed diligently, sometimes working so late into the night we used tractor headlights to guide us. The black spots seemed to be held at bay, and before we knew it the grapes were ripe. My daughter, Mom, and I got 345 pounds and made juices and jellies. Relatives picked, friends picked, and community members picked. Facebook posts told stories of multiple generations blessed to be in in the vineyard harvesting together.
1,701 pounds of grapes later I am left shaking my head in amazement of God’s grace. The life lesson is: if we are mindful of dangerous “sharks“, then maybe we should be proactive to make it better before it gets worse. Do we notice a child or friend going down and unhealthy path? Do we need to stop a sin “fungus” that will gradually destroy our marriage? our body? or our relationship with God? Is it time to call a Higher Authority? Despite our piles of imperfections, or sin in the world at the edge of the vineyard, through God’s grace we are able to bear fruit, and there can still be a glorious harvest!
One of the first thrills we experience as a child is being spun around as an extension of a loving parent or cousin with strong arms. We don’t even fear that person will lose their grip on us, we just enjoy the whirl. Those of us who were toddlers in the 70’s, remember the classic “Sit ‘n Spin” toy, which allowed us to sit down and control the spin ourselves. We could go fast or slow. And while Playskool labeled the box with a 42 lb weight restriction, everyone in their right mind still gave it a whirl way beyond that. The older you got, the easier it was to spin it so fast it reared up in the air until you fell over in a fit of laughter.
The most popular structure on the elementary playground, except for the swings which were always occupied, was the merry-go-round. At our school it was an ancient contraption with metal grip handles secured to a wooden platform encircled by a well-worn dirt trench that filled up with water after it rained and gave us more incentive to hang on. Usually the dare-devil boys pushed and then jumped on mid-spin.
It was a rite of passage, as a teenager, to experience the Rotor at the county fair or amusement parks. Some places still offer this ride, which is a giant rotating barrel that spins so fast that when the bottom floor drops down, the people stick to the walls because of crazy physics magic like inertia or centripetal force. It had soothing names like Barrel of Fun or Hell Hole.
As an adult I’m finding I don’t seek out the spinning motion so much anymore. The traffic roundabouts they are installing everywhere in the suburbs are enough for me. If I want to go around and around, I can just drive my car to one of these intersections they swear are more efficient, and drive in a circle until it flings me out. My sister had a similar experience on vacation and it took her four laps before she was able to take her exit, which her husband would lovingly and patiently point out each time they passed it. Impressively, my hubby is the king of roundabouts because he grew up in NJ, which is completely different. Drivers there are pretty assertive (also seemingly tense) so you learn to navigate or be eaten alive. It was there in a roundabout our children first learned about the hand gesture we call the “Jersey wave”.
Life might seem at times like we are driving on a roundabout with no good choices to exit. Or maybe life’s spinning out of control with the bottom about to drop out. While it’s a common reaction to shut our eyes when we get scared or dizzy, at least two places in scripture God opened people’s eyes to regain their balance. Hagar was crying when she and her son ran out of sustenance, and God opened her eyes so she could see a well of water. The solution was right before her very eyes. (Genesis 21:19)
The second reference is 2 Kings 6:17 “And Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” Sometimes the situation seems dire, but I pray we too, like Elisha’s companion, have our eyes opened so we may see the power God is giving us to fight the enemy.
Loss of control is fun as a toddler, frustrating as a teenager, appealing for college kids, and respectfully scary to a responsible adult. One of the biggest hurdles in a life is giving control to God, but it’s also the deepest peace amidst the whirling, knowing He is ultimately in control. He has strong arms and He won’t let go.
Janet Cowger- Fliegel