My childhood teddy bear was Smokey Bear. I took lipstick and colored his paws red to represent burn marks and wrapped them in bandages just like rangers did in the book. The well-loved toy sits on a shelf in my bedroom back home and still if I see a costumed Smokey out and about, I’m a fangirl. The icon was created in 1944 in a joint effort by the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council to promote forest fire awareness and prevention. It must have worked as generations since have been singing Smokey’s song and pledging alongside him to practice fire safety. The slogan “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” is etched in my brain.
Fireflies have nothing to do with actual fire, and they aren’t really flies…but they do look like floating embers from a poked campfire. Growing up we used to smash them on our clothes and run around “glowing” excitedly, but that was before modern glow sticks and nowadays kids have more sense. It’s still cool to catch them in a Mason jar with holes in the lid and then release them the next day.
During a recent warm spell, I saw the strangest thing. A lightning bug was trying to mate with a tiny LED bulb on a strand of outdoor lights. I never checked on it again but as I worked I wondered how long it stayed there. Did it ever move on to find something real??? And I realized God probably wonders the same thing about us…Are we attracted to things that aren’t real or aren’t true? Do our misguided thoughts override God’s plans for us and we miss out because we are cuddled up to an LED so to speak?
I’m not sure why lightning bugs get to don the name lightning. They are gentle, twinkling, lights floating playfully around the fields. Lightning is a bit more intense (dangerous flashes of 100 million to 1 billion volts). Eight of my friends have been struck by lightning, and it probably has nothing to do with me. One was caught in an unexpected storm whilst on a boat fishing and made it to shore but got struck as he ran across the wooden dock. The nail he stepped on left a burn mark through his sneaker. The other seven were hiking on Grandfather Mountain in NC when a storm came out of nowhere and they all received secondary strikes. It’s real and it’s powerful, so we must never underestimate it.
David poetically used mighty lightning to represent God’s thundering voice answering his cries for help when he was drowning in despair: 2 Samuel 22:14-18 “The Lord thundered from heaven, and the most High uttered his voice. And he sent out arrows, and scattered them; lightning, and discomfited them. And the channels of the sea appeared; the foundations of the world were discovered, at the rebuking of the Lord, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils. He sent from above, he took me; he drew me out of many waters; He delivered me…” We all face unexpected storms in life, and Easter reminds us that we can be rescued.
It is also a time for us to come out of hibernation and consider the burning question of what to do with Jesus. How many eye witnesses does it take before we declare something true? Even a jury today would accept the 500 eyewitnesses recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:6 as proof. Did you know there is even more secular documentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection than records of Julius Caesar yet we don’t question Caesar’s existence? Yes, Jesus is real and we need to decide what to do with Him. When it comes to making the biggest decision of our life, let’s make sure the light we are drawn to is the true Light, and when it comes to preventing eternal fire, “Only YOU can…”
Elvis, Jesus, & Football
The things we don’t do often shape us as much as the things we do experience. Our family never sat down and watched a football game on TV, nor did we drive to my high school an hour away to sit on cold bleachers under the Friday night lights. Organized sports were barely existent in our life, largely due to our longstanding tradition of uncommon fun. It goes back to my grandfather’s era when he and his buddies rode wild spirited cows for sport. My parents’ creative recreation involved Dad and his siblings riding a rickety handmade wooden wagon down the hill until it fell apart near the bottom. They also threw rocks at hornet’s nests. Mom recalls recess games like hide-and-seek, baseball, hopscotch, draw base, and bear base. One of the fun things my generation did during fifth grade rainy-day recess was dance to Elvis records. If the day was sunny, we’d go outside and play Four Square…or peel paint off the fence (which sounds a bit lack-luster now that I say it). When competitive sports were introduced into the school plan, I found myself standing out in right field praying the ball didn’t come to me. We also had a girls’ basketball team (if all seven of us girls played). We wore white Converse high top sneakers with no arch support and my glasses fogged up when I sweat. All this to say for someone limited in sports it has been most interesting to make recent observations from the outside looking in.
It was a glorious Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals won the playoff game sending us to the Super Bowl! The entire city came alive and joyful! That next day nobody even cared it was a Monday and everyone was talking to each other and laughing! A guy stocking grocery shelves and I had a giddy conversation about the game in the dairy aisle. “How about those Bengals?!” “Think we’ll win the Super Bowl?” “There’s always hope!” And strangers across this great nation greeted each other with a “Who Dey” as our collective battle cry. I continue to shake my head and marvel at the unbelievable power of football to boost morale and to bring humanity together. It’s almost spiritual.
I’m not the first to connect sports with faith. In the late 70’s Bobby Bare sang a catchy little tune called Drop Kick Me, Jesus (Through The Goalposts Of Life). During a game, there are always questions about penalties and players, but as my loved ones explain the “doctrine”, the more invested I become. For this Super Bowl, I even bought a Bengals shirt for Pete’s sake! Spirit ware can be another element to consider. Am I wearing my Christian SPIRIT-wear? Is it holey? Holy? Or Wholly?...and am I wearing it inside out?
Jesus lived it and Elvis sang it-- I Can Help because of A Little Thing Called Love. When the Bengals lost the Super Bowl some people got All Shook Up and checked into the Heartbreak Hotel. Some just wanted to Make The World Go Away. But standing in the Early Morning Rain Monday after the Super Bowl I Got A Feelin In My Body that there is a master game plan and we’ve Got A Lot Of Livin To Do!
The LA Rams’ wide receiver, Cooper Kupp shared in an interview after they won how he had a vision from God three years earlier in which his team would win a Super Bowl and he’d be the MVP of the game, which he was. Knowing which team was going to win allowed him to play free, and as he put it, “from victory not for victory”. Now if we’re able to survive March Madness, Easter is coming--We can live free because we know who wins! And that, my friends, is the most beautiful Unchained Melody you’re ever going to hear.
Living on the Edge
Many times on the farm you’re called to do a task that you’ve never done before. Occasionally it’s risky, but somebody has to do it. Mom and Aunt Hilda’s super power has always been the ability to talk us girls into doing these type of tasks. One in particular was painting tin roofs at the Balli Farm. Making themselves feel better, they’d agreed to stand safely on the ground and keep us anchored by holding the ladders. They even sweetened the pot by convincing us we could wear bathing suits and work on our tans. There was little opportunity to consider how our peers were tanning on relaxing on coastal beaches because we were too busy risking our lives. Painting along the top ridge roll and close to the edge was the most dangerous as we couldn’t easily move the ancient roof ladder (merely a meager wooden ladder with an extra board nailed at the end to catch over the roof comb). I remember at one point holding a paint brush in one hand and leaving the ladder to shimmy like a monkey to the edge and paint a hard-to-reach spot. Looking back, it’s a miracle we didn’t get hurt. The only casualty from that task was our sunbathing experience. Of course working atop giant sun reflectors all day, we got sun-burned…except for the spots that were covered by the thick silver aluminum fiber paint. One thing to note about my cousin Brenda and me, we were not neat girls, so you can imagine after cleaning off with gasoline, we had a good laugh admiring our red and white polka dot “tans”.
There is real danger when living on the edge but half the battle is identifying it. When our daughter, Alex, was little and first moved to her “big-girl” bed we had a mesh net attachment that fit under the mattress on one side to prevent her from rolling off when she slept. She looked at it fearfully and finally asked, “Why do you put that net up? What are you trying to keep out of my bed?” She didn’t understand the protection or the danger of falling off the edge…and sometimes I bet we don’t either.
That same little girl fearful of imaginary monsters under her bed matured, and learned discernment and bravery along the way. She jumped (voluntarily) out of an airplane for her 18th birthday. When asked if she was scared, she said not until she was right at the edge ready to jump. Again, it’s the edge that gets us.
Last Sunday after church we lingered and talked to a beautiful grandmother, discussing the breathtaking photos her grandson in Arizona posts on social media…multi-colored canyons and wind-cut rock formations against perfect blue skies… The grandma shook her head telling us how she shudders each time she sees him close to the edge of a cliff, and he always dismisses her concern with an “I’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing!” Maybe it was because we were in the Lord’s house, but I immediately felt a little self-conscience wondering how many times I’ve said the same thing to God.
Living on the edge requires equal amounts of discernment and bravery…and trust. We must listen to the voice of wisdom drawing us back a few steps when we get too close. Or maybe we have to bravely take that next step. Just like my daughter Alex sky-diving in tandem with a professional, the good news is we don’t have to take that leap of faith alone. Isaiah 41:13 “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” It’s comforting to realize even if we don’t know what we are doing all the time, like two country girls on a hot tin roof, there is Someone who does.
Everything in Moderation?
People who say “everything in moderation” aren’t thinking it through. Ingesting gasoline or wearing fire ants “in moderation” isn’t wise. Having said that, desiring balance does often mean we seek moderation.
Going home for Christmas this past December reminded me of the difficulties of moderation. For us suburban family members, ruined by the limitations of electric heat, it took a few days to acclimate to wood and coal, which is very effective yet hard to moderate. Christmas sweaters frothed a person into a constant sweat, and woe to those of us openly experiencing hormonal hot flashes. (We nearly burst into flames!) Years ago my cousin and her newly wedded husband had to occupy the same room as her parents because every bed was full. Adding to the discomfort, it was also the room the stove pipe ran through. Back in those days I think we burned bituminous coal and in order to get the downstairs comfortable, we stoked that old Warm Morning stove until the pipes almost glowed…and heat rises. Now picture my cousin’s city-slicker groom upstairs in the hot stovepipe room, under a couple Swiss wool “comforters” dealing with the various sleep sounds of his nearby in-laws. When he was no longer able to suffer in silence, he declared in a fever pitch “It’s like sleeping on the surface of the sun!”
Sometimes we strive for moderation, but things can easily get out of hand…apparently like my food intake. Recent blood work showed climbing numbers and my doctor said I had to make a change. I told her I was pretty sure I was already in one but she didn’t see the humor. So this new year I’m supposed to exercise and eliminate certain foods. There are interesting methods of weight loss trending like the social media sensation where a Chinese woman bends her torso back and forth while chanting to rhythmic music. Another one says you’re supposed to tap yourself in the face and armpits to achieve weight loss “through emotional freedom”. But I figured I’d better avoid these, however tempting. If Jeff came around the corner and saw me gyrating, and chanting while tapping my arm pits, it might be the final straw.
One of the foods I’m supposed to stay away from is bread and it breaks my heart. Bread and I have always been good friends-- it’s even biblical! Jesus is described as the Bread of Life, and in the perfect storm God had it rain down bread from Heaven (Exodus 16:4) Another favorite bread story is found in 1 Kings 17. Elijah is hiding near a brook and supplied with bread and meat delivered daily by ravens! And when the brook dried up, God had Elijah visit a widow to sustain him. The widow was so poor she was preparing a last meal for her and her son. Regardless, Elijah asked her to prepare him bread and water and assured her that her pantry would never go empty. She did as he asked and they indeed had bread until the drought was over. In fact, God further rewarded her obedience and hospitality in another way ---her son became ill and died and when Elijah begged God to restore him, God poured out His love in excess and did so. Excess is defined as the lack of moderation.
We too are the recipient of God’s excess love—from Him coming to Earth as a baby in Bethlehem (which literally means House of Bread) to His taking our place on the cross, and providing everyday guidance and comfort from the Holy Spirit. “Everything in moderation” becomes less of a mantra depending on what we are focused on. This new year may we avoid what’s bad for us, trust God to provide during the dry spells, and be obedient so we might fully experience His lavish love…because there are some things we don’t want in moderation.
An Axe to Grind
The old man sat in a familiar posture coaxing his trained file across each tooth of the great round saw blade. After each stroke he tapped the file on the metal causing rhythmic tones to fill the little rural sawmill as his grandson and I stood quietly watching and learning.
The first thing I learned is that sharpening takes patience. Often times we are so eager to get started in the activity we don’t take time to properly prepare. Abraham Lincoln said “If I had six hours to chop down a tree I’d spend the first four hours sharpening my axe.“ It seems like my dad spent half his life sharpening things around the farm; the mower bar teeth for the tractor, the old scythe, the teeth on his chainsaw, and quite often the weedeater blades. I assume partial responsibility for some of his extra work because I might have run the chainsaw in the dirt once and created sparks by hitting rocks with the weedeaters more than once. (My wild swinging can light it up like the Fourth of July!)
Another lesson is to STAY sharp so you always have a good cutting edge when you need it. Dad didn’t wait until the day of the need. He always kept things sharp. I liken faith to an axe. Ecclesiastes 10:10 “If the axe is blunt, and one doesn’t sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength…” Life will not require as much stress and struggle if our faith is sharp.
There is an interesting little axe story in 2 Kings 6:1-7. Elisha and his sons were cutting trees to build a house near the Jordan River when a worker’s axe flew off the handle and landed out in the water. Elisha threw a stick in the water near where it had landed and miraculously the heavy axe head floated to the surface and was saved. Sometimes we lose our cutting edge, but nothing is too far gone that God can’t retrieve it.
On a side note to that story, I can imagine my dad shaking his head at the worker’s incompetence at not fixing the loose axe head before it broke. I recall one of his that had a nail hammered in the middle of the wooden handle and then bent over the iron head to prevent separation. Faith, like tools needs ongoing maintenance, and we need to do whatever it takes not to be separated from it.
So in this instance if faith is symbolized by an axe, we need to keep it sharp, not lose it, and actually use it. After all even a sharp axe sitting in its proper spot in the tool shed doesn’t do anyone any good unless it gets into purposeful hands. It’s all in the “Owners Manual“ , but here are some tips on maintenance and use. Show love. Pursue peace. Encourage others. Forgive. Do good. And most importantly, study scripture, pray, and attend church worship because iron sharpens iron.
Even if we accomplish these things, overtime our cutting edge becomes dull because we are striking the dirt. We might listen to worldly things or absorb little bits of false theology. We might cease to meet together or believe we know better than scripture. A good preventative measure is periodically asking ourselves “Am I chopping with a dull edge?” I’m sure my wood chopping community will agree, if our axe is sharp, we can chop wood even when we are up in years like my great aunt Freda in the photograph. May we all have someone in our lives like her, my dad, or the grandpa at the sawmill who teaches us by example how to stay “sharp“. I don’t know about you, but as for me, I’ve got to keep my nose to the grindstone…
Porches, Poppy, and Puzzles
The speed in which the wood rack on the porch empties indicates how cold the weather has turned. The row of muck boots has moved into the storage bins, and the old farm cat, Mia, stays curled up in a tight fluff ball (when she dares exchange the warmth of the barn for a corner on the porch). The canning burner and propane tank have been put away now that the fall harvest has been preserved. The porch scenes change with the seasons, and if their walls could talk what stories they would tell!
The porch was a popular spot to “court” back in the day, although Mom said she and Dad never occupied the porch swing as much as most people because her parent’s bedroom window was next to the swing. That old swing makes a great place to read though. I learned if you’re lying down and grip the chains with your toes, you can rock right and left without your feet having to touch the ground. It might be due to user error, but the porch swing was not so kind to my sister, Cindy. She did a touch-your-toes-to-the-ceiling challenge. (This was before kids had Tide Pods.) Pumping the swing higher and higher her little toes finally met the porch ceiling. Her success was short lived, however, because on the downward flight, the swing broke loose and she and the swing landed out next to the holly tree! I’ve never seen her get carried away like that since…
Our porch becomes extra seating during family reunions, a potluck buffet, and sometimes even a stage. It’s where family members gather to shuck corn, string beans, and de-stem grapes. It’s where we make messes and memories. My daughter especially treasures her porch time with Poppy, peeling apples while he explained his philosophies of life and source of his contentment…and why there are bullet holes in the wall on the back porch. (Something about the porch light shining in his eyes and how possums can run faster than you think.) Turns out maybe some walls do talk!
The lingering Coronavirus pandemic prevented us from going inside at my in-laws’ home in NJ but we had a delightful visit outside on their deck anyway. We ate fast food breakfast while watching a church service on TV through the open sliding glass doors. Birds fed their babies, a fawn ran through the lawn, butterflies fluttered from flower to flower, and the broadcast sermon talked about hospitality. Biblical Elisha was invited in a wealthy couple’s house to eat and board, and he in return found out what they needed and blessed them. In their case they wanted a child and Elisha prayed and their hospitality was rewarded with a miracle. (2 Kings 4:8-17) I wonder how many times we’ve sat with Jesus on the porch and thought how cool it was to have Him around, but never invited Him inside where He could truly bless us. We might even go to His house every Sunday but have never invited Him into ours. He’s standing on our porch knocking at our door but how do we respond?
Did you ever as a child look through the cracks in wooden floorboards of a porch and see all the treasures that had fallen through? Most of the time it was bubblegum machine trinkets but once we saw an important missing puzzle piece! Whether we are blue collar or white collar, Carhart or Cartier, we all want the pieces of our “puzzle” to fall into place and complete the big picture. To do this I’m convinced we need to make sure the piece that looks like Jesus is the one we start with and may it never be the one that falls through the cracks! (Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”)
Getting Churched in the Vineyard
“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!
Going For A Spin
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.
The Beginning of Wisdom
The Hoo! Hoo! Hoo-Hoo! of a great horned owl floats across the soft gurgles of the Holly River into my open window and reminds me of my youth. Some evenings when the family sat on the porch Dad would call out into the blackness and an owl would respond, and they would have a little “talk”. We even adopted the call as our long distance communication. When one of us was out of sight and needed to check in, we'd give a loud Hoo! Hoo! Hoo-Hoo!” and the other person would echo it back. FYI: This only works in the country. If I started hooting loudly in the suburbs, someone would most likely complain and we'd get another letter.
There seems to be a universal affection for owls. People collect them, and large companies incorporate them in their logos. (My 22-year-old nephew sheepishly offered up the example of a certain restaurant chain named after an owl hoot, but then redeemed himself with Trip Advisor whose logo is an owl face.) The owl's popularity is largely due to its status of the unchallenged animal symbolizing wisdom.
Stick with me here but I'm going to throw down a radical idea. Might we consider the lowly snapping turtle as a more realistic symbol for the wise? Proverbs 9:10 says “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...” Much can be learned if we have realistic fear as a starting point. Once we were stopped in a traffic jam on a busy road and we all watched in dismay a woman who had gotten out of her car and was attempting to move a large snapping turtle. Her chosen method was to carry the beast between two flat pieces of slick cardboard like a bad sandwich. The unsuspecting woman didn't know the level of danger she was in. We've all been there, but once we know the danger, however, we can form a more effective strategy.
In the case of the snapping turtle, we need to know their necks can stretch back farther than you think, and their bite has been compared to that of a Bengal tiger (animalhype.com). Nobody in their right mind would carry a Bengal tiger between two pieces of cardboard! Like the Proverb says, “fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
Specifically it says, “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” A critic might ask why worship a God you're afraid of? But when we understand how a loving God has perfect judgement, and our sins and imperfections, when left uncovered with the redemptive blood of Jesus, end in death, well, that's the beginning of wisdom. It's easy to see the possibilities of loving and fearing something simultaneously in a healthy way. Fire is wonderful to warm us and to cook over, but as with the forest fires in the news recently, it is wise to fear its power. We love a cool breeze but are wise to respect tornado warnings. And water is life-giving but also deserves tremendous caution. Fear is the beginning of wisdom...
This past week I've been observing my great nephew play in the river at our farm. He steps in the muck at the edge without fear of leeches or snappers, sticks his hands under rocks to turn them over without fear of snakes, and swims in water over his head. We keep a watchful eye. After all, don't we always do everything we can to keep our loved ones safe? Sometimes that might mean alerting them to the dangers when it's no longer child's play.
They always told us that if a snapping turtle bites you, it won't let go until it thunders. This may or may not be true, but what we do know for certain is that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that's a truth we can latch onto and never let go of, even if it storms.
America is the land of plenty…plenty of freedoms, plenty of resources, plenty of excess. In our land of milk and honey, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy balance, especially when it comes to food (and faith.) Because I’m weak and have been caught eating chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, I need people in my life to keep me on track. My husband, a heart attack survivor, is always asking “Is this heart healthy?” And our daughter’s philosophy of “we are what we eat” has our whole family thinking about portion control.
Growing up on the farm we girls helped feed the cows, and my children did the same. The normal portion for each cow was one bale of hay, half in the morning and half in the evening. If we milked the cow or she had a calf, she got an additional one pound coffee can full of sticky sweet feed that smelled like molasses. It was believed the grain produced more milk and we doled it out in each of their feed boxes accordingly. The sheep were less orderly. During lambing season, their grain was poured into a long trough and when we threw open the door, they raced in like a Black Friday sale at Walmart, each one fighting for the portion they felt they deserved.
I’ve told it before but it merits repeating that there was a time when possums were coming on the porch at night to eat the cats’ food and Daddy didn’t like it. So eager was he to protect the cat’s portion that he leaped out of bed and ran around the corner of the house with his shotgun with mom yelling at him “not to shoot the house again”.
We would all benefit if we likewise had someone so determined to protect our portions. It’s tragic and alarming, but while we have been eager to get the most bang out of our buck, our portions have become reckless. Look it up. Bagels and cheeseburgers have doubled in size and calories! Everywhere you look they are trying to lure us in with supersized menu items. At an antique store recently I spotted a hamburger press from the 1950’s. At first I thought it was a toy for a child’s play kitchen but quickly realized their full size burgers were the size of our “sliders” today. Go measure your dinner plates…mine are 12” but in the 1950’s they were 9”! When it comes to portions, we’re out of control.
When we shake the hypnosis of fast food, we know bigger isn’t always better. Quality over quantity should be our anthem. Sometimes we just want more though, right? Have you ever added water to the almost empty jar of salad dressing because you needed it to go just a little farther? Mom makes a delicious lemonade where she mixes 2 lemons, 1 orange, 1 lime if she has one, and ¾ cup sugar in a half gallon mason jar of water. She tries to get some extra mileage out of the fruit so when the lemonade is gone, she will refill the jar with additional sugar and water. This “second round” isn’t nearly as flavorful and I’ve seen the disappointment in peoples’ eyes when they took that first sip. When you’ve tasted the real thing, you recognize when it’s been watered down.
And this brings me to my conclusion that faith is a lot like our food intake. Our lives might look like an all you can eat buffet, but what are we eating? Is it a watered down Gospel? Are we consuming “food substitutes” instead of the real thing? And when it comes to “portion control”, are we compromising? The writer of Psalm 73:26 was not a nutritionist but shows us a true recipe for health and happiness “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Now that’s heart healthy!
Janet Cowger- Fliegel