Holy guacamole, Batman!

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on I Am the Clay

avocado

It’s been a rainy summer here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “I Am the Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) That’s good, though, as all that free stuff means I don’t have to pay the city for it. While I didn’t plant vegetables this year, I did explore fruit-i-culture; more specifically, the Persea americana, commonly known as the avocado. In the process, I learned a lot about fruit bearing, both botanical and spiritual.

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Avocado: you either love it or you loathe it. While there’s typically very little in-betweenism when it comes to one’s relationship with avocado, I definitely fall into that camp. To me, it doesn’t have much taste at all, kind of like eating mushy thick green air. However, I eat it all the time.

All. The. Time.

‘Cause it’s embarrassingly nutritious.

If Jesus had passed out slices of avocado along with the loaves and fishes, those five thousand people He fed would have also gotten:

  • a boost to their immune system
  • a drop in their high blood pressure
  • a little extra help fighting off 1st century cancer. (And possibly more, since Jesus would have been the one slicing it up.)

The fat it contains—and it does contain a fair amount—is monounsaturated fat, the good kind. (Never thought I would use “fat” and “good” in the same sentence.) Your cholesterol levels will thank you.

And now for the rest of the story…

Walking on Bare Concrete

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Summer is back with a vengeance — so is the need to recover from the lazy non-summer months (which in Florida, are few) and tackle long-procrastinated-on home improvement projects here at the “Lizard Lounge.” (If you’re new to “Clay,” take a second and follow that link to find out where that name came from. You can also click here for the whole series.) And whether I’m having a DIY moment inside or outside, I have a lot of time to talk to or (even better) listen to the Lord. Invariably, by the time I put down the shovel, the paint brush, or the watering hose, I have an idea for a blog post.

Below is the first one for this season. Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Time has a way of getting away from me. (Hold that thought for a moment…more to come…)

The past few weeks I’ve been making final preparations for the book I’m writing. To date, I’ve made umpteen editing passes through my manuscript. I’ve also allowed 3 times that many days to go by without writing something new for Clay. (I’m not sure what 3 x umpteen equals. A scad? An oodle? A triscuit?)

Those famous, fortunate, and affluent authors who can hand a raw book manuscript over to a publishing company and then head to the beach while waiting for a formatted proof copy to come back ready for corrections and final approval don’t know what they’re missing. Or maybe they do; maybe that’s the reason they’re at the beach: they’re celebrating all that free time under their beach umbrella, waiting for their next cold beverage to arrive. The self-publishing rest of us are forced to do our own formatting and spell-checking and reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of our fledgling books while chained to a computer wishing we’d had the foresight to buy stock in Microsoft Word back when it was affordable.

In the end, though, it’s been worth every keystroke, as I’m happy with the progress on my book manuscript. I do feel bad that I put all blog activity on hold, though. My poor Facebook followers were subjected to republished versions of former posts while waiting for something new to come out. As I hadn’t sent out one of my “A new article on Clay” emails in a “triscuit,” one of my subscribers asked me if I had dropped him from the distribution list. Another friended me on Facebook just to make sure I was still alive.

Like I said, time has a way of getting away from me.

And now for the rest of the story…

*squish*

From “The Lizard Lounge” Series on Clay

Below is the next installment in “The Lizard Lounge Series on Clay,” a wet-n-wild little piece about disasters—house AND spiritual varieties. Here is a link to the whole series, if you’re just tuning in. (And here’s a link that explains the whole “Lizard Lounge” bit.)

Who knew my earthly home could teach me so much about the journey toward my heavenly one…?

• • •

Stepping into my dark kitchen one evening after work I heard a sound I wasn’t expecting…

*squish*

*squish*? I thought. Tennis shoes on tile don’t usually make that sound. *squeak* maybe or *kerplop*—but *squish*?

I made my way across the room to flip on the light switch.

*squish*squish*squish*

That can’t be good

And it wasn’t. With the light on I could see that the kitchen was standing in water. While barely a half-inch deep (so far), standing water of any depth in one’s home is not a good situation. Not a problem on tile floors, but…

…wood floors. Please no, I prayed silently as I set out on a tour of the rest of the house.

And now for the rest of the story…

Lettuce, tomato, pickle, hold the pride

“You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Matthew 25:21

I love my church and my pastor. (That’s apropos of nothing. Just sayin’…)

He’s been preaching a great sermon series about taking the words in red from Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7 – the words of Jesus – outside the church and putting them into practice. Along with each sermon, there is an assignment for the following week to help us do just that.

The first week’s assignment was to buy a $5 gift card to a restaurant (that doesn’t serve alcohol) and give it to someone. He didn’t put any stipulations on who we could give it to – the idea was to trust that God would provide that direction. From the outset, though, I felt my goal was going to be to give it to someone in need.

I had actually been thinking about keeping gift cards in my car to hand out, as I typically see people holding hand-lettered cardboard signs asking for help on my way home from work or on the drive between church and home. Besides the fact that I never have any cash, a restaurant gift card ensures that someone will at least get something to eat. And since I’m all about healthy eating, I decided Subway gift cards would be a good choice. Their sandwiches are filling and can be loaded with all sorts of healthy veggies. Plus, their restaurants are ubiquitous.

So at the beginning of the week I dropped by one of the many Subway locations I pass regularly and bought ten $5 gift cards. (I wasn’t trying to be an overachiever – that was the number God laid on my heart. It was pretty clear that He meant this to be an ongoing project and not just a one-time thing.)

Subway gift cards come in a bright yellow fold-over envelope with a blank line on which to write the amount and one on which to write who it’s from. I thought for a moment then wrote “Jesus” on the From line, hoping that the person who received it would get the reference rather than think that it was my name. (pronounced “Hay-zoos”…)

I also decided to insert some sort of gospel tract in the fold-over with each gift card. I rummaged around and found cards with a salvation message on them that were the perfect size to fit in the gift card envelope. I counted to make sure I had enough – there were exactly 10.

Excited at seeing what God was going to do, I put the stack of gift cards with gospel message inserts in the console of my car, asking the Lord to provide the opportunity for me to share with someone in need.

And I waited.

Every day during my Prayer Time (capital “P” capital “T”) I would remind the Lord that I was armed and ready to spread turkey or meatball sandwiches to the hungry and needy. However, the week passed and not a single opportunity presented itself. During the entire week I didn’t see anyone asking for help on the side of the road, at an intersection, in a parking lot – nothing. It’s like the needy all traded in their cardboard signs and went on a much needed vacation to Disney World. But I never doubted God would provide that opportunity.

And He did – and more – the following Sunday.

During the morning service, my pastor talked about all the emails he had received that week and the stories that had been shared from church members who had been blessed by passing out gift cards. Uncharacteristic of me, I didn’t get all anxious that God hadn’t given me the opportunity to receive a blessing so I could send an encouraging email to my pastor. Instead, I thanked Him for what He had done through our church and for what I knew He would do through me on His own time schedule.

Little did I know…

After the service I got in my car and, before pulling out of my parking space to head home, had a little Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know” moment, expectantly asking God to show me what to do. I reached into the console of my car and, not knowing why at the time, pulled out three gift cards.

My route home from church takes me through a pretty busy intersection where people with cardboard signs asking for help typically stand in the median between the east-bound and west-bound lanes; strategically, it’s a prime spot, as this puts them adjacent to a left-turn lane where cars generally have to stop. As I approached the traffic light, I saw a woman standing in the median across the intersection, hoping for help from drivers in the left-turn lane. To be able to hand her a gift card from my car window, though, I would need to be in the opposite lane heading the other way, so I decided to turn and circle through a large shopping center parking lot so I could get in the left-turn lane nearest her and hand her a card.

As I was turning into the parking lot, there sat an elderly woman in a wheel chair right next to the entrance holding a sign asking for help. Thanking God for His goodness and this second opportunity, I pulled into a nearby parking space, got out, and took her a gift card. She was really sweet. As I turned to go back to my car, I saw a man sitting nearby eating a sandwich. Although he, too, looked to be in need, it seemed like he was already set for food, so I got back in my car and backed out of the parking space.

In that way that I know when God is speaking to me, though, I knew I needed to give that man a gift card, too. I pulled back into the parking space, got out of the car, and did so. He smiled and thanked me.

I pulled out of the parking lot back onto the highway and into the appropriate left-turn lane, handing the first woman I had seen in the median a gift card out my car window. The traffic light turned green and I was on my way home.

Three gift cards; three different stories; three people in need directly in my path. In Matthew 25 Jesus says that doing things for those in need is the same as if we were doing them for Him:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…” (v. 35)

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?’” (v. 37)

“The king will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (v. 40)

God had provided in a great way.

I have to tell you, though, that this story doesn’t end the way I imagine you’re thinking it ended. Although that experience affected me in a powerful way (as I suspected it would), what I didn’t expect was the way I felt as I drove away from there.

I expected to feel really joyful and full of the warmth of human kindness, but that’s not what I felt – we’re supposed to help those in need as a regular part of being a Christian. Even if I had given all ten gift cards away, that would have been nothing to get all self-righteous about.

I expected to feel buoyed in spirit at seeing God at work – and He definitely was, but that’s not what I felt either.

What I felt was small for wanting to feel that way, selfish for thinking only about what was in it for me; I felt ashamed for just wanting to check the gift card project off my list, sorry that all I wanted was to get back to doing whatever it is I do.

None of that is what God has in mind for me; none of it is pleasing or honoring to Him; none if those things are evidence of someone who, more than anything, wants to be a good steward of the many blessings God heaps on him day after day after day.

It was obvious that the gift card project was about much more than providing a meal for those three people. It was a training exercise to see if I could be “faithful with a few things,” including the proper attitude in my heart, so God can “put me in charge of many things” without my prideful self getting in the way. Apparently I need more training – I couldn’t even give five bucks worth of sandwich to someone without waiting expectantly for a gold medal.

Whatever next step God is preparing me for in my walk with Him, I feel certain it’s going to take me outside the walls of the comfort zone I’ve carefully constructed over the years. Maybe I will continue to hand out gift cards; or maybe He will call me to do something that will require much more from me than that, something that will put me in situations where I won’t know how to respond, being forced to depend on Him in the moment for wisdom and strength and the words to say – words I can’t spend hours writing and editing in the comfort of home before clicking the “Publish” button.

I wish I could say that I’m ready, eagerly waiting on God to give me direction – but I can’t. In all honesty, I have to tell you that I’m having trouble surrendering myself to that idea. There’s an ongoing struggle between the side of me that wants what God wants for my life, no matter what that is, and the side that wants to just hang on to the status quo, sitting here writing in my blog about being a follower of Jesus without totally being one.

I also wish I could tell you that I’m pretty sure I know which side is going to win. I know which one I want to win. I want the side to win that trusts in God with no reservation and serves Him without hesitation. I want the Holy Spirit to whisper Paul’s words from Philippians 1:6 in my ear as encouragement:

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Only time will tell.

Pray for me, will you?

Heavenly Father, when the time comes, please give me the courage to step up and do whatever You want me to do. And not just the courage to do it, but the courage to agree to do it in the first place; the courage to abandon myself to your will; and the courage to resign myself to the fact that I bring nothing to the table except my trust in you, my obedience, and whatever you’ve chosen to give me.

And help me to have faith that, along with your grace, those things are enough.

Amen.

discipl(in)e

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son. Heb. 12: 5-6

Back in my pre-salvation days when I wasn’t very discerning in my TV viewing, I was a fan of the sitcom Friends. In one episode, Chandler’s new boss, a manly-man type, liked to smack his male employees on the behind when they did a good job, à la football coach. According to Chandler, a whiny cubicle worker kind of guy, his boss hit too hard and it hurt, so he asked him to stop.

However, it wasn’t long before Chandler realized he was missing out on the attention and recognition the other guys were getting from the boss. So, in typical 30-minutes-from-problem-to-solution sitcom fashion, he asked his boss to include him once again in the daily “whack-a-worker” ritual and they all lived bruised but happily ever after in cubicle land.

I guess you could say that Chandler didn’t understand the significance of his boss’s smacks – as uncomfortable as they were, they were a sign of his approval and affirmation.

While that’s a pretty loose analogy for this post, hopefully you get my point. The “smacks” being described in the verses above are about God disciplining us and not about male bonding rituals; but, just as with Chandler’s boss, those acts of punishment have a greater significance that is easy to miss when it seems God is being a little too hard.

I can’t think of anyone who enjoys being disciplined. I certainly don’t – I never did. I was a pretty good kid and never got many spankings when I was young, but I got my share of being sat down and talked to. To tell you the truth, though, I would have preferred a whipping to the look of disappointment on my dad’s face or the tears in my mother’s eyes when we had those discussions about how I had let them down. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the fact that we wouldn’t have been having that conversation if they hadn’t loved me so much and wanted so much more for me than I was bound to end up with unless I learned to meet their expectations.

I imagine that, if I could see God’s face when He has to discipline me, there would be disappointment on it as well – especially when I willfully decide to go my own way, in effect thumbing my nose at Him and his gracious gift of salvation at the expense of the precious, pure, and perfect blood of Jesus. Unlike with my parents, though, I now understand that God’s discipline is due to His love for me. It also reminds me that, while I’ll never be able to live up to the example set by His only begotten son, as His adopted son He certainly wants me to. Begotten or adopted, His expectations are the same.

Besides, as the latter half of I John 5:3 says, “…His commands are not burdensome.” It may take every bit of resolve in me and every ounce of faith I can muster to trust that God will provide the resources for me to do what He expects me to do, but what He asks won’t be unreasonable and will certainly be within my ability.

And the upside? In addition to affirming His love for me, any discipline that’s meted out just reminds me that I’m still a member of His family.

And while God’s punishment can hurt a lot more than a whack on the behind, it serves as a sign of His love and His wanting so much more for me than I’m bound to end up with unless I learn to meet His expectations…

“Heavenly Father, thank you for the love and acceptance you show me everyday, whether by providing comfort and blessings or by pulling me up short when I don’t meet your expectations – which is actually another type of blessing in itself, albeit a blessing that is hard won. Please continue to give me the ability to see your discipline for what it is: the act of an all-loving Father for His adopted son.”

Totally worth any bruising…