Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Let the Cat Out of the Bag

Since my Who Put the Cat in the Fridge book came out last year, everywhere I go people tell me more stories of their cats popping out of their refrigerators. I’ve been amazed to find out how many “cat in the fridge” stories there really are. And people have found their cats in other weird places, too. Imagine opening the microwave in the morning to zap your jelly doughnut and having Fluffy leap out. Or how about hearing purring coming from your briefcase? Or suddenly seeing your trash bag take a walk on its own. One guy went to his dresser and had a pair of his underwear spring from the drawer.

One of my favorites was my friend whose mail carrier said she opened up the box to put the mail in one Monday morning and the family cat flew out. My friend asked her daughter about it. She smiled and shrugged, “Oh yeah, I helped him in there Saturday morning,” and she skipped out of the room.

I guess we all end up in places we don’t really want to be sometimes. I’m going to “let the cat out of the bag,” as it were. That’s when we need to hit our knees. Prayer is our ticket to where we need to go spiritually. We need to pray when we’re in tough spots. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us we need to pray all the time. Prayer is always in good timing.

Speaking of good timing, I’m thinking it’s just a good thing Fluffy flew out of the microwave BEFORE the jelly doughnut got zapped.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Worry Goo

I have friends who are organizational whizzes. I am nothing at all like them. I love them, often wish I was them, but sadly, there are hardly any similarities. I have a few pockets of organization in my life. Well, probably just enough to keep my family from going completely insane and to keep my editors from losing their spirituality. But much of my life is spent hunting through large piles of junk I should’ve thrown away, searching for the life-or-death kind of important items I’ve misplaced.

I do have one friend, however, who is much more like me than I’m sure she would ever want to be. Organization? Not exactly her watchword either. Her pickup, for instance, looks like it belongs to a homeless person. You would almost swear all her worldly goods are in there.

I took a ride in her truck recently, and I actually had to sit on a two-foot pile of junk mail, candy wrappers, books, file folders, and takeout bags from at least a couple of month’s worth of fastfood. There had to have been six pairs of shoes in the floorboard. They were sitting on top a pile of clothes. I think she could’ve been locked out of her house for a solid week without experiencing any real wardrobe shortages. I started to sit down on her taxes and noticed there was enough Bible study material under there to cause significant face-glowage. But all fashion, government and spiritual stuff aside, I had to draw the line at sitting on the can of biscuits I saw poking out from under some Styrofoam containers.

“Hey, I’m not sitting on a can of biscuits. What if it popped open and exploded biscuit goo and can shrapnel all over my rear end?”

“No way,” she laughed. “It’s been in here since last Christmas. Even if it popped open, the insides are probably too shriveled to do any damage.” She still humored me and tossed the thing on the dashboard.

I wasn’t convinced that goo shrivels instead of burgeoning. Hadn’t she seen the movie, “The Blob”?

I stared at the Blob-wanna-be as it rolled back and forth on the dash. “You have to know that could put an eye out.” Even as I said it, I pictured an entire office of health insurance personnel puzzled over where to file a claim reading, “cause of injury: accidentally assailed by canned bread product.” You really have to be careful what you sit on.

Funny that I should worry about what I was sitting on when worry itself can be such a dangerous thing to sit on. Jesus knew we would have worrying tendencies. He addressed it point blank in Matthew 6:27 when he asked the question, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Every now and then, we need to do a little self-exam. We need to ask ourselves if there’s anything we’re sitting on that we shouldn’t be. Are there any worries threatening to explode worry-goo all over our lives? Not only is it not adding a single hour to life, it can actually suck some of the goodness out of life.

Philippians 4:6-7 tells us what to do instead of worrying. “Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7, MSG

Living a fretful life is no way to live. It’s the way to get ulcers. When we’re worried, we’re consumed by whatever it is we’re fretting over—even if it’s something that hasn’t happened. The focus of our worry becomes all we can think about. That means we’re not able to focus where we really need to. How can our focus be on worry and on Christ at the same time?

Let’s trade worry for prayer. It’s a trade that brings the peace of God.

Incidentally, it might be one less thing for you to worry about if I go ahead and tell you that there were no bread-related injuries reported after the truck ride. No dough-covered booty even. And there were fewer worries for me, too, since I knew that if I did need a change of clothes, there were several outfit choices in the floorboard.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Last Laugh

My husband preaches three services every Sunday morning. Every Sunday after the last service, his brain predictably shifts into some kind of alternate state. It’s like seeing his screen saver kick on—the brain parts are still working, but there doesn’t seem to be any real activity. I’ve learned not to give him any kind of information he’s really going to need until at least 3:00 p.m.

I can always tell he’s slipped into Post-traumatic Sermon Syndrome when I ask where he’d like to go for lunch and he answers, “Forty-seven.” One time we even caught him trying to get burgers at the McDonald’s drive-through by yelling into their trash can.

My favorite screen-saver moment happened one Sunday afternoon at Taco Bell. Richie had freshly entered into PTSS mode—I was just pleased he was able to place his order. But when it came time to pay, he didn’t have his special discount tag he keeps on his key chain. He asked one of the kids to see if he left his keys in the car. Jordan came back from the car wearing an interesting smirk. He said, “Dad, not only did you leave your keys in the car—you left the car RUNNING.” We all howled—though I think I was the loudest.

Every time we ran into someone we knew over the next weeks, I’d beg Richie, “Oh, please let me tell the Taco Bell story. Please, please, please.” He would roll his eyes and say something like, “Well, if you just have to.” I always had to.

About a month later, it came to a sad end. I was loading my bags into the minivan after a quick stop at Walmart. It was one of those hot July days. My shoes were sticking to the pavement. I thought I’d let the car cool off while I finished unloading, so I dropped my purse in the back seat and squeezed through to start up the van. I finished unloading, slammed the door, then realized I had locked myself out of my running car! I peered through the window. Yep, there was my purse. Cell phone, too. Everything I needed was in there—except ME!

I hesitate to tell you about my phone call to Richie’s secretary, but let me just say that the ladies at the Walmart jewelry counter heard something like this:

“Janet, I’m at Walmart and my phone is locked in my car. And my purse is in there too. And the keys. And, oh yeah, the car is running.
“OK, Janet, stop laughing. What do you mean ‘how will he find me’? OK, sure, Janet, go ahead and tell him to look for the woman on the parking lot with egg on her face.” Janet has just a little bit of a mischievous streak. I’ve always admired that about her.

I hadn’t waited long when I saw Richie’s car pulling into the lot. I saw a shining glow first. It was teeth. I don’t know when I’ve seen him smile quite that big.

All I could say was, “Boy, am I going to miss telling that Taco Bell story.”

There are passages in scripture that are related to that kind of boomerang fun-poking on a bigger scale. If you judge others, you’ll find that judgment coming right back around and smacking you in the head.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-5, “’Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.’”

Luke 6:37 in The Message says it this way: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier.”

The principle is clear. At the point we think we have the right to condemn someone else, we’d better duck! That judgment has a kick. A critical, condemning spirit results in losing sight of another person’s strengths, loss of friendships, and a shortfall in our overall fruitfulness in life. It’s a bad choice from any direction.

Learning to see people the way Jesus does, and learning to love them the way he does is the way to stay away from a judgmental spirit. I would say that it’s a “key” to right living, but that might remind me of the Walmart episode.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Total Circus

I had a very weird day. My husband was doing some studying at home and the weather was gorgeous so he opened up the back door for some fresh air. But the puppy totally didn’t get the screen door thing. She kept trying to run outside, doing a full-speed face-plant against the screen. So to keep her from straining herself through the giant colander, Richie opened the screen too. Everything was fine until he finished his studying and went back to the office—without closing the door. I was working away at my computer, but I kept hearing a bird slamming itself against the windows. When our two cats started going berserk, I realized the thing was not slamming itself on the outside to get in, it was on the inside trying to get out!

I called my husband’s office to tell him there was a bird inside my house. And that I had really enjoyed living in this house. And how much I was going to miss it. He wasn’t in but his secretary had a good laugh.

I knew there was no way I could live with the bird all afternoon. I finally realized that if I wasn’t really going to move out (and it took awhile to make that decision), the bird was going to have to go. The dog and the two cats were all too willing to help me catch the thing, though I don’t think they were looking to set it free. The dog thought it was a cool new chew toy and the cats were looking sinisterly at each other, then back at the bird. I think each was trying to get dibs.

The poor bird was so confused. There were two stories of humongous, edge-to-edge windows but no way out. I opened the highest window I could get to and with broom in hand, proceeded to try to sweep the thing out the open window. I would give the bird a swoop with the broom, then a swoop to each of the other animals to get them to stop trying to help me. I think it must’ve looked like a lion taming act gone bad. What a total circus. One of the most frustrating parts was having a window wide open, yet still watching the goofy bird slamming itself against the closed ones.

Half an hour or so later, I finally managed to give the crasher the heave-ho out the window. The cats were sorely disappointed. I think they sulked all afternoon—although how can a person really tell if a cat is sulking?

The whole bird-herding incident made me wonder how many times I’ve frustrated my Heavenly Father that same way. He opens a beautiful window, but I smack my head against every closed one instead. I wonder how many gentle “broom nudges” he’s sent my way that I’ve fluttered and fought. We’re instructed in Ephesians 5:17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Trying to find my own way is head-smashing foolishness. The next verse tells us to be filled with the Spirit—allowing him to influence our every thought and action, letting his way become our way. Being filled with his Spirit and lining up our lives with his Word is the only way to get rid of unnecessary fluttering, fighting and face-smacking folly.

I want to surrender to his will in every way, asking him daily to fill ever part of my life with his Holy Spirit. After all, who wants to be a bird brain?