Paralysis, Brain Bleeds, and Faithfulness, or Hot Dog Sandwich

The Sweet Lady. That’s how I know her. Not sweet like ‘handing out candy to the peoples’ kind of sweet. That’s The Sweets Lady. Nah, I’m talking about The Sweet Lady. You spend 5 seconds with this gal, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Her spirit is sweet.

I didn’t get her permission so I won’t give her name, so for our purposes she’s ‘The Sweet Lady.’ She sings in our church choir. Quiet. Humble. Unassuming. There’s just something about her. Every time I see her, she smiles and has something encouraging to say. But there’s something else. Just a sweet ole gal. She reminds me of my grandma, in that way.

My grandma was a sweet lady. I don’t think she ever said a negative word to me. Like ever in my entire life. I’ve said more negative things to myself than my grandma ever did. She was sweet. And she could cook. Man, she could cook.

Not like Gordon Ramsey-Michelin Star Chef cook, but like ‘anything she makes is amazing’ kind of cooking. Grandma cooking. The best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life was one my grandma made: a sliced and fried hot dog with mustard on white bread. Her sweetness and love just seeped into her food. It was amazing. If you plopped a big juicy steak in front of me or magically zapped a grandma’s hot dog sandwich in front of me, man, it would be hard to turn down that sandwich.

The Sweet Lady. She’s got that same vibe. I wonder if she can cook?…Sweet Lady, you know who you are and if you’re reading this and want to cook me a fried hot dog with mustard sandwich, I’d be forever grateful. Kidding. Eh, kind of.

Nahum 1:7 (NKJV) “The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.”

Last night at a worship service, she shared her testimony. Long story short: She had a brain bleed, another aneurysm, brain surgery, a stroke, was paralyzed on one side. She was zucchini. A vegetable. God healed her. She stood there last night, on her own two feet. Sweet. Unassuming, she spoke and testified to the goodness of God.

There were other stories, but the common denominator was: God is good. He is faithful. He is capable to see you through in your time of trouble. He knows you. You specifically. God and You can do this.

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Adventures in Everyday Life, or Brothers

My brother. I love that dude. He’s a funny guy. He’s a fun guy. We have some interesting stories of the adventures we’ve shared. We’ve seen each other at our best and celebrated those victories; we’ve seen each other at our not so best and somehow lived to tell the tale, or not tell the tale, thankfully.

To date, our adventures include:

  • Installing multiple dishwashers and ceiling fans with varying levels of success- Why does it always take all day and four trips to the hardware store?
  • Moving multiple times with varying levels of success- He lived with us for a while and we moved from a big town, to the country in the middle of nowhere, and then back to the same big town. Pro tip: hire someone to move your stuff. It’s worth it. And never carry a washing machine up three flights of stairs. It’s not worth it.
  • Tearing apart his box spring mattress to get a cat out of there. True story.
  • Cleaning up after a possum assassination- It happened. In front of my kids. It was like a Tarantino movie. I’ve never seen him more panicked. Hilarious.
  • Being sprayed with fecal matter while trying to unclog a toilet- Pro tip: only buy single ply paper. It’s funny now, but just barely.
  • Helping a neighbor get her dogs and getting cussed out for our efforts.
  • Seeing him graduate nursing school with honors and high achievements.

When you’re brothers, I think it’s only natural that you get into some exploits and have some stories to tell. My brother and I tend to have funny adventures of every day life. Adventures in laughter. Man, the apostles had stories to tell. Stories that we’re still telling. Still learning from those stories of ordinary dudes with an extraordinary brotherhood.

Micah 5:3 (NKJV) “…then the remnant of His brethren shall return…”
Mark 3:35 (NKJV) “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

Brother can mean ‘related to each other’, but it can also mean a deeper connection, a fellowship that exists deeper than mere acquaintance or ancestry: A shared Father.

Our Father, who art in heaven…The beauty and mystery of the gospel is that despite ourselves, despite our past or our ancestry, we can get into some brotherhood level shenanigans with Jesus, with the God who spoke and caused all that is to exist. Don’t forget to include Jesus in your adventures of every day life. There’s no telling what stories will come: laughter, tears, real things.

I’ll probably never forget my brother and me hanging some ceiling fans, and me dropping a mounting screw into the fan housing. Twice. The first time, we manage to tear the fan apart without destroying it. It took forever. We put it all back together, went to hang it again, and boom. I dropped the screw down inside the housing again. We lost our minds. Hysterical laughter. One of those things where you couldn’t do it on purpose if you had to, but I’ll never hang another ceiling fan without taping up the vents on the top of it first.

Even when you mess up, there can be laughter and joy and a funny story to tell when your brother is there. Brothers. Brethren. Our Father. Take Jesus with you today; reach out to one of your brethren and get into some kind of adventure. Share your stories with others.

Pull Ups Require Snake Juice, or I Want to Pump, You UP

“I’m Hanz.”
“And I’m Franz.”
“And we want to pump, You UP!”

Saturday night live. When I was a teenager, I was pretty big on Saturday Night Live. But, now I’m old and who really stays up that late? For real. Who stays up late enough to watch Saturday Night? That’s a young man’s game.

Dana Carvey. Kevin Nealon. Man, there were some hilarious bits on that show. Hanz and Franz. Hanz and Franz was great. The characters were Austrian bodybuilders, a la 1989’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Caricatures, really. And they wanted to get you big, get strong. Do 5,000 push ups you girlie man. Get pumped up.

In High School, we had to do the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. What I remember most was the pull ups. There was a certain amount of pull ups you had to do, and that seemed to be the one to give folks the most problems. Oddly enough, I could do the pull ups. The run, nah. Running is only for being chased. Pull ups, though? I had that down.

Micah 4:7 (NKJV) “I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever.”

I couldn’t do 3 pull ups right now to save my life. Impossible task. Can real people actually do pull ups? I mean grown ups with jobs and kids, not hormone raged-snake juice fueled teenagers. Pull ups, like Saturday Night Live, are a young man’s game.

When I am weak, then I am strong. That’s what Paul said, right? Isn’t that weird? Weakness doesn’t mean the same thing to God as it does to us. God takes those who are weak, or lame, those incapable of demonstrations of strength, and He turns them into the holdouts, the remnant, the special, the chosen. The outcasts, He forms into a strong nation. We’re not talking change. We’re talking transformation.

God’s word says that your weakness isn’t the last word. Your current situation and circumstances aren’t the last word. God gets the last word. If you’ll surrender to Him and work with Him, He can transform.

Grace, or I Didn’t Know the Wachutus were Biters

I don’t think I’ve ever been angry enough to bite a chair. Ok, ok. I’ve been angry enough, I guess, but I’ve never actually bitten a chair in anger. Does a futon count? Regardless of where you sit in the Futon is a Chair vs Futon is a Couch debate, what follows is a story of anger and of grace.

Gracie Lou. That’s not her real name. It may or may not be an alias used for witness protection purposes or conversely for hiding her identity from the five-0. I can neither confirm nor deny. But I digress. She’s lovely. Devastatingly smart, though she doesn’t know it or readily admit to it. When she was a very small child, she’d made up her mind to learn how to buckle and unbuckle her high chair. A couple years old and she’s already trying to figure out how to make a break for it.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, a high chair is a chair for small children that raises a child to a sitting position above or equal to dinner table height: enabling parents to see said children not eat their food, get food in their hair, cry, and make cute noises and baby faces, all the while enabling same said children to dribble uneaten food onto the dinner table.

Standing in front of her high chair, trying to work the buckle, she was at it for most of the morning. You could tell she’d already figured it out in her head- she knew how it worked. She had the theory down. It was just a matter of getting her little baby fingers to do the work, fitting the pieces together and manipulating the squeeze tabs on the side.

Jonah 4:4 (NKJV) “Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?‘”

It escalated quickly. In her defense, she worked patiently for what must have been nearly an hour. A toddler doing anything patiently is a feat unto itself. But then the tears started. She knew how to do it, but it just wasn’t coming together quite right. Her frustration and anger kept building. And building. And BUILDING. Until finally, in a tear soaked fit of rage, she bit the high chair for its insolence. If you ask me, it had it coming. Down with high chairs and their smug smug ways! Kidding. Mostly.

Is it right for you to be angry? That’s how we must look from God’s perspective- getting all chair biting angry and upset and out of sorts. Angry with each other. Angry with ourselves, or our situation, or our limitations. Anger isn’t a bad thing. I’m not saying that. God gets angry. Jesus got angry. But are we angry about the things He gets angry about, or are we chair biting angry?

The irony is that Jonah was angry that God wasn’t angry: angry that God wouldn’t smite the Ninevites for their sin. The same Jonah who had been forgiven for outright rebellion, and literally spat out of the mouth of death and delivered up unto life, held the Ninevites in contempt because their sin looked different than his. Their sin looked different than his. You’d think he’d be more sympathetic. You’d think we would be, too.

Today, when that guy cuts you off in traffic- give grace. When your coworker takes your stapler- give grace. When what was said could be taken negatively- give grace. When you’re misunderstood, or your words are misconstrued- give grace. Ouch, those hurt.

Dangerously gracious. Man is created in the image of God. God is Dangerous. God is gracious. That’s what God expects from us; that’s what God does for us. Dangerous levels of grace. Grace when biting seems the more appropriate response. Man, that’s hard. Maybe I’m biting chairs more than I thought?

Loch Ness, or On the Hook

Loch Ness.
No, it’s not Loch Ness. That’s ridiculous.
It’s fighting like Loch Ness.
I’m 78% sure that it’s not Loch Ness.
A whale, then?
…yeah, maybe. Seems plausible.

My forearms were burning. My miniscule biceps were spent. This was no mere fish. It was a gladiator in fish form. We were locked in battle. It was twisting, turning, darting back and forth, cartwheeling in the water like an olympic swimmer at the end of a lap.

I’d brought him up to break the water’s surface several minutes prior, but I hadn’t seen him since then. He dove back below. Into the muck. Man that water was gross. I firmly believe that most ponds are 89.3% urine- both animal and otherwise. The remainder is a mixture of feces, animal feces, and spit. True story. Kidding. Kind of.

I started to wonder if I’d ever bring him in. If nothing else, I figured my stubbornness was my greatest asset. But the fish was proving to be just as stubborn as I was. I respect that.

Jonah 3:1 (NKJV) “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time…”

Not a mythical creature. Not even a whale. A catfish. But even a small catfish is fun to catch. A small catfish can be as big or bigger than a decent sized bass. They can fight. Man, they can fight. Like a sumo wrestler, what catfish lack in grace and agility, they make up for in size, and in stubbornness.

He was the biggest fish I’ve ever caught. Massive. He twisted, and wriggled, but the hook held. It kept him. I still don’t know how my line didn’t break. I brought him out of the murky pond up into the grassy overgrown bank, and slid him up the side of the bank, careful not to snap the line that held him. He tried, but he couldn’t get off the hook. On the hook, just like Jonah. Just like me? Just like you?

Jonah ran. I’ve run from God. Jonah willingly and rebelliously disobeyed. I’ve disobeyed God. Willingly. Knowingly. Rebelliously. The word came to Jonah a second time. Same word. Different Jonah. I guess getting swallowed and half digested by a fish changes a man. Life changes a man.

I’m struck by the fact that Jonah’s prior disobedience didn’t negate the word from God. Jonah couldn’t get off the hook that easily. His running didn’t cancel out the word. His disobedience didn’t cancel it. The overboard cargo didn’t cancel it. The embarrassment at having to come clean with the sailors about his rebellion didn’t cancel it. Even the fish didn’t cancel it. He stayed on the hook.

God didn’t wriggle off the hook either. He stayed committed to the word He’d given Jonah. He’s God; He could have given up on Jonah, and sent someone else. He can rightfully do whatever pleases Him. But He didn’t let Himself off the hook with Jonah. On the hook. God stayed on the hook for Jonah.

Has God given you a word? A word of instruction, a command, a word of blessing, a word of correction? I spoke with a gentleman on Wednesday who said that he’d missed his calling to preach because he rebelled and went into the Army instead. Could it be that just as Jonah couldn’t get off the hook through rebellion and sin that this gentleman is still on the hook, that the word is still there? Could it be that the word God gives endures through sin and rebellion, all manner of running and wriggling? Maybe we’re letting ourselves off the hook too easily? Maybe we’re letting God off the hook when He doesn’t want us to?

Often times we read the story of Jonah as an example of God’s abundant mercy toward the Ninevites- how He spared them when they repented. And it is that. It is. But it’s more. God was merciful to Jonah in much the same way as He was to the Ninevites, maybe even more so. Instead of letting Jonah off the hook, tossing him back and casting his line for another, God confirmed His word and work to Jonah. God kept Jonah on the hook; God Himself stayed on the hook.

In case you’re wondering, hot dogs. Hot dogs are an incredible catfish bait. They also work as a snack while you’re fishing. Two birds, one stone.

Jonah and God. Two on the same hook. The same hook, God and you. Isn’t it amazing that God would get on the same hook with us: to fight and not less us off, to fight and not give Himself an easy out? Wild. But that’s the message of the Gospel. The Sign of Jonah. Isn’t that what Jesus said? Isn’t that what Jesus did? God, the Glorious One, getting on the same hook as us to deliver us from ourselves. He’s still on the hook with you. You’re not getting off the hook. Believe it.

Preheating the Oven, or Toaster Oven First Impression

“Why do I not eat these every single day,” I thought, taking the first warm gooey bite, melted frosting dripping down everywhere. Cinnamon rolls. Heaven in cinnamony form. Yes, cinnamony is a real word. When cinnamon rolls are done right, there’s nothing like them. Heaven on a plate. When they’re done poorly, toss them over here. I’ll still probably eat the whole batch. True story.

Preheat the oven to 375, then bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Seriously? Do people in real life preheat the oven? It takes longer to preheat the oven than it does to actually bake cinnamon rolls. That’s ridiculous. It’s shenanigans- some conspiracy between Betty Crocker and the power company.
“We’ll tell people to preheat their ovens, and you can give us a ‘monetary contribution’ on all that extra electricity or natural gas that they’re using…”. Ok. Ok. Probably not. I’m sorry Betty. I apologize. You’re not in league with the utility companies for some kickback scheme…that I know of. But I’ve got my eye on you, Betty. I’ve got my eye on you . Kidding. Mostly.

It takes a while for our oven at home to warm up. If it’s a quick ‘warm these leftovers up real quick’ situation, I’ll just throw the food in our toaster oven. Less fuss, same’ish result. Don’t talk to me about the microwave. Oven > Microwave. Microwaves are for emergencies only.

That got me thinking about how it takes a while for me to warm up, too. It takes me a while to get moving and brain-awake in the morning. I’ve found that coffee helps. And people? People, too. Maybe it’s just a Donnie thing, but it takes me a while to warm up to folks. Sometimes months. Ok, sometimes years, to feel all warm and fuzzy about letting them get in to Donnie in Real Life.

But once you’re in, you’re in. And when you’re in, you get all the weirdness that comes along with being in: the jokes, the nicknames, the funny stuff, the stories, but also the real stuff, the God stuff, sometimes the ugly stuff.

And when I do warm up, I tend to connect easiest to the weird folks. It’s not a judgement. I’m weird. I naturally find other weirdos like me. I am a magnet for the strange: the folks who have 14 cats, passionate collectors of inanimate objects, experts in the obscure, or the guy who turned the bathtub in his second bathroom into a full on server rack (IT stuff- if you get it, then you get it), the artists, the broken, the scarred- aka, the weird. They get the toaster oven treatment for some reason. It doesn’t take as long to warm up to them.

Jonah 1:16 (NKJV) “Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.”

When we let people into our lives, it opens the door for God to show Himself to those people we let in. Sometimes people get in accidentally, like in the case of the sailors with Jonah. Man, did those poor guys ever get the toaster oven treatment.

When they were brought in to Jonah’s life, that opened the door for them to see the power of God in Jonah’s life, and the call that God had on Him. I mean, it was a weird introduction to God: ‘Sorry dudes. Yeah, my God made everything, and He wants me to go to Nineveh, but I’m going somewhere else, so that’s why there’s this storm. My bad about you losing all the cargo and stuff. But if you throw me overboard everything will be cool again.’ Talk about a first impression. Toaster oven first impression. Toaster oven connections.

How do you make that shift to giving people the toaster oven treatment, but in a good way? I don’t know. Then there’s also those times when we’re the ones being brought straight into the heat of someone else’s life. You’re in the toaster oven. It’s easy to pull back; it’s natural to pull away in those situations. Well, natural for me anyway. But what would happen if when we’re brought into the heat of someone’s life, instead of pulling back, we push in.

Instead of taking a step back when faced with someone’s weirdness or pain or crisis- what if we took a step forward? Instead of giving people the oven treatment, what if we took a risk and gave someone the toaster oven quick pass? Could God use that act of willingness- willingness to step in or the willingness to be open with someone? Could He use that to introduce Himself: His power, His glory, His majesty, His will and call?

Or maybe when someone naturally gets the toaster oven treatment, maybe we just take better advantage of that? Maybe those folks that you naturally connect with, maybe for them it’s just a matter of being diligent to take advantage of that: step in, connect, be open and honest with them so that they can see God moving and working in your life.

A wizard is never late, nor is he early: he arrives precisely when he means to, or I Meant to Do That

Honest sharing time:
I’ve done some weird things. On purpose. True story. For folks that know me or work with me, that statement probably comes as no surprise. I joined the National Guard to help pay for college, and then dropped out of college. I didn’t return to my studies until after I left the Guard. Yep, that happened. Weird decision.

I’ve gotten tattoos at various points in my life. While not intrinsically weird, especially for my generation, I can’t say that most of them were well planned or thought out. I have two star tattoos: a guy saw them and asked if I was into manga (I didn’t even know what manga was. I assumed it was a band because I can be an idiot at times)- apparently there’s a manga character with the same tattoos in the same place as mine. Good times. I am now permanently associated with manga. Yeah, probably a weird decision.

I’ve eaten so many sausage balls that I got the meat sweats. That was fun until it wasn’t. I’ve not met anyone else who would confess that they’ve done the same. Weird.

As an adult, I’ve lost a sparring match against a 9 year old because kicks to the groin do in fact happen in real life. That wasn’t fun at any point. Weird.

I’ve fallen down in public. Tripped over my own feet. Eaten food that’s fallen to the floor. Shown up ridiculously early to an event. Shown up comically late. I’ve stayed silent when words were needed. Said the exact wrong thing. Laughed when it wasn’t funny.

Though sometimes accompanied by unintended consequences, all of the above happened precisely because I chose for them to. Except for the groin kick. Sparring, sure. Kick to the groin, nah, nobody signs up for that. I wanted to eat a whole pan of baked sausagy-biscuity goodness. I wanted tattoos. I wanted to drop out of school. I wanted to join the Guard and shoot guns and blow stuff up.

Jonah 1:14 (NKJV) “…for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.”

When I read this passage from Jonah this morning, I was struck by the fact that where I am- not just geographically, but in a larger sense, is not an accident. It takes concerted effort to do anything in life, to get anywhere in life.

And I’m reminded again of the role that God plays in shaping my life. He has a say as well. Sometime there is blessing. Sometime there is pain. So, there is a point to both blessing and pain. Could it be that God can get glory, and we can be better for it, if we can figure out how to cooperate with what He is doing in our lives?

Takeaway from the story: God has a plan for your life. The Shepherd runs the show, and not the sheep, and He will at various times bring blessing or pain. Jonah, you’re going to Nineveh, son. Run, hide, land, or sea- God kind of runs the whole show. We can take comfort in knowing that if it pleases God to bring something about in your life, it is ultimately for His glory and our good. Get on board with His plan. And stop after that 5th sausage ball. It’s all down hill from there.