The Elves and the Mama

Subtitled: "How to Get Your Kids to Clean Up the House on a Saturday Night When You're Sick and They've Been Home All Day Trashing It"

I do not normally resort to manipulation in order to get my kids to do something. There are those who would say that one word from me should be enough for them. But in the real world, desperate times call for desperate measures. And I don't really refer to this as manipulation. I prefer the euphemism, "child psychology."

Here is the script, which may be adapted as needed.

Sit down in a chair, with the kids around, and tell them that you are going to play a story game. (Whatever that is). Odds are that when you start talking, they will begin acting out what you say at the appropriate time, assuming that they are in good moods, and the stars have aligned properly, and they're not too old to be too cool for it.

Begin with this:

Once upon a time, there was a Mama. She loved being a Mama, and she loved her children very much. She loved to play with them and take care of them. And every day, she did her chores to make sure that her family had what they needed.

But one day, the Mama began to feel very yucky. Her forehead got really hot and her throat felt like there was sandpaper inside of it. She knew there was much to do, but alas, she needed to rest. So the Mama sat down in her recliner and closed her eyes. Just for a minute, she thought to herself. Then she fell asleep.

While she was sleeping, two little elves crept out from the tiny hole where they lived, behind the recliner. The elves saw the sleeping, sick Mama and wanted very much to help her. Then they looked around and saw her messy house, with toys and clutter spread out in every single room. And the elves knew just what to do. They quietly tiptoed past the Mama, down the hall to the bedrooms. The little girl elf slipped into the room belonging to the Mama's daughter. And the little boy elf headed for the room belonging to the Mama's son. And then, quiet as could be and quick as a wink, they got to work. They put toys in toyboxes. They put dirty clothes in hampers. They put books back on bookshelves. And they didn't even make a sound.

After some time, the Mama began to yawn and stretch and wake up. And the elves, just finishing up, knew they needed to RUN, RUN, RUN back to the little hole behind the recliner before she saw them. When the Mama woke up and saw the children's rooms, she was astonished. "How did this happen?" she asked aloud. "Who could have done this for me?"

Later that same day, the Mama felt so tired that she had to close her eyes again. And just like before, the elves crept out again. But this time, they noticed that the living room and the dining room needed some tidying up. They put Candyland away. They cleaned up coloring books and crayons. They even put away some of the Mama's things that she had left out.

While they were working, the Mama awoke. She heard quiet sounds around her. She barely opened one eye and saw the little elves hard at work, cleaning up. But they did not know she was awake.

Thrilled to have been shown such kindness by the little creatures, the Mama left out a special snack of Teddy Grahams for the elves to discover...right next to their little hole.

The End.

Disclaimer: I am pretty sure that the magic in this is a one-shot deal, not something that can be repeated. It's like playing a get-out-of-jail-free card. So choose your opportunity for manipulation and snack bribery wisely, before your little elves wise up to your scheme.


The Good Guy Wins

Last night, we watched the animated Jetsons movie from 1990. I think I missed that one when I was 14. I have no recollection of its existence. But for the most part, it was true to the original cartoon, with the exception of an out-of-place soundtrack by 80's pop sensation Tiffany, who was also the raspy voice of Judy Jetson.

In the midst of watching it, I realized this: we've made it to the future, but the future doesn't look at all the cartoon told me it would.

As a kid, I expected the 21st century to bring me moving sidewalks inside my house. George Jetson never even had to get out of bed on his own. His bed just dumped him out, and a moving sidewalk carried him to the shower, which showered him and brushed his teeth while he was still asleep, giving true meaning to the phrase sedentary lifestyles. I expected to have a friendly Robot maid named Rosie by now, but I am the one breaking my back picking up toys. I want to be able to send her to do all the chores. Elevators should have been replaced by skinny glass tubes with vacuum suction capabilities, but we're still going up and down gaping shafts in big metal boxes.

The only Jetsons-like invention that has actually come to pass is Skype, allowing people to see each other on a screen and converse over long distances. In this case, Hanna-Barberra, to their credit, foresaw the technology that was the most fascinating possibility to me as a child. I couldn't understand why adults didn't think it would be cool for someone to see you every time you answered the phone. (Now I understand. It's 7:30 on a Saturday morning, and I would prefer that callers not see me right now.)

But why aren't we flying all over the sky in cute little spaceship cars? And for that matter, why aren't we living in space yet? Maybe it's still too early. Maybe the Jetsons' perks and conveniences are still to come one day.

We just can't know the future.

We can pretend and speculate and dream about what things might be like one day. That's what Hanna-Barberra was doing. But there is no way to know for sure. No way to know what's going to happen, even as soon as tomorrow.

We are just so limited. Sometimes we want to know so badly, it hurts. Where will I be in five years? Am I going to get that job or not? What is in store for me? Will this trial I am facing ever end? And what's going to happen to us as a nation, for the sake of my children?

"Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God.
I am God, and there is none like me.
Only I can tell you the future before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
for I do whatever I wish."
Isaiah 46:9-10

God gives us a few peeks into the future in the pages of the Bible. We still don't know a lot of things, but what we do know is this...the Good Guy wins.

The reason we know that God's promises about the future are certain is because Christ came, just as Isaiah and the prophets predicted.

There are at least 61 prophecies that were foretold and perfectly fulfilled during the life of Jesus. In the book Science Speaks, mathematician Peter Stoner says this: if you take only 8 prophecies out of those 61, the probability of all 8 being fulfilled is 1 in 10 to the 17th power. (That’s the number 1 with 17 zeroes behind it. I’m not going to even attempt to say what that number is).

This is what that probability would look like in real life. Stick with me, here:

If you had that many silver dollars (10 to the 17th power), and you lay them on the face of the state of Texas, they would cover the entire state two feet deep. Put a red X on one of those silver dollars. Stir up all the coins. Blindfold a man and tell him to pick one coin, in the hopes that it has the red X on it. The chance that he would pick the right one is 1 in 10 to the 17th power.

Now, if you look at 40 of the prophecies, instead of just those 8, the chance that all would be fulfilled is 1 in 10 to the 157th power.

But there weren’t just 40 fulfilled in Christ. All 61 were fulfilled through the Son.

God can tell us the future, and He has proved himself through the prophecies about Christ. Anyone who can predict the future and be right about it to such a striking degree is believable. Forget the psychic network hotline. Don’t waste your money. Or your brain cells.

This is the encouragement that we have from the Bible. No matter what happens, the Good Guy wins in the very end. And the bad guy loses.

Flying cars...or not.


My Skeletons in the Closet

I believe that most people, if they're honest, have some history in their closets that is rather suspect. Things that could...quite possibly...destroy their reputations. Things that could be embarrassing if exposed. Things that are questionable, if not downright scandalous. Things bearing the shrouded stories of years gone by.

Skeletons in the closet.

Well, in a manner of speaking.

I'm talking about old T-shirts. And I am about to shine the light of day on mine.

There is something about screen-printed tees that makes them very hard to throw away. After they've been washed 10,362 times, they are incredibly soft. And sort of threadbare. Multi-purposed...for the gym, housework, sleeping, lounging. And pricelessly sentimental.

How could you possibly part with your Homecoming tee? It's a one-of-a-kind! Drawn by some marginally talented classmate of yours! Owned by only you and the rest of your entire graduating class! You can't send these kind of things to Goodwill. No one else can identify with the Huskies the way you can. Class of '94 for-evah! So it's either keep it or throw it in the trash.

Keep it.

Oh, but then there's that one from youth group. And summer camp. And when you taught Vacation Bible School. And helped to host that thing that time for that non-profit group.

Even my husband likes to hang on to his. It was a sad day when his football tee from high school bit the dust recently. The "Russellville Tigers 225 lb. Club," which featured a poorly-drawn pen sketch of some out-of-proportion jock lifting weights, had to go to the place where all T-shirts go to die. I, on the other hand, was absolutely delighted, never having held any affection whatsoever for the odd-looking weight-lifter guy on the shirt who appeared to be wearing underwear.

It works both ways, though. My husband is not exactly fond of this Michael W. Smith T-shirt that I have held on to from 1991 with Michael's big face plastered across the front. It says "The First Decade" on the back. Given that Michael is now into his third decade of recording, I realize that this one is sadly out-of-date, yet...sentimental.

And here are a few more blasts from the past, or rather, from the depths of the closet:

Panama City Beach youth camp, 9th grade. "Outta This World: Beyond Imagination" was the theme that year. The T-shirt is about 10 sizes too big for me, selected in the era of oversized and brightly-colored everything.

"Triumphant." Christian T-shirt from 8th grade. I really liked it then. I thought it was so pretty. The last time I wore it was around the house when my oldest child was a baby. She was fascinated with the yellow eyes.

"UNA Homecoming 1997." Thar she blows. The opposing team's mascot is cowering in the bottom of the hourglass, and our mascot, Leo the Lion (occupying the top of the hourglass), appears to be morphing through it in order to squish him. What? Apparently, that was the best way to incorporate 1997's Homecoming theme, "Once Upon a TIME," into a T-shirt. In all of its weirdness, I love it.

"National Champs, '93 and '94." The football team from my alma mater, the University of North Alabama, carried the National Championship title for Division II football three years in a row. I can hear the Beach Boys now: "Rah Rah Rah Rah, Sis-Boom-Bah, be true to your school!" Like an old friend, this 17-year-old tee with its dated graphic is a keeper. "How sweet it is." Truly.

"BCM mission trip, 1996." Remember those "I Love You, Man" beer commercials? That's what was on the front of this T-shirt for our college mission trip to Florida. Nice.

And then (of course) there are these gems, boxed up for a long time, but re-discovered recently. I am still fond of them for their history and for their novelty, even if I don't wear them anymore...except for that one time when the situation dicated that I do so. They are my oldest ones, clocking in at 21 years. Oy.

What about you? Do you have old skeletons...ahem...I mean, T-shirts...holed away somewhere, ones that you cannot bear to send off into the universe? Do you still wear them? And what will it take for you to part with them?

I know I'm not the only one who kept my oldies-but-goodies. Now...it's your turn. Tell the world. It's liberating.


Carnivals and Surprises

Hello to those of you visiting from Seeds of Faith today! I am honored to be this week's featured blogger.

The traveling carnival has just rolled into town. The rusty old ferris wheel rises up out of the shopping center parking lot like a giant magnet, beckoning to kids for miles around. No need for advertising. The lumbering carnival itself is its own marketing plan. Parents, hauling their kids in minivans, innocently drive straight into a trap as soon as it comes into view. Of course, it is always strategically set up along the busiest thoroughfare around. Once the sprawl of rides is spotted and the excited chattering begins in the backseat, it is way too late to make a detour. “Mommy, a carnival! Daddy, can we go? Look at the roller coaster! Look at the swings!” I sigh, knowing that my wallet is about to get lighter, my time is about to be monopolized, my energy is about to be spent. But at the same time, as a parent, I delight in seeing the delight of my children.

And soon I find myself there, fighting with the delay on my digital camera each time the kids spin past me on the round-and-round rides, trying my hardest to capture the expressions on their faces – expressions that reflect the exhilaration of being alive. Then I remember what it was like when I was once an amusement park thrill-seeker, before I got older and would rather have a root canal than suffer the dizziness of a tilt-a-whirl. Back then, I would walk away from a roller coaster, intact, and feel like I had conquered something important. I would savor the sea breeze blowing in my face on a summer evening at Panama City Beach as I rode the old-fashioned swings. I would squeal with laughter as I crashed into my friends on the bumper cars. Watching my then 3-year-old ride the children’s roller coaster for the first time, I glimpsed that look on his face as the friendly-looking, green dragon cars rumbled down the tracks – that unmistakable look of joy. It seemed that he was surprised to be enjoying himself so much.

Sometimes God Himself surprises us in ways that shock us. Since we are made in His image, I believe that He delights to see the surprise on our faces, in the same way I anticipate Christmas-morning happiness and carnival joy on the faces of my own kids. In John 21, the disciples are experiencing the discouragement of a fruitless night of fishing. Someone from the shore calls out to them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” They must have been utterly stunned to discover that they were unable to haul the net in – it was completely filled with fish. I can imagine their faces, full of amazement. I can hear the hearty laughter of those weathered fishermen as fish after fish flop around on their little boat. I can imagine their hearts, full of gratitude. And I can picture Jesus, standing over on the shore, surveying the scene with a smile on his face. Peter, ever the eager one, immediately identifies the source of the miracle. “It is the Lord!” he cries out, and jumps into the water, swimming to the shore where the resurrected Christ awaits.

The greatest surprise that the Lord gives us, many times, is Himself. I have sung many an old hymn for the millionth time, when all of sudden, the gripping sense that “It is the Lord!” resonates deep in my spirit. There are times that His presence has been in the midst of our congregation in ways so undeniable and precious that I know the heart of every person present is saying, “It is the Lord!” It really should not surprise us to sense the Spirit of God among us as believers, but the fact is that it does. We grow accustomed to our routines and habits. Like the disciples, we get used to our own fruitless nights of fishing, in our own ways. But Jesus knows all about our routines. He knows us within and without. He stands on the shore. And out of nowhere, at the precise moment He determines, we begin to haul in a catch that we never expected, and our human spirits are perfectly and completely refreshed. Our cups are running over with praise.

God would never need a digital camera. But just the same, I believe he watches us during those moments in which He surprises us…and is pleased, just as any father would be, to see on our faces the exhilaration of being alive in His presence.
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