“Daddy needs Jesus more”, Taco Bell food causes Prophet-loss (not profit), Cramping in Church, and other hilarious reflections – read on. . .
I must admit I am not sure how to frame the following post. It is thoughtful and will have some useful tidbits for your life amidst the chuckles if you allow yourself to let them out (or in, depends on how your doorway works). I personally think it will be funny, but some might even say it is a little irreverent. Then, again, a lot of what I do is considered irreverent for religious folks because I believe that God likes to laugh also. Good, clean, innocent laughter. Maybe He does not laugh like I do and maybe not at the same things, because I am SURE that He is more holy than I am (that was a humorous and glaring statement of the obvious – start smiling, this post must be read with a ready smile). But, one thing is for certain, in our family we believe that life is meant to be lived, loved, and laughed through. In the years following the death of our first two children, Penny and I have decided that life is too short this side of the “wink of death” to be boring. We want to fill it with all we can, enjoying relationships, laughing, loving, crying, and savoring every memory and moment we can.
In fact as God has given us four more children to love and cherish, our lives have gotten incrementally louder and busier. And, since being in Indonesia we have had a number of precious young ladies living with us and blessing our family. Last year we had 7 enlarging our family. Penny is absolutely amazing as she leads and blesses all of our lives in so many neat and personal ways. She is the saint, I am the jester. So, with all these people coming and going, each mealtime can be more akin to a circus than a quiet family meal as we intentionally choose to love life and enjoy it together as we devour lots of excellent and healthy food.
So, in the midst of all the activities and life filling our house, it is my children that I use as measurements of the joy in our home. How are they doing? Is life good and joyful or is it “holier than thou and boring” as so many religious people can seem to children? Like mobile thermometers they automatically respond to the temperature of the house and report on how warm it is. When they are filled with happiness and joy their smiles are deeper and more frequent, their bouncing effervescence fills the rooms, and their laughter punctures the most pious times of worship as life spontaneously combusts into celebration. Consider this: picture Jesus surrounded by happy bouncing children rushing to be near him as they are drawn by his love and acceptance; compared to their being captured and corralled into a religious service by prune faced pharisees preparing them for the early death of their dreams! What a stark contrast. Children ran to Jesus, yet they usually run from the “religious elite”! Children are a measurement of joy and love.
As the priest of our family (and as a somewhat unusual “pastor”), I am the spiritual leader, it is my job to set the tone of our home. Though my wife is often doing most of the daily teaching as their homeschool teacher (which I am grateful for), everyone still looks to me to lead. So, I have realized that in addition to the teaching aspect of worship and guidance that children need, I am called to be the happiness thermostat that sets the temperature and raises things up or down as needed. I believe this is one of my unique callings in my house: I am the one who keeps us laughing. No, I did not learn that in school, and there is no degree for fatherly, religious joking that I know of; but Hannah, my 15 year old daughter, has urged me to write a book on some of the crazy things that we have said and done through the years (maybe that will come after I finish the one I am writing now with our personal story of God's undeniable faithfulness in the face of our loss years ago). But that brings me back to this one, now.
With children and ladies all at different ages, humor must come in a myriad of forms depending on the timing and people present. It can be anything from a fun little scavenger hunt for the “Midgets” (Noah and Hadassah) before we spend the evening camping in one of the rooms togther. Or, it can even include the artful ransacking of Hannah's bathroom complete with a stuffed penguin sitting on the toilet (not in – though it crossed my mind) and a skunk and elephant hanging above him giving more weight and aroma for the motif of the room's decoration. And, it can even include my falling from the dinning room chair writhing in agony at some supposed poison in the food causing me to die loudly and ceremoniously on the floor before all the ladies; and then as my carcass begins to stiffen, the children (knowing their parts) begin to chant for Mommy to bend over me and deliver the kiss of life again (possibly breaking a bunch of local taboos but showing that life after 24 years of marriage can still be HOT and fun)! Whichever way, things like this display the temperature and give evidence that joy is growing and life is not stale! As I hear the peals of laughter from the children running from room to room figuring out the clues and searching for the prize; or the delightful sounding scream of a teenager noticing the invasion of her room all the while you know that she feels loved (even if she lies and says she didn't like it); or that quiet but noticeable “aaaaaawwwwww” that escapes the lips of the ladies, our older daughters, as they are invited to find and build a marriage that will still have passion in the years ahead so they won't settle for a man who won't honor and cherish them. Humor is powerful and can teach amazing lessons.
Those examples are all noble and precious and I am grateful to have found ways to do many such things as I endeavor to be the priest of our home (and sometimes clown). But, there are other examples that might slip more into the irreverent section of life. I am not fully convinced of this yet, but maybe you and your comments can give me direction (good luck with that, many have tried and failed). As my children get older they progress through various stages of humor and I follow them. Actually my wife and mother would even say that I have simply been locked in those stages already and this gives me the chance to enjoy it again. They think I am actually the cause of the bathroom jokes. I just flush that comment whenever it comes out! One author has quipped that his wife has 4 children: three by birth and one by marriage! Penny would definitely place that number at 5: Elijah, Hannah, Noah, Hadassah, AND me! So, prepare yourself for a few descriptions of the things that we do that won't make it into my next sermon illustration – probably!
The other day it happened. I cannot explain it, but sometimes things just happen and the ideas pop out. It strikes both me and Hannah as raucously funny and we almost roll on the floor laughing, knowing that I really can't post them on Facebook without a whole lot of explanation (hence this chapter). It can be as simple as a church hymn that I begin to adjust or ponder with new meanings, such as these two that should not be sung out loud while traveling anymore: “Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War . . .”, [!!!??? in our current environment I can hear the word, “Jihad” between the lines ???!!!]; or certainly don't chant this one loudly while going through any American airport, “There is a balm in Gilead. . .”
If that one doesn't catch you immediately, and you aren't laughing yet, sing it out loud in the confines of your home and imagine possibly an unchurched or at least unhymned TSA agent trying to determine what you just said – there's a “what” in “where”? But, please, don't try it in the airport. I can assure you (from experience) there are certain words that are not appreciated in airports!
But, the other day I had one of those “sick” moments when humor and biblical thought collide. Defying both logic and time-space issues it took on its own life in my mind's eye as clearly as the life changing clips of the Far Side cartoons have blessed me through the years (maybe I should say, warped me). In fact, if Larson was still drawing I think he could have made this one really go somewhere. I am not an artist with a pencil so I will have to try to capture the brilliance with my keystrokes.
Picture Moses rapt with fear and attention as he gazes upon a signal, unnatural anomaly: a burning bush that is not consumed. As he inches closer into the range of the heat and radiance, he hears the words of warning to remove his shoes. Automatically stooping to undue his shoes, he remembers the recent meal at Taco Bell still churning in his stomach and other areas and in mid bend, without enough warning, it happens. Prophets are human too, and food still does its thing, so there in that moment the beans take their toll on Moses and he lets a little one out. Understandable. But, not then, not there! Immediately the heat of the bush ignites that gas cloud engulfing Moses in the flames and leaving nothing but a scorched silhouette near his shoes. The next frame simply concludes: Taco Bell food causes Prophet-loss!
Ok, ok, before you call my organization to have me removed, think about it. We live in a country where there is no Taco Bell and we get pretty desperate for it at times!!! Laugh a little, can you see the humor? Hannah sure could. We laughed for minutes with the various permutations of that possible scene all the while clocking in a very special father-daughter memory that is guaranteed to be remembered far “too long” and I am sure come up again at all the wrong times with devious teenager or young adult intent! What a strange night. I wished we could have made a run to the border to celebrate! Kind of gives a whole new visual for the word, incinerate! Oops another one, of the pun family.
Then there was the time when in church everyone is called upon to kneel. Now, let me say this at the start: I appreciate kneeling, I think there is a time and place to do that. God is most certainly worthy of all our praise and adoration and kneeling is one way to show that. And, I think in church it could and should be one of those times. But, when the country you live in has a tendency to have almost two sermons and the first one is while you are in the kneeling prayer on concrete, I sometimes wish we stood more. But, regardless, that day as I sat in the row surrounded by a number of students in a very crowded university church, I noticed that my particular bench was quite close to the one in front of it. Unfortunately, in this church there is no helpful, cushioned kneeling pads to bless the worship experience at that moment of homage. The call was given to kneel and so I began to maneuver my taller than everyone around me frame into the skinny separation between the benches. As I had gotten all the way down and people were doing the normal singing to prepare their minds for prayer (or cover up their painful sounds upon hitting the cold concrete), something bad happened. My leg cramped. A full leg cramp causing me a lot of pain and a great difficulty in not being able to move easily. There I was, writhing, hitting the bench in front, muffling the screams of pain urging to cry out to God also at that time (different kinds of prayer I am sure), and unable to remain calm. I am sure that the angels had to have been laughing at me. How funny that had to have looked. That one bald, tall guy in church flopping and wincing like a snail being a-salted (assaulted) right in the quiet time of prayer and meditation. Memorable, for sure. I still laugh whenever I think of the fool I must have looked, especially in a straight laced setting as that church can be at times. For some, not knowing what I was experiencing at the time, I probably just looked like one more irreverent adult failing to guide the students in proper worship. What a miserable example, I guess!
That leads me to the last example for your consideration. One afternoon I was teasing Hannah a bit good naturedly (as always, ok at least normally) and she was ignoring me at the time (always). So, I called her again and she did not respond. Therefore, I did what any thoughtful and caring father would do, I became delightfully sarcastic. I asked her, “hey are you deaf?” and “do you think I am dumb?” Knowing that she would immediately respond to that doubly loaded question and could not fail to take the bait, I then added a few more words knowing that we have taught our children the many gospel stories of Jesus healing people and one of those stories is the time when he heals the deaf and dumb men. So, with my Bible knowledge in mind that we were both like the deaf and dumb people that Jesus healed when he walked the earth, I added, “we both need Jesus!” Before Hannah answered, another voice chimed in having been drawn into the banter of the moment. Noah jumped in and without even a pause said matter of factly, “yes, and you need him more, Daddy!” He smiled at himself for jumping into the joke and getting Daddy on an obvious point of truth.
Yes, Noah, you are right, I want to be a daddy who loves his kids and his kids know that he needs Jesus very much. So much that I am willing to laugh, cry, take a joke, give a joke, and all the while love like Jesus so my family knows how special they are. It is all worth it when later on Noah runs up to me, hugs me, and says, “you are my favorite Daddy, I love you so much!” We have tried to tell him that I am his only daddy, but he still likes to say it that way. I love it, knowing that his thermometer is registering warm and my kids are in a happy home.
I am the priest of my home and the joker AND I need Jesus. Do you?