New neighbors had just moved into the house behind us but we hadn’t met yet. That afternoon I was working among the shrubs and flowers along our shared fence line. I heard their back door slam as two youngsters came running out. After a moment the three-year-old shouted to her younger brother, “Look, Joey, it’s a GRANDMA!”
Hmm, apparently it’s obvious. I wasn’t sure if I felt like a resident of a zoo, a museum exhibit, or the subject of a documentary, spotted in my native habitat. Luckily the delight in her voice assured me she was happy with her discovery and meant me no harm.
THE BELLY OF THE WHALE
For a high school youth retreat I planned an activity based on the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. We would have a worship service under a giant dome meant to simulate the experience of Jonah’s time inside the creature. I constructed it out of huge, black plastic drop cloths duct-taped together. Three large fans inside would keep it inflated.
That evening as we turned on the fans, one of them clanged loudly a few times and ground to a noisy halt. The other two fans seemed to be doing what we needed, so I had everyone enter the semi-darkness of the “belly of the whale”.
All went well with our worship until we got to the sharing and praying portion of the experience. Precious hearts were opening to each other and tender prayers were being offered, but several young people spoke so quietly that only those closest to them could actually hear over the sounds of the fans on high speed. Reluctant to continue asking them repeatedly to “Speak up,” I quietly signaled to another leader to turn one of the fans to low.
What we didn’t know was that particular fan only worked on high! The volunteer who had brought it hadn’t told anyone that it had to be left on the high setting all the time and could be operated only by plugging or unplugging. The fan quit entirely and couldn’t be restarted. Our whale’s lovely huge belly slowly began to descend on us. Folds of limp plastic threatening to smother us somehow interrupted the spirit of the moment and we all made a hasty exit to fresh air and bright light. The moment was indeed special and memorable, but not in the way I’d hoped!
A month or so later, my co-leader sent me a colorful card and a 3-D refrigerator magnet, both proclaiming the slogan “Save the Whales!”
WHERE THERE’S SMOKE . .
I can lose all sense of time and space when deep into writing, reading or working on a project. All too often I am oblivious to what is going on around me.
One evening I was home alone, hunched over my desk planning an upcoming retreat. At one point I paused to stretch and my nostrils were filled with the scent of fresh wood smoke. I inhaled deeply, savoring the smell, thinking, “I am so lucky to live on this campground! It’s beautiful here in so many ways, including the aroma of campfires reminding me of many wonderful experiences in my past.”
I went into the kitchen for a glass of water — and found my wooden cutting board in flames on the stove!
I’d been so preoccupied, I’d turned on a burner to heat some soup and then forgotten all about it. Worse yet, I’d been so lost in thought I’d turned on the wrong burner – obviously the one on which the cutting board sat!
My family often gave rides to church to a young neighbor boy. One Sunday Billy was fascinated by my father’s newly-grown mustache and peppered him with questions. “What is that?” “How did you get it?” “How come my dad doesn’t have one?’’ My father answered each question patiently. Eventually, Billy’s questions took on a negative tone: “Doesn’t it get in the way when you eat?” “What good is it?” accompanied by a scrunched-up frown on his little face. Finally he declared, “I don’t think I’d want one of those things!” Sensing he had maybe overstepped his bounds, he was then quiet for awhile, but apparently not quite finished with the subject. When we arrived home Billy jumped out of the car and delivered his parting salvo over his shoulder as he ran home, “And I bet it doesn’t SMELL very good either!”
Having moved mid-school year, I was the latest addition to the school’s faculty. Overheard in the first-grade lunchroom: “Look, Brady, there’s the new teacher!” After a long head-to-toe consideration, Brady shook his head and pronounced firmly, “Oh no, Kevin, she’s not new! She’s old!”