Monday, October 18, 2010

Sweet Treats

I cried this morning, over a commercial I saw on TV. I caught the tail end of one I’ve seen many times before in which a mom has taken her son to his fist day of middle school and is quizzing him about whether he remembers the location of his first classroom, if he brought his lunch…until the boy in desperation says, “I’ve got this Mom! I can walk from here.” The mother takes a step back, physically and emotionally, and the boy heads into the school building, reaches to open his locker, only to find that the combination has totally slipped his mind. Frustrated and upset, he sticks his hands into his jacket pockets…and there finds a packaged Rice Krispie Treat that his mom had stuck in there with his locker combination written across the front. And suddenly I felt the tears well up.

I know. What does it say about a person’s emotional state when a commercial for a prepackaged snack makes them cry? I even braved the wonders of technology and used the rewind feature on our Direct TV remote for the first time ever (see that, boys?!) to watch the thing again. Sure enough, after the second viewing, the tears fell in earnest.

I recognized the trigger, of course. It was the look on the mom’s face at the son’s rebuke. Like all moms eventually must do, she took a step back and simply waved goodbye.

I can identify with her difficulty in letting go and allowing her children to make their own way in school as well as in life. Fast forward ten years in that boy’s life and that’s where I’m at today – having dropped two of my kids off at distant colleges to deal with the details of their lives on their own. I’m adjusting well for the most part (although my actions this morning may cause some to question that declaration), so could there have been something more to the commercial than just a lure to parents to buy the treats for lunches and snacks, now that school is back in session?

There’s always more to the life situations around us than what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. In this case the answer was found in the closing thought of the commercial: They’re never too big for a little something sweet.

We forget that occasionally. We think now that we’re grown up…older…more mature…that we’re too big for some of the things that brought us joy in our younger years. Too often we use age-related excuses to sit on the sidelines of life. We don’t avoid just physical activities, but emotional, financial and spiritual ones, as well. And perhaps we really have stopped living and started dying when we convince ourselves that it’s too late in life to do something new. Too late to go back to school…to start a new business…to try God.

In God’s view it’s never too late for any of the above, especially the latter. The Bible tells us that God’s grace and forgiveness are available to anyone who comes to Him with a repentant heart, at any stage in their life journey.

But what if you had a relationship with God at one point and lost it for one reason or another? Maybe life circumstances conspired to convince you that God wasn’t Who He claimed to be. Or perhaps you just lost your focus, distracted by the pressures and busyness of life, only to eventually find yourself off track and seemingly alone once more. Maybe you just got tired of the fight to do what’s right and gave in to sensual pleasures of one type or another, and now believe that you’ve gone too far to ever be accepted back into the fold. Whatever your situation, God wants you to know that the welcome mat still lies outside Heaven’s gates, the porch light is still on, and there’s a Father’s embrace just waiting for you when you’re finally ready to come Home.

I fell for the television ad completely this morning, even with my kids grown and largely gone. As I wiped my face and blew my nose I vowed to make Rice Krispie treats from scratch for the family members still at home, and thought about buying boxes of the packaged kind to send to the loved ones away, with my own “I love you” messages scripted on the front – not locker combinations of course, but information pertinent to their current situations, such as Rent is due on the 1st, Colors in cold, whites in warm or hot, or Cook the lasagna, covered, one hour at 350 degrees!

Hopefully I got the less verbalized message from Heaven, as well. God said He loved us when He sent His Son to die for us, and now that message is echoed in His longing to fill our time on this earth with timely assistance and blessings far greater than a few prepackaged treats stuck in our pockets or mailboxes. No matter what our age or station in life, we are simply never too big to begin again with Him.


“Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be –

you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean.”

(Psalm 32:11 MSG)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Baby Face

Sitting in the front of his parents’ shopping cart, he was still hidden from my view behind the tall candy racks that separated our checkout lanes. And yet he was making his presence known.

“E-WAYNE!” he hollered at the top of his lungs. Again and again he bellowed his precious toddler mispronunciation of my name, as if there was some correlation between his decibel level and the speed at which I would appear. And desperately did I want to rush over and greet my favorite shopper. Not many customers come through the door calling for you by name, laughing at the sight of you and blowing kisses when they leave. But it’s this one that does that makes my job a joy.

It hasn’t happened without a lot of effort. Friends with his parents (my former favorite shoppers!) for many years, I’ve known him from belly to birth to big-boy-sitting-up-in-the-shopping-cart. At each stage his parents have extended their shopping trips to allow me a few minutes’ visit with their little man. I’m sure they must talk me up before entering the store so that he’s primed and ready when I finally spy him coming down an aisle. Even so, he becomes suddenly shy when we meet, hiding his face in his daddy’s shirt until the focus shifts away from him and our talk turns to other topics. A sudden giggle on his part at an expression on my face, and soon he‘s laughing and we’re buddies once more, blowing kisses unashamedly as he heads out the door.

The smile on that baby’s face could melt a heart of stone. All I know is that it’s surely worked its magic on mine. And so now I make a habit of smiling at babies in shopping carts. Getting them to smile back; that’s the challenge. Some I have to smile at long and hard, but in the end, perseverance is almost always rewarded with a grin in return. And I’ve found that I’m not alone in this fascination. I’ve watched the most sophisticated of coworkers throw all pride aside and practically jump through hoops to earn a sudden sunbeam from a little one passing by.

And isn’t that God’s desire, as well? He smiles at us, His children, from the moment of birth on, hoping that at some point in our existence we finally see His face in the love and blessings He pours out into our lives, knowing that once we do, we will never be the same again. From that time on we beam our response back to God, filling His heart with joy and the days we spend together in relationship a delight.

I remember the day it happened to me. Not only did I smile back at God, but I was also conscious that I couldn’t stop smiling at everybody else! My heart had been changed in a glorious moment of breakthrough, and it wasn’t a fact that I was able or wanted to hide.

And that’s part of God’s plan, as well. When a baby in a shopping cart finally cracks a grin in response to mine, the relative pushing the cart invariably turns to see what the baby is looking at. And so it is that when we respond in a positive way to God’s blessing on our lives, those around us will likewise turn to see what caused our reaction, perhaps eventually partaking in the joy themselves. No action on God’s part is wasted, but rather produces a domino effect on those we spend time with and love the most. Face it, if a yawn is contagious, how much more so is a smile! And there are those around us who would gladly trade a boring existence for the life of overflowing abundance that God promises to those who smile at Him in return.

Of course, a smile isn’t limited to an upturn of the lips. Any generous, kind or loving action on our part, even if it’s simply treating people with the decency and respect with which we’d like to be treated ourselves, qualifies as a physical grin that may provoke a positive response in the other person.

I haven’t been able to get a smile from every baby I greet, to be sure. And neither will everybody respond to God’s love. Sadly, some of those who do will eventually lose interest on down the road or become distracted by other lures in life. But never should we let the rejections of a few keep us from reaching out openly to those who may yet be desperate to experience God’s love.

As if in illustration of that last point, I realized recently that while my little buddy may still be my favorite, I’m no longer his. I’ve been replaced in his affections by a blonde beauty who carries him off to find stickers and free balloons while his parents chat with their many friends. But the other day his mother came into the store without the male half of the family, her baby daughter having made the transition from carseat-in-the-cart to front-of-the-bascart, sitting up proudly and looking around her inquisitively. And all of a sudden I smiled, knowing the joy in store for me as I embark on a mission to get her to do the same!

“…the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4 LITV)

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