The Ghost of Halloween Past

It was the best of Halloweens.  It was the worst of Halloweens.  It was the fall of 1980, and my mom made the mistake of putting my dad in charge of getting me ready to go trick or treating.  She had to work late that night.  She assumed getting an eight year-old in a Halloween costume was a no brainer.  What she didn’t know is that my dad vastly overestimated my intelligence. 
I can still remember him handing me my Mork from Ork costume in that rectangular cardboard box.   You know, the old school kind with the cellophane window on top that let you see the costume inside?  It was glorious.  I loved those cheap vinyl costumes and the promise of adventure they offered me every Halloween. 
“Here, go put this on,” Dad said, thinking his job was done. 
It was the first time I’d ever done this by myself.  Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me you’re supposed to wear clothes under those costumes.  Forget that they were thinner than a Hefty kitchen bag.  I mean they had pants and a shirt, right?   To a seven year old boy that’s all the clothes you need. 
So I went to my bedroom, stripped down to my skivvies, slipped into the Mork costume and waited for Mom to take me trick-or-treating.  When she rushed in to pick me up, she had no idea that I was an embarrassing disaster just waiting to happen.
We met up with the neighborhood kids and set off to pillage the good people of Milltown for all the candy they were worth.  At the first stop we scored some bubble gum.  The next house, Sweet-tarts.  So far so good.  I struck out at house number three with some lousy Tootsie Rolls.  I hate Tootsie Rolls.  Maybe I could trade them for something better later on.   The next three houses made up for it with miniature candy bars. 
Two streets later, I was having a record night.  At this rate, my plastic pumpkin would be so full I’d have to dump it before I was halfway through.  This had to be the best Halloween any kid had ever had in the history of trick-or-treating. 
And then it happened.  Don’t ask me why.  In all my years of trick-or-treating with those cheap, plastic costumes, all those year when I had pants on underneath, it never happened.  Not once.  Not even close. 
But this year, the one and only year I was, shall we say, underdressed, it did happen.  Yep, you guessed it.  My costume ripped.  Right up the inside of one leg and right down the other. 
“Uh, mom,” I said. 
She gasped, literally gasped I tell you.  Talk about shock and awe.  Her face went as white as my all too exposed briefs.  I can still remember her whisking me away to the car like the secret service did when Reagan was shot. 
Man down!  Man down! 
“Why aren’t you wearing pants?” she screamed. 
“Pants,” I said.  “No one said anything about pants!”
Once my dim-witted brain put two and two together and I realized the catastrophic inappropriateness of my predicament, I was mortified.  It was like those dreams you have when you show up at school in your underwear.  Only this was no dream.  It was a living nightmare.  Halloween was ruined.  I would never trick or treat again.       
 Or so I thought.  There’s a great thing about moms.  They have a knack for taking the worst situations and turning them into something good.  We went home and my mom threw together a new space warrior costume out of stuff we had around the house.  And the best part?  She let me hit all the houses I’d already visited in my new disguise.  I felt like I was getting away with the crime of the century.  Suddenly the whole thing didn’t seem so bad. 
One thing I learned that night is that eight year-old boys would gladly endure public humiliation for extra candy and for the chance to pull one over on the neighbors.  The other thing I learned is that no failure is final.  No matter how devastating the circumstances of my life may seem, there’s always the opportunity for a fresh start.  I would go on to discover, in fact, that there’s a God running the universe, who is an expert at new beginnings and second chances. 
There are days when my best laid plans tear at the seams like chintzy Halloween vinyl, days when I’m shamed by own foolishness, days when I think I’m just done.  Those are the days when God is waiting to pick me up, repair the damage and put me back in the game, and just like the Halloween of 1980, the second time around is always better than the one before. 


Unhandy Manny

Last fall I tried to tile my bathroom, not exactly an easy job for an amateur.   To be honest, I’d be lucky to tile a Scrabble board.   The project ended in total disaster, so I had to call in Miles who work with tiles (no kidding) to come and save the day.   If the opposite of a handy man is an unhandy man, that would be me, Unhandy Manny.  All of my hard work had been totally pointless.  I was completely exhausted with nothing to show for my effort except a bill and a sore back.

I’ve come to expect this when it comes to home improvement, but it’s really frustrating when this happens in other areas of my life. 

Have you ever found yourself in a season where you’re exhausted, but you just can’t seem to get anything done?  It’s like no matter how much you work, you feel like you’re just treading water. If you’re like me, maybe it’s because you’re running ahead of God. 

Unless the Lord builds the house,
its builder labor in vain . . .
In vain you rise up early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat-
for He grants sleep
to those He loves.
 Psalm 127:1-2

Whether I’m working at my job, on my friendships or on my home life, there are times when I’m really taking time to let God lead me.  I’m carving out time to ask Him, “What next?” and to trust His timing.  I’m letting Him empower me to do life. 

Other times, not so much.  Other times, I’m just busy.  I hate busy.  Busy kills my soul, and ironically, I don’t get nearly as much done as when I slow down and invite God to lead my day.  I guess God is kind of like Miles who works with tiles, an expert craftsman who comes in and bails me out when I’ve reached the end of myself.

Time To Dance

Recently, I participated in one of the great rites of daddyhood, watching my daughter’s first dance recital. Totally uninhibited, she and the other “budding ballerinas” frolicked, jumped and twirled to the Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea.” After months of rehearsal, they did what any preschooler would do — whatever they wanted. At times the choreography went right out the window as they simply played to the music.

Sure, they didn’t hit every step they were supposed to, but, of course, none of us cared. We were swept up in the joy that gushed from the stage.

They had the entire auditorium eating out of their hands and no one more so than me. When Emma came off stage, I gave her a dozen red roses and told her how beautifully she’d danced.

But imagine if my reaction had been different.

Imagine if I’d yelled at her for all of her missed dance steps, if I’d corrected every mistake and told her how disappointed I was that she hadn’t danced flawlessly. What if I’d berated her for not being as skilled as the teenage dancers who followed her act?

Of course, I wouldn’t do that. What kind of father would? And yet, isn’t that how we often think of God? A critical heavenly Father who we can never please? A taskmaster who is constantly disappointed with our every misstep? How many of us believe that God even likes us? That, in fact, He loves us and sees us with the same eyes of grace as a dad watching his preschool daughter dance?

I wonder how differently I would dance the steps of my life if I were convinced of God’s absolute goodwill toward me. I know this fact in my head, but some days it just doesn’t make it to my heart. What would change if I truly believed that my life is a performance for an audience of One, and that this one person completely adored me?

Other opinions and criticism would melt away. I would laugh freely, give generously, risk fearlessly. I would dare great acts of goodness. I wouldn’t dwell on failure. I wouldn’t obsess about the future. I would simply dance with joy.

Do you hear that? It’s applause. And it’s for you. It has nothing to do with your skill, your achievement or even your moral perfection. It’s coming from a Father who delights in you.

So, what are you waiting for? Now is your time to dance.