Tooth or Consequences

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Don’t tell my dentist, but I am a complete fraud.  I do not floss.  Never have.  Never will.  It’s not that I don’t want to or don’t see the value in it.  I just lack the discipline to make it happen more than three days in a row.  At that point I get busy or distracted and the wheels completely fall off the bus.

However, despite this flagrant floss-free lifestyle, the day I go to the dentist I always floss.  Always.  Sometimes, when I see it pop up on my calendar, I may even swing it a day or two in advance.  Why is this?

First of all, I don’t want anything exceptionally large, like a side of bacon, to fall out from my teeth during the cleaning.  Dental hygienists frown at having to pick up slabs of meat from the floor.  Second, I don’t want to get yelled out for not flossing.  I have enough guilt over all of the other healthy stuff I’m not doing and don’t need to add more shame to my list.   Finally, I’m embarrassed that I lack even the smallest modicum of discipline to develop a habit that will save me pain and money down the road.

So, the day I go to dentist, I perpetuate a charade and try and bluff my way through my exam.  But here’s the thing, who do I think I’m fooling?  It’s not like the hygienist doesn’t see a hundred mouths like mine every month.  She knows who flosses and who doesn’t.      The evidence of neglect gives me away every time.

The same thing is true in my spiritual life.  When I neglect the daily care of my soul, it shows.   When I’m prayerless, I stress out on people, especially my wife and kids.  I’m abrupt.  Easily annoyed.  When I’m not reading the Bible, I tend to worry too much and see worse-case scenarios around every corner.   When I’m not serving people, I grow self-centered and put too much stake in my own personal happiness.

Without these tiny acts of discipline, the gunk of selfishness tends to settle into those hard-to-reach areas of my heart, eventually leading to decay.  Sure, I can put on a happy face, shoot up a careless prayer every once in awhile and crack open a Bible when I know other people are looking, but spiritual neglect gives me away every time.

I cannot fake friendship with God.  I cannot fake maturity.  I cannot fake character.  I can only receive these things as gifts of grace given to me as I take the baby steps that lead to a healthy soul.   And in the seasons of life when I don’t take these steps, there’s no point trying to fake it.  Jesus already knows when I’m a mess.  But when I’m honest with God, that’s when He finally has room to work, drilling out the bad stuff and filling up the holes that no one else can touch.

(Image: ‘Dentista – 062/366‘, http://www.flickr.com/photos/38208449@N00/6947235051, found on flickrcc.net)

The Mannequin Incident

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Sometimes I just don’t know what my wife is thinking.  Leaving me alone to watch a preschooler in a clothing store?  That’s just poor discernment on her part.   I really think the property damage was completely her fault.

The problem all started when we walked into Old Navy last weekend, and my seven-year-old had to go the restroom, which is tucked away in the back of the store.  In the meantime I thought I’d scope out the shirts near the front entrance because I enjoy fine clothing that costs less than five dollars. My four-year-old, Kate, decided to stick with me.  It had nothing to do with my company.  She just wanted to play with the mannequins. When you walk in the door at our Old Navy they have a whole family of mannequins on display, a mom, dad and kids of various sizes.  The smallest one is the exact same height as Kate, and from her perspective, she’s just a giant American Girl doll. As soon as her Mom was out of ear-shot, Kate asked, “Can I go see the little girl?”  No problem, I thought, this will buy me a few minutes to look at t-shirts.  What could possibly go wrong? So, I started browsing while trying to keep an eye on Kate.  At one point I realized I hadn’t heard a peep out of her in awhile.  Never a good sign with a preschooler.  When I looked up, I spotted her wrestling the tiny mannequin.  It looked like she was trying to hold up a drunk.  She’d somehow pulled it off its stand and couldn’t get it back on. I went over to try to rescue her, but things just went from bad to worse.  When I tried to pick up the mannequin, I somehow ripped off its head and sent it rolling across the floor.    I’m not even kidding.  Do you know how loud a mannequin head sounds rolling across tile? For my follow up act, I grabbed the mannequin again and yanked off an arm.  The remaining pieces crashed to the ground. In a period of ten seconds I’d unleashed total chaos on Old Navy so I did the only thing I could think to do.  I threw my daughter under the bus. “Honey, what did you do?” I said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.  I’m not proud of it, but that’s what I did.  Chalk it up to a cowardly gut reaction. She looked at me in disbelief as if to say, “Me?  I didn’t do this!” You ever notice when things go wrong, we have a tendency to blame other people, blame our circumstances, blame anything other than ourselves?  This is nothing new.  When God showed up in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, the first thing Adam did was start the blame game. “Don’t look at me, God,” Adam said.  “It’s the woman’s fault.  Remember, the woman YOU put here.” Then Eve said, “Don’t look at me.  It was the snake.  The devil made me do it.” And on and on and on we’ve continued down the same road.  The last thing any of us likes to do is admit our weaknesses or mistakes and apologize for the times we’ve blown it.   Finding a scapegoat is always so much easier than taking responsibility for our own actions. Ironically, the only person who never needed a scapegoat willingly became a scapegoat.  By dying on the cross, Jesus took the fall for all of us, and changed the dynamics of the blame game forever.  When you’ve been forgiven by God, there’s no reason to blame others for your mistakes because your embarrassment and shame have been removed. With that in mind I apologized to my daughter, and we somehow got the dismembered mannequin put back together again.  If there’s one thing this mannequin incident taught me, though, is that when you do something dumb, you might as well own up to it.  After all, there’s no use losing your head.   Image: ‘children inside the spaceship‘ http://www.flickr.com/photos/59525924@N05/6722824353

Found on flickrcc.net

Almost Famous

Over the summer my favorite author came to speak at our church.  I happened to be scheduled to do an announcement that weekend in the service, which I knew meant we would be sharing the same backstage space. 

I could see the danger signs coming from miles away.  This author is a literary hero of mine. I’m a writer.  I bleed books.  I have a tendency to talk too much.  How could this end well?

I was dying to meet him but felt certain I’d blow it one way or another and make a total idiot of myself.  So I told my wife my brilliant strategy – avoid him like the plague.  Better to blow him off than to  humiliate myself with a celebrity encounter gone bad. 

Everything started off fine.  I went to a pre-service production meeting and didn’t see him.  But at the end, when everyone got up to leave, there he was.  I hadn’t seen him because he’d been sitting only two seats away.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was only two seats away from a guy who’d written some of the greatest books I’ve ever read.  

Okay, I thought, what’s the harm?  I should at least say hi.  Fortunately, the weekend producer moved in on him first, monopolizing the conversation.  Just as well, I figured.  Better to stick to the original plan.  That way no one gets hurt or embarrassed. 

If only the story ended there. 

About a half an hour later I realized I’d forgotten to pick up my microphone for the weekend, and on my way back stage I stopped off in a restroom in the back hall.   Just as I finished washing my hands, Mr. Author stepped up to the sink.  So much for avoiding him like the plague.

We were the only two guys in the bathroom.  The only two guys.  I don’t know how things go in the ladies’ room, but men don’t talk to each other in the bathroom.  Not to our friends.  Not to strangers. And especially not to our favorite authors. 

Everything inside me told me to keep my mouth shut and run like the wind.  But then some deluded part of my brain said, “Just introduce yourself.  What’s the worst that could happen?”

The worst that could happen is that once I started talking, I couldn’t actually stop.  Not only did I introduce myself, not only did I tell him how much I loved his writing, not only did I list my favorite books of his by name, but then I began to tell him how I’m actually a writer too and that his writing both encouraged me spiritually and influenced me in the craft of writing itself.  

Believe me, that’s the Cliff Notes version.  I don’t even know if the poor guy had a chance to wash his hands.

To his credit, the author was incredibly cool and gracious and did a great job pretending that he wasn’t totally freaked out by the creepy, stalker fan who had cornered him in the restroom for three and half hours.  Okay, so it was actually just a couple of minutes, but trust me, it felt much longer.

This is why I have a rule against meeting famous people.  What good can possibly come of it?  The way I figure it, our celebrity/anonymous fan relationship works just fine the way it is.  Why mess with a good thing?  They produce stuff I like.  I buy it.  They make money.  Everyone walks away a winner. 

But once I meet them, the whole relationship changes.  Suddenly I’m under all this pressure to create a positive celebrity/fan moment that is ripe with the opportunity for bitter disappointment.  When I’m an anonymous fan, I can pretend that if my favorite celebrities met me, they’d actually like me.  They’d think I was cool and want to hang out.   Once we meet, though, I turn into a stammering moron, making them wonder if I’m off my medication.

Yet by the end of the weekend, my story had a happy ending, and I actually had an awesome conversation with this author about the message he’s given in the service.   Yeah, the bathroom fiasco was painful, but I wouldn’t trade that later conversation for anything.  

It makes me think of stories in the Bible about people encountering God.  It’s one thing to meet a famous person, but to meet the most famous being of all time?  The Creator of the universe and all that is?  People came totally unglued, and rightly so. 

Yet, God has this weird thing about making Himself approachable.  He loves it.  Time and time again in the Bible you see God doing things to make it possible for people to actually have a conversation with Him without completely losing it. 

He even set all of that planet-shaping power aside and took on flesh so that He could come and hang out with His people.  In Jesus, people could talk to God face-to-face.  Touch Him even.  Be held by Him.  All without fear or intimidation.

So many times, I think people talk so much about God that they’re too freaked out to actually talk to God.  Why would God ever want to talk to me?  What if I don’t say the right thing or use the right words?  He seriously knows everything I’ve ever done?  Oh, this is going to be awkward. 

But it’s not.  At least not on His end.  See God’s not into having fans.  He’s more into having friends, children even, children who are always welcome to sit down and just enjoy His company.  How could I ever settle for being a fan, when I have a Father who offers me so much more?