I get to spend a few hours watching two of my one-year old grandchildren each week. They are both at the age where they notice, investigate and taste everything. They spend all their time discovering new skills, flavors and sounds. They constantly learn new ways of moving, communicating and manipulating. Their lives are best characterized by prepositions: in, out, up, down, over and under.
An hour of watching my granddaughter do that instilled in me a new desire to do the same. Much of my day is familiar, routine and habitual. But it doesn’t have to be. I am certain there are many tastes and smells, motions and skills, sounds and places yet to be discovered. I just need to add a few more prepositions to my day!
Order something different to put in my mouth. Put on some headphones and listen to a different kind of music. Climb up on the roof and see what’s going on around my neighborhood. Get down on the ground and see the world from a toddler’s perspective. Go out of my way to talk to someone I don’t know.
I can’t remember where I saw it, but I clearly remember the sign: “Don’t grow up. It’s a trap!” How true. I’m a little jealous of those who get to be full-time little ones. I’ll have to work hard to let my inner kid out more often. More prepositions. I’ll let you know how it goes.
At some point while raising my childen, a trip to the “corner store” became a special destination. I think we went there as a reward for good behavior, maybe after a good report card, or sometimes combined with a trip to the library. The corner store was nothing more than the gas station convenience store a few miles down the road. At least that’s how it looked through my adult eyes. Why does it have a special appeal when you’re growing up?
Just walk in the door and you’ll remember. It’s aisles and aisles of candy, cookies, soda, icees, chips, nuts, hot dogs, donuts, and ice cream. It’s every treat you can imagine crammed into a very small piece of real estate, practically heaven on earth. Even as an adult, just walk in the door and your eyes are drawn to coffee, beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets, as well as all the things listed above. Like I said, heaven on earth!
These folks know what they are doing. They know that as soon as you walk past all of that on your way to the bathroom, you’ll definitely buy something on the way out. The store won’t make much money on gas, but the profit on snacks and soda is huge.
Yes, these folks know what they are doing. That’s why the Buc-ees franchise will do very well as it moves out of Texas into other states, including my home state of Florida. Before long, we’ll have two Buc-ees within half an hour drive of my home.
Yes, technically Buc-ees is a gas station convenience store, but it is about the size of three Walmart stores. It has all the heavenly treats mentioned above plus clothing, furniture, souvenirs, toys, sporting goods, tools and automotive supplies and more. Though we stopped at Buc-ees just outside of Dallas to fuel up for our ride home, we left with nuts, barbecue sandwiches, some homemade potato chips, kolachis and a tub of chicken salad. And we saw Buc-ee the beaver himself, who was making an appearance at the store. Buc-ees is much more than a convenience store. It’s a destination for a fun family outing. Yes, everything is bigger in Texas, espcially the convenience store.
I remember when a 7-11 was built in my hometown of Ridley Park probably sometime in the 1960’s. We thought that was the coolest thing ever. Imagine, a convenience store open from early in the morning til late at night! You could go just about any time to get milk or bread or soda. And they had Slurpees. They were new and they were fantastic! I don’t know how they made them then and I don’t know how they make them now, but I still think they are delicious.
Just a few years ago, the Wawa chain began building stores in Florida. People here went berserk. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I grew up a few miles from the dairy farm that would become the “town” of Wawa. Back then, life was shifting from having milk delivered to your home in a glass container (now that was convenience!) to going to a Wawa store to buy a gallon in a plastic jug.
As a grown-up, I mostly avoid convenience stores. For me they are a necessary travel evil. Sometimes the bathrooms are clean-ish. But not often. Sometimes the coffee is tolerable. But not often. Sometimes you get to see Buc-ee the beaver. But not often. However, the kid in me is hopeful.
When I arrived at my daughter’s house the other day to watch her boys for a few hours, there was a box at the front door that must have just been delivered. I brought it inside with me and there were puzzled looks because no one remembered ordering anything. Inside was some swag my son-in-law had won at work, a nice perk. Plus – a nice box.
As soon as he unpacked the content of the box, one of my grandsons climbed in and curled up. He almost fit in the box! He then turned it over and hid underneath the box, as if he were some kind of turtle. Then both boys climbed in the box and rocked around like they were in a boat of some sort. It was as if someone had flipped the creativity switch in their little minds and turned an ordinary, reused box into the toy of the year!
And then I had a flashback. Suddenly it was 1990, I was living in Connecticut, and I was taping together all kinds of larges cardboard boxes to form a fort or spaceship or castle for my two older children when they were of preschool age. We fashioned doors from the ends, cut windows in the sides, colored pictures and furniture inside and created a playscape that entertained them for days. I don’t know if they remember that time, but in my mind it’s like yesterday.
Why is it that the container is more fun than the contents? This is a profound question for parents and grandparents who invest a lot in toys for our kids and grandkids. Is it because of the creative possibilities? A single box can be any number of different vehicles, structures or projectiles. Is it because you can go for broke? In other words, if you destroy the boxes, who cares? It was destined for recycling anyway! Is it because they are bigger than you and you can get in them? You can step into an alternate reality if you’ve got a box to play in!
The best box we ever had delivered to our house was about 5 ft. x 4 ft. x 2 ft. It was filled with packing peanuts and…wait for it…a tuba. My son was going to music school, needed a decent tuba and we bought one from the Baltimore Brass Works. They delivered the instrument to our home and dropped it off in front of the garage. I don’t remember what we did with that box or all those packing peanuts. But I’d like to buy another tuba just to take delivery and see the look on my grandchildren’s faces when they see that box and imagine the possibilities!
So I’m learning how to communicate with someone who can’t communicate. I’m talking about my three-week old granddaughter. I’m fascinated by one who can’t speak or understand a word, yet can communicate so much.
Her face, cries and body language effectively communicate discomfort, curiosity, recognition, surprise, anger and contentment. She responds to voice, music, touch, motion, a breeze, and a smile. Without speaking a word, we communicate very well with each other!
In contrast, there are many adults I speak with who completely misunderstand my words. Or sometimes as I listen I have no idea what someone is talking about.
So one of my “blessings du jour” is learning to communicate – from someone who herself is just learning how to communicate! My granddaughter reminds me to watch the eyes, the mouth, the hands and the feet. Those parts of the body speak non-verbal volumes. She also reminds me to listen to the pitch, the timbre, and the volume of the voice. Or the silence. When I pick her up and she suddenly calms down, it’s clear that she just needed to be held. Words weren’t necessary. But human touch was. My nose tips me off to what she needs, too. (And you know exactly what I’m talking about!)
Much of my work as a pastor is communication. I preach the word in season and out of season. I proclaim the excellencies of the one who called me out of darkness into his marvelous light. I’m ready to give a reason for the hope I have. I teach. I listen as a person confesses their sin, and then speak absolution. I have ears to hear God’s word. And I not only call upon him in the day of trouble, but I pray, praise and give thanks.
I am still learning how to do all these things, from someone who is also learning to communicate!
At Good News Club last Monday, we started a new unit called “Jesus: God Who Came to Earth.” The kickoff lesson, was as you might imagine, the Christmas story. Fresh from winter break and right on the heels of Epiphany, it was perfect timing.
We never take for granted that any of the kids have heard any of the bible stories, not even the biggies, Christmas and Easter. I suppose we should never assume anyone of any age has heard those stories. And we should never assume that anyone who has heard them ever tires of hearing them again. I know I never do.
Anyway, we got to the part of Christ’s birth where the angel tells the shepherds that they will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. None of the kids knew what swaddling cloths were, so I explained that it’s wrapping up a baby like a burrito. If you do it well, the baby feels snug and secure and drifts off to sleep.
At the mention of burrito, the room came alive. Everyone wanted to share their favorite burrito. From Moe’s to Chipotle to Qdoba to Taco Bell, everyone wanted to tell me where they liked to get burritos. Every once in a while you strike a nerve, and a disinterested room suddenly erupts with excitement.
I don’t know if I have a favorite burrito restaurant, but I do have a friend who attacked and conquered one of the biggest burritos I’ve ever seen last Sunday at Mr. Pancho in Palm Coast. It was the size of a log you’d toss on a fire on a cold night. It must have weighed at least two pounds. And it must have been delicious, because it was soon just a lunchtime memory.
But I digress. When you’re telling stories, sometimes you hit it and sometimes you miss. When you hit it, it makes it all worthwhile!
Even though All Saints is technically November 1 on the church calendar, we celebrated it in worship today. And since we call it a “celebration,” the children’s sermon wasn’t too hard to put together. After all, if there’s joy in heaven when one person repents, we can celebrate here on earth too. So I gave out pointy party hats and party blowers, those things that unroll when you blow into them.
I knew those things would be fun, I just didn’t know how much fun. I got a big kick for the rest of the morning when I saw all these pointy hats sticking up from the pews as I preached. I also had fun working around them to bless the children who came up for a blessing at communion. Something so simple provided so much entertainment!
So as I reflect on the day, here’s my question: are there pointy party hats in heaven? On the one hand, one might immediately answer, “Of course not. That would be silly.” On the other hand, if the kingdom of heaven indeed belongs to little children, they may just bring their hats and noisemakers with them! I can so picture Jesus wearing a pointy party hat with the kids.
While we have little hints here and there throughout the bible of what heaven will be like, we’re not really going to know what it’s like till we get there. But I’m absolutely certain that when I breathe my last in this life and take my first breath in the next, if I see pointy party hats, I’ll know I’m in the right place!
That’s all I said. That’s all it took. Suddenly, my grandson fell to the ground, let loose a long, agonizing wail, and would not accept the truth that we were leaving the fast food restaurant play ground in two minutes.
This caught me off guard. A two-minute warning was usually well received. I had never seen such a reaction. I know he was just getting over a cold and wasn’t 100% yet, but this was over the top.
Later, I wondered — what makes me melt down like that? We all have our moments. Most of the time we are well-behaved, composed, and in control. But all it takes is one look, one comment, one request, and we can lose it, too. We may not scream, but we’ll certainly feel like it.
I did a little soul-searching and came up with the one thing that makes me melt down, at least on the inside. (When you are an adult, you learn how to stuff your feelings and make everyone think you’re doing just fine.) It’s when someone asks me to do just one more thing that I don’t consider to be part of my job description, but is a request that makes perfect sense to them.
I know, I have to explain. Here’s a good example. Someone who has no connection with the church whatsoever calls to ask me to perform a religious service for them, like a wedding or a funeral or a baptism. Or someone is concerned about their adult child who has never really shown much interest in the church, but perhaps I talk some sense into them because they are making bad decisions. Here’s another — someone has a great idea for ministry that they think I should implement. Will they help? Not a chance.
Those are just some of the moments when I just want to say, “I’ll be back in a minute,” so I can go outside and just scream at the top of my lungs. I don’t often do that. But I sometimes feel like doing that. In fact, if we’re talking and I step out for a minute, you can be pretty sure that’s exactly what I’m doing.
So I really wasn’t too upset when my grandson lost it. I thought, “I know; I feel your pain.” I’ve been in meltdown mode before. I’ll be there again. I’m thankful that I have a heavenly Father who’s willing to take me by the hand, walk me out of there, and give me a chance to pull myself together. I think there’s a lot of kicking and screaming in the kingdom of God. But he loves me anyway.
I did it. I coaxed a smile out of my youngest grandchild Daniel today. I wasn’t the first to do that, but it was the first time for me.
As I reflect on that, I think it’s pretty amazing. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think smiling is an acquired skill. While we’re born with the muscles to smile, we have to learn how to get the corners of our mouths to turn upwards. And we do! At some point our eyes begin to focus on the face in front of us, a face that is smiling at us, and we imitate them as best we can and just like that, we’re smiling!
I enjoy making people smile. Sometimes it’s easy. All I have to do is look at my youngest daughter and she not only smiles but breaks into laughter. Other folks are harder. Some who hear my sermons, which usually include at least one humorous line or story, will not crack a smile.
What is it that makes me smile? There’s the usual — a funny story, certain bodily sounds, a silly face, puppies, finishing up a task, a package at the door, a check in the mail, a clever idea that pops into my head, finding some money in a pants pocket. When someone smiles at me, it’s hard to not smile back.
And of course, a baby. Even before they learn to smile, they make us smile. And then they learn how to smile from us. Isn’t that amazing.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of holding my newest grandchild, Daniel, just hours after his birth. He was swaddled snugly in a dinosaur-covered blanket, sporting a matching cap. I quickly accepted the offer to hold him and said the first thing that came to my mind. “I was reading a story to you yesterday, remember?”
Less than twenty-four hours before, I had sat down to read one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books to Daniel’s big brother, Elijah. Elijah soon lost interest and galloped away to do something else. But his mom, exactly 40 weeks pregnant with little brother was also sitting on the sofa, slowly rubbing her belly. So I kept on reading Yertle the Turtle, delighting as the precarious tower of turtles collapsed, leaving Yertle with a kingdom of nothing more than the mud into which he fell.
As I chatted with Daniel, I paused to marvel at all the voices I the world that he would recognize. His mom and dad, of course. His big brother, grandparents, and a few aunts and uncles. On more than one occasion, I would stoop down and “talk to the tummy.” Those on the outside would roll their eyes as I asked, “What’s your name?” “When’s your birthday?” and “Whatcha doin’ in there?” I like to believe Daniel merely thought, “Don’t worry, Apa, I’ll let you know soon!”
I like having conversations with little people. Even before they can respond with words, I can tell they are listening very carefully. Sometimes they’ll respond by looking deeply into your eyes. Or they’ll twist their mouth into interesting little shapes. They squint when you blow in their face and say, “It’s windy day!” And sometimes they look excited as you move their legs to make them run as fast as they can or move their arms to make them dance.
I love to read stories to kids, especially my grandchildren. I like to think I’m pretty good at it, too. In fact, I like to believe that story got the show on the road. A few hours after “the end” the contractions began. I think my young audience wanted to see the pictures that went along with the story!