Learning to communicate

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!

Burrito!

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!

Are there pointy hats in heaven?

party hatsEven 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!

Total meltdown

gem-lauris-rk-606993-unsplash“Ok, two minutes.”

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.

A smile!

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.

me and danielAnd 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.

Just thinking about that makes me smile.

 

I was just reading to you

YertleA 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!

Can I have your attention?

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Photo by Loren Joseph on Unsplash

Post-Easter Sunday excitement, wiggles and sugar-hangovers made the Good News Club a little more challenging last week. After a few songs and teaching about the resurrection via the account of the two disciples who met the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus, it was craft and review time. The room divided up by grade to work on a few peel-and-stick crafts and see who could remember a few things from the story that day. Conversation and laughter filled the room, but everything remained under control — except for a few boys in the second grade group. The adult working with that group could have used a few dogs from the herding group to help corral those nine children. I was done teaching for the day so I tapped the four boys on the shoulder and said, “You guys come with me.”

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Kids

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Photo by Christiana Rivers on Unsplash

I never, ever get tired of reading or hearing the story of when people wanted to bring their kids to Jesus and the disciples tried to stop them (Mark 10:13-16). I can just hear the disciples saying, “Get those kids out of here.” And then Jesus says, “Don’t you dare send those kids away. Let them come to me. That’s what this is all about!”

This account resonates on a number of levels. First of all, I think that deep down, we just all want to be kids. We want to be free of all the responsibilities of being adults, to just play and imagine and color. And that’s OK. You get a much better handle on Jesus when you are a kid. You’re not trying to prove yourself or justify yourself. You just look at him with wonder and know that he’s not like any grown up you’ve ever met before. He wants you to hang around, not just go off and play (and be quiet).

I also believe we want to feel his embrace. After Jesus rebuked his disciples and told them to let the children come to him, he took them in his arms and blessed them. With all the uncertainty, violence, politics, prejudice, hatred, jealousy and evil in our world, we just want someone to hold us. We long for someone who can make us feel safe. Who better than Jesus, who loves without boundaries, who provides a refuge from everything that threatens, whose arms can reach and embrace anyone, no matter the distance?

Don’t ever grow up so much that you no longer yearn for the feel of his arms around you. Always embrace your inner child, for that is one of the places where you will best get to know your Savior!

 

 

Look at me!

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Photo by Carlos Martinez on Unsplash

My little friend C. stopped by to see me the other day. With a whopping five-and-a-half months of life under her belt, she has developed quite the personality. When I said, “Hi!” and our eyes met, she flashed a huge smile, kicked her legs and excitedly waved her arms.

But when I looked away for a second to talk to her handler (aka Grandma), I saw out of the corner of my eye that she stopped. When I turned back to her and made eye contact, she smiled and squirmed again. This is my kind of game. I looked away and looked at her over and over again, with the exact same result. She was delighted when I looked but was dismayed when I didn’t.

Reflecting on that brief visit, I thought, “Wait a minute, I’ve played that game before.” We all have. There are times in life when it seems like God has turned away from us, and we’re dismayed. But when it seems like he’s paying attention to us, we’re all giggly and happy. Bad stuff happens and we’re like, “Hey, God, I’m over here.” Good stuff happens and we’re all, “God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!”

King Saul once felt that way. He said, “God has turned away from me and answers me no more” (1 Samuel 28:15). But Saul had turned away from God a long time before that. In fact, when Saul said that, he had employed a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel!

Does God turn away from us? Just the opposite. God comes looking for us. Like he looked for Adam and Even in the garden when they were hiding in the bushes. Or like a shepherd who goes in search of a lost sheep. Or Jesus, who shows up in this world to seek and save the lost.

The best reminder of God’s gaze on us comes in the words of the benediction, “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). I hope you’ll never hear those words the same way again, a reminder of God’s persistent gaze upon our lives, so that we can respond with excitement, joy and yes, a giggle!

Note: the picture is not C. She is much cuter!