Rituals – we are a people of habit!

We all must admit that we do the same things everyday in the same way. It gives order to our lives that can seem chaotic, and gives us a sense of comfort as the familiar always does. The way we brush our teeth, for example, is a ritual in which we follow the same motions day after day.
For those of us who make coffee in the morning, there is a flow of movement that, if interrupted, can result in the inability to proceed and we must start over. Filling the pitcher with cold water while putting the filter in the basket and adding the scoops of coffee grounds – timed perfectly to the second that the pitcher is full and ready to pour. If this is interrupted for some reason, we were so unaware of our flow of motion that we can’t remember how to pick up where we left off – at least, not without a massive amount of concentration . . . which we cannot produce first thing in the morning without our coffee.
I have rituals on my mail route that keep me going. I have a house at the end of a street where there is a little fake deer under a small tree. (I believe there is a certain mentality that goes along with people who put not-so-real-looking deer in their yards, but that’s another blog.)  Each time I swing past this spot I say aloud, as if surprised, “Oh! A deer!”  The irony of this escapes one if you did not know that, at any given moment, I can pretty much look out the windows of my own house and see deer eating, deer sleeping, deer pooping, and yes, playing. “Where the deer and the antelope play . . ” (No buffalo roaming, of course.) I have fake flowers everywhere because they eat all the real ones every year. They even pull the fake ones out of the ground and out of my flower pots to make sure they’re fake. I wonder, if I put fake deer out there, would it keep the real ones away?
When I stare in the mirror to tweeze my eyebrows, my mind goes to the Dairy Queen in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. I have no idea how this came about, but I noticed it several years ago. I start tweezing and I find myself in line, waiting for a chocolate dipped cone or a hot fudge and caramel sundae . . . and then I head downstairs to the freezer and have a bowl of ice cream. This has brought me to the conclusion that I should not tweeze my eyebrows when there is ice cream in the house. It’s one of my many diets. So if you notice my eyebrows looking bushy, instead of pointing it out to me, ask, “Have you lost weight?” . . .
When I am vacuuming, I will run over a piece of string several times, from different angles, pick it up to verify what it is, and then put it back down to give the vacuum another chance to get it. Why???
When I get ready for company, I put everything that’s sitting ‘out’ in a box and stuff it in the closet. (This is a confession) There are boxes of papers that I haven’t gotten to in years. They whisper my name in the night sometimes and keep me awake. If I die in my sleep, who will go through them? And will they cuss me the whole time?
What is it that keeps us from throwing away the un-necessary stuff that fills our closets and outbuildings? After all, I didn’t live through the great recession! Do I really think that, during the apocalypse, I’m going to be rich because I save all those old knives with broken handles, magazines, (with pictures of real trees! Think: Water world!). That I will be the only person with 10 cases of water in my basement and enough cans of Bushs baked beans to fuel our vehicles for a year? Need I mention how many people will seek me out for my baskets of un-matched socks??
“Please Mum, me children ‘ave no socks cause I don’t ‘ave any broken knives to hunt with so’s I can earn money to buy them.”
Of course, in the meantime, they make great sock puppets with which to entertain my grandchildren, whom I never get to see because I’m working full time . . .  and on my days off, I don’t have time to make sock puppets because I have boxes of paper in my closets that need going through.
These are the struggles that fill up our ordinary days. This is life happening while we’re making plans. I have plans to go through all those boxes. . . but not today. Right now, I’m just going to look out the window for inspiration.

“Oh! A deer!”

Guilt and punishment.

I should be cleaning house, but I was prompted by looking at this month’s calendar verse, to stop and think of all that this Easter weekend means to me.
“The punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds are we healed.”  Isaiah 53:5
I had my nails done this morning and noticed the sign on the door said they would be ‘closed on Easter’, as is Sam’s, I noted yesterday while leaving the store. These businesses honoring Easter Sunday made me want to ask the Vietnamese woman who was doing my nails if she understood what Easter was about . . . but I didn’t because the place was ‘hopping’ (couldn’t resist) and someone was asking her questions every few seconds, she was the greeter as people came in, “Hello – can I help you?” and there you have it – my excuse for not sharing the Gospel with her. Pretty feeble, huh?
Anyway, the verse reminded me of the guilt we all have for our wrong doings (a.k.a. ‘sin’ ) and the punishment we deserve for it. The problem is, most of us don’t think we deserve punishment and we’re insistent on doing as we please with our lives. “I did it My Way” was a big hit for Frank Sinatra way back when and, no doubt, he did do it his way – but don’t think for a moment that he didn’t walk all over people, leaving his family behind and suffering consequences for all he did. At the end, do you think he was regret free? I highly doubt it.
If we allow ourselves to honestly see the damage we have done to people when we live only for ourselves, the hurt and pain swallowing people we claim to love in the wake of our misdeeds, we have to hang our heads and go somewhere for forgiveness. We need relief from our guilt. There is only One place to go for that, and that is to the One who was punished for all that we did. Sin requires punishment – not in anger, but in LOVE.
I saw a movie many years ago where the main character was an out of control child who used every opportunity to defy authority. In desperation, his parents took him to a home for boys and left him there, asking them for help in setting this young man on the right road. For a moment he panicked when he realized what was going on, but then, his arrogance took over and he decided to show these new people what he was made of. They’d never be able to control HIM!
A  sweet and loving mother figure put her arm around him and told his folks that she could tell he was a fine boy and they would get along just great. Not to worry – all would be well. Then she proceeded to take him around the farm and tell him about all the chores he would be doing, just like all the other smiling young men who greeted him respectfully and went back to their chores. He smirked at those idiots and at his kind tour guide, plotting his first move.
As she explained the chores, she also told him the rules and what would happen if they were broken. “There will be punishment, and we use a willow switch here, but I’m sure there will never be an issue with you – I can tell you’re a wonderful young man.”
Sure enough, as soon as the tour was done, he set about looking for his first rule to break, and lit a cigarette in the barn. Someone smelled it, and in his haste to look ‘innocent’ of the crime, he buried it and started a fire. It was put out quickly, and when things settled down, the woman who had told him the rules went and cut a willow switch. She came back to him and looked up into his eyes with the sweetest, Godly love and said, “Did you understand that there would be punishment for breaking the rules here?”
With a little snigger he replied, “Yes maam!” He was already laughing at the thought of this little woman trying to switch him.
“Do you realize what could have happened if this barn had caught fire and we’d lost these animals? They plow our fields so we can grow the food to feed us all.”
“Yah, I guess so.” Still smirking.
“Well, you’re new here, and I can’t believe you would deliberately do this, so, I am going take the punishment for you,” and she handed him the switch.
He was puzzled as she turned from him, placed her hands on the stall door as if to brace herself and said, “Go ahead, strike me on the back.”
He stood there conflicted, his arrogance dissapating, and his old cockiness out of reach.
“Come on! Strike me!”
He didn’t know what to do! He had never felt this way before!
“Someone has to be punished for this, you know that, so come on!”
He struck her softly.
“Now, David, hit me harder than that! Hit me until you feel that I’ve gotten the punishment you deserve for what you did.”
So he began to strike her harder and harder, and all the anger he felt against himself for all the years he had bullied his parents and others flowed, along with the tears, until he couldn’t raise his arm anymore against someone so fragile and loving who would take this from him.
When he stopped and fell to his knees, sobbing, she turned and held him, and told him that everything was going to be alright.  Punishment had been given and all was forgiven. He now had a clean slate! And she whispered, “I knew, the moment I saw you, that you were worth loving, and that you would fit in here. Now, come and eat the feast we all fixed to welcome you here!”
He looked at her loving face and smiled as he choked out, “Thank you, Grace.”
And so it is with our loving Savior, who looks past our arrogance and anger and sees that we’re worth loving, that we are worth sacrificing for, worth taking the punishment for, and worth dying for.
And when I think of Him getting punished for the awful things I have done in my life, I am broken and humbled that He would do this for me.
What love and what grace. . .