Don’t Anther

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“The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn’t been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don’t anther.”  

Ogden Nash, “The Panther”

I wanted to worship.  I wanted to sing to the King of Angel Armies, the One who wins battles for us.  Instead, Ogden Nash’s panther was inside my head, mocking me. To my knowledge, Ogden Nash was not a curator of Biblical knowledge.  “Go away!” I screamed (silently) at the disturbing phrase rolling endlessly in my head.

“Don’t anther… don’t anther… don’t anther!” the voice chortled gleefully, ignoring my commands.

“Why won’t this go away?” I asked no one in particular, grinding my teeth in frustration.  Worship seemed out of the question.

“Don’t An-ther… don’t AN-ther… don’t ANTHER!”

Wait.  There might be something to learn here. I bludgeoned through the noise in my head until I could find the memory.

Since we signed papers for a new faith venture, we’d been body-slammed by a swarm of mosquitoes:  exhaustion, viruses, crankiness, allergies, insomnia, arguments, email fails, tax surprises, software glitches, browser nonsense.  The toothpaste-tube pettiness of life hooked us, kicked us and left us curled on the floor.

Our faith declaration seriously rattled something or someone, threatening the status quo.  The stalking panther crouched and readied his spring.

Could Ogden Nash have something to say about this assault? Apparently so, as God connected the dots between the King of Angel Armies, the Lord’s battle-ready warriors… and Ogden’s panther.

“Don’t ANTHER!”  Ah, there it is.  The answer in the poem, with a Scripture not far behind. My internal song changed: “The battle is the Lord’s!”  (1 Samuel 17:47)

His, not mine.  God’s armies standing behind my flailing arms, their swords drawn and weapons ready.  I could engage, scream at the Satan-panther, and grab my sword.  I could ignore, run, hide, get out of the way.  Or I could march in a different direction, deftly avoiding the now obvious attack, striding firmly toward what the Lord had directed, and watch the armies of God take all the captives.

Only one thing I knew:  to fight at the Satan-panther’s level assured loss.

“I will deFEAT you,” the panther erupted.   Wide-eyed, I sheathed my sword, kept the panther in my peripheral vision, and kept walking. “Don’t anther…don’t ANther… don’t ANTHER,” I sang, forging ahead with the Lord’s vision.

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January Christmas Trees

My Christmas trees came the other day.

Yes,  I know this is the middle of January, but after-Christmas sales being what they are, our small artificial forest arrived in two very large boxes.

Why, you ask?  The lighted-reindeer herd had been ailing. Their next-door  lawn-ornament friends disappeared in a large moving van one day, along with the garden gnomes.  The gardener drove away, not to be seen again, and our reindeer have not glowed since.  Poor deer, they are resting from their ten-year labors, replaced by orphaned synthetic clearance-rack firs.

We had to try the trees inside, of course.  Five, destined for various lawns, settled in for  testing, by the kitchen island. Several  “Part C” and two “Part B” fit nicely, but one “Part A” lay lonely on the counter. Are not all “Parts A” the same?  I shook my head. That puzzle would wait. The largest tree assembled easily and  we escorted it upstairs to the second floor hallway.

“My friend is coming and I want her to see the last reminders of our Christmas,” I rationalized, putting the “special ornaments’ on spindly branches aching for adornment.  Silver and china and jasperware, the “real” tree ditched my precious orbs from its drying , drooping limbs;  surely this conifer would not despise such antique memory-holders.

Every morning, I startle.  My out-of-place January fir with its porcelain-nativity ornament stops me.  Christmas trees are for December, or perhaps Epiphany, not cold, gray almost-Valentine’s Days. Mid-step I wonder at the symbol unintentionally dropped in my upstairs hall.

The nativity works nicely in December, but I stumble over the Incarnation in January.

At first, I grumble, lurching to avoid branches on my way down the stairs.  Then, remembering, I talk to Jesus.  No longer a baby, He is still startlingly with me. On the way down the stairs, I monologue about my out-of-control schedule.  In the hallway, I’m complaining. By the kitchen, I’m appreciating His company, and by the car, I’m happy for His help with the day.

Later, in my office, I’m not so compliant, but the point remains. The fir is doing its work to re-orient my days. We rearrange our lives for December trees, but Jesus likes to do that every day.  Perhaps I will let my tree stay until Easter.

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Distractions and Eternal Christmases

image courtesy of amazinggraysministry.com

image courtesy of amazinggraysministry.com

Our creative God surprised me that night.

The intoxicating Christmas opportunities drowned out His soft reminders. Parties, people, delights, sweets, baking, making and wrapping filled my days.

All was not well, however. Paradoxically, in the middle of the brightest, most delight-filled season in recent memory, my heaping guilt mushroomed into a dark cloud of separation.  “Surely,” I thought, “surely when I concentrate too much on holiday distractions, God is disappointed.  Yes, He is watching and disapproving my diversions, waiting for me to get this season right!”

To be sure, I celebrated His birth, and celebrated it well, but I felt distant and disparaged. I heard and believed the nagging alienating voices, and the chasm between me and the Holy One grew larger.

Weeks passed, and too many deadlines loomed. Urgent took over important as my internal panic button screamed relentlessly.  Figuring Jesus didn’t care (since I’d gotten myself in this muddle), I considered fighting through the obligations on my own, but my  angst protested too loudly to ignore.  “I can’t do this, God,” I screamed, too frustrated to cry.

And then it happened.  Snow cancelled one event; another plan fell through;  several deadlines postponed.  Finally, able to stop, my anxiety subsided, and that’s when I saw Him, standing right there in the doorway of my imagination, smiling at  the ornaments just barely completed by Epiphany.

Wait!  He was smiling at my distractions??  He nodded, and I knew.  He cared.  He fully intended to walk through that doorway, straight into the middle of my preoccupations.  He wanted to pull up a chair, sit down, and work on my distractions WITH me.

I didn’t expect Him to be right there in all my distracted places –the sunroom of card-making; the dining room of cookie-baking;  the living room of handmade gifts (overflowing with unmet deadlines). But He was there, and He stayed, silently clearing my schedule, erasing dates from the calendar to give me more time.

This is not a Jesus of the Heavenly Encounters. This is a Jesus who comes into my world and changes it.  He is not my spiritual critical parent.  Instead, He chooses to woo me with His help, His care, His attention to the things that matter most to me.

Shoulds disappear, and He covers me with His peace.

Listen, my heart.  This Jesus doesn’t settle for just one celebration of His Incarnation; This is a Jesus of eternal Christmases.  He comes into our world minute by minute, not just calling me to His purposes, but joining me in mine, until we move together to a Bigger Plan.

I look up at Jesus, still unsure, expecting Him to chastise the Martha in me, calling me to “choose the better part” and be like Mary.  Instead, He picks up a dishtowel and walks over to the sink.

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