Caught in a State of Perpetual Rapture
The email subject line read, “Spring is Here!” and that may be true, but it’s not exactly “here” in Chicago. Here in Chicagoland we seriously wouldn’t know it by looking out our windows or stepping outside. In fact even my adventurous white Schnauzer, Fritz, hesitated before going out a few days ago when he heard the sound of sleet hitting the slippery deck. While he’s normally the first dog out, even he preferred the comfort of his kennel to heading outdoors. And who could blame him? Even though the sleet turned to something more like fluffy snow, the temperature and weather conditions here are simply no indication of the change of season that is upon us.
However, I caught a blustering, but inspiring breeze of hope the other day as my husband was going off into another gray morning. With his hot java mug in one hand, he pointed to the ground with his other gloved hand. To my surprise, there outside my front door, in the recently—perhaps only momentarily—thawed ground was a true sign of Spring—blades of green had pierced through. Excited by the sight, but not convinced, I donned a warm jacket and raced out to further inspect the yard. Sure enough, there were more signs of green gracing my garden. Surrounded by the dead and the dreary—-hyacinth, daffodil and tulip bulbs were bursting through. The earth gave a collective sigh with me and Hope bloomed, a signal that winter really will be over soon.
This timing couldn’t have been better for me, as I had just received some personal “wintery” news. Physical and financial pressures have taken a toll on my spiritual life lately, and the signs of life in my garden are a pleasant reminder that God is faithfully at work under the seemingly frozen tundra of my life. A blade of green was all I needed to remind me that I don’t always see the full picture. Even though my senses tell me that it IS still winter, Spring, with its Resurrection of Life, is coming. May Patience have its perfect work in me—-SOON.
I love food.
I love to cook it. I love to watch others cook it. I love to buy fresh ingredients, relishing their vibrant colors, savory or sweet scents, and delectable flavors. Baked, fried, roasted, salty, sweet, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, American, and Mexican: I love it all. My friends know this. In fact, just recently one asked me for some dinner ideas. I quickly listed Chicken Marsala, Mac and Cheese, Kung Pao Chicken, Fish Tacos. “What are you craving?” I asked. I didn’t think twice about my suggestions.
When my friend and I were teens my response would probably have been something like, “McDonald’s, BK, Wendy’s or Pizza Hut?” (We didn’t have the luxury of Chicago deep-dish in my home town) Those were our four major food groups. The sad truth is that the scent of McDonald’s French fries still calls my name. As quickly as I’ll choose Greek Bakalao or Dolmades, I’ll also pick an Italian Beef and Sausage Combo with fries and a strawberry shake—or chocolate cake shake. (If you live or have lived anywhere near Chicago, I don’t have to say where I’d get that FIX!)
I enjoy this kind of nutritionally lacking food so much that, despite just finishing a homemade green chile casserole packed with peppers, corn, onion, garlic, and mushrooms, just writing about that Italian beef combo made me crave it. Now that’s just wrong, and I know it.
Thankfully, our church participates in a fast that should help me purge myself of my food idolatry. Unfortunately, sometimes it just feeds it. For many of our church members, this fast can be overwhelming. No meat. No Bread. No Sugar. No CAFFEINE. I, however, L-O-V-E the challenge. Of course, my Hispanic background comes in very handy. Brown Rice and Beans—not bad at all! Add cilantro and grated lime zest to the rice, some jalapeños or pico-de-gallo to the beans—and who’s on a fast?
But I am. And by God’s grace, I am actually learning something during this fast , other than great ways to prepare meatless meals. As much as I’d love to say that the lesson came through spiritual contemplation, it came through a video and spiritual contemplation. At the suggestion of a dear friend of mine, I recently watched the movie Forks over Knives. While learning about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, I also had a spiritual health revelation.
I already knew that fast and junk food have a dopamine effect on the brain, but the video explained that they also create cravings for more of the same—even when we have consumed enough. Whole grain, high-veggie meals, however, create an accurate sense of satisfaction. Fast food provides immediate gratification of the senses, but it has little nutritional value and it deceives me into thinking I’m not satisfied and need to eat more.
Not only does a junk food diet make me think I need more, it actually even dulls my taste buds. Just one sugar-free week proved it for me. This sounds trite, but I really can taste pure unadulterated sweetness in vegetables if I skip on refined sugars.
What’s the spiritual lesson? Well, it’s an easy connect. I often try to satisfy my soul with all kinds of junk and fast food (of either the literal or figurative kind), but these things only send my brain messages that I need more. Not only do I not need more of that nutrition-less fare, the truth is that it has no capacity to satisfy me. Only the wholesome Bread of Life, the Manna from Heaven, my sweet Savior can satisfy me. When I spend time with Him, I can verily “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
He, alone, can satisfy the deep need in me.
Now that is food for thought.
In 1984 Pontiac came out with an amazing little sports car, the FIERO. Fiery and red it was the object of one of my many obsessions as a teen. In 1984, my family was attending what has come to be known as a Word of Faith church. “Name it and Claim It” theology, some people call it. I can humbly say that I sure was “naming and claiming” my desire for a Fiero—so much so that I can still see the look on my Consumer Education teacher’s face, Ms. Hanna, as she grimaced-I think just about every time-I opened my “claiming” mouth. I was convinced that God was going to give me a red, of course, Fiero! It was mine to be had and I could envision myself driving it about. In my youth, I was also convinced that I was sharing my faith as I fearlessly proclaimed that I was going to have that very car. People needed to know that God would “give you the desires of your heart”, right? Sadly, I doubt many—no—ANY—people came to the knowledge of Christ’s love through my faith-filled proclamations. Could it be that God doesn’t give us the desires of our hearts? I’m glad to say, that I never took that as the case. Although, I never did get that Fiero, I did eventually learn that while God does often give us the desires of our hearts, He more importantly places His desires in our hearts and then when we are selfless in our desires, He does fulfill His Word. His purpose isn’t to give us EVERYTHING we want—when we want it, it is to fulfill His purposes in our lives.
I can say that He did eventually give me the guitar I always wanted and has blessed me with many of the material things I’ve wanted, but I know that it wasn’t because I “claimed” those things. At the core of the verse, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” isn’t my Fiero or my even the Mini Cooper I’m currently desirous of, but a much greater spiritual good that is “unseen’ to us most of the time.
Faith is really the opposing force of fear. It, along with love, drives out our fears which are at times more real than anything we can hope for. Just as most of our fears are unseen, faith is unseen and it is itself the substance—that which makes up the things for which we hope. It isn’t something that I can tangibly claim to have—or to have more of than others, it is simply a gift that we either choose to accept, or to reject.
When my youngest son was just about 2 years old, he had a severe allergic reaction to the “smell” of peanuts. A good friend and neighbor was watching him for me while I embarked on my teaching career. We were aware that he couldn’t eat peanuts or peanut products, but had no idea that his allergy was actually air born. My friend, who had been a Home Economics (now known as Food Science) teacher, had given her daughter a peanut butter sandwich—and just the scent of peanut butter caused my son to have a reaction that was so severe his face became swollen to the point he was unrecognizable. Some have made light of such reactions on the Hollywood screen, but for me, there is no humor in these almost comical depictions of people whose faces and lips swell. The exterior appearance was far less frightening than the fact that his air passages would have swollen shut had my friend not arrived at the hospital when she did. This allergy ALMOST took my son’s life at 2.
I recall the day as vividly as if it were yesterday and my heart still palpitates when I recall the moment when I opened her mini-van door and saw my sweet boy sitting in his car seat with his face two times its normal size. “Do you want to drive him to the hospital?” she asked. “No” was my response. My initial instinct was to take him and drive him there myself, but I knew we didn’t have the time to swith seats and I also knew that what I wanted to see and what was, were two different things. The substance of what I hoped for was my son looking the way I knew he really was—not in this life-threatening swollen state. I didn’t want to have that view in my rear-view mirror. I wanted to visualize him the way I knew him to be. Thankfully, my son is now 16 and the applications for this life lesson are endless—but key for me was that sometimes we NEED to see things the way they ought to be, instead of the way they are.
All theology set aside, I’ve learned that His love for us is so great that He starts us off with tangibles and then releases us to the intangibles. We spend so much time dreaming up the worst and contemplating on the sometimes unpleasant present, that we forget that faith is the substance of the things we hope for—the evidence of the things we don’t see.
At this stage in life, my worries tend to revolve around things that are much greater than whether or not God gives me a Fiero (or a Mini-Cooper—please God?)—my concerns are about my children and their future, reparation of broken family relationships, the well being of friends and family members who are going through diffiicult times, transitions and are dealing with loss, financial stress, the “c” word and even war. Through these stressful times, it is most difficult to focus on the unseen answered prayers—on peace—on perpetual rapture—where we are caught up in what He is doing, rather than what has been done and is going on at the moment. Yet, it is these times we must recall the times when God did answer simple material needs to show us that He does care and will provide for our spiritual needs of strength and faith when it seems there is no hope.
(By the way, the Fiero turned out to be somewhat of a lemon—Who knows? Maybe they’ll come out with a new and improved Fiero—then God will give it to me!—nah-I’ll take the Cooper!)