The Five (Million) Second Rule

Life has a lot of rules. Some of them are written down, like the Ten Commandments or the “No Diving” sign at the pool. Others, though, fall into the common knowledge category. Here are some examples:

When in a crowded elevator, look straight forward with gaze slightly above eye-level. Keep your elbows in. And don’t you dare pass gas.

Look both ways before crossing the street. And if you’re vacationing in the UK, look again just to be safe. (Hint: Oncoming traffic will be coming from the right. Winston Churchill made this mistake; you could too.)

If it’s stuck to the bottom of a park bench, don’t eat it. The gum’s pretty color doesn’t change its “ABC” status. In case you missed kindergarten,  that stands for “Already Been Chewed.” Sick nasty.

Finally, there’s the Five-Second Rule. This one really needs no explanation because we all know it and most of us follow it. Although this rule comes with a few possible variations, such as the Three-Second Rule, the Eight-Second Rule, and, in extreme cases, the No-Second Rule. In short, if a piece of food has been on the ground or other unwanted surface for more than __X___ number of seconds, it’s no longer fit for consumption. Or put simply, DO NOT EAT IT. The length of time may vary based on the nature of the food, its level of stickiness, the cleanliness of the environment, the location (i.e., at home or in a public restroom), and other similar factors. But the one underlying principle doesn’t change: Food can become too contaminated for us to eat. Unless maybe you’re from Louisiana….

As the daughter of an anti-pathogen activist (also known as a germaphobe), I observe the Five-Second Rule with strict adherence, oftentimes leaning more toward the No-Second variety. However, occasionally, against my better anti-bacterial judgment, I make an exception. To be eaten by me after contamination, the food must be incredible, irreplaceable, and scrumdidilyumptious. Such an event is noteworthy and rare, like what happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was in Norman, Oklahoma (another rare event, especially for an OSU alum). It was early, and I was leaving the home of my dear friend and former co-counselor Lydia. And I was hungry. Fortunately, though, I had anticipated this moment a few days before while in Stillwater, where I purchased an extra cinnamon roll from Spudnuts.  Since most of the world hasn’t been lucky enough to eat a Spudnut, let me enlighten you about these heavenly pastries. Made from a secret recipe from elves from Germany using potato flour, these donuts don’t just melt in your mouth; they melt your mouth. And to top it all off, they are basically gluten free. Which means that I LOVE them. Unfortunately, though, Stillwater is my closest source for Spudnuts and since I don’t make the I-35 trek very often anymore, my Spudnut encounters are few and far between. However, in a moment of brilliant foresight, I bought an extra cinnamon roll to eat in Lydia’s driveway. And that’s when things got a little “Spud-nutty.”

If I had to wager, I’d bet that 99% of the cinnamon-roll-eating population eats them the same way: From the outside in. I’m no exception to this; I like to eat the outer layers before savoring the ooey, gooey, cinnamon-y center. That morning, I followed this usual pattern with my Spudnut,. I was just about to eat the middle when—BAM!—gravity suddenly cut in.

As if in slow motion, the center of the Spudnut slipped off the remaining outer shell and fell from my hand. Desperately, I reached out to save it, but in my frantic state, I only managed to redirect its fall (and get icing on my arm). Heartbroken, I looked down, expecting to see the ooey, gooey object of my longing covered with countless nasty things from the floorboard. But then I found it! Instead of falling to the land of the No-Second Rule, the Spudnut rested in the space between my seat and the door, miraculously not touching anything disgusting. After close examination, I declared it worthy of consumption, and I enjoyed the last bite of my Spudnut cinnamon roll. Mmmm, delicious. Then a thought interrupted my moment of glucose-induced bliss:

God has no Five-Second Rule.

At first glance, that may seem condemning. “Of course,” you might think, “God is judgmental and angry, like a dad I can never please. I’ve messed up so many times; there’s no way He would ever want me.” But that’s not the point at all. No, quite on the contrary. God doesn’t have a Five-Second Rule; He has a Five-MILLION Second Rule!!!

You see, God loves you. Even though you’ve messed up. In fact, the Bible says that God proves His love by sending Christ to die for us while we were sinners. He doesn’t look for people who are perfect; He’s not interested in the trophies in your case or the zeroes at the end of your paycheck; He wants you.  Exactly as you are. No matter what you’ve done. No matter where you’ve been. If you have Jesus Christ as your Savior, nothing, I repeat nothing, can separate you from His love. It’s too unwavering, too unconditional, too unconventional and too unrelenting. You may feel like squished pea on the floor; even if you weren’t stuck to the ground, no one would want you anyway. But that’s not how your Heavenly Father sees you. To Him, you’re the center of the cinnamon roll, the most important thing on His plate, so to speak. He cares about you more than you can even imagine, and He isn’t going to let you go. So quit running away, quit making excuses, and quit buying into the enemy’s lies and run. Run to Him. Cry out to Him. Ask Him to pick you up again.

And when you do, you’ll see something amazing: He’s been holding you all along. 🙂

A Glimpse of Grace

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Grace.

One of those Christian-ese terms that you often hear at church or in worship songs. While most Christians would tell you that they know what grace is, they probably wouldn’t be able to explain it. Why not? Because most of us have a vague idea about grace, but we don’t fully grasp it. After all, articulation is the litmus of comprehension. In other words, if you can’t explain a concept to someone else, you don’t really understand it.

When it comes to grace, I generally fall into the perplexed category. Although I wouldn’t call myself the governor of the “state of confusion,” I definitely have a local address, especially regarding grace. That’s because grace is more than just a far-off theological term or a prayer you say before chowing down. Not only is grace an integral part of the Gospel and, but it also plays an essential role in our lives. And that can make it difficult to grasp. Like a zoomed-in camera lens, we find ourselves too close to see the entire “grace picture.” Sometimes, though, God hoists us on His shoulders, giving us the bird’s-eye-view. In these moments, we catch a glimpse of grace. For me, Wednesday April 18th held one such moment.

For a week and a half, I’d been denying the existence of my combined sinus and ear infection, hoping that it would get bored and leave me alone. But finally after twelve hours of difficulty in swallowing, I broke down and went to my local Walgreen’s Take Care Clinic. Here the kindhearted nurse practitioner Shelley took care of me (no pun intended) and told me that, yes, I did indeed have a sinus and ear infection (Note: When infected, your eardrums look bloodshot. Weird, huh?). After fifteen minutes of friendly conversation and symptom checking, she sent me happily on my way. She even called in the prescription at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, so I could pick it up on my way home. Wonderful.

Looking at my watch, I realized that I was within the 2-4 p.m. Sonic happy hour, so I treated myself to a strawberry Limeade. Then I remembered that I had wedding gifts to purchase. Since Target was conveniently located right behind Sonic, I dropped in. Ten minutes later, I strolled up to the nearest register with an 8-pack of Sterilite mixing bowls and a set of four glasses in hand. My mission was almost complete.

Then my sweet cashier, bless his heart, offered to bag my gifts. No sooner had I said, “Sure,” did I hear the sickening thud and clank of the glasses, in their box, hitting the linoleum floor. More striking, though, than the sound of my purchase colliding with the ground was the expression on my cashier’s face. I could almost feel his heart sink as he quickly picked up the box to survey the damage. That’s when I noticed his “New Team Member” sticker where his name tag should have been. Poor kid. I drop things all the time. What if it were my first day on the job? Dropping a set of four glasses would have been my greatest fear. And that’s exactly what he did. Together we opened the box and checked all the glasses: Not a mark on any of them! Hallelujah! Smiling, I told him not to worry about it, that I would still take the glasses. He sighed with relief.

Thirty minutes later, I walked out of Wal-Mart, antibiotic in hand, and slid into my little red Volvo. As I started to back out of the parking space, I noticed a man in my rearview mirror. He was signaling me that I was clear to go. Normally, I am an incredibly cautious and competent driver. I’d never been in an accident; I’d never hit anyone or anything. But as I watched him motion me backward, I must have gotten distracted because, before I knew it, I heard the sickening sound of impact. My fender had just sideswiped the bumper and wheel of the car next to me. Shoot. And as if that weren’t bad enough, the traffic-director man then said, “That’s my car.” Double shoot. Every time I enter or leave a parking space and the car next to me has people in it, I hold my breath because I’m terrified of hitting them; it’s my greatest parking-lot fear. And that’s exactly what I did. Needless to say, my heart sank.

The next few minutes were a blur. He rushed over to examine his car. I called my mom to ask about insurance. His wife and newborn baby appeared from inside the store. As I was simultaneously trying to explain the situation to my mom and offering profuse apologies to them, the man and his pretty wife looked closer at the damage. The red mark from my Volvo came easily off the hubcap, and only a small paint scratch remained on the vehicle itself. When I asked if they wanted my insurance information, they said that a claim would only raise both our rates, and a paint scratch wasn’t worth the trouble. I gave them my name and number nonetheless and told them to contact me if something changed, but they told me repeatedly that it was fine and I didn’t need to worry. It wasn’t until after I’d backed out successfully and moved into an empty area that the tears began to fall.

Grace. In the span of sixty minutes, I’d given it and received it. And began to better understand it.

If asked, most Christians would probably define grace as “getting something you don’t deserve,” like a gift. And while I think that definition holds true to an extent, it also falls pitifully short. It fails to capture the emotion, the will and the heart behind it. Grace isn’t like purchasing a wedding gift or a birthday present, which is a one-time, semi-obligatory display of kindness. No, it’s a conscious decision, driven by compassion, to tell someone that it’s okay, that they are okay, and that they don’t have to worry because everything is going to be alright. It’s the choice to give a smile instead of a reprimand, a hug instead of a slap. It’s unexpected. It’s unwarranted.  It’s completely contrary to human nature. And that’s exactly why when Jesus calls us to be ambassadors for His Gospel, He wants us to be agents of His grace. Mercy triumphs over judgment, and God’s grace saves us.

Which I guess makes it pretty darn “amazing.” 🙂

Here’s to YOU…

Grocery store baggers, gas station employees who refill the soda fountains, mailmen and paper delivery boys, the lemonade sellers at baseball games, Walmart greeters, all paleontologists, the inventors of “As Seen on TV” products, Jon Voight, the on-call technical support staff for computer companies, the Big 12 Conference, and stenographers: This blog is dedicated to you. In honor of everything you do that goes unnoticed, in recognition of your tireless behind-the-scenes work, we salute you. Your efforts do matter, and you make a difference in so many lives. On behalf of the countless masses who reap the fruits of your labor, I would like to say “thank you.” … So, thank you.

However, these workers aren’t the only ones left out of life’s “love bombardment.” And so for this reason, I would also like to thank everyone whose jobs make them not only under-appreciated but also “over despised.” That’s right; this is a shout out to all IRS workers, to customer service people, especially those who work at “return” counters after Christmas, lawyers, insurance agents, used car salesmen, concert security staff and all bouncers. To anyone else who experiences animosity because of their job, I’d like to thank you for taking one for the humanity team. We may not always like you, but we really do appreciate you.

Although that introduction was meant to be funny (laughter lengthens life spans, right?) I wasn’t being sarcastic. I truly do want to thank all of those people who work so hard yet so rarely get noticed. Everyone deserves appreciation because everyone matters. Unfortunately, though, people with lower-profile or highly-hated jobs don’t often receive gratitude. This blog is for you.

You may feel alone in your crappy position of employment, you may feel as if you’re the only one who doesn’t get “the love,” but you aren’t. In fact, thousands of years ago lived a group of people who knew exactly how you feel. They lived in a time when people still “killed the messenger” (literally), and their messages were rarely pretty. They were hated, despised, scorned, kicked out, ridiculed and persecuted. They came from all walks of life—from farmers to fig planters—but they all walked the same path. In an era when popular opinion mattered, they won every anti-popularity contest. Underpaid and over-hated, these individuals understood under-appreciation in all its lack of glory. And yet, they stuck it out; they persevered because they knew that not only was it the right thing to do; it was also exactly what God wanted them to do. Who were these brave—and potentially crazy—people? Let’s give a round of applause to….

The Old Testament prophets.

Okay, I know what you’re probably thinking. The prophets? Really? Of all the people to celebrate, why in the world would I choose them? I understand your confusion because, to be honest, not long ago I would have agreed with you. But then I spent a week learning about these sixteen men, and I finally see how awesome they are. And now I’d like to share their awesomeness with you.

Normally, the prophets don’t get much attention from people like you and me. They have funny names that are either impossible to spell or pronounce—or both. (Who in their right mind would name their child Habakkuk? Seriously.) If for some reason you’ve ventured into one of their books at the end of the Old Testament, you likely discovered the second reason that they get overlooked: They use strange language. (Fruit baskets, fig trees, and adulteress wives don’t usually come up in typical dinner conversation—unless maybe you’re on Jersey Shore.) And if the names and the images didn’t deter you, the contents probably will. (Why should the little kids in Edom be murdered? And where the heck is Edom anyway?) For all these reasons and plenty more, most people avoid the prophets like the plague. (Pun intended: Prophets sometimes predicted plagues.)

I generally fall into this category, preferring a Pauline epistle or one of the Gospels to a bizarrely named book with wacky metaphors and seemingly outdated predictions. But having studied them last week at the Kanakuk Institute, I discovered a whole new appreciation for this under-appreciated Bible genre. And while I wouldn’t run for president of the “OT Prophets Appreciation Club,” I get who they were, what they did, and why they matter today. And that’s what I’d like to share with you. 🙂

The prophets were special people sent by God to deliver specific messages. All in all, there were sixteen of them, and they wrote a total of seventeen books to a variety of audiences, including the northern kingdom Israel, the southern kingdom Judah, and some of their enemies (i.e. Edom). Although their specific circumstances were different and their individual messages and audiences varied, the prophets shared one common theme: God’s call to repentance and His perpetual offer of hope.

You see, God loved His chosen people. He called them to be different, special, and set apart. He wanted the best for them, and He knew that this could only be found in a relationship with Him. Like a loving husband, He desired with all His heart that Israel, His bride, would be faithful to Him. He created them, and He alone could satisfy them; He alone could be their God. But Israel wouldn’t listen and instead chased after other gods, making idols and rejecting their one true Love. However, God wouldn’t let them go so easily, so He sent the Prophets to give them this message: “Return to Me! I am the only One for you!” Despite their unfaithfulness, God was still faithful to them. However, the people rejected the Lord and His messengers, turning instead to their new gods and the rulers who told them what they wanted to hear. And because they wouldn’t listen, God let them be taken to captivity, first by Assyria and later by Babylon.  But even this punishment was out of love, an effort to get their attention and bring them back.

2000+ years later, God’s message is still the same. He created us, He loves us, and He desperately wants a relationship with each of us. He knows that He alone can satisfy us, that He alone can make us complete. Yet we run after lesser things, making idols of jobs, success, relationships, money—we chase after everything but Him. Although He may not send men with funny names to talk to us, He still got our attention by sending His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophets’ message, the ultimate picture of God’s undying love for us. Even if we already know Jesus and already have Him as our Savior, we can still imitate Israel. We can still chase after other things but Him; however, He remains faithful despite our constant unfaithfulness. The circumstances of our lives, the emptiness we may feel, the struggles we face—even the words of the OT Prophets—all point us back to Him.

So just like Israel, we too have a choice to make—not just once, but all the time. Are we going to run away and make our own “broken cisterns that can’t hold water?” Or are we going to run to Him who is the Spring of living water?

Whether you’re a grocery store bagger, an IRS worker or Jon Voight, the choice is yours. And every time you choose the latter, know that sixteen funny-named guys (and one normal-named girl) will be cheering you on. 🙂