Monday, 29 March 2010

The Colour of Audio

It is likely that you have already heard this story, but unlikely in this form. I'm in process of trying to podcast some of my stories (in my magical spare time...) and though I don't have a fancy space for if just yet, you can now listen to The Lemon's Aide if you click that title. Who knows? You might be getting in on the ground floor of a multimillion dollar storytelling industry. You could be famous.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Healing Touch

Jesus is a very affectionate person. He understands the healing power of a simple, caring touch, and he used it often throughout his ministry. Did He heal physical disease, deformation and disability? Yes. But I think He did much more than that when He made intentional, non-intrusive, personally loving contact with the people he met. Allow me to call upon one such example.

"As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them" (Mark 1:29-31).

This simple interaction between God in the flesh and the flesh of humanity has spoken volumes into my heart today. At face value this story is incredibly short and finite: after church Jesus and His core disciples are walking home, they meet up with Simon/Peter's sick mom-in-law, Jesus heals her and she serves them. But what the account says and what it is saying are two different things entirely. This is an amazing God moment. It is a snapshot of the entire gospel. Did you miss it?

In verses 21-28 of this same chapter we learn that Jesus had just spent the Sabbath morning declaring the Truth from God's word and being revealed as the Messiah/Christ by an evil demon that obediently shut up and left, an encounter which naturally caused a bit of gossip. Immediately after this story Jesus hits the road with his young gang of rabble-rousing disciples and they head over to Simon/Peter's house, for brunch, perhaps. When they arrive, however, they are not met with the customary, expected greeting from a traditionally hospitable Jewish woman. Instead of Simon/Peter's mom-in-law welcoming them into the home with food prepared and places set she is in bed, weakened, sick and rendered effectively helpless by a fever. Catch what happens next; the disciples explain her ailment to Jesus. Whether they were providing a reason to excuse her social offense or whether they were simply alerting Jesus to her situation, his attention is immediately focused on the woman in question. In response to her need, Jesus goes to her. He comes up beside her and takes her hand – unsolicited aide, but the crossed boundary is quickly appreciated. He helps her. Hand in hand Jesus takes this woman’s weight on himself and helps her to her feet. He takes the fever and gives her the support of his arm. He takes her pain and sickness and restores her body to health, simultaneously restoring her heart to a place of natural servitude – the willing sacrifice of a grateful heart.

Jesus pursues a person in need, makes the move to humbly help, offers his strength, takes her frailty and heals her, body and soul, freeing her to serve him back with natural and instinctive love. This is the man I love; this is the God I serve; this is the example I choose to follow.

A hundred times throughout my day I pass people who are living with physical, spiritual and emotional needs. Nearly every time I see one of those people I pass by with little more than a thought in their direction, whether I consider them a stranger or a friend. But what if? What if I choose to stop in the hall and pull them aside? What if I put my life on pause long enough to address the heart issues of others with prayer? What if I took a moment to share the burdening pain and grief that weighs and weakens both mind and body? What if I responded to need with action, even if the only healing I can offer is the simplicity of company and a caring touch, or a hug?

What if we all did?

I’m not necessarily suggesting that you organize a Free Hug campaign. I’m not necessarily promoting public displays of godly affection in every possible circumstance. I’m not necessarily forwarding the idea of a designated room where lovers of God would welcome anyone in want or need of prayerful intersession or encouragement or comforting. But I might be. I’m certainly putting myself to the challenge of Love. I’m certainly advocating that Christians allow Jesus way more room to work miracles through their lives. I’m certainly saying that this world needs a whole lot more of what we can offer.

Take a lesson from Jesus: you don’t have to go very far or do very much to change somebody’s life. Just respond to the need, and Love.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Episode 2: Splattered Dreams

Requested story elements: Angela Hoekstra-Steed; the Paper Bag Princess or Eeyore; a crazy Italian chef called Thomas; no two snowflakes are the same; there was an explosion in the spaghetti factory!

Splattered Dreams

The spaghetti factory in downtown Toulouse had three main levels. When Thomas bought the land for the business his neighbours jeered – the property that he swore would be his sustenance was only thirteen feet square, and so the man was labelled a “crazy” right from the get-go. The benefit of operating in such a small area was that Thomas’ taxes were very low – even for being downtown in such a popular city in France – but the disadvantages were painfully clear from the beginning of his project. And yet, with the blood of successful and very creative amateur businessmen of the past flowing through his veins, Thomas set to work laying brick upon brick until his dream structure had come to be a wonderfully unusual reality.

It was forty feet tall and a perfect thirteen foot square, right to the top. Because of the thickness of the walls (to adhere to the building codes), the interior of the building was only eleven feet and with the elevator taking up a quarter of that available space (as it was the only method of climbing the tower), there was very little room for a business. In spite of this situation Thomas remained a faithful optimist and he made the most of every inch of space he had, manoeuvring a sink and towel rack, a display case for his finished works, a cash register, a place for the cue line and a grand old wooden desk into the “lobby” of the bottom floor, still leaving space under the shoots to work on and package his goods. And now we come to the heart of Thomas’ factory: the shoots.

The shoots extended down from the very top floor and were made of a flexible metal, lined with thick fondant icing. The inner space was about the diameter of a Canadian loonie, and the colourful coiled wire around the outside of each tube indicated what kind of pastas would be coming down through it. The rose-pink shoot was strawberry flavoured pasta, the blue shoot was home to fish flavours (a blend of tuna and cod) and the bright yellow shoot was for the no-fat double-butter flavour, and so on. There were nine different shoots and three that were unidentified (for special requests and large orders). The top floor of the building was the laboratory where Thomas would spend many hours mixing and blending his secret pasta recipes and though no one could definitively say what was on the second floor most speculated that it was used for storage or that it was the bathroom or perhaps that the level was entirely empty. Even now there is some suspicion as to Thomas’ intentions for that mysterious second floor.

Three days before the shop was opened Thomas hired two employees. The first was a young girl named Aoibheann-Rani-Gimbiyan-Ameerah-Sarai Takarda-Jakar; to limit the time it took to address the girl they summarized her name and her job description to “the Paper Bag Princess” and called her Cessie for short. Cessie was responsible for running the till and packaging the products when Thomas was finished with them. The second employee was Eye-Ore (pronounced “Ee-yore”), an unusually stout Irish man who seemed to have glistening pieces of that legendary lucky loot hidden deep behind his pupils of blue. The contrast between Eye-Ore’s bright eyes and his boorish nature was a strong juxtaposition indeed, but Cessie and Thomas were very fond of him and together the trio was fabulously efficient and happy. Eye-Ore worked on the top floor managing the machinery that mix the pastas and making sure that the paste passed without problems through the shoots and down to Thomas and Cessie who resumed production at ground level.

Here our story must jump for a moment to Mrs. Angela Hoekstra-Steed, an avid Walt Disney fan who was in the middle of a European tour, visiting the cities that had characters named after them. She was exploring the Aristocats legacy in Rochefort, Belgium when she first caught wind of Thomas’ business. There was a poster in one of the cheese houses that read “Tu n’ai jamais vu de telle spaghetti dan ta vie!” Although she couldn’t read the French, she understood “spaghetti” well enough and based on the odd little statue in the photograph, Angela assumed that the company was some sort of dinner-and-art-show, which is more accurate than you realize. Toulouse was already on her list of places to stop and with her Belgian adventure wrapping up like a Babybel, Angela grabbed her Eurorail pass and headed south.

Before his adventures in the noodle industry Thomas had been a professional (and struggling) artist. Though his sculptures were indeed beautiful, not many in Toulouse were interested in sculptures of stone or ice. In a stroke of genius he decided to combine his two life-long passions: portrayals and pastas. It was this idea that sparked his entrepreneurial adventure into the world of linguine and penne.

At eleven minutes after eleven o’clock, exactly a week and four days after it’s opening, Angela joined the line of customers in front of Thomas’ store. As the cue moved slowly towards the door Angela began to smell all of the flavours that were pouring out from the shop. You could almost smell the colours of the pastas that were being made inside: green wafts of fresh spinach and deep purples of blackberry filled Angela’s hungry lungs. When she finally squeezed herself inside the tightly packed waiting area, however, she almost forgot her cravings out of sheer amazement. Behind the barrier of the large, mahogany desk stood a young girl with a very long name-tag. She was whirling around with first money then ribbon then long sheets of paper in her hands, quickly wrapping and cha-ching-ing the cash register. Over her shoulder Angela could see Thomas dancing around a tall pedestal-like table with two long shoots in his hand. One moment he was looking to a posted note and carefully taking in the details of an order then he was weaving and folding and shaping the flow of pasta and in the next second he was standing there with a blow-dryer, setting his masterpiece and then handing it over to Cessie who took a photo of it, wrapped and packaged and then sold it to the person who had done the requesting. It was like watching a beautiful clockwork machine whose revealed dials and tinplates and springs are just as fascinating and entrancing as the intricate carvings on its face.

“What can we make you today?” asked the girl with the impossibly long name. Angela had not been paying attention to the shrinking line in front of her. “Well,” she thought aloud, “what are my options?” Cessie smiled broadly – the same smile she offered to every customer – a smile that never seemed to tire in energy or generosity or genuine joy. “There is no limit to the answers I could give you to that question. Thomas’ creations are as different from each other as God’s snowflakes. Reach into your imagination – test your creativity. Really, the sky is the limit!” Angela closed her eyes to think, knowing that there was an unspoken time limit to how long she would be left to search out an idea. “Can… can I have a duckling?”

With a grin Cessie typed “baby ducky” into the register and printed out a receipt on carbon paper. One copy she slid to the end of the desk and the other she tacked up on the wall beside the elevator for Thomas. The slip above hers read “pirate ship” and to her ever-increasing astonishment she looked over to the workspace where Thomas was working on the finishing touches to a perfect model of the Black Pearl, complete with the Jolly Roger and a sour-patch Jack Sparrow. Angela was in awe.

As Cessie took the picture and then walked back to the desk with the edible replica, Thomas took a look at his new order. Looking up at Angela with a smile he reached up to the shoots and took one in each hand – the yellow butter and the orange caramel – and set to work. In a flash he was swooping and pinching, flicking and pulling and wrapping the soft pasta into the perfect shape of a duckling. Thomas guided the noodle in such a way that the little bird’s wings looked tuft with down; its bright orange bill and black dropie eyes creaded the cutest face she had ever seen – the perfect balance of an anthropomorphic smile and a soft, almost plush-like docility. Sooner that she could have believed he was drying it to set the pasta in place and Cessie was wrapping it in thin rice paper, trying it with a liquorice lace that matched the little ducky’s salty eyes. As Angela counted out the coins to pay for her “dinner” and Cessie took her receipt off the wall she noticed with alarm that the form under her “baby ducky” request had only one word written on it: dynamite.

A chill ran down Angela’s back as she handed her money to Cessie. The girl behind the counter was similarly affected and her eyes flicked uncertainly between the cash in her hand and the stranger waiting for his order to be filled. If Thomas had been an entirely sensible sort of man this order would not have concerned anyone (explosive-shaped pasta was a normal enough request, considering the rebellious nature of the French), but Thomas was not an entirely sensible sort of man. Thomas was the kind of person who built a forty foot tall tower with a thirteen foot base. Thomas was the kind of person who put a three-cornered hat on a sour-patch-kid for the sake of authenticity. Thomas was the living definition of eccentric, and Cessie knew it.

When the artistic chef had finished with the duckling and was ready for another challenge, he walked over to the elevator and took a look at the next request in line. Then he took another look. It did, in fact, read “dynamite” and after a moment of processing the paper Thomas calmly washed his hands in the sink, dried them on a towel, walked over to the elevator and pressed the up arrow firmly. Cessie had stopped counting change and Angela had stopped waiting for it back. Both of them – all of them – were staring at Thomas. The doors swooshed open and Thomas stepped inside. When those doors swooshed closed again he left the lobby behind and in a swoosh that startled poor Eye-Ore half to death he appeared in the laboratory holding a small red vial containing a few drops of mysterious red liquid.

“Eye-Ore, I need you to mix this into a special order batch. Be very careful not to touch it. Do you understand? Take the greatest caution. Send it down the third tube.”

The chatter in the lobby died down as soon as the elevator returned to the bottom floor and Thomas came out. He looked at the man in line and locked his gaze. “You want dynamite? I’ll give you dynamite.”

Thomas walked over to his table and took the third blank shoot in his left hand. With his right he grabbed a lazy-susan from under his desk and placed it on the pedestal table. With his teeth he picked up a pair of surgical gloves that had been hanging up on the wall, tossed them up into the air and in a move that is too incredible to describe in detail he slipped them on without even releasing the nozzle. With the tap of a toggle the shoot in Thomas’ hand started to squirt out bright red fizzing pasta. Cessie shot Angela a quick look and both of them glanced towards the young man in line. “I guess I should have asked for a basketball, oui?”

The lazy-susan on the table spun faster and faster as Thomas poured the pasta onto the platter like a potter working with clay. In a moment he had created a dozen cylindrical tubes that varied in size and length. The whole room smelled of sizzling cinnamon and the small lobby was packed with three layers of curious and slightly concerned customers. All were silent. All were waiting.

Thomas reached up above his head and pulled down the yellow and orange and green and purple and blue tubes so fast you could hardly keep up with the waving of his warms and the darting precision of his perfectly coordinated hands. He added lightning bolts and swirls, arrows and polka-dots and flowers so real you could smell them and indeed you could smell them – the whole building smelled of cod-flavoured blackberries, caramelized spinach, strawberries with butter and pickles and scrambled egg all swirled together in a sensory pandemonium overtop a thick cinnamon base that seemed to be growing brighter and brighter every second!

After three moments of chaos Thomas stepped back from his creations. With a shaky hand he took the cork out of a small red vial, identical to the one he had given Eye-Ore only moments earlier with the exception that this vile vial was full. A drop of the liquid fell from the cork to the floor and POPPED against the tile. This was no ordinary food colouring.

Thomas dipped the spaghetti fuses into the vial of liquid. He repeated this process thrice and on the third round he took his hairdryer and set them dry. His audience held their breaths in tense anticipation.

Angela noticed it first but there was not much she could do. Thomas had changed the design of his dynamite sticks and had managed to clock the alteration from almost everyone in the store. He had added cones to the end of each stick. Directional cones. Aerodynamic cones. Her heart nearly stopped. This was no ordinary pasta dynamite. These were rockets and they were already lit. Angela cried out!

“Aoib… Aoibheeee… Aoibheann-Rani-Gim… Girl behind the counter! This place is going to BLOW!”

Cessie gasped but there was no time to do anything else. Thomas, with a wild spark in his eye and a cackle in his throat emptied the remaining contents of his vial onto the pile of explosives and tore open a bag of Pop-Rocks. The customers who were close enough took cover under the large wooden desk and everyone else piled on top of them and plugged their ears, waiting for the bang.


The whole building jumped. Eye-Ore, who had no idea what was happening below, was catapulted from his cushy office chair through the roof and into the next lot (which just happened to be a public swimming pool that was experimenting with Jell-o pudding as an alternative to the traditional water, so the impact didn’t kill him). Inside Thomas’ store was a different story. Cessie, Angela and about half of the waiting customers had their eyebrows singed off but not one of them even complained.

The explosion was the most beautiful sight any of them had ever tasted. By some kind of culinary miracle the spaghetti had cooked to perfection. It was inexplicable and wonderful; a truly sensational phenomenon.

Angela’s hair was filled with pasta but she couldn’t have been happier even if she had actually found Toulouse in Toulouse. It was the perfect finale to her European adventure, and perhaps the beginning of a career in travel writing. When her initial shock dissolved, a sort of wonderment overwhelmed her heart and her senses. She stood up, looked the now bald and beaming Thomas in the eye and began to clap. Soon the entire store broke into applause, giving Thomas a standing ovation and the celebration that began on that day has yet to temper in France. Thomas is a celebrated hero even in local circles as the crazy man with a crazy dream and the courage to take risks to make it happen. He was awarded the Golden Fusilli (the highest honour for Italian cuisine) after only one year in business, which is an unheard of success.

But what was in the vial, you ask? I’m afraid that has become a carefully guarded trade secret. Some say it is an edible nitro-glycerine kept in a vault on the second floor of Thomas’ renowned forty-foot shop, but not even Cessie and Eye-Ore are entirely convinced of that theory. Perhaps it will remain a true secret forever.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Growing Up

His shoelace was dragging on the ground behind him as he trudged up the stairs on his way home from school. "Hey, little man! What did you learn today?"

His Mum smiled down with her warm, steady smile and held her arms open to the little boy in front of her. His mouth was turned down and his eyes were diverted and sad. "Honey, what's wrong?"

"Franklin died today. At recess."

His mother let all of the air out of her body with a long, reflective sigh. She closed her eyes and breathed a silent prayer for her son's little heart. Franklin was a chickadee that the kindergarten class had adopted after an intermediate student found it with a wounded leg, back in the spring. This was the first time that her boy had to face the loss of a life. Slowly she knelt down in front of her son, until they were eye-to-eye. She took the book-bag from his back and set it aside. "How do you feel?"

The little boy dropped his gaze as his lips began to quiver. "Oh, baby. My little man. Come here." She pulled him into a hug, wrapping her love around his five-year-old frame. He accepted and returned the embrace but he did not cry. He was already learning to balance compassion with bravery. Every day she was blown away and humbled by her beautiful man-child.

She leaned back and put a hand on his shoulder. "Mum," he said after drawing in a shaky breath, "do you think Franklin is in heaven?"

Oh the thoughts he could think. She smiled. "Let's find out what Jesus says."

She stood up and walked into the living room, reaching for her big leather Bible and his red-bound children's version and they sat together on the floor in the middle of their thick braided rug - as they always did with questions.

"Let's start at the beginning." Together they flipped to Genesis 1:1, as they so often began their family Bible studies. She read aloud from the first verse until she came to the fifth day, where she paused and pointed to his Bible, lying open on the floor. "Day five. Ready for this?" She read from hers first and then moved to his version, reading slowly and pointing to each word as she went. "'On the fifth day God made creatures to fill up the new oceans and the new skies. He invented all kinds of fish, great big ones and littler ones, and he designed every kind of bird. Then He told them to fill up the world with more swimming and flying animals like them. God blessed his creations and saw that they were good.'" Her son looked up expectantly. "Well," she said, "What do we know about birds from these verses?" She could see the wheels turning in this mind as he thought over the question. "God made birds..." he started, "so... God made Franklin?" She smiled. "He sure did, baby. Let's read another part."

The next passage was already in her mind and although she knew how to find it, she flipped to the back of her Bible and scrolled through the simple concordance under the word bird, teaching with every moment she had. "Ah ha," she said. "Matthew, chapter six. I thought so, but I wanted to double check." She gave him a wink and he blinked back. Again she read the passage from her Bible and then switched to his. "'Take a look at the birds - they do not work hard to plant or harvest from the earth, but your Heavenly Father feeds them. And you are much more important to God than birds are.' This part of the Bible is talking about people who worry and stress out about parts of their lives that they should just trust to God, but it also tells us about birds." She read the verse again. "Not only did God make the birds, but he also takes care of them and feeds them." Her boy looked hurt. "But Franklin died, Mum." "I know baby. Keep going, we'll find His answer."

This was about more than a dead chickadee. This was about all death - the why, the why now, the what after. She needed to take her time with this and explain it right. And bring it back to Jesus. Bring this back to you, Lord, she prayed, guide me through guiding him through.

They flipped to a few more bird passages, talking about the bird that signalled the end of the flood to Noah, and the ravens that God sent to save the Israelites from starving. They looked into all four gospels and noticed that the Spirit of God came on Jesus like a dove, and they read about how God often asked for birds to be part of the people’s worship services and sacrifices – that He favoured them, even over really big animals, because they were considered pure and innocent. “God definitely likes birds,” his Mum concluded. “He created them and He talks about them a lot! But that doesn’t really answer our question, does it?” The little boy shook his head, but not sadly. He had forgotten most of his sadness with the excitement of learning more and digging in to a challenge, very much a trait of his father, but he was not yet satisfied.

“I have a question for you now,” she smiled, a little wryly. “A bit of a test from Sunday school and from all the other times we have sat down. What does the word sin mean?” The little boy laughed his airy, melodic laugh. “Mum! That’s easy!” It wasn’t easy for everyone to define something like sin, but he had been taught these things from the cradle, so in an almost jesting way he sat up and assumed the position of a teacher with his hands stretched out in front of him to do the actions that went along with the routine explanation. “Sin is anything you say, think or do that breaks God’s laws, and it’s when you don’t do good things that you know you should do.” He was a little smarty-pants, but she loved him for it all the more. “Right on. This one’s tougher: if I wanted to find out about the very first time God told people about the consequences of sin, where would I have to look?” Immediately he flipped back to Genesis chapter two and pointed to the familiar passage. She read from his version.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden in the land of Eden so that he could work the ground and keep everything healthy and in order. Then God said to the man, ‘You can eat any of this fruit – I give everything in the garden to you except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Do not eat from that tree –if you do, you will die.’ But what did they do?” “They stole and ate the fruit.” “Does it matter who told them to?” “Nope. They did it and that’s what counts.” “So what happened?” “They got kicked out – and God said when Eve had a baby it was going to HURT! AHHH!” He grabbed at his belly and screamed in mock labour, falling over and rolling around on the floor. She had a second of flashback to his birth… it was a pretty accurate representation, all things considered. “How do you know what it’s like to have a baby?” she asked. “Dad told me.” Figures. She smiled and pointed back to the book. “There were more consequences, more after-shocks of their disobedience. What was the one that God said right off the bat?” He took her 'serious' cue and settled back down a bit. “He said they would die.”

His Mum took about three minutes to simply explain why God couldn’t put up with human sin and why death had to be the price for the trespass. She ran through key verses in his Bible, many of them already underlined from previous talks. She flipped to Numbers 15 and paraphrased a large section. “The Israelites had one priest who was allowed to go between God an His people. The priest, called the High Priest, made sacrifices for the people for the sins they committed, whether or not their sin was on purpose. Even if only one person sin by accident the sin still had to be paid for with death. When the price that God set out for disobedience right from the beginning was paid, it is called atonement, like at-one-ment, and the people were put back into a perfect relationship with God, with nothing in the way, no sin between them. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, this was a band-aid fix. It only worked until the next time somebody sinned then they had to do the whole thing all over again.” The boy scrunched up his brow. “That’s a whole lot of band-aids.” “You’re right,” she smiled. “And it wasn’t really working for anybody, and God wasn’t satisfied with it either. So he came up with a solution – a master plan.” She drummed her fingers together sneakily. “Do you know what that plan was?” He nodded that he did, but she was on a roll and the whole thing came out anyway. “Jesus came into time and space and history to become the High Priest and the Sacrifice all at the same time. He had a physical body and physical blood, but he also had an eternal spirit – a lifeblood that didn’t have a beginning and doesn’t have an end. When Jesus died he took on the sins of ALL people forever and because he was an eternal sacrifice, and his lifeblood became a replacement for our lifeblood that never had to be renewed. He became a substitute sin offering for the past and the present and our present and the future. No matter when we live in history, all we have to do is claim his blood as our blood – his sacrifice as our atonement (or at-one-ment) sacrifice, and God accepts us as perfect and clean again – at one with His perfect Love, with nothing in between us – with no sin.”

She took a minute to breathe and let what she had just said sink into the air and into both of their hearts. She was always surprised at how much God could teach her through His Word, even in moments of her own explanation. “So, Jesus became our sacrifice, paid for our sins and came between God and His people once and for all. But unlike the animals of the Old Testament, Jesus did not stay dead – not even physically.” She flipped to Hebrews chapter 10 and he followed. She paraphrased: “The laws from the Old Testament told the people to sacrifice animals to atone their sin – but this wasn’t God’s ideal plan – it wasn’t what He really wanted. This passage explains that those sacrifices were only temporary and that Jesus alone was the ultimate, lasting solution – but then it says this part…” She pointed to the eleventh verse in his Bible and read the next three aloud. “The priests in the temple over sacrifices over and over again every day – but they do not remove the sins, and they have become only habits and duties. But this priest (Jesus) offered one sin sacrifice for all time, and then he sat down right beside God, at his right hand. Since that time he waits – he is waiting for his enemies to become his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made the people who are being made holy perfect forever.”

The conversation had already been a long one at almost 20 minutes and her son was doing very well with only mild fidgeting and wandering gazes but she knew she didn’t have long to keep his attention. Time to get back on track with his agenda.

She flipped to Isaiah 44. “This is a prophesy,” she said, “which means it’s a part of the Bible that was written about something that was going to happen in the future, something revealed by God. This book was written about 700 years before Jesus lived as a man on earth but even though it is so much earlier, it still talks about him and about his work. Listen to verse 22 and 23: ‘I have swept away your crimes like a cloud and your sins like a morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. Sing for joy oh heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath! Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all you trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and he displays his glory in Israel.’ Did you catch that? Not just people were getting fired up because there was freedom for God’s people… all of creation was getting involved! Even the trees and the forests and the mountains! Guess why?” She started moving fast, flipping pages like crazy, praying wild, silent little prayers all the time. God, I don’t even know how I know this stuff - thank you for highlighting my memory! Thank you for teaching me these lessons before now and for making this all so fresh in my mind!

She flipped to Romans 8 and read from his Bible, from the 19th to the 21st verse. “All of creation is waiting for God’s sons to show up! The whole world was brought under the curse when humans sinned – not by its own choice – but it was cursed only for a time, and now creation itself waits to be liberated in the same freedom from death and destruction that has been given to the children of God!” She was beaming and growing a little louder as her lesson began to reach its climax. She flipped once more into Isaiah, chapter 11. “Listen to the description of heaven that is given as prophesy here: ‘The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the colt together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.’”

She could barely contain herself, but she slowed her pace for the sake of her son. Working through something like this makes her heart race and it’s hard to temper that kind of passion. “So here’s what the Bible says. God made all animals, birds included, and he loves them and cares for them. Even though creation apart from people has not sinned against God and broken his rules the whole world, maybe the whole universe, has suffered the consequences of human disobedience. For a long time God allowed people to make a temporary atonement with him by using an animal’s blood to replace their own blood, but Jesus came and sacrificed his eternal lifeblood, offering us permanent at-one-ness with the Father and with himself. By doing this, Jesus brings not just the people who choose to love him back into a right relationship with God, but also all of creation is redeemed or atoned for… the whole world, at the end of time, will be at one with God! And how will we know this? The animals! There will be peace among the wild animals and the barn animals – they won’t be fighting with each other or eating each other. There will be perfect harmony between all animals and between animals and people, even children. A viper is a huge, poisonous snake with long, hollow fangs that could stab right through your arm in a second flat! You sure don’t want to mess with one of those right now, but in heaven, when Jesus comes to finally restore peace to this whole planet and to make everything right in his own way, there will be no need to fear anything – not even a viper.”

The little boy’s eyes had grown larger and larger at her description of the snake and it took a few seconds for him to follow through with the rest of her statement. “But there will be animals in heaven?” It wasn’t really a question, so much as clarification, but it was good to know that he’d been able to keep up with her. “Sure sounds like it to me,” she said, closing her Bible for the first time since they had sat down on the floor together. “The Bible doesn’t tell us directly what happens to animals after they die. Animals are different than people – they don’t have the same kind of mind or heart or soul as we do – they can’t choose whether or not to love God and obey him. People and angels are the only two elements of God’s creation that God gave the choice to say yes or no to His Love. But you know what? God is very just and fair. If he has given all creatures an eternal nature – if they go anywhere after they die – I don’t believe he would send them to hell. God doesn’t give us all of the answers to all of our questions – if he did, we wouldn’t need to trust him with anything, would we? But he does answer all the really, really big questions and for the rest of it, he gives us enough information in the Bible to make a good guess at what he might do. This is one of those cases – we don’t really know, but I think we can guess. The animals in heaven just might be the same ones that have lived on earth already… but to be really, very sure we’ll just have to wait and see.”

The front door swung open with a creak and they both turned to watch Dad walk in carrying something that smelled a whole lot like dinner. In a flash the little boy jumped up and ran over to the man, wrapping his little arms around his legs. “Dad! You’ll never guess what we just learned… vipers have hollow fangs and can snap right through your arm like this!” The boy clamped his hands around his Dad’s arm and pretended to bite down but quit a second later in a fit of giggles.

“What have you been teaching our son?” She smiled, and he gave his wife a welcoming kiss. She laughed, “You should have heard him talking about childbirth a little while ago.”

With the smell of chicken floating in from the kitchen and with tears quite dry and the bird almost forgotten the family of three sat down together and prayed over the meal. “God, thank you for being so real and so good. Thank you for your Word and the lessons that you teach us every single day. Help us to Love you with every part of our minds and our hearts and our actions… and our bellies. We praise you for everything you have made and everything you are. We pray together in the name and authority of your son, Jesus. Amen.”