David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Kingdom of God”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 9: Joy of a Child (1 of 3)

NOTE: Chapter 8, Joy in Gratitude, was posted November 26 and November 28, 2013 in celebration of Thanksgiving.  Please click on the archives to read that chapter.

A great man never ignores the simplicity of a child.

–-fortune cookie

 

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

–Mark 10:13-16 NIV

 

Being a dad has opened my eyes to a plethora of truths, but three points in particular stand out: 1) children have a natural propensity toward joy, 2) it’s okay to have fun and enjoy life, and 3) boogers can be considered a sixth food group.  Okay, I’ll admit the third point may be a stretch for most of us above the age of 12, but if you really want to know what joy is, if you truly desire to embrace joy and live life filled with trust, wonder, mystery, fun, curiosity, simplicity, and power, embrace Jesus’ challenge to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child.”

My daughter is a walking guidebook to what joy looks like, and every day she proves God has an unfathomable sense of humor.  Hannah demonstrates the Kingdom of Heaven in living color, and her innocence, playfulness, trust, and ability to live in the moment have effectively chipped away at my rigidity, OCD, and caring what others think about me.  Her giggle is enough to chase away demons of self-pity and anger, and her constant singing replaces them with angels of calmness and clarity.

Art Linkletter, prolific author and motivational speaker, was best known for the segments on his early television show “House Party,” where he asked kids questions and got back candid and sometimes hilarious responses.  Mary and I have discovered since Hannah’s birth more than six years ago that we have a “House Party” every day; how can you not when you’ve got a rug rat zipping around your legs and tugging on your heart!

The girl makes us laugh, from her perpetual silliness (mostly eruptions of random noises, whistles, and eardrum-busting squeals while imitating various animals, especially guinea pigs) to her rabid independence when dressing herself (in leopard-print tights, polka-dot sweater-shirts, and neon-glowing socks) to her spontaneous creativity with Elmer’s School Glue, construction paper, Scotch tape, scissors, and imagination.  But what continuously amazes us is her capacity to sling hysterical one-liners that can sometimes outdo the best stand-up comedians.  If a sense of humor is a sign of intelligence, Hannah’s IQ must be 200.

One evening I sat at the kitchen bar while Mary finished prepping sides for dinner.  The grill was heating up outside, and I was waiting for Mary to tell me when to throw the steaks on.  Suddenly a knock came from the foyer and Hannah ran into the living room, announcing someone was at the door.  By then Mary and I had gotten pretty proficient at identifying fake knocks from real ones (especially because fake knocks don’t sound at all like the doorbell ringing, but the dogs have yet to figure that out), so Mary hollered “I’m not opening the door for anyone, except the Christ.”

Hannah scampered back into the foyer, turned around and ran back. “Yep, it’s Jesus, all right!” she announced with a huge smile.  If Mary had had water in her mouth she would’ve spewed it all over the mashed potatoes.

One afternoon Mary drove her sister Laura, brother-in-law Scott, and Hannah into Fort Worth to do some shopping in preparation for Laura’s 50th birthday party.  While in the Texas Christian University area they decided to stop and grab a bite of lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  After they finished, Mary pulled the car onto the busy four-lane street with the intention of doing a U-turn at the next intersection, but after turning and moving all the way over to the left-hand lane, she realized she couldn’t pull a U-turn at that junction.  She voiced her opinion of the situation loud enough for Hannah to hear, and Hannah quickly defused the situation: “Mama,” she said, “I’ll keep an eye out for cops while you do a U-turn.”  Hannah was four at the time.

As I mentioned, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from raising a child is that it’s okay to have fun in life.  Having a child gives you all sorts of excuses to act like a kid again.  For instance, our whole family still goes trick-or-treating with the neighborhood at Halloween.  We go to the theater to watch kids’ movies, and we take Hannah to the circus once a year (Hannah thinks we go to the circus mainly to eat cotton candy an hour before bedtime).  We ride the kiddie rides at fairs and theme parks, and we play all sorts of board games, from Chutes and Ladders and Candyland to Parcheesi and Sorry.  Hannah’s now learning how to play the Star Wars edition of Monopoly, after acing her Monopoly Junior game.  We hunt for bugs.  We go on twilight toad hunts.  We play Putt-Putt.  But all too fast she’s growing up, getting serious, losing her little-kidness one eye roll at a time.  It makes me sad, but it also makes me realize I don’t have to let go of fun even if Hannah seems to be growing out of the more juvenile stuff.  We all have the capacity–and freedom–to hold onto that childhood sense of wonder, mystery, playfulness, and joy.  Indeed, we have the obligation.

(continued)

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

The Search for Joy: A Parable (2013-08-21 Daily)

THE SEARCH FOR JOY: A PARABLE

A man, moved by the state of his life and the world, set out to discover the meaning of joy.  “Where should I begin, Lord?” he asked.

“The Grove,” the Lord answered.

The man hopped a bus and rode it to the Fairfax District.  As the doors hissed open, loud music poured in from the Farmer’s Market.  The man cringed.  He stepped off the bus and stood on the fringe of the crowd engulfed by a heavy bass stomp and the raucous growl of an electric guitar badly in need of tuning.  People danced, shouted, surged with the rhythm.  He watched as one young woman clad in handmade cotton dress and topped with a cloche hat leaped from the crowd and weaved seductively in and out between the band members.  She writhed and gyrated and jerked and flailed, eyes toward heaven, tears streaming down her cheeks.  The electric guitar player doubled over his instrument, head pumping in synch with his hand.  The crowd surged, the volume transformed the music into more distortion than melody.  Hands waved, bodies jumped, voices screamed.  The man stood still, jaw set hard.  When the set finished, his ears rang.  “Where to now?” he asked, heading back to the bus stop.

“Venice Beach,” the Lord told him.

The bus staggered down Washington Boulevard through rush hour.  Unwashed bodies, the lurching vehicle, and the subtle odor of schwag unsettled him; he exited three blocks from the beach and walked to the boardwalk.  As the sun inched toward the Pacific, street vendors packed up their wares and tourists packed up their strollers.  Locals swam against the mob armed with beach chairs and surf boards.  The man sidestepped a vagrant crumpled against a palm tree.  Before he could edge by unnoticed, the vagrant rolled over and stared at him with dancing black eyes.  He laughed.  The man retched as the vagrant’s ripeness swept up his nostrils.  He escaped across the beach to the seaweed line and sat heavily in the cool sand. As he pulled off a shoe, his fingers stuck to a tar ball plastered to the bottom.  “Ugh!” he moaned.  Teeth clenched, he rubbed the sole with sand until de-tarred.

As the sun melted from neon orange to hot pink, the man watched a matted mongrel chasing sea gulls, children romping unfazed in the frigid water, surfers skinned in black wetsuits bobbing on the rolling gray swells.  He sighed, tried to relax.  A petit woman dressed in white chinos and fuchsia hoodie strolled barefoot through the sea foam with her Irish Setter.  She waved.  He nodded.  The sun ducked behind a purple line of clouds and shot out a crepuscular ragtime playing across the ocean’s keyboard.

A rustle to his right disrupted the moment: A thin man with wispy blond hair stopped three feet from him, his tanned face turned toward the sunset.  Thick sunglasses eclipsed a smile.  “Beautiful, isn’t it?” the thin man spoke, his voice as slight as his frame.  He lifted his long cane to the horizon and pointed.  “Just beautiful.”  The thin man spun around and strolled north up the beach, clearing the path in front of him with rhythmic sweeps of the cane.  The man watched until he disappeared into a clot of sunbathers and haze.  He rose, brushed the sand from his trousers.  “Where to now, Lord?”

“To bed,” the Lord spoke.  “Tomorrow, the mountains.”

Exhaustion suddenly swept over him and he relented.  “Yes, Lord.”  He picked up his shoes.  “To bed.”

The next morning dawned still and bright.  He ate a bagel, sipped orange juice, and stuffed a small backpack with water and snack bars.  He drove to the San Gabriels and parked at an Angeles National Forest trailhead.  Perhaps today, he thought.

The morning sun warmed his shoulders as he began to hike the gravelly dirt path through the thick chaparral.  He hiked for an hour then stopped to rehydrate on a wide outcropping overlooking the San Fernando Valley.  Below, the yellow-brown smog line trespassed into the mountains.  He breathed in the acrid scent of creosote and dried grass.  “How much longer, Lord?” he asked.  The Lord remained silent.  The man packed up his water bottle, shouldered his backpack, and continued up the slope.

Along the way he exchanged pleasantries with a young couple hiking the other direction, and grunted as their giddiness and laughter faded into the heavy brush behind him.  As he rounded the bend he stopped dead: a monster rattlesnake lay coiled before him, body writhing, tail a sudden maraca shattering the morning stillness.  The snake rose up, sinking its fangs into his thigh above the knee.  He yelped, fell backward.  The sting of the fangs was bad; the fire snaking its way up his thigh and torso moments later was worse.  “Help!” he cried.  He stood, hobbled in the direction of the giggling young couple.  He prayed they hadn’t gotten too far.

After five minutes a wave of dizziness swept over him.  His leg gave out and he fell hard onto his side. Gravel sliced into his elbow.  “Help!” he pleaded.  The young man emerged from the brush, sprinting toward him.  The young woman followed.  Neither was laughing.  Another wave of dizziness swept over him.  He groaned.  “God it burns!” The young man threw down his pack and yanked off his belt.  The young woman yelled into her cell phone.  The man screamed as the young man looped his belt around his thigh and cinched it.

He blacked out several times during the bumpy walkout strapped to a stretcher.  He didn’t remember most of the ambulance ride to Pasadena.  When he finally regained coherence, he found himself lying in a hospital bed, elbow bandaged, leg and head throbbing.  An elderly woman lay in the next bed, surrounded by a large group of people.  He caught glimpses of her before the nurse closed the blue curtain separating their beds: cotton hair plastered to the back of her head, white wrinkled face, sharp blue eyes set deep under a heavy brow.  And laughter like a school girl.  She chattered and waved bird-claw hands at the ends of tiny arms.  Tubes emerged from those arms and the backs of both hands, held in place with layers of tape which tugged at her translucent blue skin.  Another line entered her neck just under her right ear.  A folded wheelchair leaned against the wall at the foot of her bed.  The man frowned.

He dropped his head onto the pillow and fell back to sleep despite the lively crowd.  When he awoke, the curtain had been drawn back and the elderly woman lay on her bed looking at him.  She glowed.  “Well, there you are, young man.  Back from the dead.”  She guffawed.  “Whatever happened to you, my dear?”  She smiled and waited.

“Got bit by a snake,” he said.  His throat burned.

“A snake, huh?”  She winked.

“A big one too,” he said.  “Rattler.”

“Got bit by a snake.  Hmm.”  The room fell silent as the woman’s eyes focused on something behind him.  He instinctively glanced back.  A window, blinds drawn.  A chair in the corner.  Nothing else.  When he turned back she held something out to him.

“Here you go,” she said, smile broadening.  “You need to have this.”  She held out an old book, brown leather cover cracked from agelessness.  He hesitated.  “Go on,” she said.  “This’ll help.”

He took the book.  Ancient.  Worn.  Well-used.  “Help with what?” he asked.  The woman’s blue eyes twinkled.  She raised a trembling finger to her lips and winked again.  “Thank you,” he finally said.

She rolled over.  “Good to meet you.”  Within moments a hacking snore erupted from the old woman’s bed.  A wave of nausea and deep tiredness swept over him again.  He placed the book on his food tray and let himself be carried away into the dark dreamlessness of anti-venom and exhaustion.

He awoke to a melee exploding in his room.  He sat straight up.  The blue cover had been drawn across the room again, but the thin material did nothing to muffle the sounds of the crash team trying to revive the old woman.  After five minutes a voice emerged from the aftermath.  “Time of death: 3:16 AM.”

After his heart settled down and the wan-faced nurses poked in on him, he lay back and stared at the ceiling.  He reached for the food tray and picked up the book, stroking the leather cover.  “Thank you,” he whispered.  He cracked open the cover and began to read.

In the beginning God . . . .

The Lord smiled.

 

8/20/2013

Copyright © 2013, David C. Hughes

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