I have two stories to tell. The first one is true. Not internet forward true, but really, truly true. I know because I was there.
The second is one our pastor told in church today. He read it from someone who heard it from someone else, so the thread of truth is slightly murky. But it’s a good story nonetheless.
Nine years ago, I found myself on a flight from Toronto to Calgary with my two small daughters. Armed with fishy crackers, colouring books and 14 pacifiers, I was sure I could handle a two-year-old and a five-month-old on my own.
By hour three, we were running perilously low on smarties and I had detected an unholy smell in our section. With a sigh and a prayer for strength, I buckled the baby into her carrier, grabbed the diaper bag and wrestled my overtired, and extremely ripe, toddler out of her seatbelt. As I stood, I lifted her up under her arms and propped her on my hip, then shuffled my way into the aisle.
The next part of this memory plays in slow motion. She leans forward slightly, just over the seat in front of us, opens her mouth, and vomits all over the poor man’s head. I spin her around as quick as I can, spewing vomit on myself, the baby and the seat behind us.
My eldest child is a prolific puker. It’s kind of amazing.
I’m sure it was an unpleasant awakening for the man in the front seat. And he was not impressed. He began yelling and cursing and screaming for the flight attendants. They rushed over to clean him up and tried to calm him down, while I apologized profusely.
He did not accept.
Standing there dripping vomit and smelling so bad, we all three started to cry.
Worst flight EVER.
My second story is somewhat similar. A mother and infant boarded a plane wearing sparkling white dresses. The baby looked up eagerly with each person who walked by: “Dada?” As she began to fuss, Mom pulled out a bottle of orange juice. This apparently was the best way to pacifiy Baby Girl, especially when the plane hit some turbulance.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. As the flight grew increasingly choppy, the next part seems inevitable – sticky, orange vomit from head to toe.
I’m sure she wiped it up as best she could, but that didn’t help much. By the time the plane landed, Mom was frazzled and overwhelmed. As they disembarked, the baby looked across the tarmac and shouted “Dada!”
There stood a young man, also dressed in pristine white dress shirt and pants, waiting for his family. I imagine the handoff was a quick one, as Mom dashed off to clean herself up. Most of us would hold that smelly, sticky child at arm’s length; perhaps find some way to cover up the worst of it. But not this Dad.
He eagerly scooped that vomit covered child right into his arms and held her close. With a smile on his face, he kissed her head and snuggled her all the way through the airport.
I’m struck by the contrast in these two stories:
the censure of the disapproving man
the embrace of a loving parent
It reminds me of the two gods I have believed in.
The first is a distant stranger, angry and disgusted by my mess. This god requires polite, well-behaved followers. I must carefully control each word and action so as not to offend. Mistakes will not be tolerated. I am small, insignificant and afraid. I would never approach a god like this; instead I would hide, sit behind and desperately scrub everything clean. But it’s never good enough.
This is the god most good church people expect. And he makes sense to me.
The other guy, the one who barely notices the filth, seems weak and permissive. Isn’t God supposed to be pure and perfect? Aren’t we?
I am reminded of a third story.
I’m pretty sure vomit played a part in this one as well, so it fits. There were years of hard core partying, homelessness, depression and scrounging rotten food from the slop. It got messy.
The father in this story Jesus told had been rejected and publically humiliated. He had every right to be angry. But when the prodigal son slunk back home, his Dad ran to meet him, sweeping him up in his arms and holding him close.
The God of the story is a delighted Father who longs to hold me close, no matter what state I am in. This Daddy-God is not horrified by the ugly parts of me. Nor is he surprised when I screw up. He wants me at my best, even those clumsy attempts and lopsided efforts that don’t quite work. AND He wants me at my worst, with my slimy, sick failures and vomit encrusted regrets.
This is the God of the Bible.
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves.
Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.
Now we call him, “Abba (Daddy), Father.”
So here’s me, messy and screwed up… and loved, always.
How do I react to the mess of others? When life gets ugly, which story do I resemble?