L is for …

Today’s an incredibly busy day for my family. Three of my five children are competing at the State 4-H Ambassador Commodity Talks (a public speaking contest). Last night, I felt pressured over preparations for the contest day as well as writing something for today’s blog post on the letter L. I had absolutely no ideas of what to write about, and figured that there wouldn’t be much time to write it even if I did have an idea. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was asking God to give me something easy for the letter L post.

And He did.  This morning I woke up and remembered a little thing I had written about a year ago about a lesson I learned Lunatic Luna. So, with much thanks to God (who has been so consistently faithful to provide me with material to meet the A to Z Blog Challenge), here’s my Letter L post … 

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letterL

Jill called her “Lunatic Luna” and she really was a lot more than just a little bit crazy. Luna was plain nutty, a very scary sort of nutty. Still, despite her mental health issues, Luna was perhaps the most beautiful fish in Jill’s large 50 gallon tank.

I had heard all the stories from Jill. She told how Luna would jump out of the water, nipping at fingers as she literally bit the hands of those who fed her. Other times Jill recounted how Luna had eaten all of Big Daddy and his mate’s wee ones.

“Surely Jill exaggerates,” I thought. After all, how could such a beautiful fish be so cruel and heartless. But I soon learned for myself that Luna was just as much of a lunatic as Jill had ever implied.

When Jill’s family was in a moving transition, she asked me if we could keep the 50 gallon fish tank at our home for about three or four months.  Even though our only experience with fish had been the solitary betta variety, we jumped at the chance to play host family to Jill’s tank.  Initially,  my family of seven was completely enamored with the fish, finding much enjoyment in simply watching their gracefully motions and discussing the details of all we saw occurring in the large tank. We delighted in discovering the personalities of each fish, and found their interactions captivating.

Before long, each of us had a favorite. The kids loved Big Daddy, the gentle giant of a fish who preferred resting in one particular corner of the tank over doing much actual swimming. Jon seemed to especially enjoy Goldy, the tiniest fish. She was bright in color and quick as lightning, flitting from one side of the tank to another almost as quickly as it took to blink an eye. My favorites were the pair of enormous sucker fish. They often arranged themselves in symmetrical poses against the glass sides of the tank, delighting me with their synchronized sucking action.

No one really liked Luna. She was an irritable, mean fish, controlling the waters from her hiding spot in the plastic log at the bottom of the tank. The other fish swam wide circles around her, avoiding the area that was Luna’s dark hole. A nasty bite was often the reward for getting too close to Luna’s hideout.

One morning about a week into our fish sitting stint, we got up to discover one of the smaller fish in the tank had died during the night. The dead fish lay right at the entrance to Luna’s log, a large chunk missing from its side. It didn’t take a detective like Sherlock Holmes to put the pieces of the mystery together. Luna was a murderer.

Immediately, the kids voted that Luna should be kicked out of the tank, execution style. Jon, however, had more of a heart of justice mixed with mercy. He removed Luna from the large tank and put her in a plastic bowl. Later that day, we bought Luna a smaller tank of her own, handing down a sentence of permanent solitary confinement.

Beautiful Luna. She swam around her smaller tank for several days, rearranging the rocks and pushing her new, larger log into a different position. Though she didn’t exactly seem miserable to be left alone, even in her solitude she never was an enjoyable fish to watch … somehow still unhappy, irritable, and moody if it is even possible for a fish to be all of those things. We fed her and she ate. We took care of her needs. Mostly she stayed hidden in her private log, remaining about as unloveable as a porcupine is unhuggable.

After spending three months in her new, private tank, Lunatic Luna died. In life she wasn’t much loved; in death she wasn’t much mourned. Despite being one of the more beautiful fish I’ve ever known, Luna’s beauty was definitely all on the outside.

It’s almost ridiculous to think that one could learn much of anything from a beautiful fish with a bit of a bad attitude. After all, the expectations and responsibilities for Luna’s life were exceedingly low. A fish isn’t capable of learning polite behaviors or improving upon character flaws.

It is not so for me. My life is filled with the demands of being a wife and mother, a teacher in my home, a daughter and sister and friend, a writer of encouragement. Each role comes complete with its own set of pressures and stresses. Often, in the thick of my day-to-day life, I find my temper far too short and my voice much too harsh.

Most mornings, I spend a chunk of time in my bathroom making myself presentable for the day, focusing solely upon the reflection I see in the mirror. Like most females, I long to be beautiful and work hard to make myself appear so for my husband. Yet the deep truth is all the beauty products in the world will not make me a beautiful woman if my heart is not right before God.

Each time I recall Lunatic Luna, I am reminded of these words from 1 Peter 3: 3-4:

“Your beauty should not consist of outward things … instead it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable
in God’s eyes.”

L is for Lunatic Luna and the Lessons I learned from her Life:

work hard each day at being beautiful … beautiful from the inside out. 

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F is for …

letterFMy eight-year-old daughter Julia peered at me, confusion etched into her round face. Amidst the chaos of Christmas morning wrapping paper and laughter, she held the contents of her gift: a small white card on which was drawn a simple fish.

“What does it say?” I asked.

Julia studied it for a moment, and then she read the words printed on the card aloud.

“What will you name me?”

Slowly, a small grin spread across her face, until she had a look of  sheer delight.  She let out a small gasp. “Really, Momma? A fish? You mean, I’m finally getting a pet …”

To say Julia was excited about owning her very first pet would have been a complete understatement. For days she could talk of nothing else. The wait until the pet store reopened after the holidays seem to be unending. Julia’s excitement mounted as she counted down the hours until she could go and pick out her already beloved fish.

Finally, the much anticipated day arrived. Julia raced into the pet store and hurriedly found the area of the store in which the fish were located. She nearly swooned from the excitement when she saw the floor-to-ceiling tanks filled with fish in every color, shape, and size imaginable. There in the corner we saw a shelf filled with small glass bowls. In each bowl swam a single betta fish.

The manager brought Julia a stool to stand on so she could carefully inspect each fish. She solemnly peered into every bowl, sometimes talking softly to the fish contained inside while other times silently stroking the glass.

As I watched my daughter go about the serious task of choosing her pet, I began to fear that this could be a torturous process. There were so many fish from which to choose that the process seemed to be overwhelming even to me. No two were alike, and each one seemed more stunning than the one in the bowl next to it. Brilliant reds, shocking blues, soft purples, iridescent greens … there was even a shimmery gold one with bright orange and black flecks resembling a leopard print.

My 13 year old daughter Maddie spotted an unusual blue betta fish with tiny black stripes. It had spiky fins which somehow gave it the look of a bird’s feather. She tried in vain to get her younger sister to choose this spectacular specimen, but Julia was not impressed.

Ten year old Megan pointed out a fancy betta fish, vivid red in color with fluttery fins that whorled around it in the water. The manager, who noticed Meg’s interest, said, “That’s a Half Moon betta. Very pretty. Quite popular. A bit more costly. It will set you back $20.” As I steeled myself for the task of telling Julia we were not going to buy the $20 betta fish, I realized that my littlest girl wasn’t interested in this one either for she was already quite enchanted with another fish.

With a quick glance, I looked to see which fish had captivated my daughter, discovering with surprise the fish at which she gazed so lovingly was truly the most unremarkable in the entire collection of dazzling fish. It was a dull, pale pink, and its fins weren’t very long, wispy, or elegant. Yet my smitten daughter watched with rapt fascination.

When Julia caught my eyes, she exclaimed, “Oh, Momma … did you see how she follows my finger! I’ve found my fish!”

So that’s how it came to pass that we took home the plainest betta fish in the store. I must admit I felt twinges of disappointment in Julia’s final choice. I had expected something more exotic, something more flashy.

Julia did not seem to notice or share my disappointment. Instead, she beamed all the way home as if she knew she had found a rare treasure among all the glittering gems.

Once home, Julia named her beloved fish Sushi, and cared for her as if she were the most amazing fish on the planet. Sushi lived in a glass bowl on the bedside table next to Julia’s bed. She never missed a meal. Her glass bowl was kept sparkling clean.  It was obvious that Sushi’s presence brightened the small bedroom.

As the weeks went by, I began to see such beauty in what I originally thought was just an unremarkably plain fish. Sushi would swim over as I entered the room. She seemed aware of my presence. And when Julia summoned me to watch Sushi perform a special trick, I had no more doubts that this plain little betta fish was indeed a unique treasure.

Unfortunately, a few months after Sushi came into our home, Julia noticed a small bump on her side, near the fin. Obviously, there was nothing we could do but watch and hope our little friend was okay. Time passed. Sushi’s bump grew larger. It effected her ability to swim. I knew she was dying, but Julia continued to hold out hope.

Then late one night, Julia came to me in a panic. She had woken to the sound of splashing water, and had discovered Sushi laying on her side, flopping around in a jerky sort of manner. Hugging Julia, I said, “Baby, I am so sorry, but I think Sushi is about to die. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Through her tears, Julia said, “Well, I’m going to pray.” And she did. I stood in awe as I watched Julia pray for a miracle for her fish. And when she stood up, she seemed convinced her small fish would live, not just through the night but for a long time yet to come.

Sure enough, in the morning, Sushi was swimming around her bowl, peppier than we had seen her in months. As Julia fed her, I watched with rapt fascination as the little miracle fish practically inhaled her food. I felt grateful our special friend had survived the night.

Sushi lived on another two months, before quietly passing away while we slept. There were tears as we said our final goodbyes because Sushi was more to us than just a beautiful, flashy fish in a bowl. She was a good pet who brought a lot of happiness to our home.

After Sushi’s death, I recalled my initial emotional response to fish Julia had chosen. I didn’t think she had made a good choice because Sushi didn’t have a beautiful outside appearance. But after the fish came home, I began to see my first impression was wrong. Suddenly, as I remembered the plain little fish, I felt God whispering in my heart, reminding me how He loves to use the unexpected and unworthy to carry out His plans.

He used an elderly man to father an entire nation of peoples, as numerous as the stars and as countless as the grains of sand upon the shore.

He turned the uncertain stutterer into a man who would confront a pharaoh, bring forth plagues, and lead an entire nation out of slavery.

He used the very youngest and smallest soldier in an army of underdogs to overcome the impossible giant.

He found the coward hiding in the threshing barn and used him to lead a tiny ragtag army into battle to defeat their unbeatable enemy.

He took the young virgin maiden barely old enough to leave her parents and brought forth from her His perfect salvation.

And that salvation … well, it turned out to be a babe born in a barn instead of King triumphant in battle glory.

It was this same God who called out to a few weary fishermen, with their torn and empty nets, asking them to follow, using them to bring His gospel message of hope and peace to the far corners of the earth, so that He might turn them into bold fishers of men.

And He even uses the insignificant, like a plain betta fish, to be a reminder to me of forgotten truths:

His ways are not our ways, for He continues looks beyond outer appearances, into the heart of each soul. 

He still calls out to the weary.

He still uses the small, the weak and the scared. 

He still defeats the enemy with the wounded sinner. 

And He promises to us that He has great plans for our lives too … if only we are willing to be used for His glory.

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F is for the Fish who reminded me God wants to use me just as I am.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

~ 1 Corinthians: 26-31