Lord of the peanut, lord of the play.

Me with Mr. Peanut, a gift from a family member with a sick sense of humor.
Me with Mr. Peanut, a gift from a family member with a sick sense of humor.

Last week I got a phone call that makes every parent’s heart stop for a minute.   I learned that my oldest son was being rushed to the emergency room.   Unfortunately, we both share the same life-threatening allergy to peanuts.  Unfortunately for him, he accidentally ate a cracker laced with the deadly nut and only realized it after it hit the bottom of his bottomless pit of a stomach.   Such is what happens when you eat first, read ingredient labels second.   I have been in his shoes too many times to count.

To those without the allergy, having an allergy to a peanut is amusing.   In the early days, when people learned of my allergy – they would laugh in disbelief, as if I was making this up.   “Really?  A little peanut?  Are you kidding me?”    The name itself conjures images of something  tiny.   When an embryo is growing in the womb of a mother, it is often referred to as the little “peanut.”   When a toddler is among older siblings, you may hear him being called the “peanut.”   It certainly does not seem big or strong enough to end a life.   Statistically, it kills about 10 people per year in the United States alone.   I am pretty committed to not let my son or I join that list of ten.

The peanut allergy is somewhat unpredictable.  It can certainly be unforgiving.  Some people can have an immediate reaction at the smell of it.  (Even a synthetic peanut-scented “scratch and sniff” sticker bothers me!)  Others react when they touch it.  Some react when it merely touches their lips.   Everyone with the allergy reacts when it is ingested.   As far as reactions go, a variety of symptoms can occur, varying person to person.  Hives. swollen eyes, itchy tongue.  In extreme cases, anaphylaxis sets in.  In other words, your throat swells to the point that your air passage is closed.  It is known as one of the more deadly allergies out there because of the notorious speed at which it moves.  It is not unheard of to go from contact to corpse within a matter of minutes.  (One girl died, a few years ago, after being kissed by her boyfriend after he ate a PB & J sandwich.)   Having almost died twice from my reactions, I understand how serious this allergy can be.  

As I raced to be with my other children while his mother drove him to the emergency room, I processed numerous thoughts:

  • “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
  • “I’ve been through this a dozen times myself – it’ll all work out.”
  • “I wonder what time he’ll be home from the E.R.”
  • “What were my last words to him?   Ya know, just in case.”
  • “Is he scared?”
  • “I wonder what symptoms he is feeling now.”
  • “I bet he tries to use this as an excuse to get out of school tomorrow.”

I prayed.   I drove fast.   I started to worry.   And then I remembered who is the Lord of the peanut.

Life is fragile like that.   Occasionally, it reminds us that we are not as strong or invincible as we want to believe.   We are one car accident away from life change – even if we wear a belt.  We are one trip to the doctor away from devastation – even when we feel healthy.  Those of us in South Carolina know that we are one play away on the ball field unable to see the injury to come to a beloved running back.   One accident, one diagnosis, one slalom on the slope, one slip on the job, one phone call, one incident from our lives being changed – forever.   If I have learned anything about life during my 4+ decades here, it is how short and precious life really is. 

As I sat at home praying for my son, wondering just how serious this “attack” was for him – I realized (again) Who is really in charge here.   Christian or atheist, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, American or foreigner, pilot or passenger – when our life (or those we love) is in the balance…

  • We ALL pray, even if schools say we cannot.   
  • We ALL bend a knee, even if we look foolish to others.
  • We ALL quiet our souls, in spite of the noise around us.
  • We ALL change our Facebook status, imploring an army of other prayers.

At some point, we are all reminded that there is something bigger than us out there that we must beg/plead to – when life is in the balance.  The saying is true, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”   Turbulence at 33,000 feet can make even the hardened skeptic pray. 

My son returned home from the emergency room in record time.   He was fine.   The anti-dote (epinephrine) was given and he was breathing easy, once again.   As I put my head to the pillow, I realized I had averted a life-changing incident.   I was grateful for the outcome and thankful I had another day to be his Dad.   I also renewed my hatred for peanuts, vowed to never visit Georgia and committed to a life of jihad against that form of protein.

As my body was shutting down for the night, my thoughts were lifted upward.   I thought about the deadly allergy to sin we all possess.   I remembered the anti-dote in Christ, the Epi-Pen of God.   But more than that, I was reminded that He is still in charge here, even on the days I forget that.  

The riser of the sun and the Rotator of the moon, He rules even our diets.   Lord of both Presidents and peanuts, sometimes He uses laws to get our attention while other times He uses allergies.  Should the sunset escape our view, should we ignore the praises of birds, should we be oblivious to our daily dose of oxygen He liberally provides even to those who hate Him, God is still able to get our attention.   As King David reminded us in Proverbs 21, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”   He got Moses attention through a burning bush (Exodus 3).  He got Pharaoh’s attention through the death of his son (Exodus 12).   God can use hurricanes, earthquakes & fires but He prefers to speak in a whisper – just ask Elijah (I Kings 19).   He has an entire world at His disposal to get your attention too.   What will it take for you to tilt your ear?

Last night I took my two boys to see their sister in her school play.  The only thing more dreadful than attending a middle school play is to watch a middle school girls basketball game.   Even hockey games have higher scores!   As you can imagine, the last thing two boys want to do is attend their sister’s school play on a Saturday night.   Complaints abounded.  “Do we have to?”   “She doesn’t care if we go!”   “Dad, it will be boring.”   “Her part isn’t that big, can’t we just watch her scene and leave?”   I have to say, their complaints were convincing, if not compelling.  I was certainly tempted to leave them home.  I realized at that moment I was raising two attorneys.   Unmoved, we all went to the play.  To their chagrin, I even sat in the very front row.   They were not going to miss their sister’s theatrical debut.   As they both sat sullen in the front row, I watched their transformation.  As the play went on, they both stared at the actors in front of them.  They laughed at all the right moments.   It was obvious, they were actually engaged and enjoying themselves.  As a parent, I sat relieved.  Relieved I didn’t cave to their complaints.  Relieved that I had committed to doing the right thing, even if it made me unpopular.  Relieved that they were enjoying themselves.   As we left, my older son looked at me sheepishly and said, “Dad, thanks for making us go.  I enjoyed it.”   All parents cherish those rare moments.   The battle was worth it. 

In those moments, clarity is gifted to me.   I see life more clearly.  I slowly begin to understand why God allows us to endure certain trials.  Now I understand why we must be forced, at times, to do things we don’t want to do.   We buck, we complain, we cry and whine and yet God, often silent, remains unmoved.   Only after the experience, do we learn the lesson.  Only after the pain, do we see the purpose.  Only after the trial, do we learn to trust.  He does know what He’s doing, even when He seems like He doesn’t.   He doesn’t hate us, as we sometimes think in our adolescent faith.  He doesn’t want us miserable, though His decisions may make us miserable.  He puts us in the front row and makes us uncomfortable knowing that transformation is around the corner, should we humble ourselves to see it.  He is far more interested in our holiness than our happiness and He loves us in spite of how we treat Him.

He is Lord of the peanut.  I was lord of the play.   Both my sons and I learned a bit about parental sovereignty this week and how we are better because of it. 

“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”  (Psalm 115:3)  

I’m so glad God doesn’t cave to my complaints.   I’m relieved He often doesn’t give me what I want.   I’m a better person when He says no to my spiritual tantrums…

Unless I have to attend a middle school girl’s basketball game.  No good can come from that.

Oh, and for the record – my son did go to school that next morning.   Nice try, kid.

Our insecurities and what they can teach us

From our earliest childhood memory, we remember singing about the beloved reindeer Rudolph and his cute little red nose.  As the story goes, Rudolph was different, born unique among the other reindeer.  Though normal in every other way, he had one feature that brought unwanted attention.  In fact, that one “birth defect” brought him immense embarrassment and his father much shame.  Though they both tried, Rudolph and his father were unsuccessful in hiding his glowing blemish.  The popular song highlights his “problem” and pain:

“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose.   And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.   All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.  They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.”

In many ways, we can relate with Rudolph.  Though we are relatively normal, we all have at least one attribute that has become a source of insecurity for us.  Many of us take great measures to hide it from view.  I have come to realize that we are an extremely insecure race.  Even though we are clearly the most intelligent and highest form of life on our planet – even made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), some among us are plagued by our insecurities.

By contrast, the animal kingdom is not.  Giraffes do not feel bad about their long neck.  Frogs are not shy about their awful croak.  Panda Bears are not insecure about their weight.  Pigs do not apologize for their lack of hygiene.  Every animal seems to move around oblivious to their glaring physical oddities and thinks nothing of how they were made.  Even the ones behind a cage in a zoo seem impervious to the fact that they are being stared at BECAUSE of their particular physical attributes.  As humans, we struggle with our own insecurities when no one is watching us.  Can you imagine if we were caged and on display because of them?

Since everyone has insecurities, it is the honest people who admit to them. Transparent people reveal them to others.  Brave people face them.  Secure people embrace theirs.  Regardless of how we handle them, the important thing to remember is that everyone has some – even if they are very different from those around you.

For example, a child’s insecurities can be different from an adult’s.  A man’s insecurities are usually different from a woman’s.  The old have different ones than the young.  And for the most part, our insecurities can hinder how we view not only ourselves, but others as well.   Whether they are legitimate or not, they oftentimes cause problems within our relationships.  Like it or not, we respond (or react) through the lens of our insecurity and as a result create problems that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

Our insecurities are seemingly endless.  Some are insecure about their weight, possessing too much of it or not enough.  Others are insecure about their hair and how gray it is or how much is missing.   Some are insecure about their finances or their teeth or their physique or their relationships or their breath or their clothes or their _______________ (fill in the blank).   Even as you read this, your particular insecurity/insecurities come to the forefront of your mind.  For some of us, they were formed at a very early age and we have diligently carried them with us ever since.  Other insecurities have been with us a relatively short time and perhaps we are struggling to deal them.  Some appear as our bodies change.  Others arrive because of a comment aimed at our direction.  Many blame the media for creating a standard that no one can live up to.  Even if you successfully overcome one insecurity, another may arise days later and the fight is on again.

It is no surprise that countless companies have risen up to help us address each and every insecurity we face.  Do you have hair missing from certain sections of your head?  Try Rogaine.  Is your hair turning gray?  We have Clairol for that.  Are you shorter than you desire?  Take a human growth hormone or purchase some platform shoes.  Do you struggle with your weight?  Take Adipex, a pill known to suppress your appetite.  Or purchase a diet plan. There are dozens to choose from.  Is your skin wrinkled?  Use Retin-A, a cream that promises to remove wrinkles.  The list goes on and on.  In fact, the only thing longer than the list of our insecurities is the list of products claiming to help you overcome them. From teeth whitening to eyelash thickeners to breast enhancement to nose jobs to tanning salons – we can purchase the ointment to every insecurity ailment.  In our capitalist market, there will always be a company that is willing to take your money to help you feel better about yourself.

I have had several insecurities that I have dealt with for a number of years.  One is my life-threatening allergy to peanuts.  Though that allergy may be more common today, I had the allergy before anyone knew it existed.  Whenever you are a child and are the only one with a certain “condition”, you feel weird and are often alienated or teased.   I related to Rudolph’s isolation.

A birthday gift from a relative. Yea, I feel loved.

Since a staple food in elementary school is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I could not eat with my friends.  Even the smell of peanut butter could trigger an allergic reaction.  I remember eating most school lunches at the table by myself.  To a child, nothing says “You’re a freak” more than sitting by yourself in the school cafeteria lunchroom.  To complicate my already fragile self-esteem, my parents made me wear the embarrassing “Medic-Alert” bracelet.  No other child had this shackle on their wrist.  I also had to carry around an Epi-Pen – the antidote injection in case I was ever exposed to a deadly peanut.  No other child had to keep an enormous life-saving pen in their pocket.  Many times my Mom would act like the secret service and make sure the atmosphere was peanut-free before my arrival to a certain event.  I remember the humiliating feeling of sucking joy from other children’s lives after they realized they could not enjoy a peanut butter treat simply because “Rod was here.”

I have come to realize that we all need some help in addressing our insecurities.  Below are some thoughts that have helped me along the years.  Our insecurities can teach us valuable lessons, if we are willing to learn from them.  Here is what mine have taught me:

  • I’m not perfect.  I know this isn’t shocking to learn (particularly if you know me personally) but marinate on that truth for a minute.  You are not perfect either.  Nor is anyone else.  And while you struggle with your particular insecurity, just know that everyone else has their own area of imperfection to wrestle with.   Whether you are a businessman, Mother, People Magazine’s sexiest man alive, Victoria Secret model or the President of the United States, you have insecurities just like the rest of us.  In fact, some of the most attractive, intelligent, successful people have the most insecurities.
  • My self-worth is not influenced by my blemishes.  At least it shouldn’t be.  I’m not less valuable or less lovable because of my perceived “defects.”   I am simply more unique.  So what if you are shorter than your friends.  So what if you weigh more than your husband.  So what if your teeth aren’t as straight as your Dentist – you are still an important person.  You are still loved by someone.  Your life still matters.  Instead of focusing on the ONE area that you hate, spend more time thinking about the dozens of areas that are positive. Don’t let your insecurity define you.  Don’t let it steal your joy or keep you from living the abundant life God desires for you. (John 10:10)
  • My defects keep me humble.  Sometimes I entertain the thought that I’m awesome.   Occasionally I think about certain aspects about my life and like what I see.  And as I am creating “Rod for President” signs in my head and imagining the ticker tape parade in my honor – a particular insecurity will rear its ugly head and remind me to climb down from cloud 9 and enter back into the world of reality.  Though I may have some areas of my life that are going well there are other areas that are still messy.  For every three things I like about myself, I can find four that I really need to change.  The thought process keeps me humble.  In spite of my brief moments of success, I still have a long way to go.
  • My imperfections make me compassionate. It is easy to look upon the imperfections of others and look down on them or make fun of them.  Weak people do this.  Sadly, this exercise is perfected during our school years.  How many of us have hidden scars from things that were said by classmates about our childhood imperfections?  As you clearly identify your own insecurities, it should make you more compassionate as you see the imperfections of others.  Until you are perfect, you have no right pointing out the imperfections in others.  Benjamin Franklin once admonished, “Search others for their virtues, yourself for your vices.”
  • I have my particular “shiny red nose” for a reason.  It’s not an accident that I’m allergic to peanut butter or that you struggle with your weight.  For whatever reason, this particular struggle was tailor-made for us.  Our “defect” was handpicked.  Maybe mine was given to me so that I could truly discover what makes me important.  Maybe I have blemishes to keep me humble or make me more compassionate towards others?  Perhaps I have mine so that I could be in a position to help others with a similar “affliction.”   Maybe there is another kid out there who sits alone at the lunchroom table and he just needs to know that he is not as alone as he feels.

Rudolph went to great lengths to cover his red nose.  Apparently in New York City for the low-cost of $20,000, there are some painful injections I could take over a period of six months that would cure me of my peanut allergy. No thank you. I don’t need a Reese’s candy bar that badly.  But, it does raise an interesting question.  Is it wrong to try to address a particular insecurity you wrestle with?   On one hand, if God created you with that particular feature, shouldn’t we learn to embrace it and not feel we are inadequate with our current state?  But then again, we do live in an era where modern technology allows us to change the things we do not like about ourselves. It’s hard to condemn a breast enhancement when orthodontic braces are given for the same reason – a desire to improve one’s appearance.  It seems hypocritical to speak against a nose job when a gym membership is often purchased by an identical goal – vanity.  Whether it is Liposuction or Lasik eye surgery, is it wrong to try to improve the areas we view as defective – particularly since technology allows such improvements?  And even if we were to embrace our every imperfection, that does not mean everyone else will – and that is usually the root cause of our attempt to “fix” what is “wrong” with us.  Like everyone else on the planet we just want to be accepted.   At the end of the day, we all want to play in the reindeer games.

Some might question why a loving God would create us with certain afflictions.  Doesn’t He understand how “defects” will be received in our judgmental world?  Maybe from His perspective they aren’t defects at all.  Maybe what we consider a liability, He considers an asset.  While we (and others) may look upon our imperfections with disgust, God looks at His children’s differences with delight.  He didn’t make us freaks but uniques.  Perhaps our greatest perceived weakness is actually a source of great strength?   In fact, when God picks His team, He doesn’t seem to choose with the same criteria we use.  While we select people based on their assets, God prefers to select people who are plagued with liabilities.  The Apostle Paul takes notice of this in I Corinthians 1,

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

Even Paul personally understood afflictions and their accompanying insecurity.  Paul was privileged to see things about God that no one else could see.  For His own reasons, God enabled Paul to witness some amazing revelations.  As a result, those revelations had a price tag.  He records his thoughts in II Corinthians 12:

“…because of these surpassingly great revelations…in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God doesn’t choose us because we are strong or smart or attractive or intelligent or athletic or gifted or thin or rich or for any reason we choose those we love.  He doesn’t even choose us because we are good (Romans 5:8).  He chooses us in spite of our lowly condition so that we would truly understand our worth.  We are not worthy because we are inherently loveable or good.  We are worthy because He is.  He takes the unholy and makes it holy.  He takes the secular and makes it sacred.  He transforms losers into winners and the lost into found.  Only He can take something weak and make it strong.   Only He can take something old and make it new.

As far as Rudolph is concerned – nothing changed.  The nose he began with is the nose he ends with.  His nose didn’t change, his acceptance of it did.  Though his friends and family initially treated him poorly because of it, it was Santa that loved him in spite of it and showed him how his biggest insecurity was really the source of his greatest asset.  His most embarrassing feature became the cause of his highest promotion!

What perceived blemish or defect is keeping you in hiding?  What are you doing with your shiny red nose?  Perhaps it is time to embrace your imperfections and see what God can do in you and through you – in spite of it.