I know I'm probably ten years behind everyone else in the world, but I just discovered this awesome website called eBay. It's amazing what you can find on there. Last week, I found an old M&M Fun Machine, in perfect condition, for only $17.99.
My brother and I got a M&M Fun Machine as a Christmas present in 1992. I was ten, and Joshua was five; and if you could see the pictures of us grinning from ear to ear as we clutched that red and green piece of plastic, you would think we had just won the lottery.
Three summers ago, I dug the M&M Fun Machine out of my parents' attic in Alabama and brought it back to my apartment in Kentucky. And then I dropped it in the parking lot of my building as I unloaded my car.
Miraculously, it survived the fall but not without sustaining some nasty dents and scratches.
I feel like, these days, I'm stumbling around with a few dents and scratches of my own.
I turned 30 a few weeks ago and have had several heated conversations with God lately about how my life doesn't look anything like I thought it would when I reached this age. On top of that, my grandparents on my mom's side of the family are in very poor health. They are both being cared for by Hospice, and they have each taken turns for the worse this weekend. It's been hard to watch their bodies and their minds betray them, and every time the phone rings, I wonder if it's the call.
I feel like I'm limping into the holiday season this year, dragging a bunch of unmet expectations, grief, and disappointment behind me. In my worst moments, I shake my fist at the sky, and I demand that it be someone else's turn to get pummeled by life for a little while.
I like to believe that God is in the reward business - that because I'm a nice guy and because I do all the right things, He is supposed to make my life easy and comfortable. I once heard someone say, "God is not a vending machine. You can't just stick in your prayer and pull out your prize." But I treat Him that way all the time. I approach prayer the same way I approach shopping online. I hand God my wish list and expect those things to be delivered to my door quickly and with a minimal amount of hassle. And then I get mad at Him when He doesn't hold up His end of the bargain.
Let me be clear: I believe that we serve a God who loves us and who delights in giving us good things. He has blessed me with amazing friends and family, an incredible church, and a job that I really enjoy. I don't think He places us in difficult circumstances to punish us for the things we do wrong or that He is necessarily trying to teach us some divine lesson through every obstacle and setback we encounter in life.
As a therapist, I have had to learn to, in the words of one of my seminary professors, "make peace with ambiguity". I'm still wrestling with that in my relationship with God, accepting that I'm not in control (no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise) and that I will probably never know a reason for many of the heartaches I go through. Sometimes, after a traumatized child or a family in crisis sits in my office and tells me their story, all I can do is say, "I'm so sorry this happened to you, but I will help you get through it." And if I listen closely enough, I can hear God telling me the exact same thing.
It's easy to follow Him when life is all shiny and new, like that M&M Fun Machine was when Joshua and I unwrapped it Christmas morning 20 years ago. Walking with God is simple as long as He puts plenty of sweets in our paths.
But choosing to follow Him when the shine has worn off, when you feel like the bottom has completely dropped out from underneath you, when it seems like you are seconds away from breaking, and trusting that He's still good? That's another thing altogether.
Faith is a lot messier and life far more uncertain than most of us want to admit.
This morning, my old M&M Fun Machine sits on my kitchen counter, tucked in between the microwave and the George Foreman grill. I know, one day, I'm going to bump into it or accidentally knock it off the counter, and it will probably shatter into a million pieces.
But - regardless of what life might throw at me - I won't.
Because I have a Savior who is still in the business of bringing something extraordinary out of even the most bruised, battered, and broken-down things.
And knowing that is sweeter than anything I will ever find on eBay.