Today, my son and his wife gave birth to my first grandchild, Koen Rayner Smith. Last week, I sat down with him and presented him with a list of things I wanted him to hear from me about becoming a father. It is the most important job he will ever have in this life and I wanted to share what I've learned. Perhaps, it is something you may want to use as a tool for your boys, too....when the time is PERFECT.
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
Your offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
Psalm 127: 3-5a
Father. It’s the greatest title you’ll eve know. It’s been my highest reward and achievement and joy. No one can prepare you for it. But I’d like to share with you the things I learned (so far):
We are spirit beings learning to live in a spirit world that will exist forever. That’s generally my theory of everything.
Stephen Hawking died recently. He had, by all accounts, a brilliant mind and was deeply respected and loved by many. He was also an atheist who worshipped science over God, believing that science eliminated the need for a god.
I saw a movie called “The Theory of Everything” which was his biopic. I had an uncle who died of the same disease and it was excruciating to watch. I can’t imagine what it was like to live through it. In a comment today, his first wife said that death was a welcome relief for him. After having watched the disease ravage my uncle’s body over a period of ten years, I can’t imagine what it was like to live with the disability for almost fifty.
But, I’m not here to comment on his life, but his death. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like when he slipped into the next life and in a moment discovered the truth that he had been searching for. Stephen Hawking wanted to know the origins of the universe. Now, you have to understand that I have a biblical world-view and yes, it is my interpretation that I have diligently worked on for 50-plus years. And so, my worldview says that God created the universe. I believe that whether or not God met Stephen Hawking after his death, he knew immediately that God created the heavens and the earth. There was no big bang or if there was God made the explosion that caused the big bang.
All I know is that this man was an avowed atheist until he died. He isn’t anymore. But, it’s too late to make choices now. My best hope for him is that as death approached, he saw the truth in time and repented. For God’s mercy is wide and his justice is fair.
Does that sound harsh? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through the son.” (John 14:6) “You must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:1) “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10: 33, 34) I could go on and on. I’m sure that Stephen Hawking knew at least some of these verses. But he chose to believe in science instead of God.
Therein lies my one point in writing this: We forget that we are spiritual beings in a spiritual universe that can not be ‘seen’ by science but only through faith. Paul referred to is as ‘seeing through a glass darkly…” (1 Cor 13:12). We feed our mind and our flesh in this life and pay little or no attention our spirit. We seek knowledge and power and refuse to strengthen our soul. But in the end, we are spirit beings in a spiritual world and there isn’t a science book around that explains how that works. And by the way….that’s forever. Everyone who has ever gone before and everyone who comes after us will go the same way. They died. We will die. They will die.
I suppose Stephen Hawking would consider my faith a placebo to placate my lack of enlightenment. My faith is anything but a placebo. It is my HOPE. There is a powerful image of this very theme in Luke 16: 19-31. It’s the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus dies and goes to ‘Abraham’s Bosom’, or a place like heaven. The rich man dies and goes to a place like hell. Here, he can see Lazarus sitting at Abraham’s side. In hell, the rich man is tormented and begs Abraham for a little water to cool the tip of his tongue. But, Abraham replies that there’s a chasm between them that can’t be crossed any longer. The rich man begs Abraham to send someone from the dead to warn his brothers who are still alive. Abraham replies that they have prophets and the Word of God and they won’t change their minds even if someone rises from the dead. What an alarming reality. We are and will continue to always be spirit living in a matrix where what we see and know is only a partial reality.
Many people would consider it cruel and narrow minded to say that unless Stephen Hawking accepted Christ as his Savior, he is now separated eternally from God and without hope. But, I think the mere fact that God allowed Stephen Hawking to live fifty more years than the two he was given by doctors is a clear sign of the love of God. I’m sure that God reached out to Mr. Hawking many times during those fifty years. I’m sure God spoke to him over and over again through the universe he explored. And I’m certain God was at the center of the very questions Mr. Hawking wrestled with during his career. For fifty extra years, God wooed him. That sounds like love to me. But in the end, he probably refused to accept God’s invitation to explore the universe and all of its origins for eternity.
I saw a bumper sticker once. It looked the humanist bumper sticker supporting evolution as the origins of man. But after the image of the man there was another picture of a grave. Which begs the question: What happens when you die? Do you KNOW? Can you be SURE? Science can’t answer that because they don’t understand spirit. Then, does your theory of everything address death? I would ask, “How is that working for you?”
“ For know whom I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto HIM until that day.” Tim 1:12b
It's Not About the Eggs.
So, it’s not about the eggs; not really. For 60 years it’s not been about the eggs, although that’s what they are making: Easter Eggs. They make peanut butter, maple nut, coconut, and fruit nut. (They used to make a fruit concoction of red cherry, pineapple, and green cherry. I remember those and they tasted like fruit cake and you know what happened to those!)
No one is exactly sure about how or even when it started. Perhaps 1958? That’s what we settled on, anyway. Some say it was in Blanche Clawson’s kitchen. The church didn’t have a kitchen and so they started it in Blanche’s kitchen. Velma Gamble made them in her kitchen too. Then they moved it to Dolly Clawson’s kitchen. But eventually, the Ladies’ Aid at Hopewell got their own kitchen and the annual Easter Eggs were made there. And so, for 60 years they have made the eggs to raise money for mission and outreach. They also had spoon suppers, apple butter and the chicken bar-b-q dinners. The spoon suppers and the apple butter have gone by the way side. (Much to my own chagrin! The apple butter was amazing!) But the Easter Eggs have endured longer than anything else.
Anywhere from 10-14 women and hopefully a man or two, work at a steady pace for 3-4 days making 400 pounds of the most delicious nugget centers you can imagine. That’s down from the 1500 pounds they made back in ‘the day’, when things were much different. They work in their centers like a well-oiled machine. It all starts with the Karo or corn syrup. You add water and sugar. (I’m sworn to secrecy on the recipe. It’s sort of like the Chick-Fa-La sandwich or the Colonel’s famous chicken recipe.) That concoction has to be put to boil to a top-secret temperature just until you see the ‘string’ on the syrup. (That’s Easter Egg talk!) On the other side of the room, they are separating the egg from the yoke; the yellow from the white. The reasons for this are as confusing to me as changing brakes on a car. But, it’s important for reasons that these ladies all understand. Then, someone puts the whites in the mixer and beats it into whip. This is what my mother does. It’s a very important job and requires someone with infinite skill. This is why my mother is in charge of it. Now, they have two commercial grade mixers. “Back in the day” they used hand mixers. No one will admit to it, but I like to think they beat the whites by hand when they first started. It sounds every exciting, anyway. Then you add the syrup mix and voila! The gooey white centers are filled with nuts or fruit or whatever you’d like to add to give the egg, extra flavor. I’m up for Oreo cookies or M&Ms. What about a mystery flavor? By the way, this is the spot you want to be in if you are NOT helping and just standing around providing the entertainment as you get to lick the mixing spoon.
Next up is the shaping station! Someone takes all that goo and measures out a pound or half pound and shapes them into Easter Eggs. They used to make ¼ pound eggs when there were kids in the Sunday School program upstairs. That’s about the time, I was coming through the church as a child. But, I don’t remember ever getting a ¼ pound Easter Egg! We did, however, always have a half pound egg in our baskets and they were certainly treasures. Usually, they would last for a week or two. You would cut off portions of the egg and eat it in chunks.
And there I go again. You see, it’s really not about the eggs. That’s why I went up there in the first place, you see? I had this niggling…it’s that persistent thought won’t go away. The thing Farmer Hogget had about his pig being a sheepdog in the movie, “Babe”. I wanted to go up there and watch the ladies make eggs. I thought I could write a story about it; perhaps a play, like Steel Magnolias. I just wrote my first murder mystery. Maybe I could set my next death scene in the kitchen of the church where the ladies make Easter Eggs. I could call it “Death by Nuts”?
But, what I really wanted was to go back and connect with my past. The whole thing is about nostalgia and memories. 1958 was the year I was born! These ladies have been making these Easter Eggs as long as I’ve been alive. We’re all a dying breed! These woman; this process; me. We’re all getting old. These people represent a heritage of country people, who gather together like country people used to do when they built barns, made apple butter, sat on country porches and visited and worked in the fields together at harvest time. I remember those days and like all of us who get old, I like looking back on them. My grandmothers, Luella Smith and Geraldine McCrea both worked on Easter Eggs. I remember others like
Dolly Clawson, Ruth Carlson, Joanna Carlson, Margie Johnson, Twila Dunlap, and others who were committed to this work all their lives. They watch from the sidelines now; a cloud of witnesses. Their children and their friends continue on with the work. Karen is Dolly’s daughter. Three sisters from the same family work at the same jobs their mother used to do here.
It’s definitely not about the eggs. They may make $2000 to support local ministries and missionaries. They will support a program stuffing backpacks with food and supplies for underprivileged kids in the area. Some monies will be donated to recovery programs in a sister church. Hands of Hope is a handy man ministry for widows and elderly. There is also the food bank ministries and goodwill services.
And it’s about the relationships. They talk and chatter while they work. These are friends too. Rarely is there silence. They make jokes and laugh. They talk about what’s going on with their kids and their community; straining from gossip, of course. I mean, it is the basement of the church, right?
Tomorrow is chocolate day. It’s the day you lick you fingers. There’s white chocolate and milk chocolate covers. They melt the wafers and then drop the bottom of the eggs into the vat. After it dries, they dip the tops and spread them over the top until they meet the covered bottoms. They do this with their hands. It’s quite a messy ordeal I’m told. But how bad can it be to be covered in chocolate?
The piece de resistance, however, is the crowning moment of the process. The flower is set upon each finished egg like the official seal of the king on royal documents. This is the mark of an egg that is ready to be presented to the world: The royal baptism. Margie Johnson was the first to add the tiny pink momento on top of the egg. She did it by hand and it caused a problem because the egg couldn’t be packaged until the flower on top dried. Eventually, they ‘streamlined’ the process to make the royal rosebuds in advance and just sit them on top of the egg when they were finished. Who said old dogs can’t learn new tricks?
Today, a homeless man came in looking for help and food and money. It certainly caught us all of guard and for a moment the mood quickly changed. But once their safety was secured, these ladies responded just the way they should have. They gave help and food and money and sent this ‘angel unaware’ on his way. It certainly gave them something to talk about and even more to consider. I wonder if when they are making eggs ten years from now, someone will remember the story of Paul from Montana who stopped by the church looking for some help while the ladies were making their Easter Eggs. Maybe my name will be mentioned during the conversation. Just like that, I’ve become part of the story too. It certainly was worth the trip. It’s not about the Easter Eggs.