The Cheese Stands Alone!

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We often make baked ziti, which (for those poor souls who’ve been culinarily deprived) is a lot like lasagna — layers of noodles, marinated
ground beef, and different cheeses. Once we took a huge dish of it to a friend’s house to share, and it was absolutely delicious! Wish you could’ve had some. 🙁

When we returned home we were tired, so we did the cook’s equivalent of that old housekeeper’s trick, “sweeping the dirt under the carpet.” Well, it’s not THAT bad. We decided to wash the messy pyrex baking dish in the morning — after we slept on it, so to speak. So we stuck the dish into the oven, where we wouldn’t have to look at it. Bad move!

Who wants to wake up to a messy dish in the sink? Not us, which is why we hid it. Honest, we were going to wash it the first thing when we got up the next morning. Only we hid it a little too well. “Out of sight, out of mind.” We didn’t give that dirty dish a second thought! Not the next day, when we were busy writing; nor the next, when we ran errands; nor the day after that, when we … well, long story short, we didn’t use our oven for days! Sure, we cooked on top the range, but we didn’t need to bake anything.

When we finally did open the oven, to look for the pizza pan — What? You don’t store your pizza pan in the oven? Ours won’t fit anywhere else! — we were confronted by that messy baking dish. Sitting there. Alone. In the dark. Sulking. Hardening the cheese and sauce of its aching heart … until all that was left was a dried up, crusted over scab of forgotten ziti. Okay, we’re being dramatic. But the cheesy residue of our long-forgotten meal was almost impossible to clean up.

We destroyed our kitchen sponge, using the coarse side of it to scour the dish — and to no affect. That cheese had hardened to cement. A jackhammer wouldn’t have been totally out of the question, but we settled on an SOS steel-wool pad and several minutes of hard labor. A just penalty befitting our crime of neglect and forgetfulness. And then — yuck! — we needed to toss out the SOS pad!

In life, just as in dirty dishes, we all face problems that are much easier to handle when dealt with quickly. Sooner or later, we all manage to make a mess of something, and it’s a lot easier to clean up our messes when we deal with them immediately. Hiding from an issue, avoiding an unpleasant task, leaving a hurt friend or family member to “harden” while we “sleep on it,” only makes the job more difficult — if not impossible to handle.

When dealing with people, never allow angry or harsh words to thicken and crust over, creating a barrier that separates a relationship. After an argument or misunderstanding, work quickly to resolve matters, bring peace, and heal damaged emotions. “I’m sorry” should never be the least-used words in your vocabulary! Don’t wait until later, either. “Don’t go to bed angry.” (Ephesians 4:26 GW) Swallow your pride; for the sake of harmony, humble yourself and seek the person’s forgiveness. “…God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 ESV)

Keep those relationships sparkling!

There are far too many cheesy messes in our homes and workplaces, our neighborhoods and houses of worship. And in many cases we’ve allowed them to harden. Know what? God wants us to do the dishes — no matter how hard we need to scrub. “…If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar … and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there…. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT)

Take care of your cheesy messes before the job gets tougher. Don’t put it off. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Things will just get harder. Do it quickly, so both your dishes and your relationships will sparkle.

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Big Dreams; Little People

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The Munsters: Just your typical American family.

Have you ever sat through one of those Hollywood awards shows in which some aspiring young actress finally receives the recognition she deserves? She excitedly hugs the trophy to her heart, giggles uncontrollably for a few awkward moments, and then recites a long laundry list of the people “who made this all possible”? You know: “I’d like to thank my producer, my agent, my mother, my little brother, the dude who delivered lunch to my dressing room, the…. Blah, blah, blah!” Most of us simply yawn as we lounge in front of our TVs, and perhaps, we even use the time to raid the kitchen for a snack.

We respond this way for a couple of good reasons. Our main excuse is that we don’t personally know any of the people she’s thanking. We’re on the outside, looking in. And we may not be able to to understand the sheer magnitude of her thankfulness, because we never shared in her personal struggles to reach the top. But it’s also possible that we’re missing out on a basic principle of life, which we plan to discuss here.

Ham on Rye.
Ham on Rye.

At the other end of the gratitude spectrum, is the prima donna, who struts to the podium, grabs his award and hoists it skyward in a triumphant gesture that screams “I am the greatest!” He acknowledges no one, and gives no credit where credit is due, because his ego has blinded him to a few vital truths. Sad but true.

Writing this, we’re reminded of an episode of the 1960s TV comedy, The Munsters. During the show, the lead character, Herman — a bumbling but well-meaning parody of Frankenstein’s monster — stumbles into a situation that has the potential to catapult him to “stardom.” In no time at all, Herman has alienated his friends and family, by continuously flaunting his celebrity status. His wife, Lily, starts to worry about what will happen should Herman really make it big in show biz.

“I’d like to thank all the little people…but I can’t.”

In a memorable scene, Lily imagines her husband accepting one of those little gold statuettes at an awards ceremony. He lumbers to the podium, stoops low to speak into the microphone, and says with a smirk on his monstrous mug: “I’d like to thank all the little people who made this award possible. …But I can’t — because I did it all myself!”

No one, since the beginning of time, has ever accomplished anything TOTALLY by themselves. Most of us (whether we realize it or not) benefit from the contributions of countless people: those who came before us, and who accomplished great things; and those who live with us and all around us. The so-called “little people”!

We may not be aware of their contributions to our daily lives, and when we finally fulfill our dreams, achieve a goal or succeed in a venture, we may not realize just how much we owe the world at large for helping us to make it to the top of the heap.

We don’t operate in a vacuum. Sometimes, however, it does seem as though friends and family have abandoned us as we doggedly pursue our dreams; as though time, circumstances, and the whole world is working against us. But there is a grand principle of cause and effect at work on this spinning blue marble of ours; and every person we meet — good, bad, helpful or obstinate — is a piece of this bigger reality. And every one of them, either directly or indirectly, touches the lives of us all. This is how the God of the Universe effects change in our society.

Land of the Giants: an idea that only works in science fiction!

It’s one of the simple truths we need to know in order to maintain a positive, loving and hopeful perspective on life, and in order to get things done. Another, related truth: there are NO “little people” — only oversized egos. Everyone counts. Every effort, every opinion, every link in the chain of life matters. And adopting this attitude can actually help you to succeed. Humility and gratitude are traits that foster cooperation — and as we stated, no one really gets anywhere without a helping hand.

Let us all remember: to respect and appreciate even the smallest contributions from — seemingly — the most insignificant sources; to stay humble with every achievement, understanding that we had countless unseen helping hands; to constantly encourage and facilitate the work of others, knowing that we, too, whether directly or indirectly, are benefitting from the actions of millions of interconnected lives. Help us, Lord, to realize, whether we’ve arrived or we’re still struggling to get there, that no one ever makes it alone.

“…The King will say … ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40 NLT)

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