The best Disney movie - hands down - is 101 Dalmatians. You know the one I'm talking about . The original 1961 version. Puppies, walks in the park, matching dogs/owners, puppies, piano playing, that adorable & brilliant doggie S.O.S signal, puppies. Have I mentioned puppies? Honestly, what's not to like.
One of my favorite scenes is when Pongo, Perdita, & Co. are watching Thunderbolt on that tiny T.V. 'Go get'em, Thunder!' ;) While the family is quite attentive, there is one pup that is completely enthralled - Lucky. He sits right up close to the TV. He jumps up and touches the screen when a scene gets particularly exciting. He wags his cute little tail incessantly. Lucky is fascinated with the program. And his fascination is what causes him to linger in front of the TV, even when he's abducted and held at the 'safe house' with Horace and Jasper.
Fascination makes us linger. If something is lingering in your thoughts, it's a good thing. It means your fascinated. It means there's more to learn. It's your subconscious saying 'Pay attention, it's about to get good.'
Like Lucky, I have a recent fascination that I just can't shake, one that I've just started to peel back the layers on. Jewish people call it the Torah. Christians call it the first 5 books of the Bible. I call it My Recent Fascination :)
God’s presence in those first 5 books is so rich and raw; visibly present, yet overwhelming mysterious. The text in those pages will assert something inexplicable or controversial – whether its dialogue, imagery, or dialectic – without qualification. As if the confidence in its truth is reflected in the unapologetic air that breathes through its pages. Say what you want about the Bible, but any avid reader must concede that it is bold, unequivocal, and dare I say (tactfully) salacious.
One such ‘unapologetic’ moment comes in Exodus - the second book - when Moses first encounters the presence of God through the burning bush. At this point in the narrative, the Israelites have been the Egyptians’ slaves for generations, Moses has just killed a man for mistreating one of the Israelites, and has run away to the desert, tail between his legs. He stumbles upon a bush where he hears the voice of God and receives his life’s calling. Let’s hop in the De Lorean and whisk back to Mount Horeb circa 1491 BC:
“The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8, emphasis added).
That phrase ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ has always struck me. After Exodus 3:7, the phrase appears 19 more times in the Old Testament, each time without explanation as to why its important. The imagery is just dropped there, repeatedly, without any further details or clarification. This is often how God speaks – showing us things we don’t quite understand, repeatedly to stress their importance, drawing us in by our curiosity to figure them out. Most scholars agree that the phrase ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ is a symbol of abundance; God promises to take his people to a land overflowing with both spiritual and physical blessings.
But why milk and why honey? Any other food items could have been mentioned here. I have some medical restrictions that make it near impossible to have dairy or sugar. Rough life, right? It may seem infantile, but when I read Exodus 3 I can’t help but think I’m missing out on a blessing. As if my inability to have milk and honey precludes any participation in God’s beneficence. Mine is a land flowing with lemon water and stevia. Does that still count? But it’s not about actual milk and honey, it’s about something bigger.
Both milk and honey are animal by-products; milk comes from cows and honey comes from bees. Humans can grow grain and make bread on their own. Humans can grow vegetables and make a salad on their own. Humans, however, cannot manufacture milk and honey on their own – they must rely on a middleman (or middle animal, rather) to obtain these two food items. (It’s not lost on me that humans make breast milk. Adults, however, don’t drink breast milk, and it’s implied that the Promised Land wasn’t flowing with breast milk. I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure 😂).
This by-product idea begets a powerful lesson. The image that God uses of promised abundance – a land flowing with milk and honey – involves reliance on something other than ourselves. He didn’t promise Israel a land flowing with ready-to-eat vegetables; he promised them a land flowing with items that must be obtained from other animals, so there’s still some work required. We must be on good terms with the cows and the bees to obtain our blessing. In essence, abundance is a shared activity. You can’t live abundantly in isolation. You can’t go down in your storm cellar and get abundance. It involves a personal journey (the Israelites leaving Egypt) and good rapport with others (cue: cows and bees) to obtain it. Lest you think I’m sounding grandiose equating cows/bees with ‘others,’ the Israelites had prolifically frequent interactions with peoples of other nations in their Promised Land. Those specific interactions had a direct effect on their blessing as well.
The first part of Exodus 3:7 is also telling. It’s interesting that God calls the Israelites out of a place where they were being victimized, ‘suffering at the hand of slave drivers’ to a place where they still will have to interact with others. Let that sink in. The antidote to suffering isn’t isolation. This is where we so often go wrong. We have a bad experience with someone and we are tempted to build ramparts and isolate ourselves in a tower so high that neither a powerful cannon nor Rapunzel’s hair could let anyone in. We agree with the lie that distancing ourselves from others will produce abundance. This is fallacious. Traumatic past experiences are not our ‘get of out of Jail free card’ to future relationships, as if abundance could be found in seclusion. Unabomber, 1; Abundance, 0.
So what is your journey? What do you have to leave behind that is holding you back? This is a ‘let it simmer’ question. I hope that in the course of reading this blog, you will become aware of situations and people that are holding you back from your ‘good and spacious land.’ Remember, relationships aren’t the problem, the kind we forge are. God was calling the Israelites out of a generation of toxic relationships, to a place where they would still interact and rely on others, but in a different way.
Lest you think 'other people' are your only problem, let me make you a bit uncomfortable ;) . I want you to also pay close attention to things in your own knapsack - the habits, proclivities, and learned behaviors - that are limiting you from extravagance. This is your ‘journey’ to the Promised Land. Learning to be the abundant person you were created to be. More to come on this later.
So what is your milk and honey? Where are you refusing to partner with others to partake in blessing? It’s not good enough to just be an amazing person, we must bring that person to the table of community where the feast is!
Abundance exists in the garden of community. Abundance requires personal humility, not merely for self-evolution, but to engage and live with others.
One of my favorite questions to ask random people I just meet is: did Lindsay Lohan peak in Parent Trap or Mean Girls? People are surprisingly opinionated on the topic and will produce a full monologue backing up their claims. Try it the next time you are in a long line. It’s a great conversation starter 😉. While I won’t tell you how I answer the question, I will tell you that unlike Lindsay Lohan, I peaked later in life. I came into my own in my late twenties. Middle school/high school was my ‘ugly duckling’ phase. (Honestly though, who, besides the quarterback and head cheerleader, liked high school?). I had friends but I was rather reserved, wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, and was afraid to share myself with others. That being said, I still went to school functions and activities.
I vividly remember my first school dance. It was in 6th grade in a dimly lit, multi-purpose room on the second floor of a neighborhood community center. One solitary, spinning early-2000s-version disco ball hanging from the center of the ceiling. I also remember how shy most of the boys were. They literally stood against the wall, propping it up like they were afraid it would crumble without the support of their collective preteen backs.
Then there were other boys - a handful of them - who would boldly go up to girls and ask them to dance. I was the recipient of one of these solicitations, the result being my first ever slow dance to Savage Garden’s ‘Kissed by a Rose’ (thanks, Rico Suarez!). These more proactive boys like Rico, shortly thereafter, became the ‘popular’ boys. Correlation or causation? I propose that their willingness to engage, their vulnerability, made them more attractive and popular.
We all have areas of our lives where we are the Shy Steve, the junior high boy at the school dance, sulking in the corner, refusing to engage with a dance that has already begun. Then there’s the areas of our lives where we are the confident Rico, walking up to the beautiful girl and winning her hand for the song. He’s the one we want to be, the part of our lives we are most proud of. He’s the one who takes daily risks, who attracts others, and lands the dream job. We need more of Rico and less of Steve in our lives. You wouldn’t read a book about sulking Steve. You wouldn’t read it because those books aren’t out there. The element that makes stories, creation, and life attractive is abundance. Rico is the one stories are written about and movies are made of. Rico is the one who we are most attracted to. And let’s not forget: Rico gets the good thing. Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.
Lean in, abundance awaits.
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