On Sunday the O’Connells woke up to a beautiful day in Mammoth with blue sky, sun and fresh snow. Brian and kids couldn’t turn down the chance to ski another day—so they decided to ski all day and leave at dinnertime instead of noon. They saw the Maiers off early in the morning before heading down to the local Lutheran church to attend the 8 am “skier’s service.”
Pastor Knudsen’s sermon title for the first Sunday in Lent was “Resist” based on the fourth chapter of Matthew, verses 1-11 about Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.
The pastor looked out over the congregation as he finished the homily:
“God has given us many tools to help us resist temptation—several of which he used himself to resist Satan’s temptations during his 40 days in the wilderness: meditation, prayer, fasting, simplicity, solitude, and submission to the Spirit. These are several of the disciplines that God has provided to help us resist temptation and to grow stronger spiritually and to become more Christ-like.
Christians have practiced these disciplines for over 2000 years to resist worldly temptations and to receive God’s grace. We will be emphasizing these disciplines during Lent this year. I encourage you to take one of the “Spiritual Disciplines” Lenten pamphlets on the welcome table in the narthex and commit to practicing these disciplines during the coming weeks of Lent.
Resist. Resist following others blindly. Resist temptations to break the commandments. Own up to your failures. Talk to God about them. Ask for his help. Ask for his forgiveness. Fall on his infinite mercy and love for you. Practice the ancient disciplines that will help you grow in your faith.”
“Let’s pray.” Pastor Knudsen bowed his head.
“Jesus, you know the temptations that we face in our everyday lives. You overcame Satan’s temptations. We need your help in our battles to resist temptations to ignore your commandments. We stumble in our faith walk so often. Send your Spirit to give us the strength to practice the spiritual disciplines that have helped Christians withstand temptation and to grow in faith over the millennia. Fill us with the power of your Holy Spirit. We cannot make it without your help. In your name we pray. Amen.”
After they sang the last hymn, the pastor stood in front of the congregation, raised his arms and said,
“Now hear these words, written on miniature silver scrolls found in a locket from the seventh century B.C., the earliest biblical scrolls found in Israel: “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace. Amen.”
“Go in peace; serve the Lord.”
Liz dropped her family off at Canyon Lodge to ski at 9:30 am, and drove back to the cabin to finish cleaning and packing.
They left the cabin just after sundown, heading down 395 on their way back to L.A. from Mammoth Lakes. The dark outline of the Sierras was on the right. The snow on the mountain was somewhat visible under the half moon.
The stars were bright on this clear winter’s night. The silver Suburban was full of gear and with the four children, who were chatting animatedly about the day’s skiing and events at school. There was much laughter. They left Mammoth at five thirty, and stopped half an hour later in Pine Woods at a drive-through fast food restaurant for burgers, then headed to Johansen’s for a treat.
They arrived at Johansen’s just before closing. Liz followed the children into the shop. By the time she arrived at the counter, two of the children had already put dibs on the last two giant iced teddy bear cookies–each the size of a plate. The other two were complaining that there weren’t any other cookies that large left for them.
Liz’s eyes quickly scanned the bakery case, in an effort to find a quick and equitable solution. The teddy bear cookies did look appetizing; she hated to deny the kids the cookies. Liz quickly dismissed the idea of dividing the two cookies. As anyone with children knows, dividing anything can create whole new issues of fairness. She was tired. She didn’t want to have to try to divide the cookies exactly evenly.
For some reason, explainable only by the temporary amnesia which descends upon busy moms at the most inopportune times, she didn’t think of her usual solution to the problem, which is “You can have anything which costs —(pick a number, usually from $1.00 to $2.00).” She was anxious to get going; she wanted to get home as early as possible.
The kids sensed her lack of concentration and took full advantage of it. After some discussion, they finally agreed that of the choices available, there were several cookies that were roughly half the size of the others. The other two children each chose two of the half-size cookies to equal a giant teddy bear. Liz asked for a box to bring the leftovers home. The woman helping them wisely gave each child his or her own box. “Thank you for the cookies, Mom,” the kids were swift to offer, one after the other as Liz paid the bill.
They were on the road again at seven thirty. Brian and Liz were listening to a new Christian music CD. As they barreled down the highway, Liz found herself thinking about the dinner conversation with Gerda and Erik the night before about her friend, Bonnie.
Bonnie Jenkins was 51 years of age when she died. She had been Liz’s best friend for twenty-three years. She had been her maid of honor. They had been through a lot together—Bonnie’s difficult marriage and rancorous divorce, Liz’s law school years, then her wedding to Brian. And while they lived almost 50 miles apart, they remained close friends. After Liz started having children, they still saw each other about once a month. Bonnie joined the O’Connell family for every joyous occasion and holiday, and Liz and Bonnie had an occasional girl’s night out for dinner or a movie.
As they continued down the highway past Big Pine, Independence, Lone Pine, Cartago, and Olancha, Liz reminisced about the many good times, difficult times, and quiet times that she and Bonnie had shared.
Liz glanced back at the children. The three older ones were still talking and laughing. Sean had fallen asleep with his head on his chest. Liz asked Anna to reposition his head so that it rested on his pillow. His King Burger crown was askew on his head. “How we all want to be kings; we are drawn to power from the earliest age,” she thought.
As she looked up at the star-filled sky she wondered where Bonnie was, and what she was doing.