My relationship with Mario Party is a one of a love/hate/HATE/like/HAAAAAATE, all depending on how the dice chooses to roll. Between the star-stealing antics of the boards themselves as well as the super-human AI that can be demonstrated by the NPC players without warning, you really never know what you are getting into. A well-played game can fall apart with one wrong step onto a Bowser space, and if you have felt that pain just know that you are not alone. The balance between skillfully playing the MOSTLY entertaining collection of mini-games or simply surviving through dumb luck and random chance can be equal parts exhilarating and frustrating… and the thin line between love and hate gets stretched about as tight as my belt after a successful attempt at keeping my local CiCi’s pizza buffet in business. And yes, I know it’s not really pizza and barely counts as food. And I am okay with that. This is a no-judgment zone, right?
I have partaken in EVERY console Mario Party experience from the very beginning, each time hoping that THIS version will be the definitive release. And maybe this time it will be… I mean, instead of crafting an entirely new Mario Party experience, this one is going back to the very beginning by reimagining five classic boards from the N64 era. It’s honestly a pretty good call, as many of these will either represent a nostalgia trip for Mario Party aficionados such as myself, or a fresh experience for those who never enjoyed these in their original, old-school glory. One glance at this screenshot shows Mario Party has taken some pretty dramatic strides from its’ humble graphical beginnings…
But as fun as the party may be for those participating, the inevitable is still bound to happen. Play the game long enough and a Bowser space WILL be stepped on, a completely undesired “Star Shuffle” WILL happen, and unanticipated defeat WILL be snatched from the jaws of certain victory for at least one unfortunate participant. Count on it. If there is a Mario Party happening, an uninvited guest is coming to bring the fun grinding to a halt. And you know what makes it all the more insulting for me? When I was just minding my own business and only possessed ONE lonely little star to call my own… and it STILL comes for me. I mean, what is that about? I wasn’t even WINNING… honestly, I was just going to be happy settling for not finishing LAST. Have you been there? Not asking for much, not chasing after big crazy dreams… just trying to put in a good showing and enjoy the ride when suddenly the nightmare hits completely out of left-field. These Bowser spaces do not discriminate… those who were winning, those who were hanging on by a thread… we can all have our joy stolen and our peace shattered by one text, one phone call, one email, or one unexpected sentence uttered by someone that changes the trajectory of our lives FOREVER.
What do we do when even our most simple dreams morph into hideous nightmares without warning? It’s time for some answers… let’s take a look at the kind and honorable Shunammite woman who did nothing more than go out of her way to serve God and His chosen prophet, and she landed on a Bowser space anyways…
2 Kings 4:8-10 Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food. And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.”
As a traveling prophet, Elisha was typically dependent on the kindness and support of those he was ministering to in order to have his basic needs met. This unnamed Shunammite woman went so far above and beyond that she not only fed him when he passed by her way, she had an addition to her HOME built for him. Fully furnished! And if you have ever assembled furniture from IKEA, you KNOW that is a pretty significant gift. Elisha felt compelled to bless her from the Lord in some way due to her exceptional generosity, and even though she didn’t want anything or ask for anything, he decided to answer a prayer that she didn’t even present to him…
2 Kings 4:13-17 And he said to Gehazi, his servant, “Say now to her, ‘Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’ ” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old.” So he said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. Then he said, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!” But the woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her.
The woman served, Elisha prayed, a miracle happened, and a child was born. Let’s tie this one up with a bow and go home… another nice, happy ending for someone who did everything right, gave when they didn’t have to give, and did so without asking for anything in return. What a great story that inspires me to… oh… wait. That’s not the end of the story? You mean you can do everything right, ask for nothing in return, and still have it all go horribly wrong for no reason?
2 Kings 4:18-20 And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. And he said to his father, “My head, my head!” So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.
2 Kings 4:25-28 And so she departed, and went to the man of God at Mount Carmel. So it was, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to his servant Gehazi, “Look, the Shunammite woman! Please run now to meet her, and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’ ” And she answered, “It is well.” Now when she came to the man of God at the hill, she caught him by the feet, but Gehazi came near to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” So she said, “Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”
I really don’t know what to say here. This woman didn’t just do all the right things, she did MORE than the right things. She played the game as well as anybody could have… she played the minigames, jumped over the jump rope, and received a shiny gold star for her efforts. But this blessing from the Lord made her a target for the enemy, and he struck and took the precious gift she had been given… her one little star. Something so many others had in abundance and took for granted, and yet here we are, watching helplessly as she throws herself at the feet of the one she had only tried to serve…her only son robbed from her with no reasons given and no answers for the pain.
Perhaps you have been there. Maybe you still are. You have fallen at the feet of the Master not even looking for understanding or compassion… you just don’t know where else to go. Why would He give us something just to allow it be taken away? If this was how it would end, why didn’t He just, you know… leave us alone? I don’t possess one ounce of the kindness and goodness that this Shunammite woman demonstrated, but whether it was my fault through poor decisions or simply a bad dice roll, I have found myself laying on the floor and crying out to the Lord as well… and not merely for a reversal of my misfortune. I was honestly prepared to just stay there, unmoving, a permanent fixture. I just stared at the screen that was my life… the damage had been done, and I just didn’t want to play anymore. It wasn’t even about winning or losing… I never planned on winning in the first place. I just wanted to have a good run at it and hopefully have a fun time. But when I got that little tiny bit of hope and saw that star next to my name… I started to feel that hope transform into faith. For a short time, it felt like maybe, just maybe, things were actually going to go my way. That little flame of hope blossomed into acceptance of this new path… a victory I hadn’t planned on was now inexplicably within reach! I could almost taste happiness… contentment… it was impossible to fathom, but after all the self-help books, working on myself, and praying and reading the Bible maybe THIS is what life is like for everyone else! And then the screen went dark, Bowser appeared, and the highest of highs became the lowest of lows.
From the rich to the poor, the healthy to the infirm, the righteous to the unrighteous, we all feel the downpour of that bitter rain across our faces in this life (Matthew 5:45). Joy can be found throughout the journey, but we absolutely have an enemy who has a simple and horrific mission… to steal, kill and destroy whatever he can get his hands on (John 10:10). So what do we do when hope turns to horror, and even the simple little slice of heaven we were quietly enjoying in our private corner of the earth finds a way to turn into a nightmare? Let’s see the Shunammite woman’s response to this pain…
2 Kings 4:29-30 Then he said to Gehazi, “Get yourself ready, and take my staff in your hand, and be on your way. If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him; but lay my staff on the face of the child.” And the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.
Look at those words again… “I will not leave you”. I feel like I have heard a variation on that theme a few times now that I think about it… such as Ruth when the tragic loss of her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all completely disrupted her simple and unassuming life, and she responded with this…
Ruth 1:16-17 But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
Or, here we go… someone I can relate to much better. The incredibly flawed but determined trickster Jacob when he literally engaged in a wrestling match with God…
Genesis 32:25-26 Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
Each one of these individuals were faced with unplanned tragedy and massive life disruption. But the reason we are reading about them thousands of years after the end of their respective stories is because they made the decision to do the ONE THING they still controlled… they stubbornly refused to let these battles determine their distance to the Lord. Sure, they could have allowed the bitterness of the pills they were forced to swallow to create a wall around their hearts… but instead it strengthened their grip on the Lord Himself. It was in these desperate moments their character was refined and the hidden diamond within revealed, as the external pressure reached it’s boiling point. And the story of the Shunammite woman DOES end with the resurrection of her son…
2 Kings 4:34-37 And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm. He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite woman.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out.
Now, that may sound all well and good, but now let’s get back to OUR Mario Party. We still have no stars, no coins, and no realistic hope of winning. The point of these stories is not to simply pick up that controller, brush that dust off of your shoulder, and just keep swimming. That might sound nice and empowering, and it would probably sell some T-shirts… but that is NOT the lesson to be learned here. True, this one eventually worked out for the Shunammite woman, but it was only because of the REACTION she chose in the midst of this horrific event.
She could have allowed this tragedy to make her bitter, angry, and chose to simply bury her child without pursuing the Lord… and that would have been the end of the story for her as well as the child. And it is this same choice that we have each and every time our most simple and basic happy places are interrupted with unprovoked complications and unexpected tragedies… they can either increase our proximity to the Master, or reveal that we are one bad day away from burying the dream forever.
Do we press closer into the shadow of His wings when the storms get rough, or do we allow these circumstances to not only steal our stars, but also our hope in Him? It is always hard when the little joys that we have are taken away and replaced with the mocking laughter of our enemy, but that is when we must FIERCELY grab onto His nail-scarred feet and REFUSE to let go. Mario Party gives, and Mario Party takes away. Sometimes I get stars I didn’t deserve, and other times I lose stars that I worked hard to attain. It is the nature of the game… it typically feels incredibly random and unfair. I don’t always control the result, but I DO control how I react to it. Don’t let the thief that has already stolen your stars steal your joy, your peace, your hope, or your faith. Let even these painful moments press you so deeply into the Lord’s chest that all that you can hear is His heartbeat, and DON’T let go. I can’t promise He will return the coins and stars that were stolen from you… I am still missing some myself. But I can say that what didn’t kill me made my faith in Him stronger… and I know that if we anchor ourselves to Him, there isn’t a storm on this planet that can move Him. And storm or no storm… that is the safest place to be.
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