On the corner of Sidney Street and 7th Avenue, just past Sean’s Shoe Shine Chateau and Betty’s Bakery, is a building at least a hundred stories high with windows all the way up. Just above the green awning is a three-foot sign which reads, “Mr. Allister’s Advertisement Factory.” If you go inside this building, you will see that it is divided into thousands of rectangular rooms, each dedicated to advertising a certain product.
This story starts on the thirty-fourth floor in room 3400 with a woman named Lynni. Lynni's job for the longest time was to remind others that buying lavender scented Arid to Astonishing hand lotion will “Restore Life to Your Skin, Creating a Whole New You.” This is a story of how she learned to step outside of her room to use her astonishing lotion to do something that was indeed astonishing.
Just across Lynni in room 3401 was Ruffles, a shiny dog who was always eating piles of extra-healthy dog food and, as a result, was growing quite fat. Every so often Lynni would look across at him and wish she could advertise something like “Nutri-Kibble: Keeping the Ones You Love Alive and Well.” But instead she was stuck with her Arid to Astonishing.
“Ruffles!” she would call, “You’re so very good at eating Nutri-Kibble—just like all goldenlabradoodle terriers are created to do. How does it taste? Are you alive and well?”
And Ruffles would recite, “Alive and well. Energetic and vivacious. Healthy as a brand new puppy—I do love watching you lotion your hands. It’s exactly what you were made to do, Lynni. How is the Arid to Astonishing? Is it changing your life?”
To which Lynni would reply, “Every coat of luscious lotion restores life to your skin, creating a whole new you.”
This is how the days passed, with Lynni gracefully lotioning her hands and Ruffles cleaning his dish, until one day something happened that changed Mr. Allister’s Advertisement Factory forever.
It was Wednesday at ten o’clock and Lynni had just opened another bottle of Astonishing when she happened to glance out the window. From her place on the thirty-fourth floor, she could see all up and down Sidney Street and even to the fields beyond. Lynni had never thought much about what lay outside of the advertisement factory because she almost never left the building. She did glance up from time to time and, when she did, she generally enjoyed the vibrantly green grass below and the way the wind rustled the corn and beans. But on this day, the grass in the park was not green at all and the crops seemed to be dry and brittle.
“That’s odd,” she thought. “I’ve always heard that corn and beans are supposed to be green. Perhaps I was misinformed.” And she went back to lotioning her hands.
Several days went by before Lynni thought anything about the grass and the corn again. In fact, it wasn’t until the next Monday when Ruffles barked across to her, “I heard they ran out of cornbread in the cafeteria today. Not that it makes any difference to me, since all I eat is Nutri-Kibble.” Ruffles sighed. “Alive and well, alive and well,” he muttered.
“You mean Calming, Comforting Cornbread?” Lynni gasped. “But the cafeteria serves Calming, Comforting Cornbread every Monday until everyone feels contented in their souls and right at home.”
It was then that Lynni remembered the stretches of brown fields outside of her window. She looked up again and, this time, the grass had all dried up and blown away, and the fields spread toward the horizon in shriveled sticks. A crowd was gathered outside Betty’s Bakery. Lynni watched people come out of the shop, but instead of carrying bread and cakes, their arms were empty and the crowd was growing angry. Eventually, Betty herself came out holding one small loaf of bread above her head. A boy in the crowd snatched it and ran away while the crowd pushed after him.
“Ruffles!” she said, “Look!”
“Funny,” said Ruffles, “I’d always been told that corn and beans were supposed to be green. Guess I was misinformed. By the way, how’s the Arid to Astonishing?”
“Arid…arid! Ruffles, the ground’s all dried up out there! That’s why the crops are brown and why Betty left the bakery!”
“No, no,” said Ruffles, “I’m talking about the Arid in here. Arid to Astonishing! You need more lavender-scented lotion. It’ll change your life.”
“Ruffles, I’m serious. They need our help. Come on.” And with that, Lynni snatched up her half-finished bottle and headed out the door.
“What are you going to do?” barked Ruffles.
“We’ve got to find a way to help those people. They’re starving!”
“Lynni, sit down. You’re doing your part from up here on floor thirty-four. Your real talent is advertising lotion. You were made for advertising lotion. You’re perfectly suited for lotioning and for nothing else, just as I, being a goldenlabradoodle terrier, am perfectly suited for eating Nutri-Kibble. Now, we all adore you and think you’re absolutely the best hand-lotioner we’ve ever seen.”
“You really think I was made for hand lotioning?”
“You’re a hand lotion commercial! What else could you possibly be made for? Now sit down and continue doing what you’re good at.”
But as Lynni turned back to her table, she glanced at the scene outside of her window. By now, Sidney Street was in complete disarray. Broken glass surrounded Betty’s Bakery and several people were pushing at the door of Sean’s Shoe Shine Chateau.
“No, Ruffles. You’re wrong,” Lynni stood up again. “I may be the best hand lotioner around, but sometimes hand lotion won’t save your life.”
Lynni left room 3400. She entered the elevator and paused. Which button should she push? She had only ever been on the first and the thirty-fourth floors, but now she had to get help. Lynni jabbed at number twenty-seven. She knew there must be food advertisements somewhere.
On floor twenty-seven, Lynni found Charlotte Chocolate, a woman with long fingernails who was slowly dipping strawberries into a bowl of chocolate and eating them while she read a book.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” said Lynni, “But there’s a tragedy happening outside! People are starving!”
The woman raised her eyes ever so slowly.
“You have gorgeous hands. So soft and smooth. Oh! Are you Lotion Lynni? I’ve heard you’re so very good at lotioning your hands. Why ever have you stopped?”
Lynni blushed a little.
“Ma’am, please. You have more strawberries than you need and the people out there are starving. Couldn’t I take some berries down to them?”
The woman clicked her tongue. “Now Lynni, we all know you are meant for advertising lotion. If you go outside, you’ll ruin your hands. And then what good will you be? No, you’d better go back to room 3400.”
Room after room was like this. Lynni would ask for food only to be told to return to her room and continue doing the thing she was best at, the thing she was created to do. After what felt like hours, Lynni had found only a ten-year-old girl who went by the name of Cheese Puff Pennie, a stringy teenage boy named Maple Max from Stick to Your Guts Maple Syrup, and a serious-looking horse named Norm who pulled a cart of old-fashioned oatmeal behind him.
The mismatched crew crowded into the elevator and Lynni pressed a button she had never pushed before: G—ground floor. “Well,” Lynni said to herself, “I don’t know what a cart of oatmeal, a gallon of maple syrup, and some cheese puffs will do, but we’ve gathered what we have, and now we're here to help.”
And help they did, in the most unexpected ways. The moment Lynni, Penny, Max, and Norm stepped out of Mr. Allister’s Advertisement Factory, the crowd surrounded them. Lynni passed out cheese puffs, and spooned oatmeal into waiting bowls. Since there was no water, they boiled the oats in Stick to Your Guts Maple Syrup (which turned out to have a consistency very similar to water).
While Lynni traipsed up and down the streets passing out food, Penny, Max, and Norm returned to Mr. Allister's to restock their supplies. Every time they went back up to their old floors, neighbors would chide and ridicule them.
“Max! What are you doing with your life?” Charlotte Chocolate would say, “You were growing up to be such a model syrup display. It’s that Lynni, isn’t it? I don’t know why she wasn’t content as a lotioner. Now look at her. What does she know about food? And I bet her hands are all covered in calluses and sunspots.”
Truth be told, Charlotte Chocolate knew much more than Lynni did about food, and many times Lynni wondered whether she was helping at all. But every day she would say to herself, “Well, I don’t have much, but this is where I’m supposed to be,” and every day hungry people were made full.
As days turned into weeks, Lynni’s hands did become callused. Her skin grew hard and dry. Every now and then, she would think of room 3400 and the pleasant days of demonstrating Arid to Astonishing. She would remember Ruffles, nose buried in Nutri-Kibble, and think that it was indeed a good thing that Ruffles could show other dogs and dog-owners a healthy food to eat.
It was morning on the Tuesday of Lynni’s third week outside of the Advertisment Factory, and she was completing her daily round of serving oatmeal and syrup. She entered a tiny house to find Betty from Betty’s Bakery sitting on a rocking chair, with four or five children surrounding her.
“Betty,” said Lynni, “Good morning. How is your pantry? May I give you any oatmeal today?”
“No, no,” said Betty, “We have stored up enough to last us until the rain comes. We are full, but there is one thing we do need.” Betty held up the hands of the youngest child. They were chaffed and bleeding. “The air is so dry, the children’s skin is breaking apart. I know it sounds silly since you came to deliver food, but what we really need right now is lotion.”
“Well,” said Lynni, “It just so happens that lotion is one thing I do have.” Shyly she pulled out her bottle of Arid to Astonishing and gently began to rub the child’s hands.
“Is that lavender scent?” Betty asked.
“Yes, it is.”
“Ah. All of our lavender crops died and it’s been so long since I smelled that. Thank you, Lynni,” she said, “I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this, but you really are very good at lotioning hands.”
And that, my friends, is the story of how Lynni Lotion left her tiny room in Mr. Allister’s Advertisement factory to do something she knew she needed to do, even though everyone else told her that she couldn’t do it. What’s more, she has now found a use for her lotion that is truly astonishing.
Questions for Reflection:
- Have you ever felt “boxed in” like Lynni and the other characters in the advertisement factory, particularly because of your gender? How has the church contributed to or lessened those feelings?
- Charlotte Chocolate had strong opinions about the way Maple Max should act and the way Lynni should look. At first, such opinions kept Lynni passive. How can the church provide people with healthy expectations for their lives, based not on cultural assumptions or physical beauty but on God’s will?
- What does Lynni ultimately learn about roles, gifting, and service? How does this translate to the body of Christ as a whole and to you personally?