Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Traffic Jam Ahead

One year my husband, daughter, and I drove from New Jersey to Guatemala. Although I am not a good passenger, I had little problem traveling through the United States, but traveling in Mexico, and especially in Guatemala, raised my adrenaline levels to all-time highs. I never realized how much I had taken bridges and guardrails for granted.

We had to cross several rivers to get to our Mayan village in the highlands. One day we came upon a traffic jam caused by a pickup stalled in the river. Not being the ones stuck, nor being in any particular hurry, we took advantage of the situation to get some pictures of a typical day on the road. After a short delay, the truck recovered and continued across the river; no one worse for wear.

The minor interruption in my journey had not caused me any distress back then, but yesterday as I listened to the news, I wondered how I would have responded had I been in the midst of the 11-day traffic jam in China. There would have been no overhead signs warning me of a delay up ahead, no chance to exit the two-lane road, no bathroom! no blankets, no food, except for what the enterprising villagers provided. Just totally, unexpectedly stuck, with no idea what was ahead or what was behind.

A British couple described how they were happily aglow as they returned from a romantic vacation only to come to a sudden, days-long stop in the thick of the heat, diesel fumes, and irate travelers. In the turn of a minute, everything changed. Their lives and plans caught up in the collective repercussions of an event sixty miles down the road.

Unforeseen traffic jams, floods, catastrophes . . . .

The thing is, I was considering all of this as I was floating in my pool. The contrast between what my body was experiencing and what my mind was thinking stirred up a sense of guilt, which threatened to drown the pleasantry of the moment. Should I be enjoying myself when others are suffering, I wondered.

Then clearly, the very paraphrased lesson from a passage of Scripture (which I'd appreciate if anyone knows where it is) came to mind: No one knows what is ahead. But if I cannot and do not praise and thank God in the good times, how will I have the strength to do it in the bad?

I rolled over, floated on my back, and called to the depths of the deep blue sky.

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Psalm 103:1

Saturday, August 28, 2010

He Knows My Face

 My husband's newly discovered fondness for text messaging got me thinking about forms of communication. Since good communication is vital to a healthy marriage, I wondered how this non-real-time electronic correspondence would affect one of the most powerful means of messaging a woman has--her face.

Researchers of non-verbal communication report that of the thousands of configurations facial muscles are capable of, over three-thousand combinations are understood in every culture. One study claims that 55% of effective communication is done through non-verbal expression.

But then, any woman could have told them that. Being able to convey innumerable messages by an imperceptible adjustment of her eyes is a skill learned at an early age, as my five-year-old granddaughter informed me. She was telling me about her friends at school and mentioned one boy in particular. I asked her what it was about him she liked. 
 "He knows my face," she said. "He knows when I don't want to be bothered, but I let him anyway."  


Although I suspect women are better at sending messages and interpreting facial codes than men, this is a valuable skill for any relationship. When my husband was in the pastorate, he was often tempted (gregarious man that he is) to use examples from our marriage. Usually, I could sit in the front pew with an angelic look pasted to my face and let him know in a timeless second he better switch gears in his story.  

One time, however, we were doing a home group on marriage with several other couples. Hoping his transparency would set the tone for the meetings, Bob closed in a prayer that went something like this: "Lord, I pray for more passion in our marriage." 
He knows my face. In a nanosecond, as every bowed head raised, I sent a message: "You are going to see some passion as soon as everyone leaves!"  

But as it is, Someone Else knows my face as well. In that instance, He deflected the barb of my arrow and redeemed both the situation and my husband. That year for a pastor appreciation gift, the church gave us a weekend at a romantic inn.  

My husband is out of town today. He sent me an electronic greeting and a happy face. I sent him back a text ending with the word kiss. Weak substitute that it is, it will have to do until we see face to face.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

She has warm hands

Although my back-to-school moments with children have long passed, I remember them clearly. My daughter, the only girl, was a Velcro child. She stuck so close to me that we moved as one unit.

I decided she needed to go to pre-school a few mornings a week to ease her into the world beyond my pant legs. Like a hound on a foxhunt, I searched out every program for miles around. I sat in show-and-tell circles, noted any potential five-year-old bullies, and examined lesson plans. Finally, I found the perfect program, made especially so because of the teacher.

Although it was held in a church that we were not members of, and the classes were rapidly filling, the director assured me my daughter would be placed in that particular teacher's class. That first day finally arrived. My daughter donned her backpack, and I donned my brave, happy face. I rolled up her sleeve and planted a lipstick kiss on her arm, so she could look at it if she felt insecure.

As we approached the classroom, the director intercepted me, pointed to another room, and said that would be my daughter's."Oh,no," I protested. "I specifically chose that other teacher. She's the only reason we are here."

 Unmoved, the director said Mrs.First-Choice Teacher's room was full, but that Mrs. X was also a wonderful teacher. Not wanting to throw a parental fit in front of all the nervous little children, I handed my daughter over to Mrs. X and hurried to my car where I promptly burst into tears.

All morning, sure my daughter was in duress, I paced, and cried, and ranted, and raved. "Why, Lord? I spent weeks looking for the perfect place for her and at the last minute it all changed."

Finally, in between my complaints, I realized the story of Joseph was playing in the background of my mind. As I paused to pay attention, I remembered the lesson from Joseph's life. In spite of all the bad that happened to him, things he had no control over and that seemed so unfair, God intended it all for good.

The morning passed. Calmed enough to meet her at her classroom door, I expected to find her anxious and in tears. Instead, a happy child laden with crayon drawings greeted me. "How was it?" I asked.

"Good." she said. "I like my teacher. She has warm hands."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Indigo Inn: Vision and Re-Vision

 Perhaps because I'm old enough to have a history of my own, I've come to appreciate lessons of the past much more than I did from my classroom desk. Last weekend my husband and I celebrated our anniversary in Charleston, a city whose cobblestone streets, brick alleyways, and pillared buildings exude the triumphs and tragedies of lives long gone.

We stayed at the Indigo Inn, once an indigo warehouse, now a comfortable lodging place in the heart of the historic district. All the rooms wrap around an interior courtyard of lush vegetation and splashing fountains. I wondered how the layout had ever lent itself to being a warehouse.

Turns out the vision of an 18th century woman became the re-vision of a 20th century one.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a 16-year-old colonial woman, took over the management of her father's plantations. She experimented with indigo, and in spite of many failed attempts, persevered and went on to become a successful business woman credited with developing indigo as one of South Carolina's major cash crops.Years after her death, a warehouse built to store indigo attested to the longevity of her vision.

According to Brian, our innkeeper, thirty years ago his parents bought the old warehouse. One website suggests that Frankie, his mother, had  a lot to do with the inn's present condition. Not having interviewed her, I can only speculate how she might have convinced her husband. Nothing to it. Just take off the roof, carve out the middle, plant a courtyard full of trees and shrubs, section out some rooms around the perimeter, and hang out the sign.

As I hunkered down with my breakfast plate on one of the couches tucked amidst the foliage, I saluted the woman who, instead of tacking a "historical building" sign on an edifice which no longer functioned in its original purpose, persevered through a new possibility. And if the full house on the weekend we stayed was any indication, her re-vision had paid off.

Sometimes I've tended to think of revision with dread, when, in fact, its meaning--to see anew-- is a positive action. It sees the exact word in place of the elusive one. It sees possibilities in place of problems. And it sees tourists chatting around platters of wine and cheese in place of bricks of indigo.

May I have the courage and perseverance to see any defunct warehouses in my life through the eyes of Holy Spirit Re-Vision. (And may my husband agree!)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cannibals, Tourists, and the name of Jesus

Several years ago while vacationing in New Zealand, we arrived in the seaside town of Napier. Seeing a large crowd gathered at a dock, we parked our car and joined the throng who were looking at a large (as in 115 feet) Maori war canoe.

Suddenly the crowd surged forward. A man standing next to me asked if we would like to go for a ride, and before I had time to assess the fact his shirtless body was marked with paint, we climbed onboard.

It wasn't until we cast off that I realized a) there were well over 100 people onboard, 80 of whom were bare-chested, war-painted oarsmen, 40 to a side, b) we were headed into the Pacific and there was nary a life jacket in sight, c) we were the only touristy, white-skined people --a fact made all the more unnerving when the hefty warrior next me grinned as he asked, "Did you know up until a few years ago we were cannibals?"

In unison our tattooed warriors roared out a chant and raised their pointed, white-tipped oars in the air, and then plunged them into the water. The leader banged out the cadence for his oarsmen and we set off. Our wide-eyed, six-year-old daughter turned to me and said,"Get me out of here."

The cliches fit: steel cold fear paralyzed me. What had we gotten into?

Just then a man stood, thrust his sleepy, drippy-nose baby into my husband's lap, and banged out a safe-journey prayer--in English--in the name of Jesus.

In an instant everything changed. Fears fled. We were going to live! Salt spray flicked off my face as I noted the happy crowd. It was a beautiful day, and we were having an adventure I could now enjoy because of assurance in that name.

Never had a name sounded so good, so safe, so comforting. Jesus. The name that bears the power of the Almighty to grant safe journeys, deliver from evil, and make cannibals brothers.

P.S. Turns out it was a ceremonial replica touring the country for its 150 year anniversary.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Can't keep a hubcap on

 Not being blessed with a very developed sense of humor, I have to work to cultivate one, so I usually laugh on Saturday mornings between 10:00-11:00. 

That's when Click and Clack the Tappet brothers analyze their callers' car problems with a wit and wisdom that makes even the most dire of mechanical failures hilarious. I'm trying to get up my nerve to call them with an observation I made while living in the North and which has continued to prove true even here in the South.

So, I digress from my usual efforts to edify or inspire and instead share with you my inexplicable observation. Perhaps someone has a suggestion, or perhaps you too, will begin observing this phenomena, which at the very least makes for harmless entertainment while driving.

Simply put: green sedans lose their hubcaps more than any other color vehicle. Don't go away--it's true. I challenge you to start looking. 

I first noticed this shortly after we gave our college-bound daughter our green Subaru. Every time she came to visit, it was missing a hubcap. A car's visual appeal is immediately lowered by one naked black tire and exposed lug nuts, so much so, that our daughter, who would much prefer clothing, asked for hubcaps for Christmas. By spring, one was missing. Suspecting she was running over a lot of curbs, I lectured her on her driving habits.

One day, I pulled into a parking space behind a green sedan--with a missing hubcap--stuffed full with pillows, crates and other items indicative of a move. My immediate reaction was, "Oh no! She's moving back home already."  

Although it wasn't her, it got me noticing the high number of green sedans that were missing hubcaps. My degree in sociology fails me in my efforts to explain this. People who drive green cars usually inherit them, thus don't care as much? People who buy green cars are earthy types and drive in rough places? Green paint repels hubcaps?

There is some benefit to this seemingly mindless diversion. Studies show that that an idling brain actually is doing deeply creative work...so if you're stuck on a problem or have writer's block, maybe you should take a drive.

And If you see a green sedan missing its covers, let me know!