Do I Know What I Can Do?

As we get older, the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is tough.There comes a point when you’ve been there and may or may not have something to show for it.

When I was younger, the first career I picked when I had to report on it in second grade was a horse trainer. I loved horses, drew horses, read books on horses–and yet we never had the finances to take riding lessons. A true dream, though short-lived.

My next aspiration was to become a journalist. I discovered I enjoyed writing–poetry and short stories, many of them quite macabre. My imagination was a little over the top, so I thought reporting on wars or tragedies around the world would fit my skill set well.

My mother shot that one down. She insisted I go into teaching when I went to college, and being a spineless young woman who was fairly obedient, I did that. Secondary education majoring in English.

If I couldn’t write the wild and wonderful, maybe I could teach others to do that.

I got the only teaching job I applied for; some may call that fortuitous, but I saw it as an opportunity to get to know what I really wanted to do.

It wasn’t teaching.

I loved the students, and some of the subjects were fun, but making young people learn things they didn’t want to learn wasn’t something I was good at. Too much of a people-pleaser to do the job well.

I wanted to return after that first year and apologize to all the students I’d taught. I wasn’t horrible–there were parts I was really good at. But teaching wasn’t what I was meant to do.

What it showed me, though, was I enjoyed interacting with others, talking to young people about life matters and showing respect–hopefully–to those who don’t always feel respected.

Teaching made me realize the need to learn to listen.

After a year of teaching, my husband and I decided to go into ministry. Sharing God’s truth with others.

Offering the hope of eternal life.

When my children began to think through what they wanted to be, I backed off from opinions. I let them decide what they believed they wanted to do. Could do. I gave encouragement where I could, but they made choices.

None of them have truly followed what they went to school for.

They are, however, doing what they’re passionate about.

Understanding who we are is more than what we do. What we think we’re good at.

We’ve been wonderfully made by a God who loves us and sees us as more than the sum total of our production. He’s made us with gifts and talents that can accomplish many different occupations if we recognize that we are more than what we do.

We are who He has made us to be. People of worth and value in His eyes.

So when five-year-old Brooklyn dresses six-month-old Nolan as a chef and declares he’ll be the world’s best baker, it could be real.

We find our passion when we discover that Someone is passionate about us. His character and gifts shape who we are.

In ways we can become excited about.

The Way Isn’t Always Clear

Summers are often opportunities for travel; even staying home can give us space to try things we don’t normally do during the rest of the year. Journey’s of a few steps or many miles.

We’re all on an ongoing adventure, close to home or far away; we keep going because stopping before arriving where we want to be isn’t a desired option.

Many places we drive around Orlando have guard rails on the road, not to limit but to protect. One of my children learned that the hard way when they spun out of control on a patch of slick oil; the guardrails kept her from going into oncoming traffic.

Other roads haven’t had the benefit of such safeguards. Mountain roads come to mind, where the steep and windy often have drop-offs that are quite dangerous if you stray too far from your lane.

Detours also complicate journeys because they throw off my sense of arrival.

When I go somewhere, I want to get there. I need to pay attention.

Keeping my eyes on the road and not being distracted by the sights and sounds around me is a good place to start.

Roads that are unfamiliar require more attention. I will be forever grateful for the people who created GPS in easy to use phone apps. It does mean I need to trust my GPS when it tells me something. Second-guessing it, thinking I know better than a satellite view is a little arrogant.

Getting lost happens. Detours are often unavoidable. Not always because I made a bad choice or got careless.

When John and I were first married, he had recently purchased a new car that I got to drive. I taught thirty miles from where we lived, all country roads, and I knew the one way to the school.

One Friday on my way home, I was confronted with a group of workers laying tar on the road. I had no idea of how to get home any other way, so I slowly drove through the workers, smiling at them. Not understanding why they were all laughing at me.

I picked John up from work, and as I drove up, I watched my husband’s face morph from glad to sad/mad. He walked to the car as I scooted over and asked, “What did you do?”

He told me to get out, and I saw a layer of black tar covering the bottom of the car, windows on down.

It took him two hours and a gallon of kerosene to get it off.

There will be those times in life where we’re covered with the junk of others’ decisions and bad choices. We took a path we thought to be right and it wasn’t.

But God.

He’s in it with me, every step of the way. He’s as concerned with how I get somewhere rather than merely the destination.

Life is madness, full of turns and detours; I can’t live anticipating making the wrong decisions.

God is with me.

Aware of my bad choices and mess, and loving me through it.

No matter what I’ve covered myself with.

It’s Hard To Know What You’re Dealing With

I live in a state where we have a plethora of venomous snakes. Plus our share of poisonous spiders.

Don’t forget the alligators which are often overlooked because of their ability to remain still.

Our environment appears to encourage these fellows.

After we’d lived here a few years, we took our kids and nephew to Gatorland, a Florida phenomenon that can make some very queasy.

I lost count of the number of poisonous snakes that call our state home. Glass cage after glass cage of slithery, stealthy killers. With at least the potential to make you really sick.

The sight that took my breath away was a huge cement slab filled with alligators. Many were missing feet, tips of tails, had long slash marks on their sides. Knowing that our state does everything they can to save manatees, I asked one of the workers if they were helping rehabilitate hurt alligators.

The man peered at me as if I had lost a few marbles. “Heck, no, lady. When these guys get their dinner, they don’t care what’s near their mouths. They chomp down on anything that could be food.”

There is no gator rescue.

We’ve had water moccasins in our back yard, and I’ve learned to watch for them because they’re aggressive. Because our pond backs into a conservation area, when the water is lower during dry periods, they freely cross the pond.

We’ve had to make a run for the house as we’ve seen them slither through the water. It’s hard to miss them. I’m not going to be the one who pushes the boundaries of sanity by seeing what they’ll do once they reach land. They’re just as quick on solid ground.

The concern is there, but I don’t live in fear of snakes and alligators. I stay away from areas that might hide some of these creatures, but it doesn’t affect my daily life. We have a Wetlands Conservation area not too far from us where we can see alligators in their natural habitat.

We keep our distance. So it amazed and amused me as we stopped at a rest area, a place to stretch your legs, use the facilities, and for the innumerable people who travel with dogs, to let them do their business, to see a sign: “Warning: Beware of venomous snakes”.

Having these snakes in the area should make me more aware, but I confess I get calloused. You go for periods of time without being bothered, and the problem appears to dissipate.

But it doesn’t.

Too often we go through life so aware of the hurt, pain, and injustice to others that we become calloused to it. Rather than being sensitive and mindful, we choose to ignore what seems superfluous.

A quote often attributed to the philosopher Edmund Burke states: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Jesus reminded us we need to treat others as we’d like to be treated. He stated, “Do to others whatever you wold like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

Being cared for is what we all desire.

We will always have snakes.

We don’t have to be them.

It’s Easy To Get Carried Away

When driving around the South, it’s easy to believe that kudzu, that ubiquitous vine, could be slowly gobbling up huge portions of land. A wily green monster that has the capacity to cover anything not moving.

Introduced to America from Japan at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, it didn’t garner much interest. It seemed to take forever to grow, farmers couldn’t figure out its usefulness, livestock would graze on it but it wouldn’t regrow. It pretty much sat on a back burner until 1935.

Drought hit the south hard during this time, and land became stripped of its productivity by vast dust storms. Kudzu was seen as way to help restore the ground and prevent more soil erosion. Millions of seedlings were grown and planted in affected areas. It became the ground cover of choice.

Once rains returned to the South, much of the kudzu was plowed under or grazed away by livestock.

Where it wasn’t affected by man or beast, it was left to grow. Unchecked, it would cover the ground, shimmy up the trunks of trees and light poles, and appear as the green monster that was ingesting the South, one leafy vine at a time.

Such is the stuff of myth and legend. Stories like these grow because perception is often different from truth. I used to be concerned that these vines would wipe out all natural ecology in our area.

That’s not what’s happening.

Kudzu lives in sunny places–it can’t survive in deep forests. And the Japanese kudzu bug–it is real–loves to suck the very life out of these vines.

They’re not indestructible.

I see them everywhere driving in Florida.

What I see from my car window is the myth of the kudzu takeover.

So much of what we claim is real today is our perception after a quick overview of social media, a smattering of research to back up what we think is true, and looking at articles and books that support what we choose to believe.

So many myths live on.

I’ve often wondered why it’s so easy to sway the thinking of others. I remember math and science classes in school reminding us to check our facts, make sure you’ve looked at the problem correctly, or your answer will be wrong.

Truth is now spun from perspectives of folks who want others to believe their way. A situation can be witnessed by different people, and each will have a different rendition of the facts. Many which won’t agree.

We think from the filter of our own stories. From our experiences and understanding.

Truth by its definition must be absolute to be real.

That is unacceptable in a world where truth is relative, and what’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another.

Jesus claimed to be the Truth. In the Bible, He set out a way of living well with others. Interestingly, many nations who’ve never heard of Jesus or God have followed these truths as foundations for their societies.

Like kudzu, the myth can carry us away. Truth can be covered by what we see flying by in our daily lives.

Test Jesus. If His truth isn’t lasting and conclusive, chase myths.

There will always be myths.

In Times Of Calm, Storms Still Happen

Our final week of pause saw rain every day.

Downpours greeted us with dark clouds scudding across the sky like angry messengers. Winds blew the chimes on the porch into a wild symphony of sound and movement.

It made me feel good that it’s been raining back home as well, where the ground in central Florida is super soaked. This rain hasn’t felt as daunting.

Maybe because the temperatures aren’t in the 90’s with increasing humidity like they are at home.

We’ve not gone many places; driving the switchbacks in the rain, when those more adept at this place and climate are barreling around curves with a speed that causes concern isn’t relaxing. There’s nowhere to go but down if you get off the road.

Many afternoons and evenings we sat on the porch together, watching the rain, covered in blankets because the wind felt cold. The thunder was magnificent, like the timpani from a massive orchestra filling the space with deep beats and percussion. Darkness would come early; the sun chose to hide instead of fighting against the roiling clouds.

Even in the calmest of times, when I’m ready for a pause from the loud and chaotic sounds and activities of life, storms will come.

Not bidden. Not anticipated. Often not appreciated.

Many storms in life are mere inconveniences. They dismantle plans for outdoor activities, especially those prepared way in advance. (Think weddings). They limit the spontaneity of possible things to do. They’re messy, particularly when small ones want to play in the mud.

Storms are also destructive. I live in an area where we have hurricane season June 1 through November 30. We’ve experienced the devastation of hurricanes, even though we live in the central part of the state. Wild winds, lashing rain, they knock down trees and power lines, and ruin roofs.

We’ve all experienced storms that have hurt or hampered our lives.

Most of those aren’t external. It’s the storms within, caused by outside forces, that often are our undoing.

We’re living in a time where anxiety, depression, and despair are flourishing, not just in adults, but in children. Where what we’re familiar with has been repurposed to suit a pandemic or divisiveness or disruption that we as individuals can’t control. We’re not free to sit on a porch and watch it happen. We’re too often pulled into the maelstrom and have to deal with the debris flying around us.

People are constantly coming up with methods to cope with such things. Tapping, meditating, controlled breathing, and a host of other things that take our minds off the storms.

They don’t make the storms go away. We stop whatever we’re doing, and they’re still there.

Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble. Storms will happen; they’re part of this life. We can blame our internal storms on others; we can bemoan the external storms for all the hassles they bring.

There will be trouble. No matter what.

He also said to take courage. He has overcome the world. He is greater than the storms, the uncontrollable forces that hurt all of us.

If we trust Him.

I can’t make the storms stop, but I can find hope to ride them out.

Never alone.