Can’t You Read The Signs?

Home again. Where it rains constantly in the summer. And even when it doesn’t, the liquid sun breaks you out in a sweat immediately after showering.

Having left cool temperatures and low humidity, I felt slapped in the face by the heaviness of the air once we landed in Orlando. Not a surprise.

This is home.

It’s also the height of the tourist season. Where people swarm from all over the globe to attend our theme parks and visit our beaches.

Many are leaving temperate climates to come to the living sauna where mosquitoes, our state bird, wreak havoc on folks all summer long. Fair-skinned people especially–beware.

I exaggerate. Just a little.

The mosquitoes aren’t as big as birds.

It just feels like it.

As I sit on my back porch early in the morning, a cup of coffee in hand, I see the clouds scuttle by and begin to blossom into thunderheads. The Weather Channel says there’s a possibility of rain today. Maybe 50%.

They’re not sitting on my back porch. It will rain sometime this afternoon.

I’m reading the signs.

Signs are everywhere, from ubiquitous traffic signs reminding me of speed limits and who has the right of way to identifying structures and streets. Those are easy to understand.

When a sign says “One Way”, there’s no confusion as to which way that means. Arrows are helpful.

Signs in people aren’t always as easy to read.

There’s the person drumming her fingers on the table as I speak. Either I need to quit talking and ask her some questions or she’s got a lot on her mind. It’s an unconscious habit.

There’s the person ignoring her children in the park, allowing them to create havoc. Either she’s occupied on her cell, just needs a break from the little urchins, or is thinking heavy thoughts that facial features don’t register.

There’s the person pacing back and forth in the waiting room. Either she’s nervous about what she might be hearing from whomever she’s waiting for, or she’s heard something that’s upset her. Processing works better when moving.

With people, clarifying questions need to be asked. Some feel hesitant to go there for fear the response may be bad. Some don’t want to get involved because they’ve got enough to deal with on their own.

When caring questions are asked, they give people the chance to be real. To share burdens. To ask for help. To know they aren’t the only ones stuck in a crisis.

Many people make assumptions about God by what they believe they see around them. That He’s unkind, disinterested, or out to get us.

We’re not asking the right questions. Or looking for signs that point us to the truth.

The truth of God is written in the Bible. As a friend reminded me, you can also find wars, suffering, murder, and rape there as well. Real life revealed in its pages.

The real question? Who is God?

He’s given us all kinds of signs pointing to who He is in the Bible. And in life. Will we pursue the answers?

Or will we wait till it’s raining and we’re not prepared?

Signs only help if we pay attention.

 

 

Small World, Big Picture

Our world is shrinking.

This isn’t a surprise. Awareness of world events brought about by social media is as natural today as snail mail was the norm decades ago.

Yet I’m still filled with wonder when I find myself surrounded by new and different.

Growing up in the Midwest, the heartland of America, there was a sameness that defined my childhood. A homogeneous existence that characterized how I was raised.

I didn’t know any different.

Our last day in San Francisco, we walked everywhere. Through Chinatown, by the piers, around areas that were unexpected and fascinating. We saw areas of wealth and places inhabited by the homeless. Streets filled with expensive retail and small sectors littered with cardboard, plastic, and people clinging to personal space by their section of chain-link fences.

All within steps of each other.

Our walkabout brought unique sights and sounds. I heard less English and a greater variety of languages and dialects than I can remember.

I’ve been fascinated by languages my whole life. I’m modestly adept at one language–an embarrassed monolingual in a world that aspires to better understanding through communication in different languages. As a child, I dreamed of having a gift of languages where I could hear others speak and understand them, no matter what they spoke. And they could understand me.

It takes time to learn a language. I studied Spanish in school, and living in Florida and traveling to a few Spanish-speaking countries has given me the chance to practice. A little.

I understand more than I can speak.

Which is a gift. I have to really listen and not interrupt to grasp any semblance of conversational flow.

Walking through Chinatown, with unfamiliar languages and dialects, listening was an exercise in frustration and appreciation.

Frustration because I couldn’t understand anything.

Appreciation because the interactions were culturally genuine and beautiful to listen to.

I couldn’t interact with any of them. Apart from smiling and nodding agreeably. Saying “Good morning” with kindness.

My wordiness often causes me to speak quickly or interrupt consistently to get my point across. A family trait. Growing up the reminder was “children should be seen and not heard”, a remark that, I believe, pushed us all toward a need to be heard.

The sign, “Have you found your place in the world?”, misses the point that we all do have a unique place. One only we can fill. Finding it is a journey of understanding who we are.

Our value doesn’t depend on who chooses to listen to us.

God listens. To all who seek Him to know Him. As a loving Father, He listens consistently and answers purposefully.

He’s not surprised by what I say or how I feel. I can’t shock Him with my attitudes and thoughts.

He created diversity. Nobody fills out a form on how life should look. We live with our choices. In a relationship with Him, we have support and guidance.

I may not understand others. God does. I may not listen well. God does.

Heaven will be that place where we’ll all understand and appreciate each other. A genuine, loving embracing of our differences.

Big listening.

Can’t lose that.

 

 

 

 

Hopping Down The Habit Trail

 

I’m a seeker of good habits.

Not resolutions, mind you. Those ubiquitous mainstays of News Years’ self-reinvention frustrate me no end. They taunt me with their lack of long-lasting results.

Habits, however, are activities I choose to do that become a regular tendency, a practice that’s hard to give up. Doing things the same way for a certain period of time, say six weeks of constant repetition, will create a habit.

I’ve developed some really good habits. I had a dentist ask if I flossed. After hemming and hawing for a bit, I admitted I didn’t. He nodded and told me it was no big deal. I only needed to floss the teeth I wanted to keep for life.

I made that a habit rather quickly. Can’t go to bed now without cleaning between my teeth.

Not all habits are good. I have a habit of “fixing”  people with my great ideas and words of wisdom. Always interrupting. Annoying for me and them. I too often excuse my wordiness when I need to apologize for not listening better.

I’ve developed a sugar habit. Mom was a sugar-sneaker, hiding candy in various places in the house. Places she firmly believed her four kids couldn’t find. It raised the value of candy for all of us. The forbidden always tastes sweeter.

Especially if it’s covered in chocolate.

While John and I have been on our vacation, we’ve sought to establish good habits together. I’ve cooked healthy meals–no sugar. (Yes, it’s been painful.) After two weeks, I’m not craving it as much. (We’ll see how long that lasts.)

A health benefit.

We’ve taken walks every morning together, something that is truly miserable to do in Florida now with the heat and humidity. We engage in more conversation when we’re moving in tandem than when we’re couched in front of the TV.

A relational benefit

We’ve watched very little television, mostly because there’s no cable or WiFi where we’re staying. We’ve finagled the World Cup, but not much more.

A time benefit.

Not all of these will translate well once we get back home. Our schedules–and the weather–will make daily walks together difficult. With grands around, the absence of sugar won’t be tolerated well. Spoiling them is an art form.

We’ve got cable and WiFi.

One habit I’ve developed that offers constant encouragement–a habit I protect–is time alone with Jesus each day. It began years ago, with a challenge to read the Bible for thirty days straight and journal what I’d read.

It took me forever to accomplish thirty days in a row. Once I did, I realized how much I benefitted from the time. Real soul care. I didn’t always come away with memorable nuggets. To be honest, some days I read my Bible merely out of habit. Not from closeness with God.

Even those times would produce divine heart nudges. The more I read about God, the better I got to know Him and how much He loves me. What began as a challenge became a deep and loving relationship.

That’s the kind of habit I can live with.

 

Trinkets, Treasures…or Trash?

We’ve been in vacation mode for a week and have decided doing what isn’t our norm is the best way to embrace this time.

So we went to a flea market.

No idea why calling it a name that intimates people selling bugs, but what we found was a mixture of Goodwill, garage sale and quirky collectibles spread over a large parking lot.

Tables of bling, with massive amounts of jewelry scrunched into a tiny space. More shine per square inch than I’ve seen.

Old CD’s and DVD’s, glassware and dishes from various decades, odd knick-knacks.

Clothes piled high with no rhyme or reason as to size or type.

A few relics from our past, which brought grins.

Bunches of Beanie Babies. We’d search for special ones for the kids years ago.

Spice Girls dolls from the 90’s. My youngest loved their movie and knew their songs.

Baskets of Lego pieces. Tiny blocks of sheer frustration.

Precious Moments figurines. Little ceramic big-eyed children in a variety of poses that were big collectibles and sweet gifts because you could find them to suit any occasion or need. I had one. Once. My son accidentally destroyed it with a well-kicked soccer ball. Indoors.

Funny. It was a child holding a soccer ball.

There were several ways to peruse the market stands. Methods spurred by purpose. Some folks were looking for great deals. Others were there with great need.

The uncommitted wander-and-glance method. That was what we chose to do. Not looking for anything in particular. Just enjoying the experience.

The focused-object method, where people zeroed in on specifics. Tools, a particular record album, a specific kind of jewelry.

The method that took the most time was the treasure-hunt method. Carefully going through piles of things with the hope of finding the prize buried beneath the rubble.

Folks knelt by piles of things, carefully pulling out one item after another, placing it to the side and then inspecting it further. Whether it was a shirt or a special tool, care was given to the search. This wasn’t settling for what would work in the moment. They saw with practiced eyes what was of value to them. Time wasn’t the factor.

Great finds can be had in places like this. Sometimes articles of great worth are being sold cheaply because the owner doesn’t know or appreciate the value.

People often pursue and befriend others by the flea market methods of perusal.

Some prefer relationships at a wander-and-glance level. Not too vulnerable nor committed. Surface friendships that don’t require authentic and transparent interaction.

Others enjoy the focused-object friends. Those who are like them. Who reinforce who they are and don’t make them stretch to grow.

The treasure-hunt method of relationship is taking the time to see the value in those around you. Not rejecting out of hand those different or needier, those whose value isn’t readily obvious. This takes time.

True treasures can be found in anyone.

It’s how God sees us. Treaures valued beyond our understanding. Unique finds made in His image.

Who knew life could be such a rich reserve of relationships?

Can you dig it?

 

 

 

 

What’s So Great About Freedom?

photo courtesy of Nicolas Tissot on unsplash

Away from home, family and friends on Independence Day, our celebration was understated.

Pretty much nonexistent.

Still a little under the weather, laying low seemed the best course. For us and for those poor people we’d have blessed with our germs.

It gave me a chance to think about the remarkable history of why we celebrate July 4.

Freedom.

People everywhere long for it. Those who have it don’t often think about it till they lose it.

Here are a dozen reasons why we as a country need to aspire to the truth of our freedom.

I–Individuals. We’re a country made up of unique people, all different, with talents that can contribute to the national good.

N–National identity. One nation, fifty states, differences united by the same need for respect, a chance to be heard and treat others with dignity.

D–Diversity. We are a diverse people with about 300 languages and dialects representing countless cultural differences and uniquenesses. A true melting pot like no other place in the world.

E–Expectations. The continued desire that we as a people can make this democracy work. Hope.

P–Perseverance. We have space to persevere through the hard conversations and difficult challenges. Quitting isn’t in our national DNA.

photo courtesy of Warren Wong on unsplash

E–Endure. We’ve experienced national tragedy, pain and grief, as well as individual tragedy. We need to pull together to be strong. To remind each other we’re not alone.

N–National pride. We’ve all been given the gift of living in a nation based on freedom. We need to celebrate fundamentally who we are, who we were founded to be.

D–Divine grace. We’ve been blessed by God with a country which has welcomed the tired, poor and homeless for centuries.

E–Enrich. Our differences bring richness to our national culture, dreams and hopes. Different perspectives give us increased capacity to attempt the new and bold.

N–Navigate. We know we won’t agree. But we can be prepared to navigate our differences for the good of all involved. For “we the people”.

C–Create. We’ve the resources from the wealth of our different experiences to create new ways for us to grow and prosper as a nation.

E–Embrace. This is the gift we as Americans can give each other as people living under the same national roof.

America is a diamond in the rough. Incredible potential. Often limited by our bickering and differences.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could become a nation where we experienced true freedom, respect and dignity? Where our uniquenesses were celebrated instead of vilified?

If we focus on each other as indiduals and see faces of neighbors instead of enemies, we might move toward such an end.

May God bless America. We all need Him.

May we turn to Him for the courage to be part of the solution.

photo courtesy of Marco Krenn on unsplash