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.

Step Out With Gratitude

Back in the late 70s, Randy Newman wrote a controversial song called “Short People”.

Anyone who was vertically challenged was incensed by his lyrics.

I’m one of those who’ve been blessed with a lack of length. When asked, I always say I’m five feet, three inches high.

I fudge that by a quarter inch.

A dear friend used to tease me about my height. I am long waisted, shorter in the legs. Her husband was built with the same ratio. She’d say if he and I had married, our children would have been penguins.

Though I love penguins, it’s not a great picture.

There are advantages to my shortness, one of which I’m discovering during our season of pause.

Being shorter and lower to the ground, I’ve got great balance. We’ve got a steep drive and many ups and downs in the walks we’re taking now. I’m able to manage them with greater ease than my husband.

He needs a walking stick to help him keep his balance on the steep inclines.

I wouldn’t say I’m scampering up and down the mountains, but it’s rather enjoyable to do this with greater dexterity than him.

John does have many advantages with his height, which is right at six feet. He sees over things easily where I have to jump up and down to get a peek. His legs are longer, so he takes fewer steps to my many. And if I pause to gaze at something along the way and he doesn’t, I have to hustle to catch back up.

Short legs are a challenge.

I had a friend years ago who used to call me “low-slung model”, in a teasing way, but my comeback was, “I reach the ground just as well as you do.”

It’s easy to become bothered by what we are or aren’t, by what we have or lack.

Even those who seem to have it all aren’t that happy. There’s always something more they yearn for, something else that will bring them contentment. And even when the more is acquired, goal achieved, accomplishment made, there’s no end to what’s desired.

My dad used to tell us, “I complained that I had no shoes until I saw the man that had no feet.” He’d heard it throughout his life, and he used it to help us understand contentment.

We always have something to be thankful for.

Even if it’s the fact that we can take our next breath.

Jesus spoke often of the things we treasured, because what we valued most was where our hearts were anchored.

Things can’t satisfy. They give temporary gratification, but they can’t provide contentment. People can love us, but everyone will at some point let us down and disappoint us.

Jesus alone can give us the satisfaction in life we long for, because He loves us with purpose, and He promises us an eternal future.

I can be frustrated by my shortness, but longer legs will not bring me happiness.

Learning to enjoy walking in my shoes is the goal.

As long as I know I don’t walk alone.

Respect Has No Expiration Date

When 98 year-old Pete DuPre, a World War II veteran, put his harmonica to his lips and played our national anthem, tears came to my eyes.

This was before the friendly game between the US women’s soccer team and Mexico, a chance for both teams to work out kinks before the Olympics open in a few weeks. Many on the US team faced the American flag as the anthem was played. Some, amazed at the resiliency of this gentleman, turned to look at him as he played; another flag was behind him. There’s something about a man his age, who has seen combat and is persevering to the end that grabs the imagination. The women on the team showed gratitude and respect for him as they each thanked him after the game, giving him a ball signed by every member of the team.

Allegiance to anything or anyone today is hard to find. Loyalty and respect are values that are dimming with age.

Watching Mr. DuPre play the anthem made me think about all he’s seen in his almost century of life. Born during the Depression, seeing the harshness of loss and want, had to have shaped him in some way. Fighting for his country in a war brought to our shores shows a heart of commitment and dedication. He’s seen changes in our country, from allegiance to revolution, from serving to entitlement, from working together to grow our country to encouraging divisiveness and experiencing a waning of what we once stood for.

What’s fascinating about this incident is the number of perspectives that have cropped up. There seems to be disagreement on what happened during the playing of the national anthem.

There are those who find the response of the players alarming. That they showed him or our flag disrespect. Many allow perceptions of what’s been seen on social media to color their perception of what they see. It’s easy to be critical if what we perceive is wrong.

Perception may be our reality, but it isn’t necessarily truth. Responses like this are often called nitpicking.

When my children were younger, there was an outbreak of lice in our school. Once it hit our family–five girls with long hair–it was an endless time of combing nits out of their hair. My son just buzzed his hair.

Hours of carefully looking, slow and incessant pulling out the tiny eggs. Repeating day after day because inevitably I’d miss some. Tedious, wearing, exhausting.

When we nitpick at issues, we do so at our own risk. We will never be satisfied with what is happening in this world–it’s a mess. But whining about every little incident we don’t agree with makes us constantly disappointed and disrupted. Persistent complaining wears on our hearts and minds.

Wouldn’t it be easier to believe the best in many situations instead of always finding fault?

Jesus reminded us to love one another and see each other as better than ourselves. To not judge others so easily and freely but to forgive.

Rather than complain about the women’s team and their response to Pete, let’s honor a man who served his country.

Our focus is wrong. Choose to see what’s good.

Way to go, Pete!

It’s All I Ever Wanted–Freedom

photo courtesy of Priscilla du Pree on Unsplash

When I was younger, I had the burning desire of most kids.

To be an adult, free from parental controls and restrictions.

Free to be me, doing what I wanted to do. Without getting into trouble.

Which is why children don’t rule the world. There’s wisdom to be found in experience that young people often ignore. When entitlement raises its ugly head, wise thinking often is marginalized. Or invisible.

Freedom is so full of meaning and hope. To many, it’s the right to do as they please. To others, it’s carte blanche to satisfy their desires without thought of anyone else..

Freedom without boundaries is no freedom at all. It’s chaos and selfishness. A me-centered way of thinking that disregards the value of others.

Being the oldest, my twin and I always seemed to bear the burden of family directives and responsibilities. Rules were rules, and though we may have carried a few more than the others, we all had limits placed on what we could and couldn’t do.

Boundaries aren’t limited to children. As adults we understand that there are proper ways to behave and ways that will hurt others and ourselves. It’s why we have laws.

Before becoming a parent, I was concerned with what was necessary to attain what I wanted. I cared about those I loved, but they weren’t always part of the equation.

For a parent to allow children the freedom to do whatever they choose is as foolish as jumping out of an airplane with no parachute because someone wants to fly.

If I truly care about those I love, I’ll give them freedom–with limits. Until children are wise enough to make choices that won’t hurt them or others, there’s a need for limitations. As adults we need to be reminded of what is good and what isn’t. For our sake and the sake of others.

True freedom can’t be focused on my desires only. If we lived in a perfect world where everyone got along and no one was ever in danger of being hurt by someone else’s poor choices, then personal freedom might look different.

We don’t live in a perfect world. We tend to hurt one another with our choices, words, and attitudes.

True freedom, then, must be based on truth, of what is, not what is desired. On the reality of life and not the philosophies of those who choose to create their own truth. And love, because caring about who we live with and around changes life’s dynamic.

Jesus is Truth and Love. He claimed we would find true freedom in Him who is Truth. Understanding His love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy will free us up from self-centeredness and pride where all we want to do is fuel our desires and demands.

We are not the center of the universe.

Wisdom and truth are the foundation for freedom. Love reinforces them. Knowing there is a right way to treat people and a way that will harm others just to forge ahead with our own plans is the struggle we face.

Independence Day is past, but freedom is something we wrestle with every day. Do we seek our own self-indulgence, ignoring the danger to others? Or do we live in understanding that there is a right and wrong way to do things?

Which freedom will you choose?