Wednesday, January 23

I no longer seek to be understood, but to understand.
~ Clare (Brother Sun, Sister Moon) ~

Friday, January 11

Cucumbers ~ A Floating Encounter

I have conquered Costco in record time and I'm feeling good! I clumsily maneuver my over-stuffed cart into the nearest line-up and settle in for the wait. I eavesdrop on the conversation happening in the next line over. Wrecked knees, hockey injuries, and the pain-killer of choice. Hmm. Not very interesting. I scan other patrons for signs of life, interest, engagement.

The woman in front of me is beautiful. Seventy-ish, tall, and slender. Her face is peaceful, her eyes lively. My attention had been taken by her earlier in the store. She was impossible to ignore; her smile, that look-you-in-the-eye connection shared with everyone she passed.

I spot the woman working the till. She looks tired. She reminds me of other women I know: women who are being beaten down by hard choices and tough circumstances. A twinge of compassion. And then I'm distracted by the business of shuffling groceries from cart to conveyor.

The clerk works quickly and efficiently but neglects to give the woman in front of me her cucumbers. The transaction is already complete, my fellow-shopper's arms are full and she's tangling with her purse. I step up to the clerk, quickly, quietly (wishing, as always, that there was a way to do this invisibly) and whisper, "I'll pay for her cucumbers. Just give them to her and send her on her way."

I hustle back to my cart, hoping to avoid further interaction. I overhear the exchange that follows: "Here are your cucumbers, Ma'am. They've been paid for already."

"Really? How?"

"That woman paid for them."

"Which woman? That woman?"

I have my head buried in my cart and I'm willing my invisibility cloak to work it's magic.

"Yup. That one right there."

Head up now, arms full of noodles, I see that I'm going to have to answer for my interloping behavior. "You paid for my cucumbers!" My co-shopper is beaming at my side. Beam-ing. "You didn't have to do that. Do you see the smile on my face? YOU did that!"

I shuffle awkwardly (I always feel so darn awkward.). I blurt, "I was happy to do it. Do you know what? I've watched you in the store this morning, and you smiled at everyone you made contact with. You spread light everywhere you go!"

This stops her. Her eyes fill with tears. She says thank you again and steps away. Right back to the clerk where she proudly, and somewhat loudly, repeats what I've just said to her! "She said I spread light everywhere I go!"

Oh dear. Any discomfort I'd been feeling to this point is compounded by the realization that others have been drawn in to our exchange. I can't explain my reticence in this, I only know that there is so much more opportunity to really fail in this floating encounter now that more bodies are involved!

I finish transferring my groceries and approach the till. I notice my clerk has stopped working. She's standing at her post, tissue's in hand, weeping. Weeping giant, unchecked tears. I want to reach out to her, to comfort her, but a cold metal money machine blocks my path.

"Aww, Hon. Are you okay?" I inadequately muster.

"You just made that woman's day. She left in tears, you know. And now I can't stop crying."

"Oh...uh..." Eloquence is nowhere to be found. I should have remembered to grab some from the over-stocked shelves in aisle four.

The gal re-packing my cart jumps in, "People just aren't like you, you know? We never see that kind of thing. We never see it."

"Oh...uh..." I'm scanning my mental files for something to say. I want so much to bring my Jesus into this conversation. I fire off "Holy Spirit? Help!" prayers as fast as I can. He's hilariously silent. He often is. Hil-ar-i-ously.

"I just can't stop crying. We'll just chalk this up to menopause, okay?"

I giggle. "Okay. You don't need an excuse to cry. You're really tenderhearted. No need to make an excuse for that."

And then I make some flippant remarks and we joke about how we all cry during sad movies and I step away thanking them for their help today.

And I take a deep breath, glad to be away, quickly succumbing the mental pounding that always follows these encounters. "Why do you always open your big mouth? You're such a geek. And then something good comes of your weirdness but you can't give the credit back to Jesus. You're such a loser."

As my sleep-deprived brain absorbs these charges, I notice the elderly shopper standing by the warehouse doors. She approaches me as I near the security check. "Hello again, Dear. You did something so nice for me, but they won't let me leave the store! The cucumbers don't show up on my receipt, so they think I'm trying to steal them!"

I can't contain my giggle. The security post thinks that this beautiful gramma is a produce thief?! That makes MY day!

We visit the security staff together and I explain that the veggies are on my receipt and that their hers to keep. They let her pass but stop me, encouraging me to go get my money back since they weren't my cucumbers. I quickly explain that I did it on purpose and that every thing's looked after. Her confused glance follows me as I scoot my cart through the yawning exit.

Clear! Interaction over. Floating encounter ended.

I wrestle, as always, with what of Jesus was left in my wake. I have no answer for that. His kindness leads us to repentance. I pray that His kindness will do it's work in thirsty hearts. I pray His kindness will remind me that it's for me, too. Accusation and Guilt have had their say, but if I did not fully serve my Lord today, I will, one day, know how to talk of Him with ease and purpose and meaning.

Because He is the only, only source. He can use our tired, sick, stressed, spread-thin personages to spread the knowledge of Him throughout the earth. Let's keep lifting Him up in whatever small ways that we can and see what He does with our meager obedience.

Time to put my own groceries away. I'll put "ability to credit Jesus out loud" on next week's grocery list. Maybe Safeway will have a "Buy five, get fifty bonus air miles" special on in the Deli!

Saturday, January 5

The Ant and the Butterfly

The Alcon blue butterfly of Western Europe has a particular quirk: by coating it's larvae in a deceptive chemical coating, it can trick local ants into thinking that the babies belong to them. The ants, responsible and hardworking critters that they are, promptly carry them into their own nest and set about raising the young as their own, not realizing until the butterflies emerge, wings and all, that they've been duped.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I can be a little ant-like myself in this respect.

Well-intentioned and sincere, I've pulled all sorts of emotional, practical, and spiritual "larvae" into my family's nest. 'Looks like my problem, sounds like my problem, feels like my problem ~ it must be my problem. I grab 'hold of the need in front of me (help in the church nursery, leadership of a woman's group, care giving for a lonely child, admin tasks for a new endeavor, planning for a social event, financial care of a perpetually struggling family...) and truck it right on home into the middle of my own domestic haven. I don't pause to check in with the rest of the colony about the arrival of the new addition ~ I just assume we'll all pitch in to take good care of it.

Maybe you're more like the butterflies? Maybe you're more inclined to drop your cares on someone else's doorstep, taking for granted that they'll be nurtured to maturity?

But about those ants and their assumed role as nursery maids: their adoption of another critter's responsibility can lead to their own demise. Because they sense the presence of young in their nest, they instinctively stop producing babies of their own. If enough Alcon larvae are present, the ants don't make any ant babies for a season.

Before long, the numbers in the nest take a hit and, eventually, the colony can die out completely for lack of reproduction.

Over a game of table scrabble and a cup of something, a friend recently shared some new-found insights about the level of stress in her life. She was making a list, she said, of all that she does in a day that is required but is less than satisfying. A parallel list was devoted to the things she attends to that she loves to do ~ activities that she feels have long-term value. The drudgery to joy ratio was something like 85:15!

As she was talking, my thoughts turned to the stress-saturated lives of my friends. We do so much! So much good. So much right. So much that's necessary. A lot of burden sharing that is Christlike and God-directed. But I wonder if there might be a few intruding larvae that could be punted from our nests?

Are there things we've adopted as our own burdens that are not ours to shoulder?

If we don't take an honest look at the stresses in our lives and rid our homes and our families of the leach-like ones, what will happen to our productivity in the future? If our energy and attention and resources are all being funnelled into care for situations that are not ours to tend to, what will be left for our real dependents? Will we die off (all the while doing good and taking care) attending to things that were better left to someone else?

What will happen in our little colonies if we simply, simply tend to our God-chosen, right-now, burden bearing? Caring is tricky business! Can we tune our ears carefully to the Comforter's voice, quickly responding when He says, "Go, help, give,"? Can we learn to detect interloping stresses before we devote too much time and heart to them, saving our best service for the God-cares?

Scientists don't hold out much hope for those adoptive ants. They're certain that as long as the Alcon's are reproducing they're going to continue to dupe various colonies into feeding and raising their young.

As for us, maybe a quick larvae inventory will see our respective nests clear of con artists and home to the tasks, joys, burdens, and dreams set out for us by the Maker of ants and butterflies.

~ Galatians 6:2 - 10 ~