Persistence

Once upon a time, there was a mom with a dirty van. She took that dirty van to a car wash, a narrow room unmanned by human employees but armed with brushes and sprayers attached to robotic limbs. Flashing lights notified the driver when to stop and when to go. It all seemed so simple but evil intent lurked in the shadowy corners.

According to the design of the facility, if the vehicle was not positioned exactly right within the crowded confines of the car wash, a sign would flash with instructions. On this particular occasion when the mom pulled in a bit on a diagonal angle, the sensors did not flash, nor did the mechanisms give her time to correct her parking, instead, all hell broke loose.

Brushes began swiveling and spinning in a mad dance. The front and back windshields were pummeled with water and soap. The woman pounded on the window, crying out to be released, but the cleansing rained on until the beating finally stopped. The woman left the car wash drenched in sweat with a side mirror dangling in defeat.

As it is so often seen with car damage incidents, there were calls to be made and claims to be filed. But no one wanted to pay for the repairs. No one wanted to take the blame for the dangling mirror. Still, the woman would not give up.

She followed the trail of calls to an executive of the company who owned the car wash. He showed little care or remorse but he did ultimately reveal that he had seen “the video of the incident” and this video was fairly irrefutable in the car wash’s liability. He also acknowledged woman’s persistence so he begrudging agreed to pay to fix the mirror.

(Though she was relieved to receive payment for the repairs, she would always be haunted with the thought of a video of the most frightening three minutes of her life floating around and possibly available for viewing. She would often scan episodes of America’s Funniest Videos looking for it.)

In spite of the frustrations, the woman persevered. But persistence isn’t always considered an admirable trait. Sometimes it’s right up there with stubbornness. Anyone with a toddler can tell you that the persistent call of “Momma, momma, momma…” can get a little old.

When Jacob, the grandson of Abraham and one of the patriarchs of the Old Testament, got the chance to meet up with God he did the unexpected in one of the more confusing episodes of the Bible—he took part in a wrestling match. Jacob wrestled God (in human form) and refused to let go. Even when the God/Man asked for release and Jacob’s hip was pulled out of place, Jacob held fast. His reason for persisting in the struggle was to receive a blessing.

The thing Jacob wanted most was the thing he had tricked from his brother with the help of some goat hair and a pot of stew. He wanted something he probably didn’t consider himself worthy of but that didn’t stop him. Years of guilt had weighed down on him. He was about to see his brother for the first time in twenty years and he was afraid of the future.

Like Jacob, sometimes we are in a place where we will wrestle with God. It may not look like Jacob’s experience—a nighttime kickboxing match. But we are called to be persistent as we wrestle for God’s blessing and understanding of His teachings. And “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Burrito Proposal

A few years ago, my family and my sister’s family went to one of our favorite places to eat: Blue Coast Burrito. All eleven of us stood in line, waiting to tell the people on the other side of the glass sneeze guard what we wanted on our burritos so they could pile them unimaginably high with meat, cheese, and veggies but still be able to wrap them up into a snug little bundle. (Those wizards!)

In front of us in line was a couple we didn’t recognize. They appeared to have just attended Woodstock, or more logically Bonnaroo, both with long unkempt hair, bare feet, and a certain degree of intentional grubbiness. She was wearing a broomstick skirt and he was wearing a long suede vest. Using my non-verbal, mom glares/facial expressions, I instructed my children not to point or stare.

After the couple ordered their food, they set their trays on a table and the man stood on the bench of the nearby kid-sized picnic table, clearing his throat to make an announcement. My brother-in-law, an elementary school teacher who excels at quieting down groups of chatty people, shouted for everybody to listen. The man said something to the effect of, “__________ (insert the girl’s name), will you marry me?” The girl said yes and the couple went to their table to eat their supper. No big deal.

I went to congratulate the happy-ish couple. “Congratulations!” I said, “So does this restaurant have a special significance for you? Like maybe it’s where you met or where you had your first date?”

The girl looked at me matter-of-factly and said, “It’s just good, wholesome food,” and she resumed eating without even looking at her beloved betrothed. If the ten other people from my family hadn’t witnessed that proposal with me, I would’ve sworn I imagined it. Where was the fanfare? The pomp and circumstance? The fireworks? The bevy of doves released in the sky to symbolize their undying love?

If you search “marriage proposal” on YouTube you will get 1.5 million videos. I didn’t check all of them, but I’m pretty sure this particular proposal isn’t amongst them. I guess it just wasn’t exciting enough, and they forgot to get someone to film it.

Life, like marriage proposals and television series finales and new recipes, can often be disappointing. It’s easy to build up expectations beyond anything even remotely possible. The key to avoiding the nose-dive into disappointment seems to be three-pronged: Be active in ensuring happiness for yourself and others, be hopeful but flexible, and live a life of gratitude.

As I think back on the Blue Coast Burrito Couple I have to wonder how everything turned out. Although the proposal was a bit anti-climactic, maybe they’re on to something. Perhaps a low key marriage proposal and “good, wholesome food” is just the right formula for decades of wedded bliss. And I bet those burrito-wrapping wizards already knew that!

I am everything of all I have ever met

While working on an assignment for school, my daughter found an interesting line of poetry. In her poem “Finding Voice,” Joellen Strandburg’s last thought is “I am everything of all I have met.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea and whether it’s true. I think about my first experiences and influences—good and bad—and how they shaped me. If I we had lived in a different town and I had gone to a different school, who would I be? Would I have turned out remarkably different? If I had never traveled to other countries or if I hadn’t gone to college, would I even recognize the me I am right now? If I had pursued sports in school instead of chorus and drama—other than being a really frustrated, uncoordinated person—would I now be more likely to watch ESPN instead of PBS?

But then I think about that age-old argument of Nature vs. Nurture. How much of our personality, strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and limitations are written in our DNA from the moment we are created and how much is created in us over a lifetime of experiences?

My best guess is that it is both. It is Nature and Nurture. Our actions and behaviors are a result of a mixture of inside and outside influences that make us who we are and who we could be.

Of course, we are not just receivers of the influence of others. We can also be the ones who impart it.

I was reminded of this fact in a bold way this week at the funeral of a kind and generous man who held a significant place in our family. There was a theme to the messages of condolence for his wife, sister, mother, and children. They told his family what a difference this man had made in their lives.

They told stories of how he had selflessly served others, how he had shown up at just the right moment to help. They spoke of his concern for all and neglect of none. His example and encouragement spurred them on to be kinder, more caring people.

If I must say that “I am everything of all I have ever met” then let this be my legacy. Let me be not a blank paper to be written on by whomever I encounter, a sponge soaking up their bitterness and disappointment. Instead, let me be discerning in what influences I allow and, beyond that, let me be an influence for good. Let part of the “everything” that I am be a series of writing on the papers that are the lives of others so that someday they can say, “knowing her made me a better person.”

D.I.Y.

In my family of origin, we were Do-It-Yourself-ers before D.I.Y. was cool. Long before HGTV inspired envy and Pinterest boards overwhelmed us with promises of what could be, my tribe was made up of people who promoted in-home haircuts and changing their own motor oil. We were aghast at the thought of paying someone else to do something we could easily do ourselves, like decorating a birthday cake or painting our toenails or ripping off the roof and building an additional story on to our house (never mind the fact that the builders were mostly made up of college professors, salesmen, and a geologist).

While I still enjoy making things from scratch, I can also see the beauty in not doing everything myself, even if it goes against my nature to allow it.

Adding a child to your home is a perfect example of a time when you must admit that you need help. Though my initial reaction might be to turn away offers of meals and help with the older siblings, DIY parenting is a big mistake.

Pretending you don’t need the help of others and going on as usual will result in a 24/7 eye twitch—and that’s the best case scenario. Who are we kidding? When friends offer help, especially the “no-strings-attached, exactly-what-you-need” kind of help it should be a no-brainer.

But this isn’t just about the receiver of the help. It’s also about the ones who get to give it. When we deny others the chance to bless us with help and casseroles, we are preventing them from experiencing the joys of servanthood. We are stopping them from doing what they were made to do—acting like Christ, the ultimate servant.

Besides the satisfaction of helping others, the giver also gets to be a part of something outside of himself. When we help people in times of sorrow, we share in their mourning and bring a bit of it inside ourselves so we can practice empathy. When we help people in times of joy, we get to rejoice, too, as we walk back to our car thinking of the meal we just dropped off and the newborn baby we just held. (Ah, that new baby smell!)

If there is one thing I’ve learned about including others in our dreams and failures, it’s that the story is so much sweeter with a larger cast of characters. When we allow people to walk the journey with us, it makes the journey better, bearable.

There may be a one letter difference between “me” and “we” but that one letter can make a life-changing difference. Sometimes it’s just better to Do It Together.