Be Curious

Seems like nowadays lots of people aren’t curious about their neighbors, their coworkers, new people at church.

Which is too bad because if you’re not curious, you miss out on making a potential friend.  Curiosity has gotten a bad rap of late. Most people now link curiosity with being nosy.

i don’t see it like that. My curiosity is part of my drive to know people and to form connections, maybe even a new friendship.

My husband and I made some good friends a few years ago just because we asked some questions. It went like this:

During the greet time at our church, I happened to notice a couple I’d never met.

“Hi, my name’s Dena. We moved to Colorado last year.”

“Nice to meet you,” the man said. “I’m Doug, and this is my wife, Mia.”

We shook hands. (it could have ended right there. I’m glad to say, it didn’t.)

“Where did you move from?” Doug asked.

“Most recently from Southern California, but we’ve lived in lots of different states.”

Mia said, “Us, too. We’re originally from Ohio.”

“Ohio! I went to school in Ohio.”

Doug perked up. “Really? What college?

“Oberlin. I went to the conservatory of music there. Have you heard of it?”

“Of course,” Doug said. “My brother went to Oberlin, but that was probably way before your time.”

Doug appeared to be around my age, so I asked, “When did your brother attend?”

“He went during the seventies.”

“That’s when I went!”

“Oh,” Doug sounded doubtful, “he went to the college. Competed on the swim team. I doubt you’d have met him.”

A spooky but exciting feeling started to zip around my stomach.”Now, this is really weird. I dated someone on the swim team, so maybe I met your brother.”

“His name is Bill.”

“Bill! I knew Bill. Tall, lean, long hair, did the distance races.”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

Doug and Mia and I started laughing .

i shook my head. “This is amazing.”

We finished our conversation, ending with updated news of Doug’s brother, Bill. Then we made plans to meet for dinner the following week. Doug and Mia turned out to be wonderful people and good friends.

It would have been easy to have simply said, “Hi, nice to meet you,” and have sat down again to wait for the sermon to begin.

But if we’d done that, we would have missed out on a truly fun and surprising conversation.

And a lovely friendship where both couples have enriched each other.

Nowadays, whenever I meet someone new, I try to imprint their voices and faces in my mind. Who knows? This new acquaintance might someday become my long-time, loyal friend.

“My father used to say that when you die, if you’ve got five real friends, you’ve had a great life.” (Lee Iacocca)

Bedfellows

IMG_0646My twin brother and I shared a bedroom when we were little tykes. He had the upper bunk, but I joined him at 8 in the evening. Because, even though we were supposed to be fast asleep, our next-door neighbors were watching Zorro.

At the age of five, Zorro was my hero. We couldn’t hear the dialogue of the latest episode over the neighbor’s fence and through their picture window, but that wasn’t necessary for a kindergartner. All that was needed to help me fill in the facts of the story were black capes and masks, a beautiful black horse, and lots of horsey chase scenes.

After the program ended, I’d climb back into my bottom bunk and make up stories about my caped hero for another hour or two. (I had insomnia even then.)

A year or two later, my parents started watching the TV program, Dr. Kildare. I was too young to stay up and watch the dashing and compassionate doctor. But through sneaked trips to the kitchen for a drink of water, I got occasional glimpses of my new hero. Oh, I had such a crush on Dr. Kildare, AKA Richard Chamberlain.

From my bunk bed, even though I couldn’t see the program, I could hear the dialogue. After the program, I’d imagine stories where I was Dr. Kildare’s faithful nurse/assistant.

In elementary school, I fell in love with poetry. Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost. (I wasn’t ready for Keats or Tennyson yet.) In my bedroom, shared by my older sister, I composed my own poems late into the night.

In high school I became fascinated by war stories and famous battles. ( I know, it seems like a strange thing for a teenaged girl to be interested in.) My library books educated me about the gruesomeness of war, but also provided me with fodder for some pretty dramatic historical fiction.

I’ve always found the quiet of late nights, coupled with the solitariness of a time when family members make no demands, to be my nocturne.

Just me and my bed, my brain, and the images, situations, conflicts, rescues, chases, and mysteries collected from treasured books and movies and poems. They form die pieces which are cast out onto the mental game board in new combinations, my dreams a sometime-contributor to the pieces.

I hope I have enough time left to type them all out of my brain.

“Imagination is the highest kite that can fly.” (Lauren Bacall)

Cathedral of Cedars

There’s a gorgeous little lake down the hill from my new abode in northwestern Washington state.

Half a mile steeply downhill to the park, another half mile to the lake, then two and two thirds miles around, and another mile back home. A good workout.

On the north side of the lake are basketball courts, a football field, and baseball field and many picnicking areas.

But the rest of the park? Quintessential rain forest.

The trail is well-groomed and wide enough to accommodate joggers, three abreast, and a couple of walkers, maybe even a leashed dog.

At one point, the ground rises on either side of the trail, muffling the shouts and laughter of the picnickers across the lake. The cedars loom, tall and lean, like old deacons looking down at me and admonishing, “Hush, you’re in God’s Cathedral.”

The quiet majesty of the cedars puts me in a mind to pray.

And I thought: I wish there was a place at church like this cathedral of cedars.

Hushed, still, beautiful, conducive to reflection and repentance.

In the stillness of the cedars I can hear myself think.

Better yet, I can hear God’s reminders to me from the words I’ve just read in the Bible, or a sermon from last Sunday, or the whispered request from a friend, “Remember to pray for me.”

It’s easier to do these things in such a place of quiet.

Even when there are no cedars available, there must be such a quiet place for all believers.

I hope there is.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3 NIV Bible)

In the fourth grade I wrote a darn-good paper about the Spanish conquest of Mexico and Central America. The introduction hooked the reader, Mrs. Ochoa—I still remember her name— and the writing—if I do say so myself—was excellent. I included colorful hand-drawn maps and illustrations, and my bibliography correctly included all my sources.

Definitely an A + paper.

So, I was really, really disappointed when the teacher gave me a B+. She didn’t even tell me why it wasn’t an A paper. All of her comments were positive. But, apparently, my best was not good enough.

That’s the same disappointment I felt these last couple of weeks when we arranged for the biggest truck to move our belongings from Colorado to the state of Washington.

We hired professionals to load the truck and…

the truck wasn’t big enough.

Even though we’d spent months donating stuff, selling stuff, throwing out stuff.

I felt like a failure. My best efforts at organizing were not good enough.

For all my talk about down-sizing, and boasting about how many books, boxes of music, and pieces of furniture we’d given away…

and how confident I felt that our next move (this move) would be a breeze…

I realized that I have a problem with stuff.

After delivering our first load of belongings, Bruce and I had to fly back to Colorado, pick up another, smaller moving truck, and finish packing the rest of our stuff.

“Never again,” Bruce said. I nodded in total agreement.

After we finish unpacking, we took a good look at the things we probably could have dispensed with before the move. Why did I move a bench, a table, some artwork that I had no intention of putting in the new house?

And I still have way too many books.

Bruce and I are extremely neat people. We’re not hoarders. When you step into our house, you see a neat and organized house.

So I asked myself this question: when I leave one house and move to another, do I take the old house with me, too?

Of course not.

So I’ve come up with a new rule. Anything new that comes into our house? Something old has to go OUT of the house.

I sometimes wonder if, back in the fourth grade, Mrs. Ochoa gave me a B+ because my paper had TOO much information stuffed inside that term paper!

Moving

Bruce and I are old hats at moving. Because of the particular industry he works in, we’ve moved several times: Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, northern California, Colorado, southern California, Colorado. And now, the northwest.

Going forward, checking behind
Going forward, checking behind

If you’re the adventurous type—which I am—then you might find several aspects of a new place exciting:

  • New areas to explore while driving, hiking, walking.
  • New restaurants, shops, other places of business. (Oh, if we had the time and you were willing to listen, could I tell you stories about my explorations!)
  • New local culture.
  • New friends.
  • New house. (New neighbors)
  • And a new church.

But it’s hard to say goodbye to familiar and comfortable places. Hard to say goodbye to friends. It’s hard to realize that I won’t see my family quite as often.

In every new exploration there are always two viewpoints we need to continually assume:

  1. Looking forward…
  2. While checking behind.

As I travel forward, what have I learned from my past that will help me negotiate the suspense of a new place?

  • Surely, the advice of friends over the years will help me when I forge new relationships.
  • The ministries I have participated in during the past forty years will lead me to new areas of service at my new church.
  • The confidence I have gained over the years as I have taught, performed, written, spoken, participated, helped, counseled, listened…

will accompany me as I open new doors.

It’s a little scary facing the unknown of a new town and a new state.

But for the past few months my greatest prayer for my husband and for me has been: “Lord, please prepare our path. Please guide us to every new friend and every new situation.”

Knowing the Lord is surrounding us and will guide us is the ultimate comfort.

I’m trusting Him for the next great adventure!

“Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make our paths straight.” (Prov. 3: 5,6 NIV Bible)

God’s Travel Mercies

I don’t like traveling alone. It’s—well—lonely.

Bruce had a couple of business trips he needed to do the same week, so I made all my reservations: plane, hotel, car for one.

I asked my friends to pray for me as I flew out to the northwest and looked for new digs.

God was gracious to me the entire trip. A clear, dry day, and a window seat afforded me a spectacular view from Denver to Seattle. No turbulence, either.

I hate turbulence.

The second leg of my flight was on a prop plane. That, too, gave me spectacular views.

After making a wide arc over the city of Bellingham, the little commuter touched down and parked about a hundred feet from the teeny, tiny airport. Once inside the terminal, the baggage claim and car rental company were just steps away.

The nice people at my motel had given me a nice suite on the far end of the building. Yay! I didn’t have to use earplugs to drown out the sound of rowdy, inebriated guests.I shared the salt-water indoor pool with a few other guests, and they were nice, too. And the front desk people were more than nice to help with faxing, directions, and finding my lost sunglasses.

For the next four days, I took care of banking, toured homes and selected the perfect house for Bruce and me.

My last day in Bellingham was all for celebration of accomplished goals. I took a drive east of town and ate lunch in the tiny town of Acme. If you’re ever in the area, I recommend the Acme Diner. Food’s great, service is friendly, and they play pop music from the 50s and 60s.

I also took the Chuckanut Drive (Hwy 11) which skirts the mountains above the Salish sea. Gorgeous! I passed a fish and oyster restaurant and vowed to return some time later this summer.

I walked along the pier at Old Fairhaven and watched the touring boats come in and out of the harbor.

Back at the little airport, the guy at the car rental company took my word for it that I hadn’t damaged the car, July 2010 Vacation 103 and that I had indeed filled the tank.

The guy at the ticket counter for my airline showed up about half an hour before boarding. He seemed relaxed and jovial, even joked with me and some of the other customers.

Around the corner, an older man sat at the security counter, half asleep. When he saw me coming, he said, “We’re closed.” Another joke. We both laughed.

The two TSA ladies looked so happy when we showed up with our shoes, belts, purses, and laptops. It must be pretty boring at an airport that maybe has one flight per hour.

The plane that would take us back to Seattle was delayed, and we all worried that we’d miss our tight connections. But—never fear—the lovely lady at the gate called SeaTac and informed them.

When our plane arrived, the same guy that had checked in our bags also went outside and directed the plane into position. Then he greeted the travelers and helped direct them. Just the way the man smiled and laughed with everyone made me feel that everything would be okay.

A sweet old lady sat next to me on the plane. She told me she didn’t know what she’d do if she missed her connecting flight to Montana. I listened with sympathy, then prayed for her.

When we arrived at Seattle, there were people on the tarmac waiting to escort her to her connecting gate.

During this entire trip I saw and felt God’s hands, guiding, protecting, providing. I believe He protected me while I drove a strange car in a strange city. I believe He provided just the right house for us, and directed all the financial decisions. I know that He filled my anxious heart with encouragement and peace.

Thank You, Lord!

Seven Benefits of Disappointment

I entered a writing contest a couple of months ago.

The results came in the other day and I was disappointed.

My scores were a 95 (out of 100), 98, and……..a 52.

The high-scoring judges recommended that I send off my manuscript without delay to publishers. The low-scoring judge’s critique advised me to change my novel’s concept.

What?!

How can there be such a huge discrepancy in judges’ viewpoints? More important, what can I learn from this experience?

After a cooling off period—every writer needs a few days to get over harsh critiques—and some prayer, self-examination, and further examination of my contest submission, I gained some insights:

1. God is not surprised at the outcome of this contest. He’s not taken by surprise by anything that occurs in my life. He knew about my score long before the judges even saw my submission. He knew that I would have two enthusiastic judges, and one who simply didn’t like my submission.

2. God is not disappointed with me. I am His child. He knows my heart and that I want very much to please Him. He knows my current state of maturity, knows my current stresses, my deepest desires, my most fervent prayers, my most acute wounds. He views me as I was, as I am, and as I will be. And the days of my life are not measured by my timeline of achievements, but in terms of my relationship with God, built on ever increasing faith.

3. God is in charge. Though I rail at Him sometimes at the the slowness in coming of all things I pray for, I know that He is a wise Father. He is not so much interested in satisfying my temporal appetites as He is in bringing me into alignment with His perfect will.

4. Immunization. A contest, followed by a critique is kind of like going to the doctor to get a shot. You know it’s going to hurt, but the shot will prevent something worse father on down the line. Over time, and after several rounds of shots, You get pretty blasé about the experience.

5. Education. Each critique gives me bits of information to help me improve my craft. I paid money to receive critiques, so I should get my money’s worth by heeding the critiquers’ advice.

6. Perspective. There will always be readers who won’t like my story or my writing. I need to get over it. I cannot be all things to all readers.

7. Focus. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the criticism, but I need to force my mind to focus on the positive comments so that I don’t become discouraged.

You may not be a writer, but I’m sure you have experienced disappointment. I hope that my “seven benefits” are an encouragement to you today. Keep on keeping’ on!

“A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” (Proverbs 15: 5 NIV Bible)

Seeking the Creator in nature and the arts

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