Lots of people tell me God is pursuing me. He’s after me. He wants me. He’ll find me. This presumes that I am running away.
I am not running away. I am doing what comes naturally. I hang out in places that I like to be. Places that welcome me, feed me, comfort me. God knows where I hang out; that’s where He’ll come looking.If I like the good conversation and strong coffee at Starbucks, He’ll find me there.
If I like to write in my journal about the thoughts before the day, he’ll find me there.
If I like to walk my dog after dinner, He’ll find me there.
If I like to coach the same team season after season, he’ll find me there.
I think we get it wrong when we think we have to go looking for God.
Isn’t it funny that when I connect with old friends – folks who knew me from my younger days – they aren’t surprised where I have ended up? In fact, they would have predicted that teaching and coaching and athletics done with a bit of science thrown in is just where I would land. Kind of like a well-written mystery novel. When it wraps up, you say, of course that’s how it all turned out. All the clues were right there!
Oh, sometimes we get it out of order. The skill comes before the practice. The teaching comes before the teacher. The message comes before the understanding. But this is hopping. Hopping over and back. Beyond and then before. But when we land in just the right place at just the right time, we gasp and say, “Of course, that’s how it was supposed to come out. It’s the only logical conclusion.”
That’s what happens when someone holds the rope of your life from its end and gives it a tug. It straightens.
God is the only one who can see us from around the curves. He knows where to look. Wherever He’ll find us.
The middle-aged, middle eastern woman was on the elliptical machine before I started circling the track. I noticed her and smiled a greeting. She smiled back and continued stepping. We have seen each other at the gym, perhaps been in some classes together, but I don’t remember ever being introduced. The gym is this way; every woman for herself. Come in, exercise, shower and depart. (Well, except for the aerobics and body sculpting class ladies who visit for hours in the locker room after class.)
So we engage in our individual diligences, mine encircling hers. One time, as I approach her, her face is radiant. She is looking up from the machine screen but not at me. I just don’t normally have that effect on people. 🙂 Curious, as I pass her this time I glance back at the console in front of her, figuring she must be reading something that has tickled her funny bone. Nope. Nothing there.
I’m mystified. People don’t usually smile on the workout machines.
Later, I see this woman again in the locker room. She smiles and says hello. Acknowledges that we are some of the “old timers” – been coming here for quite some time. And so I ask, “Why were you smiling so?”
She was a bit startled. “Was I smiling?” Then out poured, “It feels so good. It really is the best medicine. Everything that is wrong vanishes, worries go away. I feel so light and healthy.” Then she added, “Why am I not more faithful?”
The woman was recounting a spiritual experience of a physical nature. What a good feeling it is to do what’s healthy and fulfilling and lifting. A peak experience that, all at once, seems to meet every need. When we come down from that mountaintop we look back up and wonder, that moment is there for the choosing. Why don’t I choose it more regularly?
“We’ve seen each other here before, haven’t we?” she said to me.
“Yes, we have,” I say. “I’m Wendy.”
“Keep smiling when you exercise, Sheila. It makes people wonder.” This is advice I have given before and something I try to remember myself. So many of us adopt such grim, death-march expressions when we exercise, no one in their right mind would consider joining us. But smiling, that makes ’em wonder.
And I wonder why, when it feels so good to do what’s good for my body, I don’t remember that feeling and let it draw me back again to the place at the base of the mountain. I guess it’s the uphill climb that’s a bit daunting.
I’m brought back to level ground as I leave the gym. There sits a young man I had also seen in my travels around the track. He was “working” with a personal trainer. The trainer was providing mostly entertainment while this poorly fit, quite overweight young man struggled to execute a few push ups. If you could call them that. Butt in the air, elbows barely bending, as he descended a few inches. Probably all he could muster. He stood and hunched his shoulders, obviously unfamiliar with the feeling. The trainer gave up trying to motivate the kid to do them correctly, and they chatted about the Caps win last night.
But it’s a start, I remind myself, attempting to cast aside judgment. At least he’s here, attending to the issue.
Slinging gym bag and purse over one shoulder, I head out through the gym lobby. There’s the young man with the push up problem. He sits in one of the poppy-colored, overstuffed seats in the “waiting and cell phone” area with his Starbucks Venti Caramel Macchiato, thick as an ice cream sundae, double cupped so none of the whip would escape. He sips and sits and chats on his phone. Probably figures, ‘I deserve this, I just went for personal training.’ It will be no surprise when “all this effort” is for naught and he gives up the expensive attempt to fix the challenge he has. Maybe he’ll even add his voice to the millions who say “exercise alone” just didn’t solve my problem.
Nope. Exercise – alone – won’t do it. We need something more to compel us, something that draws us up and then makes us smile. We probably won’t even realize the radiance on our face, but others will see it and wonder. It’s compelling.
I skipped the Starbucks entirely.
I am sorry for eavesdropping But the tables are too close together to have private conversations at the Starbucks. And I was rattled by the one taking place at the table next to me. (No, Judy, not OUR Starbucks) A tall, well-dressed, salt and pepper haired, Caucasian man was seated across from a small, young Asian man, dressed in laborers clothes. They were sharing a drink, and I heard…
“WHAT …WOULD …YOU.. LIKE ..TO.. KNOW … ABOUT AMERICA?” Caucasian asked this in a very loud voice with many pauses. I don’t think the Asian man was hard of hearing. Caucasian then proceeded to talk about the importance of “containers.” Yes. really.
“They are one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century,” he said. “We shipped supplies, tanks, food and men to Vietnam during the war in…containers. Large ones, smaller ones…”
At first I thought the guy must be some kind of container salesman. Then he paused in his loud ramblings and asked, “Do you know what a container is?” Apparently, his table mate didn’t because Caucasian then began pointing to things around the Starbucks that might ‘contain’ something. Boxes, bags, mugs, cartons. Examples, yes. No definitions. Clear as mud. Obviously not a teacher, this man.
The Asian man was listening and politely nodding his head but saying nothing, so the other man resumed. This time on a new course. I tried to bury my head in my Kindle but to no avail. I hear, “Hard work is important. This is important to all Protestants.”
Hmm. Maybe this is a church outreach. A kindness offered to introduce immigrants to the American lifestyle. Now, I can’t help listening.
“When we work hard, God is pleased and he rewards us. He gives us good things and makes us prosper.” (implication: money, cars, houses, ??) “This is a very important teaching of Protestantism,” he says. “Very important. Part of our culture. This has been part of the Protestant belief for hundreds of years. Do you understand? God blesses hard work.”
What? The Asian man is still politely nodding his head. I expect he has few, little, or none of these material things. Yet, Caucasian, I am quite certain, is trying to be genuine. He is invested in hard work and believes a faithful person should be so, because it pleases God. From this he has concluded that’s why his life is bountiful. This is his best attempt at offering good advice to the younger man.
But Caucasian’s signals are crossed. He is reasoning in reverse. He, with all of life’s opportunities and advantages, has been materially successful. Probably been recognized for his achievements and his good works. And he figures, this is God’s pat on the back. But He is completely blind to the implications of this reasoning and, indeed, the harshness of it when applied to a man who has been dealt a different hand. One who has none of these “rewards.”
By this reasoning, if I work three jobs and raise a special needs child and care for my ailing parents but don’t have the finer things, that means God is not pleased. No! I really want to shout this. I am pretty sure Caucasian would see the smoke rising from my ears, were he looking my way. But he isn’t. Thank goodness.
I do consider interrupting the conversation and interjecting a bit of Biblical sense. But I don’t. This is not mine to set right. I close my Kindle, collect my coffee and exit to the parking lot to find a quieter, more comfortable place to read. But once settled anew, the scene still lingers in my mind: Caucasian counseling. Asian listening. One elevated, the other shrinking. A whole world between them. And all I can think is, “Pride is really ugly.” This man’s pride has misguided his faith. Blinded it really.
No wonder Paul tells the Corinthians that faith, hope and love remain. All good. All necessary. But the greatest of these is love. Because love opens our eyes so we don’t say such heartless things, deceiving ourselves into believing we are being helpful.
Thankfully, I had another Starbucks moment the next day. Different Starbucks. (I know. I know. I only order the black coffee…) The man in front of me in line ordered a complicated drink in a checklist sort of way. Grande, frappachino, whip? skim? The barista asked, “The one with coffee or the one without?”
“Er, I don’t know. It’s for my wife.” The man shrugged and looked a bit helpless.
“Well, the one with coffee is the most popular,” the barista suggested.
“Okay, sounds good,” the man said.
“Your name?” the barista asked, pen poised to write it on the grande plastic cup.
The man paused. “Well, my wife’s name…or you could just write ‘I love you.'”
I laughed and the barista went to town with his sharpie. I am sure there were hearts and x’s and o’s on that cup as he handed it over to be filled. Not Valentine’s Day or anything!
“Hope your wife enjoys her drink,” I called to this man as I turned to leave, with my coffee: black-no room – personal cup.
He said, “me too.”
But with ‘I love you’ written on the side, how could it be anything but joy?
I don’t know whether this guy was a man of faith, protestant or otherwise. He was tall, salt and pepper and Caucasian, but he had a whole different way about him. Humble heart and open eyes for the one for whom he purchased the drink.
I’m smiling thinking about God at the Starbucks counter, ordering a drink especially with my name on it.