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The Potholes of Life

Oh, how I love seeing black pavement. The snow banks and drifts have given way to asphalt and sand. My tires have traction and there is actually room for two cars and pedestrian plus dog to pass each other safely along the way. I admit, it makes me a bit giddy to step on the accelerator and pick up the pace.

potholes

Until, ba-bump. You hit it and it rattles your fillings. Oooh, that was not good.

This poor pavement, covered in snow and ice for so long is showing the signs of a very long winter. The cracks have gotten deeper and those soft places have given way. Somehow even on the through-ways and parkways there are pockets of craters that look like there has been a strafing from above. And whoa, when you hit them going full speed, you know it. No time to dive out of the lane. Your suspension is crying foul. Your alignment is gonna need some attention.

But then, that’s the way, isn’t it? Life deals us storms that we do our best to avoid, but some catch us unaware. Or, we just can’t swerve in time. Those are the ones that leave us grateful we know a good mechanic. A careful front end alignment, and we’re back on the road.

Lent, this season before Easter, seems such a time. A time to visit the mechanic and see how the old buggy is handling after the rough winter. I can compensate with my steering, but if my alignment is off, those tires are gonna pay for it.

I guess I have those potholes to thank for this. And the snow. It’s hard to believe I am thankful for all that snow.

Waiting Tables was His Mission

“The Berlins don’t go on vacations, they go on mission trips.” So said my daughter of her friend’s family. He is a Pastor and his family serves. My family, on the other hand, goes on vacations. I admit, I feel a bit guilty about this.

There I sit in the multi-level restaurant, peering out over the ocean and the pool. The palms bend to give me the best view. I can come and go as I please to the breakfast buffet: fruit, cheese, breads, meats, eggs, Mexican specialties, omelettes made to order. On either side are shelves with foods I don’t even recognize, delicacies of another culture. How daring will I be?

A waiter hovers, “Coffee Senora? Juice? Perhaps a Mimosa?”

He says this in a way that assuages my guilt. Sincerely wanting to please me with whatever I desire. Not a trace of disdain in his Mexican accent or his waiter’s demeanor. No hint of the “these fat-cat Americans” or “this spoiled woman” that I know – I know deep inside – that I deserve. How can he ignore this me I see?

But after I am settled with beverage, he stays to chat. He tells me about his desire to teach English, his struggle to find classes to achieve proficiency, his younger, wilder days when he left the “tourism trade” to make money and see the world on a cruise ship. Ports and long days at sea. If you were one of the top sellers of a fancy drink (I didn’t recognize the name), you earned a day off at the port. In this way, he saw all the port cities of the world. Took day trips to their palaces. Met their people.

Now, he is back, a head waiter. Americans are the best tippers, he tells me. The Canadians are not but they are grateful and so that is fine. He feels received and that passes for tip. Australia and New Zealand, the same. The Russian women and the German women are beautiful. And oh, so are the Hawaiian women. Exotic is the word I give him. He is sure I am right.

We have many Japanese here; did you notice? They order all of the choices on the menu, not just one from each category. They sample and share. Put all the food in the center and empty plates all around for the tasting. But don’t remove the food when they light up their cigarette. They will smoke and then have more food. We Mexicans eat and then have our cigarette.

Smoking is part of the meal? I wonder. Unhealthy and unclean to me. To him, it is a practice. A cue for serving. Cultures differ. He notices, so he can supply what they need without interruption. Without a trace of disdain or judgment.

How do his companions feel about this man spending so much time talking to one woman at one table when now the restaurant begins to fill? I see a few head nods in his direction, the non-verbal for “Come now. We need you.” But he seems not to notice. He doesn’t follow their gazes or glances or mine. He is content to share time with me.

A time which began when he brought me a Mimosa with a strawberry and expressed concern that I might be allergic. “Many Americans are,” he says. A meal which drew to a close as my whole family hoisted our Mimosa glasses toward the camera. We toast the New Year and say farewell to Cancun. LeBolt family toast to Cancun

Later I look at this photo. I have a genuine smile of delight on my face. In the midst of my clan I am lifting my glass to this man who is snapping the picture. To Jose, my new friend, who has shown me the needs of the wealthy world through his eyes. And the way to serve them, honorably and humbly. He took me on the smallest of mission trips and I never left my seat.

Where will you teach your English, Jose? (In my ignorance, I suppose he will be a school teacher.)

“Oh I don’t know yet,” he says. “Perhaps here, in the resort. They hire people to teach the staff. We have a Japanese teacher.” Of course they do. They meet needs. And we, with our own ways and our own language are deeply in need of people like Jose.

I rise to leave and search for my friend who I spot carrying a tray aloft of half a dozen large beverages. “Adios Jose!”

“See you next year!” he says with a broad smile.

Not a bad idea. These Mexicans know what they have in Cancun. They have given it to me. I wonder if there is a visible change in people, a turning from the person who arrived into the person who departs.

Banners at the airport still delight in their holiday splendor: Feliz Navidad! But at the gate, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Gift!”

Merry Christmas and a happy new gift.

Merry Christmas and a happy new gift

New year as gift. I’ve opened it here. Now to use it well.

Flying standby

Why do we wait to book our flight?

  • The fare might drop.
  • My plans might change.
  • I don’t want to get locked in.
  • What if something better comes along?

Sometimes there’s no avoiding it. We have to travel at the last minute and we’re at the mercy of the airlines to get us on that flight. We are forced to fly standby.

I remember flying standby with my family when I was a kid. We traveled to visit my grandparents in Minnesota for Christmas where there was snow and cold and fun. When it was time to go home, we were shuttled to the airport where we sometimes sat for hours at the gate hoping to get on the next flight. Somehow, we always did, but it could be a very long wait.

I would watch the screen behind the airline clerk with our flight details and wait for her to call our names. There were no other screens back then. Just books and homework were meant to keep a kid occupied. So I learned to wait and to watch while I waited.

I watched the other passengers, happily engaged in their books or their conversations. They had their seat assignments.

I watched the airline personnel behind their desk, shuffling papers and boarding passes and occasionally calling up lucky passengers to offer them a seat.

I watched my dad pace back and forth. He was not a patient waiter. He was a frequent traveler and, I expect, knew how to work this system — which was probably why we were working the system. I waited and I watched, but I didn’t worry. Because my dad would handle this.

Stephanie with coffee is just glad to be aboard.

Now, years later, I am not a good flyer. I count on making a reservation and having an assigned seat. I’d rather book ahead, even if the fare might drop or my plans might change, just to avoid the worry of the watching and waiting. I don’t trust myself to be a smooth operator. I’m not a frequent flyer.

Perhaps this is why I have a seat in the sanctuary on a Sunday. Oh, it’s not reserved. Anyone can sit there. I don’t rush to get on board because there’s plenty of room. But I board this flight because I know it’s going somewhere and I want to go with it. It’s funny to think my Father has settled this for me, too.

As I left 9:15 worship last Sunday I noticed a crowd of people seated in the gathering area, eyes focused on the screens where the 11:00 service will be live-streamed. They were quiet and waiting in anticipation, satisfied to watch worship on the screens overhead. Why not go in and get a seat in the sanctuary? Why are they waiting to book their flight?

Perhaps for some of the same reasons we wait to book our airline trip.

  • The fare might drop.
  • My plans might change.
  • I don’t want to get locked in.
  • What if something better comes along?

For me, the waiting is way worse than the booking. In fact booking allows me to read my book and sit and chat happily with the other passengers in anticipation of lift off.

Isn’t that expensive? Yes, but Someone has forked over the fare.

Isn’t that risky? Only if you’re worried about a crash. We’ve got a Father who is handling the details so I need not worry. He’s not like my earthly dad who paces and works the system. He is the system. In the days without screens, perhaps it was just easier to see this.

Imagine climbing aboard and having the flight attendant usher you to the seat reserved just for you on an all-expenses-paid trip to the destination of your choice. Would you settle for watching on the big screen? Or would you go?

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