Friday, May 26, 2017

Pumped to Serve

Any old bug can hit a windshield, but it takes real guts to stick to it - Anonymous

My wife and I took some time recently to drive over to the Seattle area to visit our daughter and family. The trip was relatively uneventful as road trips go, but there were a few times technological glitches were a problem. They helped point out the value of humans, despite the wonders of this “connected” age we live in.

The first bug-a-boo we ran into was at a gas station outside Spokane where we decided to spend the night. We had checked into our motel (and unplugged the alarm clock; last time there some joker had set the alarm to wake the room’s occupants at 3 a.m.) and decided to head out, grab a bite to eat, and gas up the truck.

I gave the pump my bank card to start the process, but it (the machine) wasn’t happy; it directed me to go inside and talk to the cashier. Such things are a bit of an annoyance, but they are done for our security. A Washington pump sees a card from a Montana bank and wonders if the user is legit, and while it normally would ask for a PIN or zip code, this one wasn’t taking any chances. I think some machines have an electronic ego by which they hope to catch some miscreant in the act of miscreantry – and thereby gain fame within the wizarding world of Gizmos and Gadgets as “the Pump that caught the Big One.”

So I went in and presented the cashier with my credentials. As luck would have it, it was his first day on the job and his machine hadn’t given him an adequate security clearance to override the Pump which, from my vantage point, had begun puffing out its metal chest just a bit.

Now, at any point along the line here, I could have simply pulled out a different card and started over but, oh no; there was no way I was going to let this beast get the best of me and my perfectly fine bank card (which was quivering pitiably in the clerk’s trembling hands). By this time, the store manager had ambled on over to see what the holdup was (a phrase seldom used lightly in convenience stores) and the three of us stood there looking at one another like some scene out of a Spaghetti Western (I took dibs on the Clint Eastwood part, by the way). I am sure there was that macho Good, Bad, and Ugly music playing – if not in the store, then definitely between my ears.

After a most dramatic pause, the clerk explained what was happening. I could see tears welling up in his eyes and his manager, a grizzled veteran of many, many over-rides softened. She gently walked her rookie through the steps necessary to reboot the transaction so the Pump would be free to dispense its life-sustaining go-go juice – but the Pump rebelled. It would NOT be dismissed so lightly. It would NOT be told what to do or whom to serve.

At this point, the manager was no longer amused. She motioned her minion to step aside while she took charge of Central Command. She punched her ID code into the keypad, swiped the card along the card reader swiftly with strength and purpose and, with hand on hip, thundered forth, “Now don’t YOU give me no trouble”!

And it didn’t. At least, not exactly. We still had to do a funny bit of a work-around involving a deposit and a refund to get the Pump to acquiesce to the Manager’s instructions. But it complied, and that was the main thing.

Afterwards, she asked if I wanted a car wash (for which reason I had actually chosen that particular station for fuel). I looked into the gaping jaws of the wash-house and asked if it was connected to the same computer system as the Pump.

“Why, yes it is!” said the Manager (with a smile).

“Thanks,” I lied, “but I think we’re fine for now.”

The world is full of unsolved mysteries; I’ve got a feeling that the Bermuda Triangle has a younger sister living somewhere in Airway Heights. A storm is brewing, and it may soon be here – even here in this, our (mostly) sheltered valley.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Eye of the Beholder

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 2 Corinthians 5

I sat in the waiting room. We had been told the whole procedure would be about an hour-and-a-half or two hours. If there was a clock, I don’t remember seeing it. If I had seen one, I’m sure the second hand would have moved at the pace of a saber-toothed slug sliming its way through sludge.

The room had a monitor displaying the stage each patient was in. Yellow was pre-op. Purple was intra-op. The post-op color was immaterial as it never seemed her number would ever leave stage-yellow.

There was no use asking the receptionist for updates, although she assured us at check-in that I could certainly do that. I could come over and ask any time what was happening – but I also knew she would look at the monitor and say, “Oh, she’s still in pre-op.” I can read, so asking would have been a waste of breath. Also, the one time I thought about asking I looked up and saw she wasn’t at the desk, so ….

I scanned the periodicals displayed in the waiting room. Leafing through People Magazine, I couldn’t help but note how few celebrities I know these days. Oh sure, there was an article about Brad. Brad Pitt. My God, he’s an old man now! A grizzled veteran of the silver screen. Hmm. Does he know how to fly-fish anymore?

I passed a bit more time working the Crosswords in various issues they had lying around and marveled at how few names I could identify from the clues. Heck, I have no idea what many of today’s shows are, let alone who is in them. If Brad Pitt’s old, what on earth does that make me?

I gently shook my head in amazement – slowly so nothing would snap, crackle, or pop. I have to be careful these days; only a couple months ago I jumped to a conclusion and had months of physical therapy to undo the injury that resulted!

I set down the third of my partially filled crossword puzzles (having given someone else a decent start to finish up) and glanced again at the monitor. The list of patients dwindled one-by-one as their colors shifted through the informational colors, each disappearing as they were discharged to the care of their guardians.

Guardian. Bemused, I thought to myself: Hey, that’s me! I’ve been reduced to a function, a purpose. It was strange being referred to as a guardian when, for well over three decades I’d been known by the more familiar role: husband. But the world we live in has changed. We never know who’s going to care for those who are brought in for “procedures.” Husband, wife, neighbor, lover, partner, son, daughter, friend, care-giver. Relatives are often too far away or working.

Alongside the monitor was a television tuned to a home improvement channel. I was ignoring the program for the most part, but noted that the show’s fixer-upper duo had helped a couple walk through three homes, bought one, completely gutted and rehabbed it, and then went into the whole “Reveal” production – and did it all faster than my wife’s own pre-op. I looked over at the monitor – Yellow.

Aargh! Maybe this is what drives people to entertain thoughts of murder and mayhem (or at least piracy). But then, when my soul began to quiver with a certain loss of hope, it happened.

The line within which my wife’s number was embedded changed hues: Yellow went to Purple (Intra-Op), to Lime (Recovery), to Green (Preparing to Go Home)! At green, they came to get me.

“Are you Keith? Your wife is doing fine and just about ready to go home. Come with me and we’ll let you see her.”

On the outside I was all calm, cool, and collected. On the inside, though, I was Jell-O after the hot water is added to the mix – quite sloshy. Her eye was patched (and I thought she was sorely in need of a parrot), but her cataract surgery had been uneventfully routine.

For God, and for the skills of her doctor and the surgical team, Eye am thankful. As St. Paul said, “See, everything is new” (and clear, now) here in this, our valley.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Changing Past

The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present, and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future – Audrey Hepburn

Some people are pretty good at living life on life’s terms. They make plans for a picnic and if it rains, they simply change directions and go to a movie, instead. They don’t let the weather affect their attitude. They don’t curse the rain. They don’t pitch a fit. They simply make an adjustment and find some alternative activity they can enjoy, and then they go do that instead. They’re resilient that way.

They’ve learned to be flexible and to look for options. They seem to have learned somewhere along the way that “all problems are illusions of the mind” (Eckhart Tolle). It’s only a problem if you make it one.

There are almost always options that lie before us. Is there ever NOT one?

Let’s face it, life always gives us choices. Even if picnics and movies are taken off the table, there is still sitting quietly and being bored. That’s not a very exciting option, but it’s still one that exists.

Life isn’t about having no alternatives, but determining what options we choose to find or create. Many of life’s joys are to be found in looking for (and discovering) opportunities we may not have realized were in front of us.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a rut and it is just easier to stay there (and complain) than to turn the wheel and force the tires out of those channels and onto a new course. People prefer to complain about the wind than put up a windfarm, or complain about decisions made in city hall or the halls of government than talk or write to their representatives.

There is very little in life we can control, and that is what some people find most disturbing. They feel they need to be in control. They make plans and woe-be-tide the person, place, or thing that gets in the way. Control, however, is the antithesis of love. How can one love anything or anyone if they’re trying to manipulate it all?

Have you ever tried to “will” the wind to stop? It blows when and where it wishes. All we can do is go with it, fight it, or hunker down and ride it out. Another option is to hate it, but that is also a choice.

I know I may get tired of the wind, but then I’ll see a child and parent run outside into the lot across the street and fly their kite – watching it dip and turn and dance upon the breeze – all the while they’re having the time of their lives. The wind blows so hard they don’t need to run to get the kite to fly; it is carried away upon the gale!

The whooshing air at which I want to scowl is the same breeze that delights my neighbors. What’s the difference? It isn’t the moving air; it is the attitude of the participant!

So what needs to change isn’t the world around me but the attitude within me, and that’s where I can really get stuck – because who in their right mind wants to change?

Ah; there’s the rub. We may fight against change; we may buck up against it, but life is ever-changing and never the same, and those in their right mind have learned that basic truth.

I was down in the park watching the river flow past and couldn’t help but note that it’s not really the same river I saw the day before; yesterday’s water is somewhere between here and the Gulf of Mexico, and today’s water came from somewhere upstream from God only knows where. How amazing is that?

The fact is, life happens, which means change happens. To accept that simple fact is to actually begin to discover one’s “right mind”. We may not want things to change, but since they do, we are probably well-served to accept that change happens, and learn to not only live with it, but “let go (of control) and let God”.

Life, it turns out, isn’t a problem to be solved, but a kite to be ridden on the currents of God’s love. We are tethered to a loving Father who delights to see us rise in this, our valley.