Visibility is Terrible (Part I)

I ran up to the kiosk and popped in my debit card. I was running later than I should have; and even later than that.

Enter the first three letters of your final destination, the machine said.

L-A-N I typed hurriedly.

It pulled up options from Lansing to foreign destinations I could only hope to go. Lancaster was not among them. I typed in the full destination. “We’re sorry, United does not fly to Lancaster.” The machine read. I looked at my confirmation again, but everything seemed to be in order.

I fought with the machine while the clock ticked. Finally, the machine gave up and told me to consult a service representative. I had to wait my turn.

The agent who finally helped me looked at the clock and gave me a disapproving look. I know. I know. Just please, please get me on this flight!

She handed me only one boarding pass–to Dulles–but I took it and ran. I would have three hours in Dulles to work it out. For now, my goal was to get through security and on this flight before it left me.

So far, not an unusual trip. Not unusual to fly. Not unusual to fight machines or be scolded by cranky customer service reps. Not unusual to stand in a long security line. Not unusual to be the last person to board a flight.

Since my first flight when I was 14, I’ve spent thousands of hours in air travel. I estimated that I’ve spent at least the equivalent of 83 24-hr days on nothing but air travel. I’m still basically cattle car status with the major airlines, but I recently achieved elite status on Bostic airlines. Which, incidentally, has the best food at the best prices.

Among my experiences is being stranded for about 24 hours in the airport in Beijing only to be placed on a connecting flight operated by “Lucky” airlines. (Who named that and who taught him English?). I’ve fallen asleep in front of my gate only to be woken up by “final boarding call. Passenger Danielle Walker please report to gate A3.” Seems the gate attendants were watching me and taking bets on whether I would wake up or not. One plane we were on crashed into a random set of stairs while taxiing and we all had to deplane and find some other way home. And, of course, there was the unfortunate day when I left my new computer at a security check point–never to recover it on this earth.

I remember as a kid being absolutely fascinated by airports and the whole business of travel–the coming, the going, the adventure. Slowly, the infatuation has worn off and while it remains a utility, air travel is a largely inconvenient one. Necessary, just not terribly exciting.

Following the lost computer incident, I’ve had two other “after shocks.” During my trip to NH this summer, our delay caused me to miss a connection. I spent about an hour and a half at the O’Hare haggling with machines and customer service reps live and on the phone before giving up and booking a room. It was about 11:30 pm and I wasn’t going to be able to get out until sometime the next morning.

I trudged with my bags down the escalator, through their “was-cool-in-the-80s” moving walkway, out through baggage claim, across 5 lanes of traffic and almost to the shuttle. Then I realized I was missing my computer bag. It had mysteriously escaped. And I wanted to cry.

I retraced my steps down the walk, back across the traffic, and back to baggage claim. But of course the TSA official would not let me back in. I tried to explain to him my problem with what little sanity I had left. “Go to the lost baggage counter.” He instructed me.

“You don’t understand.” I was choking back tears by now in what I knew was a futile effort. “This was not a checked bag.”

“Don’t cry.” He ordered.

That did it. I cried.

“Go to baggage claim.” He said again. He would not budge.

I stood in another line at baggage claim. Recounting to myself all the reasons why I was wasting my time and should instead at least be at the hotel trying to rest. And regain sanity. What could they possibly do for me at baggage claim? It was not a checked bag. I had carried it until…until whatever happened, happened. I didn’t recall ever putting it down.

Finally, it was my turn. I explained my plight.

“We don’t have anything to do with bags you carry on with you. Why are you here?” The lady asked me.

Good question. I didn’t know why I was there. Insanity taking over, I guess.

She made a few calls to make me feel like she was trying to help. A few other agents came over and she explained to them my dilemma and they all said the same thing. “Why is she here?”

I felt like a 10 year old trying to convince a teacher that I should get grace because my dog ate my homework. I was the one who lost the computer. I didn’t know where or when. And it wasn’t their problem.

Then, she appeared with it. My computer bag. It was all in tact. I don’t know how she did it and I was in such shock, I didn’t thank her adequately before she moved on to the next customer.

It was my very next trip that I lost my computer again. Yes, again. Curtis and I were working away on our laptops when the plane came in to land. As instructed, I turned my computer off and set it under the seat in front of me. We were in the first row of economy but the barrier between economy and First Class didn’t go all the way to the floor. So when was taxied to a stop, the computer slid out of sight and into the wild blue yonder of First Class.

Since we would be deplaning in just a minute and since no one in First Class would care about my old computer, I wasn’t too worried and while Curtis crawled on the floor and eye-balled it, I didn’t bother to inconvenience the passengers who were trying to gather their things and get off the plane. We would get it soon enough.

Unless, of course, someone stole it.

To be continued…

Life Given

ceb family c and j small
Jenny & Curtis Bostic

I’ll never forget what attorney Curtis Bostic said to me on our first meeting.  “Wait until you meet my wife.”  He said proudly.  “I smacked that one out of the park.”

And when I met her, I knew instantly that he was right.

She was beautiful.  Not in a fake “Hollywood wanna-be” sort of way, but in a classy, contented sort of way.  She radiated a joy that was mature and gentle.

Two weeks later, I packed my suitcase and moved to Charleston.  My job started Tuesday and when I left the office Friday, the weekend stretched out in front of me and it hit me that I was in a new city.  All alone.

That was B.C. (before cell phone) for that matter, there was no internet or TV in the little home I shared with Miss Sandra—who worked all the hours I didn’t.

I don’t know why I checked the answering machine when I got home—no one I knew had the number, much less a reason to call.  When I did, however, I heard Jenny’s cheery voice inviting me to dinner.  She also encouraged me to bring “a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush” and spend the night.

I hesitated.  This was my boss’ family.  As to spending the night—I didn’t really know the Bostics and I was a little old for slumber parties.  But after piddling around the empty house for a few minutes, I found myself pulling the pajamas and toothbrush out of my suitcase.

I’ve often wondered since then if Jenny would have still invited me if she had known that I would stay the next five years.

But Jenny was gracious and hospitable.  She went out of her way to make me feel welcome in the family’s double wide which was neat, clean, and tastefully decorated.

The more I got to know Jenny, the more amazed I became.  She was intelligent, educated, and gifted—an excellent musician, fantastic cook, organized home-school mom, amazing housekeeper, and devoted wife.  She jogged faithfully and ate healthfully; yet didn’t criticize those who didn’t.  She worked hard; yet didn’t make others feel bad about taking time off or having fun.  In fact, despite her many strengths, she didn’t come across arrogant at all.  She always treated other people like she had all of the time in the world. Though she didn’t.

I remember one time shortly after that the she took me to downtown Summerville just for the fun of it.  She bought me a milkshake at the drug store even though (for health reasons) she could not have one herself and showed me some of her favorite stops and shops.

Jenny was probably up until the wee hours of the next morning making up the lost time on a Saturday—folding clothes and doing all the things that keep a household functioning.  But the pressure of those chores had not kept her from taking time with me.  It is humbling to think about even to this day.

Perhaps that is what I find so incredible about this dear friend.  Some people give from their surplus—not Jenny.  Some people give until it hurts—not Jenny.  Few people give until they have nothing left to give.  Even fewer still give beyond nothing left—but that is Jenny.  You’ll never know when you exhausted her limits because she won’t show it; she will just keep giving.

After getting to know her some, I thought I wanted to be just like Jenny—always joyful, always patient, always selfless.  But I wasn’t.  Not even close.  It frustrated me, but the more I tried the more hopeless it seemed.

Gradually it sunk in to me that the spiritual maturity is not inherited or won, it cannot be had for the asking.  It is earned.  Even a tree planted by streams of water will grow undetected—slowly, painfully, quietly.  Jenny had persevered through some storms in life—choosing joy over depression, forgiveness over bitterness, meekness over her own way.

Over the last ten years that I have known Jenny, my respect for her has continually grown. We have been on many trips together and at first it surprised me that she would bring along a book about being a godly parent, an excellent wife, or a better Christian.  She could have written all of those books and then some.  But that wasn’t her mentality—she was still growing and learning.

In fact, she hasn’t written any books that I know of; doesn’t have a full speaking schedule, a TV show, or even a blog.  From what I’ve seen, much of Jenny’s time during this season of life is filled with the thankless tasks of loading the dish washer, teaching reading, solving math problems, grocery shopping, scrubbing bath tubs, and driving kids to karate.

When I thought about her life, I was reminded of Mary and the costly perfume that she spilled on Jesus’ feet.  Many criticized the offering as resources wasted—a year’s worth of labor gone in a few short seconds benefitting no one but Jesus.

But Jesus saw the act of selfless worship as a great gift—so much so, that the God of the universe took the space to write it down in His short book so that her life and action would be read and remembered for years to come.  Her perfume was not wasted; it was given.

Likewise, a life given in simple, selfless ways is not wasted.  It is invested.

Jenny’s daily routine is not wasted to the five kids who call her mom or the husband who calls her “sweetheart.”  And it is not wasted to the hundreds—perhaps thousands of people whom she has taken time for, listened to, and encouraged.

I know many who would say that they are a better wife, a better mom, or a better Christian for having known Jenny Bostic and I would count myself in that number.  Her gentle, quiet spirit convicts and motivates me on an ongoing basis.

And I can’t wait to see the incredible things that are to come for a life so freely given and so gently sustained as Jenny Bostic’s.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

What if the sole indicator of your spiritual health was your prayer gauge?

What if the only fuel for your spiritual engine was the steam from your prayer room?

What if the only offering you had to lay before a loving king was the incense of your prayer?

I was never good at algebra. But one thing I learned is the importance of isolating a problem. Instead of being daunted by a long string of numbers, narrow the equation down to the offending variable. And so often, when all is not well with my spiritually, I dig down only to find that I lack a healthy prayer life. Prayer is so elementary that I forget it is like the alphabet that makes up every meaningful word we will encounter for the rest of our lives. We will never graduate from the need for prayer.

In Sunday School recently, we were taught that prayerlessness is a form of pride. It is me thinking I can handle life on my own. Occasional prayer is using God as my life saver instead of as my boat. It may keep me alive, but it won’t keep me heading in the right direction.

Lord, teach us to pray

When the disciples went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray, it was not the urgency of a critical need that drove them. It was not because of some puzzling dilemma. When the disciples needed something or had a question, they asked Jesus. Any why not? He was God. And He was right there. He was eating, sleeping, breathing, and walking next to them. He had shown himself infinitely powerful and ridiculously patient. Was walking with Jesus not enough?

The disciples didn’t yet understand that Jesus would die and ascend back to heaven. They didn’t yet grasp the importance of the relationship with a God who was unseen. But they did understand something: Jesus spent time—serious time—talking with the Father. Somehow they knew the importance of that time to Jesus. It was not Jesus’ daytime TV fix. It was a powerful communion between Father and Son.

And so they asked him to show them to pray.

Many books have been written and many sermons preached over the simple prayer Jesus taught to the disciples. He wasted no time and no words providing for the disciples a pattern for approaching the gates of heaven.

But clearly Jesus didn’t intend for them to memorize those simple phrases and repeat them with rote discipline day after day. Paul’s writings are replete with prayers—none of which are repetition or patterns. David, years before Jesus came to earth, had earned a place close to God’s heart by pouring out his soul to his God—sometimes in song; sometimes in grief; sometimes in despair. Moses had forged a close relationship with God through some unconventional prayers which include songs of praise recorded for us to read thousands of years later.

Jesus modeled a prayer life that went far beyond the six or eight verses we call the Lord’s prayer. He spent days and hours. He retreated to the garden. He sent His disciples away. And when it was crunch time, he was incredulous that his disciples could not focus for even one hour. An hour of prayer to Jesus was like a penny to Donald Trump. Jesus had spent 40 days in prayer and fasting. And unlike me, when Jesus spent time in prayer and fasting, he was probably praying and fasting.

Forty uninterrupted days of prayer.

Lord, teach us to pray.

We don’t make time to pray because we undervalue it. If we understood it as unfettered access to the riches of God’s grace, as an appointment with the King of the universe, as a luxurious retreat into the safest of refuges, we would do it.

We would just do it.

We would ask God to teach us.

We would ask the Holy Spirit to help us when we had no words to say.

Prayer may or may not change the world. But it will change us. It will feed our faith. It will anchor our hope. It is the source of our joy.

The more I pray the more I am able to hold loosely the cares of this world until I find myself casting them on the Lord in faith that He cares for me.

Lord, teach me to pray.


When Are You Going to Cut Your Hair?

I stopped in to see a tenant. Johnny is a sixty-something African American gentleman who made a point to give me a lecture about not answering his call—which I had missed while meeting with some people about 15 minutes before.

Then he asked me about replacing the living room carpet.

Then he asked me about replacing the threshold to keep bugs out.

Then he asked me about the insulation and complained about his high utility bills.

Then he asked me about selling the house to him. That led to a long conversation—the repairs and upgrades. The age of the roof. The hot water heater. The HVAC. The duct work.

When we finished, I was exhausted. In fact, I felt like I had just been deposed. I was backing my car away when he chased me down.

Johnny: One more question.
Me: Sure, what do you need?
Johnny: When are you going to cut your hair?
Me: My hair???
Johnny: Yes, when are you going to cut your hair?
Me: You are asking about…my hair?”
Johnny: Yeah. Most people cut their hair in the summer.
Me: [Speechless]

I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as foolish questions, only foolish answers. I would challenge that statement. Here are a few more true to life exhibits for my case…

By the hotel clerk:

Q: How many rooms do you need?
A: Two
Q: How many adults total?
A: Three
A: Okay, how many adults in each room?

Well, President Bush, there is one child who, evidently, got left behind.

This happened on a Thursday:

Q: When would you like your dry cleaning back?
A: Tomorrow?
Q: No, I’m sorry, it won’t be done by tomorrow.
A: Okay, how about Saturday?
Q: No, sorry, we don’t clean on Saturdays, we’re only open for pick up.
A: Okay, so I assume Sunday is out?
Q: Yes. A: Monday–
Q: No, Monday is a holiday so we’re closed.

So why did you ask me when I wanted my dry cleaning? Do you get some kind of kick out of telling me “no” four times?

And my favorite:

Q: Date of Birth?
A: 8-2-81
Q: Is that 1981?

Honey, if you can’t guess it to the closest 100 years, I can think of one job at the fair that isn’t for you.

So…I will rest my case and let you draw your own conclusions. I’m sure I’ve asked my share of dumb questions, but none are coming to mind right now.

Despite these—and others that I’m sure you could add—I would still agree that it is generally good to ask questions. It’s often how we learn. It is often the best indicator that we are learning.

Kids are usually good at this. But I think as we grow older, we tend to ask questions less.   I know we still have questions. Google sure gets a lot of use.   But people who come to my office frequently asking questions tend to be apologetic. “I hate to bother you, but…”

Jesus often used questions in his teaching. Of course, Jesus didn’t ask questions for His own benefit; He knew the answers. But sometimes He seemed to want to expose his challengers or to cause his listeners to think.

One of the most pointed questions of Jesus’ ministry on earth was answered with one of the most insightful questions ever asked.

In John 6:67, Jesus has just heard murmuring against Him, so he turns to his disciples and asks, “Will you also go away?”

Peter answers perceptively, “to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life…”

To whom shall we go?

Peter recognized that to leave the Master meant to go from a greater thing to a lesser thing.  It is also interested that Peter recognized that his life with Jesus couldn’t be replaced by a return to fishing.  It wasn’t “to what would we go?” it was, “to whom shall we go?”

One disciple would choose that lesser life. And after betraying his friend for 30 pieces of silver, Judas would regret his choice, but it was too late. Soon, he threw away the very thing had seemed so appealing to him. Judas died friendless, penniless, and hopeless. His life after his choice to “go away” was brief and the money his traded the Master for was unsatisfying.

Judas doesn’t make the choice to “go away” attractive. Who would want Judas’ life after his betrayal? If you can call it that.

But what about the other eleven? They died too. But in the meantime, they were traveling evangelists—not rich and famous ones. They were beaten, imprisoned, and in some cases–tortured. In fact, tradition tells us that all but John were martyred for their faith and some in the cruelest of ways.  Beheaded, crucified upside down, flayed alive.

So what was really different? Judas died a traitor. The other eleven died faithful. But they all died.

To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.

Perhaps that is what makes Peter’s question such an insightful answer. Peter was still a work in progress, but he had begun to latch on to what is important—not comfort, or money, or fame, or even happiness.

The twelve were given an opportunity to leave an ordinary life for an eternal life. They would get to know the Messiah like no other people in history ever would. They walked and talked with the very Son of God. They would get to hear his words and some would even be chosen to record them for the rest of mankind to read and ponder.

The eleven would give their earthly lives away. They would live in discomfort; they would die in pain. But they would know beyond question that after this life comes another. Eternal life. And in that eternal life would be eternal rewards.

I suspect that if Peter was here today and I asked him if it was worth it, he would not hesitate. If I asked Him if I should remain faithful, he might even answer with that profound question:

To whom would you go? Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.