Monday, May 28, 2012

The Market

Recently, a trip to my local farmer’s market was desperately needed. My refrigerator held little more than a cupful of milk and some questionable leftovers. I was longing for an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, crusty French bread and some good inexpensive bottles of wine. Grabbing my “green” grocery bags and a warm jacket (it’s freezing in there!) I entered the huge space slowly pushing my cart as to take in the entire experience. And it is definitely an experience you want to savor.

It was unusual for me to go on a Saturday because the place is jammed, and this Saturday was no exception. Even the wide aisles were too crowded to maneuver a cart, so I parked it nearby and made my way, easing into the myriads of people handpicking green beans one by one to take my turn. It’s an art to do so without offending anyone or getting in someone’s way. Remarking about how fresh things looked began a conversation and I was then welcomed into the fray. Most of the customers were friendly enough and they, too, were taking their time, enjoying the nearly spiritual experience of choosing some of the bounty God had given us. The bright colors of peppers, tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, blueberries and hundreds of other items was a lovely feast for the eyes. I marveled at the strangely shaped vegetables and noticed people of every race and culture carefully selecting foods that I had never seen before and would have no idea how to prepare. But their faces were bright as they must have been thinking about their native homes and the food they had shared with their families. I stuck with my normal fare but longed to know and taste so many different things.

My favorite section is the bread area. Several long aisles are needed to accommodate every kind of bread you could imagine. It’s all made with organic ingredients and before I knew it I had loaded up on dinner rolls, Italian bread, rye bread, whole wheat bread and raspberry croissants. I wondered if I needed all of that but what in the world would I put back on the shelf? Certainly not the croissants and John loves rye bread. I could always freeze it, I thought.

My hour long trip was coming to an end. It would be a shame to hurry this kind of errand. But the best part was yet to come. There must have been at least 25 cashiers ready to check people out and they were all busy. I tried to eye the shortest line and made my way to a young man. You must know that the cashiers, and actually all the workers there, are not Americans. They wear name tags that also have their native language on them. Very rarely do I see “English” although most of the workers can speak a few words.

The man greeted me with a warm smile and then I noticed something unusual. Although the market was crazy busy and the lines to check out were long, he moved in a deliberate manner, taking extra time to ring up my order. As he bagged my delicious produce he did so with great care. I watched as he practically cradled each piece of fruit, how he gently picked up the bread and carefully placed it in my bag. His movements were loving and caring. Could it be that perhaps food was scarce where he came from and he realized that everything he handled was a gift from God, something to be valued and respected? There were no words exchanged between us except my heartfelt “Thank you” as I left. But all the way home I thought about him. I thought about how I had felt a sense of healing from this man. What was it about him? I know it sounds crazy but those few moments spent with this stranger deeply touched me. And I realized it was his beautiful, gentle nature that struck me to my core.

Gentleness. What an unusual gift that is, especially in these days! How often do we encounter it, in our homes, in our workplace, in our relationships? I have meditated on that encounter at the market many times. If in those few moments I experienced a sense of peace and healing with this gentle man, do I not feel a responsibility to become more like him so that others may also be healed though an encounter with me? Do I handle all the gifts that God has given me with the spirit of gentleness? It may sound strange but am I able to touch fruit and bread with a sense of wonder? More importantly, do I touch others with that same love and care and gentleness?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

No Fear

Fear. What thoughts or images does your mind conjure up when you read or hear that word? I guess it might depend on your age. If you ask a small child, they might respond by saying they are terribly frightened by a sudden crack of thunder in the night. If asking a teenager, fear happens when your parents say, “We need to talk.” An inexperienced young couple may feel terrified when their newborn baby has a high fever. A sense of panic might come to a middle aged person when they hear that their job is being terminated. Fear, worry, anxiety, panic, whatever you want to call it, has crept into our lives at just about every juncture. Something difficult and out of the ordinary happens to us and we immediately feel our heart pounding, the cold sweat on our forehead, and the sick feeling in our stomach. It’s the first emotion to come to the surface when we’re faced with a particular problem or challenge. We imagine the worst. I’ve been there so many times.

Growing older doesn’t have a ton of benefits, but the infusion of wisdom from experience is something that I wouldn’t trade for a younger body and better knees. (Okay, I might consider it.) Over the years I have learned the absolute futility of fear and worry. I’ve learned that God has a plan and that no matter what happens in my life, He will work it out for good. I’ve understood that not one moment of that worry has changed anything for the better. It sounds terribly simplistic. Maybe because it’s supposed to be simple. Life can be crazy, imposing, and painful in every sense of the word. But God is present at all times and in all things. He is there to hold us up, to comfort us, console us, and strengthen us in the midst of the storm. The image in Scripture of the apostles in the boat comes to mind. The sea is raging and they are being tossed about. They are filled with terror that they will all drown. Suddenly, Jesus appears to them and says, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”

The Lord has given me many opportunities to practice trust. My family and I have come up against many hardships over the years. I confess I’ve panicked, gotten angry, cried rivers of tears, and even tried to bribe God to change the pain into a bed of roses. It’s taken years but I think I am finally beginning to understand the beauty and the healing power of the Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Reinhold Niebuhr

If you are facing what seems like an immeasurable challenge in your life right now, pray that prayer. Ask our Heavenly Father to grant you His peace beyond all human understanding. Ask for the grace to trust Him in the midst of your own personal storm. When you recognize that the situation is not under your control, what better option is there than to place it in the ever capable Hands of God? Surrender has a connotation of defeat, but surrender into His Hands will indeed be a victory, a victory over fear.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.
Proverbs 3, 5-6