Thursday, July 21, 2011

While I Waited

The day had been long, hard, and disappointing.  I sat on the stiff chair at the airport gate longing for my flight to be called so that I could go home and sleep it all off. 

I glanced at my watch.  A two-hour lag awaited me.  My muscles cramped with fatigue, and my mind ached with discouragement.  I had come to California to take a certification exam for my work.  I had studied so hard and so long for this test, yet my nerves betrayed me, and I hadn’t done as well as I had hoped.  The thought of having to wait was almost unbearable – but what choice did I have but to wait?

Forcing my mind off my discomfort, I began to read a book I had just purchased at a gift shop.  It felt good to read for pleasure – something I hadn’t done in months, while preparing for my exam.

Finally, our flight was called and one-by-one weary passengers formed a line.  I made my way towards a pretty lady who stood at the counter.  “I’m flying on stand-by,” I told her, expecting her to issue a boarding pass for me.

“I’m so sorry,” she responded, “but the flight is very full.  Looks like you’re going to have to wait for the next flight.  It leaves tomorrow, at 6:00 a.m.”

My ears began to ring.  This couldn’t be happening.  Oh, Lord, say it isn’t so!

I’ll give you grace.

Oh, gosh, that’s not what I wanted to hear.  So I stood by the counter, hoping and waiting, like a hungry puppy near her master’s table.  But when the lady at the counter turned to look at me, shaking her pretty head with compassion, I knew I was toast.

I cried and I pouted and felt sorry for myself.  Then I took comfort in the words I had heard: I’ll give you grace.

Finding a seat as far away from view as possible, I positioned my suitcase on the seat next to it and used it as a pillow.  I read for a while and then I slept like a newborn baby (that is, I woke up feeling hungry every hour).  Eventually, my alarm went off, and I walked back to my gate.

This time I received a boarding pass right away and made it home with no delays.  Oh, how good it felt to put my head on my very own, ultra-soft pillow!

And as I made my happy way onto dreamland, I thought about all of my friends whose hopes and prayers have received a similar answer to the one I’d gotten the night before: Not today, perhaps next time.

My heart was filled with such compassion for them.  These are friends who are sick, unemployed or going through difficulties.  The wait is long and hard and painful.  Once again, I took comfort in the words I heard at the airport, the same words God has faithfully spoken to my friends:  I’ll give you grace.

I pray that these words will fill them with hope and renew their strength.  Just like Isaiah prophesied: [God] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (40:29-31, NIV)

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Promise of Hope

What’s your favorite color?

Mine is green. Green conveys peace, newness and brightness. Green, for me, is the color of hope.

A few months ago, city workers planted several trees behind my backyard fence. My husband and I went for an early walk to take a look at these small trees. We could picture them one day looking tall and lush, their full branches undulating with the wind’s melody, little birds chirping cheerfully as they hoped from branch to branch.

These trees, combined with the pink-and-gold-colored skies that appear at dawn and dusk, would make the view from our backyard simply magnificent. We slowly made our way back home, breathing deeply and holding hands tightly.

A few days later, I made a sad discovery. While one of the young trees seemed to be thriving, the other two looked dead. “Guess the poor little guys couldn’t take the shock of being replanted,” I told my hubby dejectedly. Such a shame. 

A sense of dejà vu enveloped me - something I had experienced years before...

***************

That year’s winter had been harsh. Spring came, yet our backyard tree – a once healthy mesquite – looked bare and brittle.

My children loved that tree. They played happily under its shade and enjoyed climbing its branches. My husband had planted it shortly after we’d moved into our home. Would we have to pull it out to plant another one in its stead? How long would it take for the new tree to grow as big as ours? I was devastated.

I looked out the window and sighed, wishing our beloved mesquite would come back to life somehow. That night I had a dream. In it, I saw our tree. It was full and healthy and radiantly verdant. I woke up feeling happy, hopeful and light.

Imagine my excitement, a few days later, when I noticed tiny green buds forming on the dead-looking branches. Our tree was coming back to life! Then I heard God’s voice whisper softly in my ear, “I make all things new.” And I believed.

***************

Years have gone by and my children no longer play under the shade of our tree. Life has been good, but still I‘ve faced my share of trouble, heartache and disappointment.

Before discovering the withering trees behind our backyard fence, my heart had already been heavy with sadness. Concern for our finances, health issues and some of our children’s choices made me feel as withered as those little trees.

Had God forgotten about me? Had all the prayers I’d said throughout the years been for nothing?

With tired steps, I walked into the yard and looked across the fence – searching for something, can’t remember what – when I encountered the same scene I had found all those years ago. Tiny green buds were grew on the new threes’ fragile branches: A promise of hope.

I remembered the dream I had once had, and I figured, if God can take care of these trees, He sure can take care of me and my loved ones.

A soft breeze tousled my hair. I breathed it in, as I heard God’s voice whispering again: “I make all things new.”

Amen, Lord, You do. And I believe.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Key to Joy

“Today is Gratitude Day,” the announcer said jovially over the radio. At that particular moment I was busily applying mascara, enveloped in the morning rush before leaving for work. Yet his words grabbed my attention.

You see, this was January, not November, the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the USA. So, what was this guy talking about?

“This is the day we remember to say ‘thank you’ to someone who’s done something nice or good for us,” he said, and then moved on to the next segment in his show.

But his words stayed with me, and during my commute I reflected on the subject of gratitude.

Gratitude is like a window, that once you open, lets you see beyond your living room walls, revealing a different view and a new perspective.

A few years ago, I spoke about the subject of joy at a women’s Bible study. In order to prepare for my teaching, I read about and researched this subject extensively. During my teaching, I mentioned several sources of joy as well as several attitudes and situations that can hinder us from experiencing this fruit of the Spirit.

I felt so good and satisfied when I heard the applause after my delivery!

The next morning, while reading a devotional book by Donna Partow, I discovered that despite all of my research and apparent thoroughness, I had failed to mention a key ingredient during my teaching.

“If you want to experience joy,” Donna said in her book, “be grateful.”

She got it, and it was so simple!

I continued to drive and to think about the radio host’s announcement earlier that morning, and about what he’d said about taking the time to say thank you.

Whom did I need to thank? The list was long. How often did I stop to say thank you? This list was very short.

I figured I could start by thanking God for allowing me to hear the announcer's words that day – a much-needed reminder, indeed. Then I could move on to elaborating a mental list of all the people to whom I should express my gratitude.

As I approached the end of my commute, I paused to thank God for the joy thanksgiving brings.

My heart was bubbling already with delight.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lives Lived Well

The TV ad played on as I hurriedly took a sip of my coffee. It is MLK Day and I couldn’t wait to go out in the garage and take advantage of the day off to tackle my once-a-year cleanup. Except…

The picture of the great hero, Martin Luther King, on the TV monitor caught my eye and made me pause. Every single time I see his picture something stirs within me – painful, inspiring, convicting.

My heart aches when I consider the great price this modern-day martyr paid for the cause he so passionately gave his life to: His wife lost her husband. Her little children lost their daddy. A nation lost a great leader.

Thinking about what he could’ve accomplished, if only given the chance to live past 39, makes my head spin. Why is it that some good people are taken from us so early in life?

With the recent tragedy here in Arizona, which shook the whole nation to its core, I asked myself the same question over and over again. Why does God allow these things to happen?

I took another sip of my coffee, a lot more slowly this time.

Jesus’ words recorded on John 12:24 came to mind, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

The tragic loss of precious lives – especially young lives, like Jesus, Rev. King and Christina Green, the 9-year-old who wanted to meet Congresswoman Giffords and was shot while waiting her turn to shake her hand – they startle us, like a sharp slap on the ear, and make us think about our own lives and values, what drives us and what’s truly important.

Lives lived well inspire us. But when they cease – so abruptly and in such terrible manner – their passing is like a pebble thrown into a lake, creating ripples that grow bigger and wider until they reach the shore.

The tragedy in Tucson has created such ripple effect, which has reached the hearts of individuals, families, schools, cities, governments, nations…

During his 33 years on this earth, Jesus transformed the world. But His death gave us a chance to experience a new and abundant life.

And Martin Luther King’s voice and message has spoken louder and clearer after death – just like the seed buried on the ground, producing fruit and reproducing far beyond its small self.

Though I don’t understand why, I truly believe that certain things happen for a reason that goes beyond what we humans can comprehend, and that God can transform a great evil and use it for a greater good.

My small tribute today is to share my thoughts with you, dear friends, as we reflect together on the powerful and positive aspects of lives lived well.

Long live their legacy!

Friday, January 7, 2011

While I Waited

I checked my watch one more time. Five-Twenty. Unbelievable! My daughter’s special present – a lovely silver bracelet and a last-minute item in her wish list – was supposed to have been engraved and ready for pick-up an hour ago.

It was Christmas Eve. My husband and kids were waiting in our truck at the mall’s crowded parking lot. They had dropped me off by the main door. Plan was I’d dash in, get the prized gift, text hubby to drive to the curve, dash out as the crowds allowed, hop in the truck, and drive to church for the 5:30 service.

No problem.

Except, when I got to the store I encountered a long line at the un-manned pick up counter. That’s ok, I told myself, we still have time. So I waited, halfway patiently. But as minutes ticked away, shoppers’ once friendly faces turned tight with frustration.

“What is going on?” the pretty blonde ahead of me asked out loud.

“I’ve been here for almost two hours”, someone else demanded.

“Me too!”

“This is ridiculous” said the lady that stood behind me.

My phone began to buzz. “Mom, we’re sick of waiting.” “Are you ever going to get out of there?” “We’re going to be late for church, Ana.” Now, my head was buzzing.

I noticed that my right knee shook unceasingly and that my feet hurt. I was wearing my cute pumps for I wanted to look good for church and for our traditional fancy dinner with friends, after service.

But now it didn’t look like we would make it to church on time, and if we went to the 7:00 service, our dinner plans would be ruined. Thinking about this made me absolutely furious. Why in the world did these people give you a pick up time if they were going to make you wait in line forever?

Finally, a young woman appeared at the counter. “I’m so sorry, everyone,” she apologized, “but one of our engraving machines broke, so we’re running a little behind.” And then, like a teenage child you call to do chores, she magically disappeared.

I saw red. A little! I turned around and asked the lady behind me to save my spot in line. Then I marched to the pick-up counter, stumping my feet and pumping my fists, readying for battle.

Watch it, Ana.

I didn’t want to watch it. I just wanted answers. And I wanted my bracelet. And I wanted it now!

Love is patient. Love is kind.

I knew that. God knew I work hard to keep myself in check when I’m around clients, or my family, or church people. But this particular instance didn’t count. These were extenuating circumstances. An injustice had been committed, and I was soooo tired, having stayed up late the night before, wrapping presents. Besides, I didn’t know a soul at this sorry store, so who cared if I lost it a little.

The young clerk reappeared. “Excuse me!” I yelled, not bothering to hide my irritation as I made my way to the counter.

She turned around, eyes and mouth wide open.

Oh, don’t give me that look! Don’t you know I am the victim here?

“Excuse me!” I repeated, using the same tone. “I need to know when my order will be ready. You guys promised it’d be ready at 4:30, and now I’m going to be late for church!”

The young woman looked at me for a few seconds. I could see weariness in her puffy eyes. She looked at the crowd.

“I know how frustrated you all must be,” she pleaded, “but please remember these are circumstances beyond our control. Our engravers are working as hard as they can to get your orders ready.

“And, ma’am,” she said, turning to look at me, “I’m only a seasonal worker here. There is nothing else I can do. And remember, this is Christmas. We should all be happier and a little more patient with one another.”

“That’s the spirit!” the pretty blonde ahead of me yelled.

“Yeah, you’re right!”

“We can wait! It’s Christmas time!”

Oh, God.

Wishing I could shrivel down to one little prune, I slogged back to my spot in the line. I looked around the store and thought, what if one day I welcome one of these people at my church? Would they remember me – the jerk that harassed that sweet young clerk on Christmas Eve?

I looked down at the floor and quietly asked God for forgiveness, for not heading to His warning to keep my temper in check and for being a lousy example of Christian love. “And, Lord,” I dared asking, “would you mind hurrying my order a bit? I really don’t want to miss service.”

I know. Some things never change.

Imagine my surprise when I heard my name being called from the counter. This time I wore a sheepish smile on my reddened face.

“Thank you," said the clerk. "And, once again, we’re very sorry to’ve made you wait so long.”

I should’ve been the one to apologize, but all I could do was croak a weak, “It’s ok.”

Like I said, some things never change.

Before leaving the store, I stopped by the pretty blonde that once stood ahead of me, and I said, “I want you attitude.”

“Me, too,” she responded jovially, “I’m usually not like this. But it’s Christmas.”

She smiled. I smiled back.

Then I texted Hubby as I swerved passed the hordes of Holiday shoppers, “Meet me at the curve by the Food Court. I’m ready.”

This time, I was.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Gifts

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17, NIV)

What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?

Traditions vary from culture to culture and from family to family. In my country, Guatemala, children and adults alike enjoy putting together “nacimientos” – colorful nativity scenes made up of tiny houses, moss and figurines. In Mexico they celebrate with lively “posadas,” and here in the US we love to bake cookies and decorate our homes with hundreds of twinkling lights, inflatable Santas and giant snowmen.

Though the manner in which we celebrate varies extensively, the Reason does not: God the Father gave His Son so that mankind could have life, abundant and eternal. Plenty a reason to rejoice!

There is one element of every tradition that is always present – no matter what side of the Globe one lives at – and that is music. Choirs sing sweet carols. Happy melodies liven up friendly gatherings. Favorite songs play on radio stations, filling our hearts with both joy and melancholy.

For me, listening to Christmas music is one of my favorite traditions.

I love to bake and decorate my home while playing my most beloved songs. And while commuting, I shake my shoulders and bob my head unashamed as I belt out at full volume, Feliz Navidad!

The other morning, as I drove to work, I silenced the radio and stopped singing for a minute to thank the Lord for this wonderful Season. This is indeed a very special time for me and my family.

Then I heard, This is my gift to you.

“I know, Lord,” I replied. “ I’m very grateful for your Son’s birth, such a precious gift.”

No, Ana. The music is.

At first, these words seem a bit contradictory. Musicians use their gifts to compose their songs, I reasoned, and then they present them to God and to the world as love offering of joy and gratitude.

But Who gave them these gifts in the first place?

My heart about burst as I pondered the answer and the image that played in my mind’s eye. When my children were little, I used to take them to the store to buy presents for the family. Even though they chose the gifts they wanted to give, I was the one who paid for them.

Memories of tiny pudgy hands excitedly handing those presents to their loved ones on Christmas morning helped me understand that – ultimately – every good gift comes from God.

Even Christmas music.

It is my wish that this blessed Season you too will discover that God is the Creator and the Giver of all gifts. And it is my prayer that His love will fill your heart with joy, your home with warmth, and your mind with peace.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gratitude

How grateful are you?

I have to confess that when my children were young, gratitude was something I struggled with. I knew how lucky I was to have a home, a loving husband and beautiful, albeit rambunctious, children. But I was too busy, felt too tired to stop and give thanks.

From the moment my second child was born, I felt as if someone had thrown me in the middle of a gigantic vortex – with dirty dishes and laundry, small toys and big messes, diapers and mismatched socks swirling around me – and I couldn’t get out of it.

I was so caught up in the moment, striving to keep up, that I missed it.

A decade later, I felt as if the storm had finally spit me up, living me in the middle of my living room floor – dazed, somewhat bruised, and totally perplex – wondering where in the world had all those years gone.

Around this time, my daughter Gracie was a sophomore in High School. For months she had been asking me to help her paint her room. We’ll do it during Summer break, I had promised, but summer came and went, as well as fall, without a chance for me to tackle this project.

After Christmas I decided it was time to drop the excuses. Excited, mother and daughter went to Home Depot for paint, brushes and a bit of inspiration. And so we got started.

With each rhythmical stroke of our paintbrushes a realization seeped into my mind: The girl painting next to me was no longer a child. I paused for a moment to take a long look at my daughter. Birthday parties, scraped knees, dance rehearsals, and school projects played in my mind’s eye in fast-forward. Where was I when all of this happened?

Unaware of my swirling emotions, Gracie talked to me about her dreams, a boy she had a crush on, and the fact that this might be the last time we painted her room.

Closing my eyes, I pictured us painting the walls of an empty apartment – hers.

I realized that year after year I had dutifully gone through the motions of motherhood, facing the gradual changes completely unaware of what was going on around me. There were new outfits, bigger shoes, new teachers, new school years – yet everything felt the same.

Until this day.

Are you ok, Mom? Gracie asked, looking puzzled.

Yes, yes, I lied. I was just a little distracted.

No, I wasn’t! I had never been more aware than at that moment. Aware of the fact that one day a new school year will not come, and my children will buy their own clothes, feed their own families, paint their own homes.

I did the math: I only had a couple more years before Gracie went to college, perhaps in a different city or at another state. Ronnie would start High School the following year, and Nick two years later. Six years max. I was not going to miss it this time!

But, how? I couldn’t change the pace of life, with its inevitable busyness and demands. I couldn’t do anything to keep my children from growing older. I couldn’t make time stop, or slow down, or even go back – as badly as wanted to – just because I had suddenly realized it was slipping from my fingers faster than running water.

How, Lord? I pleaded.

He answered.

I couldn’t change my circumstances, but I sure could change my perception. In His great mercy, God opened my eyes – right in the middle of a painting project – to see that each moment and each day with my family wasn’t something to endure or to try to hang on to, but something I could savor, a gift to enjoy and be grateful for.

That is the beauty of gratitude. It changes your *perspective. It frees you to truly live and to love, to be happy, a lot more aware, and at peace.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for each one of you and for God’s many blessings – among them, the blessing of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Ana
*To read more about perspective, please go to: "A New Perspective"