The Kindness of Others

I am so keenly aware of kindness as I travel this week. I am in a foreign country and I only know one person besides the friend who’s traveling with me. I am unfamiliar with the transportation system and do not know a word of the language. I am carrying a large backpack and a mid size piece of luggage stuffed to the gills. It is all stacked on top of each other and clumsily pulled along on two insufficient wheels. Unless I hoist the backpack on my shoulders and then I have a camel like hump that tends to knock over anything in my wake. Everywhere I go I am bumping into someone and trying to express apologies despite the language barrier. Basically lots of hand motions and facial expressions.

To say it is stressful would not be an understatement.

But in the midst of all this chaos and cluelessness, I am overwhelmed and overjoyed at the opportunity to be taking steps in another country. I am amazed how everyone looks the same. I mean, the people would look no different than if you were in any big city in America. Life is happening over here. People bustling to get to work and to get home, embracing their children and sporting the fashion. I feel a part of something much bigger than when I left my home forty eight short hours ago.

There is an entire country of people just like me, only different, living their lives and loving their families. Only five thousand miles including an ocean separate us.

I am realizing that humankind is so much more expansive than what I think of from day to day. I’ve studied different countries and seen films, but being here, I don’t know, it just makes it all seem real. Seeing their faces and hearing them laugh causes me to see them as human beings, not a faceless society as they were in my mind before.

In my time here I am already thankful for the kindness of some.

Like the helpful lady in the airport in Germany. I opened my phone to connect to wi-fi and it was all in German. Of course it was. I searched until I found someone with a helpful smile and asked her what to do. She was so kind and helped me to connect so I could communicate with family and friends. I didn’t realize how scarce wi-fi would be over here or I would’ve thought twice about signing up for a month of international phone service, even though it cost extra. But, because of her kindness I was able to contact the person trying to find us in the VERY large Frankfurt airport, and let my family know I had arrived safely.

The young lady on the train ride after we left the airport was also helpful. Although many do speak a bit of English here, some do not. As we got on the train I was separated from my group, and a bit horrified when no one around me knew my language, until Mareike spoke up. I wanted to hug her, but instead I grinned and thanked her immensely as we spoke about her life, studies, travels and family. Then she helped make sure I got off at the right stop. She was headed to pack up her apartment and move to Spain for further studies.

I will never forget this kind, twenty-three year old.

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Mareike 

 

And then the hotel owner who showed such grace as we communicated with him in broken German. He even called a friend who spoke English to interpret what we were asking for. The room was nice and perfectly quaint, with a coffee shop right around the corner. As a matter of fact there is a coffee shop or a bread store on nearly every corner. As a coffee lover, I have fallen head over heels for this country. It seems the coffee shop baristas know a decent amount of English so ordering a hot treat has been a breeze.

God is good to accommodate my coffee addiction.

Once we were checked in, we walked eight miles around the city we were visiting. Eight. Miles. After two plane rides, a bus, a tram and finally a train to get here. THEN we walked. I am thanking the Lord for my ability to walk and see, too many times I take those things for granted. And even though my feet hurt, it was totally worth it!

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Train view.  LOTS of graffiti in Germany.

As I lay my head down tonight I have been up for thirty six hours straight. But even jet lag can’t hold back my excitement. Tomorrow we see Paris, France. I’m full of joy and thankfulness for this opportunity, I plan to make the most of it. And I plan on practicing greater kindness as I’ve been so fortunate to receive so much here.

Paris, here I come.

Oh, and one more thing, if you come in September, bring Kleenex, and a light jacket you won’t regret it.

And smile a lot.

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Learning to Cope

Part Two

He left for training in the middle of the night, well, it was still dark anyway. He arrived already tired from lots of recent travel, but ready to learn and get this thing behind him. It was a new year and a new opportunity to put God to the test. He had prayed, studied and begun to implement the tools that God had given him to help him cope.

And this is where I want to talk to anyone out there who deals with anxiety, bad nerves, shyness, whatever you want to call it. We’ve dealt a lot with this subject at our house. My husband and I both have had bouts with it over the years we’ve been together.

It seems fear is relentless.

Once he arrived at his hotel room and got settled, he called home. He always does that, call home I mean. We are never far from his mind and family sounded really good to him right then. Then he hit the books again, class would start early tomorrow. It would be a long day.

After two and a half days of solid lectures, it was time to take the first part of the exam, the oral. You remember I told you they can ask any question they want and keep prodding until they get a satisfying answer. If you don’t think this is a big deal, just try reading a manual on EVERY SINGLE system that lives inside of an airplane. And then be ready to pretty much quote it on the command of a test examiner who will be critiquing every word.

It’s not leisure reading, trust me.

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Honestly, what he was headed into is not what I want tell you about, it’s what he did every day before this day arrived that made ALL the difference. He prayed. He didn’t just start praying a week or even a month before, he prayed every day for the whole year, for wisdom and for guidance on how to cope with his anxiety. And you know what, the Lord began to show him ways to overcome or at least walk through it and come out successful on the other side. Do you get what I am saying here? He didn’t wait until the last minute and start pleading for help; he prayed WAY AHEAD knowing the Lord would answer him in time.

Next, as the Lord spoke, he listened. He paid attention when others talked about their own experiences and he took the advice of some. One great find was the book “From Panic to Power” by Lucinda Bassett. Another pilot suggested this book and my husband walked three miles from his hotel to the nearest bookstore, bought it, and read it from cover to cover. After he was done, he knew God had begun answering his prayers by sending him such a helpful tool.

He was encouraged.

Please don’t get the wrong idea, my guy is VERY GOOD at his job, it’s just very stressful to sit in front of a panel of professionals who are trying to make you mess up without being a nervous wreck. And to fail or “bust” one of these tests is a big deal; you just don’t want to do it. I am thankful he is humble enough to allow me to share his story because we both feel that there are many who can relate to the feelings of near debilitating fear.

Even the best of us deal with it, fear is no respecter of persons.

Then he talked to a friend who suggested he should do a good cardio workout a few hours before the checkride to kind of wear himself out before the exam. Not so much that he would be overly fatigued, but enough to work off some nervous energy and lower stress levels; something to do with the “fight-or-flight response.” Sounds so simple, but it really does work. My husband practiced what it would take to work off some of the nervous energy without dulling his senses, and then he did exactly that on test day.

And he drinks LOTS of water.

It just helps.

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Taking these steps, and a few more that are personal to him, has made a HUGE difference. They are the main steps he takes to fight anxiety. And you know what? It works! It really does. He has learned to weave these steps into the everyday ins and outs of his life. He prays, he studies, he exercises, and he drinks(water). It’s no longer just something he does to get ready to combat anxiety in an important moment, it’s become his lifestyle.

He does his best to stay constantly prepared.

Staying prepared is CRITICAL to successful living.

Back to the story, I got up the morning after his test, waiting to hear how it all went. He was up late into the night and early morning taking it. I went to sleep praying for peace in his heart, and in my own. You know as a married couple you tend to carry one another’s burdens. I had been up a little while the next day when I got the celebratory text, “It went really, really well!!” I immediately shot up a prayer of thanks. Over the years God had slowly shown him how to deal with his fear and now one day at a time he is walking deeper and deeper in courage.

What was my epiphany? I realized by watching him live this out that learning the steps and implementing them was like a slow training. Not the kind of training like my husband takes to remain a proficient pilot, but rather a slow learning process that teaches you to walk in the new truths you’ve been taught one day at a time.

A slow reshaping of the mind.

I can appreciate when folks say to live fearlessly, I have actually said it myself a time or two. But, you know what I’ve realized? There is no such thing as living without fear; it comes upon us at the most unexpected times. What we CAN do is learn to implement the steps God teaches us so we don’t LIVE in fear. When we feel it beginning to take its familiar place in our hearts, we can pray, read, (the Bible is a great go-to), have physical activity and drink so our minds stay clear and strong.

And then when we are put to the test in life, we will be as prepared as we can be to face it.

Well, I think it’s pretty safe to say we’ve learned a lot more from aeronautical training around this house than just procedures and systems, we’ve learned how to live our lives better and with more courage.

Our God is just so practical, I love that about Him.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, training is over for another year! All went well in the oral and the simulator and we will start praying about next year with even more confidence.  If you see my guy around, be sure to ask him about  it, he loves a good story almost as much as me.

And now, I think we’ll celebrate with a glass of water.

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“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8 NIV

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

Learning to Cope

Part One

My husband is a pilot. Many of you already know that, but for those who don’t, he flies for a regional airline and is very good at what he does. With a job this intense, you might guess there is a lot of training, and you’d be right. And with airline pilot training there comes a lot of pressure. The kind of pressure that might make you want to curl up in a fetal position and stay that way for a while; but, not him. He loves his job and considers the training the most stressful part of what he does, but not the defining factor.

Many of my friends have told me how thankful they are to hear the people flying them through the air at warp speeds are required to take a lot of training. I don’t blame them for feeling this way, but I get to see the other side of all this rigorous schooling. I get to see my husband pouring over books as thick as a cinder block, I get to hear him stress out over taking an oral exam that is basically no-holds-barred. He gets to the briefing room for the oral test and faces an examiner who can ask him about anything in the cinder block sized book and then wait with a steely-eyed poker face for to him explain it inside and out to their satisfaction.

And one hopes and prays they can be satisfied.

Then you head straight to the simulator for another test. This is not the fun simulator that you might be thinking of, not the one you might see in an aviation museum; no, this is one ride you don’t want to take. Specially trained examiners spend FOUR HOURS putting the pilots through very difficult scenarios and monitor how they respond in each crisis and decide whether or not they measure up to the standard. And the standard is a little different for each examiner depending on his/her expectations. Now imagine having your career in jeopardy once every year. For six hours, you are quizzed on your knowledge, examined while you work through manual calculations you almost never do on the real job (thanks to automation!), and then you are observed working through emergency situations that you have never actually done in real life, only during these annual reviews. It’s all so uncertain and stressful.

And for this pilot husband of mine, it can be seriously nerve racking.

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Last week was training week for him and I know instinctively after ten years of commercial flying that it’s going to be a long week for him and our family. Late nights, raw emotions, exhaustion and absence all play a part in making this annual affair so dreadful. But, over time and with much communication and an abundance of prayer, we have figured out a few things that make it a little easier.

Focusing on the positive is probably the first thing, with giving lots of grace, a close second. You just have to learn to give each other a pass when you know high stress is coming. You determine to prepare in advance and not let it catch you off guard. We know training is coming, so we have learned to take the necessary steps to make it as bearable as possible. I know many times in life we don’t get to see the stresses coming; there are days, events, and circumstances that take us by surprise, and we pray and do our best to be our best.

But in this case, our training week, we see it coming a mile away.

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My husband has always been shy. I mean the kind of shy where he would walk around with his head down as a kid and try to avoid eye contact with others. You would hardly know that now as God has grown him into such a friendly and kind person. But, the growth has been intentional and he has been through a lot to get to this “less shy” place in his life.

Before he was a pilot he was in youth and music ministry. I know what you’re thinking, “what was he doing in ministry if all he wanted to do was run from being in the spotlight?” As you know, ministry requires constantly dealing with all kinds of people and standing center stage Sunday after Sunday. I don’t have an answer for you except that he felt God calling/asking/beckoning him to do it. Religiously on Sunday mornings he would get up early with a sick stomach. It never failed. But, the amazing part to me was that he never quit. I mean, I might’ve decided that I just wasn’t cut out for this and moved onto something a little less intense, something more comfortable; but not him. He just kept doing week after week what he felt God had called him to do; sick or not.

It’s amazing what anxiety can do to a person if left to its own vices.

Since we’ve been married, he has slowly been working on how to handle all of these fears that want to dominate his heart and mind. He has prayed so hard and read books and practiced positive self-talk, but only recently did he finally have a breakthrough and I had an epiphany.

To be continued…

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“Why Am I Here, Anyway?”

My daughter and I went out to dinner tonight and the subject of purpose came up. She said, “I wonder what my purpose is here on earth? I mean, what have I accomplished in the twenty two years I’ve been here? If I were to die in a car wreck, what would people say that I’ve done?” All these questions over nachos, it seemed pretty intense for casual dinner conversation. How had we gone from football schedules to this? My immediate thought was to give her the standard answer, the one I really believe but probably overuse. But, before I could get the words out of my mouth, the Lord stopped me.

I felt strongly in my heart that I needed to be very thoughtful before I offered her any reasoning on the subject.

First let me confess that I sat there thinking, “You’re twenty two, I have furniture older than you, it’s okay if you haven’t saved the world yet.” But, I could tell from her expression that it was really bothering her so I prayed silently and asked God for wisdom. My daughter is getting ready to graduate from college this spring and is struggling with what’s next. I knew this question was directly related to her future that seemed so close at hand, she was feeling so unsure of what to do next and how to make her life matter.

Some people know from infancy, it seems, what they want to do with their future. Others of us seem to figure it out as we go. Oh, we look back and can see from where God has brought us, but we never really see exactly where He’s taking us. I am one of those people. Maybe, I figure, some of us only need to know one step at a time, it keeps us depending on God and on our knees in prayer.

But that doesn’t keep us from struggling with the feelings of uncertainty. And those feelings inevitability foster insecurity and doubt about whether or not our lives matter.

And that’s exactly where my daughter was in her heart sitting across from me nibbling on nachos.

I took a deep breath and began to speak, “I guess that depends on what you consider to be purpose. If you’re looking for trophies or great achievement or the applause of men, then, you probably haven’t felt a sense of purpose. Because that’s recognition, and you’ll have time for that as your life unfolds. But, if you really think about the things that matter, the things that are eternal, you have lots of purpose.”

I could see that I had her attention. I could read her mind, I knew she was wondering what she had done that had made a difference or that had any eternal value. So I started bringing up examples of people that I knew she had impacted by simply living her faith. People she had invited to church, some of them still attend to this day. People she had been kind to that had been pretty horrible to her. I know her willingness to forgive and not hold a grudge impacted them. She did it all with the goal of wanting to be a light for Jesus.

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For the objective of our conversation, I looked up the term purpose. It means “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”

You see, purpose isn’t about our achievements, it’s about the reason we get up in the morning. What motivates us to go to bed at night with a resolve to get up and try again the next day. It’s about recognizing the REASON we want to achieve. It is the motivating factor in our decisions, what makes us feel fulfilled and fills up with hope. It’s what keeps us going when we want so badly to give up.

Purpose drives us to action and keeps us focused.

There are no amount of accolades that will make us feel purpose, so many times we have it backwards. Purpose is what keeps us working hard and in the process our life begins to take shape and we accomplish some great things. But that’s because of our purpose, the accomplishments are NOT the purpose in and of themselves. They are the RESULT of being driven by our purpose. So, purpose drives us to accomplish and in turn our accomplishments should glorify God.

We were created for the purpose of glorifying God.

When I used to hear vague statements like that in the past, I roll my eyes in my mind and think, “okay, explain glorifying God in my life. I mean, what does that mean? What does it look like?” Sometimes we speak in church language and the message gets lost in the vagueness of the terms. I am no Bible scholar, I’m just a mom who’s had kids who asked a lot of questions. But, I feel that glorifying God is just as practical and everyday as cleaning your house or washing your car. It’s not magical or logical, it’s simply doing whatever it is you do in life realizing that you represent someone much greater than yourself. And maybe because of your hard work at whatever it is you’re doing a friend or stranger might decide to ask Jesus into their hearts.

That’s what it all boils down to. People asking Jesus into their hearts.

So if our purpose (the reason for which we were created) is glorifying God, and if we make our purpose the motivating force of our life, then suddenly we are freed from worry about career choices and chasing opportunities. And we won’t worry about the impact we hope to have around us because we will submit ourselves to the direction of the Lord and He won’t steer us wrong.

His purpose and our purpose will be the same.

And we will accomplish great things that will glorify Him.

As you can imagine by the time our conversation wound up it was late and our nachos were cold. We left with full hearts and somewhat full stomachs. Honestly the conversation was a lot better than the nachos, I’ve decided that bar b que sauce on chips and cheese was NOT a great accomplishment.

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How we felt about the nachos.