The signs were nothing but rectangles of white-painted plywood adorned with bright red words proclaiming, “abrazos gratis” (“free hugs”), along with flowers, hearts, and other cheerful splotches of eye-catching color. We drove to our rendezvous point at a nearby university campus to meet up with the rest of our crew, and then struck out around downtown Guadalajara, Mexico, to search for strangers upon whom to shower random acts of kindness.
Signs held high, we fanned out, an advancing army of affection. “Would you like a free hug?” was our battle cry.
In my childhood farmyard in Pleasant Hill, New York, we always had an abundance of chickens roaming around looking for worms and bugs, scratching the ground for seeds, and generally living an easygoing, happy life. That’s one reason why, in spite of a modest food budget, I still always buy free-range eggs. I believe that happy chickens create better eggs.
One thing I noticed at an early age was that there is a definite pecking order among chickens. Most chickens are social, humble creatures that mind their own business. But some chickens run around puffing out their chests, lording it over the other chickens … and plucking their tail feathers.
I used to have my own definitions of longsuffering and patience. Longsuffering was putting up with something, and patience was putting up with nothing. The one was expressed in "I wish I didn't have," and the other in "I wish I did." There's more to both than that, of course, especially longsuffering.
When I looked into the Greek word µακροθυµέω (phonetically, makrothumia), the word translated in some Bible versions as “longsuffering,” I saw that there was another facet. Makro means “long” (no revelation there), and thumia means temper, which was eye-opening. So a more precise translation of makrothumia may be long-tempered, the opposite of short-tempered.
Sometimes, at the most unexpected times, we get little revelations that clarify perspective, give insight, and recharge our faith. I got one of those the other day.
It had been a long few months financially speaking, and now our vehicle was in the repair shop. As I waited for my husband to call me with the cost estimate, I asked God why this was happening to us now, of all times. “We’re already struggling,” I pleaded. “How can we afford an expensive repair on our vehicle?”
I decided “better late than never” and ventured into something new and long overdue: at age 50-plus, I registered for lessons at a local driving school.
To my horror, during just my second class, I was taken to drive in the chaotic Nairobi traffic.
“Try to create space around your vehicle,” was one of the first instructions.
After an intense period of work a few months back, I had been looking forward to taking some time off. I knew I needed to think about my future and plans in conjunction with changes around me that would affect my career and living situation, but I also looked forward to sinking my teeth into a personal project that I had been excited about for months but had been too busy to devote much time to. I felt passionate about this project and hoped it would be a starting point toward realizing some of my dreams and goals.
I don’t know what triggered what came next. Perhaps I had overdone physically and strained my already fragile state of health, but I suddenly became very ill. Crippling exhaustion was the dominant problem. The fatigue I suffered from was so deep and overwhelming that on a bad day the kind of decisions I faced were things like, “Do I wash my laundry today, or do I wash my hair?” I simply didn’t have the energy to do both, let alone anything more.
This should be easy, I thought as I prepared to enter high school. I didn’t expect to have any problems making friends or interacting with my classmates. Unfortunately, my confidence was shattered on the very first day of school, when I met the boy seated next to me in class.
Sean was about my height but twice my weight. He was careless in his studies, never studied for exams, and yelled and cursed at teachers and students alike. He bragged endlessly about the violent computer games he played every chance he got, and their influence was evident in his angry, destructive behavior. I quickly wished I didn’t have to sit next to him.
A friend was showing me a photo that he took at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden—a large park in the middle of bustling Tokyo. It showed a brilliant blue sky with green trees framing it. When I complimented him on a beautiful shot, my friend looked amused. “Actually, you’re looking at it upside down. This is the reflection of the sky on the lake.”
I looked closer and saw that he was right. What I had thought was scenery was actually its reflection on the lake’s surface, almost like an optical illusion. I was amazed at how clearly the sky and surroundings were reflected in the still water. It made me think how wonderful it would be if my life could so perfectly reflect heaven’s peace and stillness.
Steve was a cheerful little boy with big brown eyes, curly blond hair, and a dimple that appeared on his right cheek every time he smiled. He had dreamy eyes, and often sat by the window to gaze at the rain, the clouds, or the birds.
“He has been kissed by an angel,” the Japanese midwife had told me with a smile when she first placed the small warm bundle in my arms, pointing out a snow-white streak of hair at the back of his head. “He has a special calling in life.” Over the years, her words often came back to me and I wondered what they meant.
My son's voice broke as he spoke, "Mom, I don't know what's happening. I just moved my family in order to take a new job, but now that job has fallen through!"
I did my best to encourage him, but as the minutes went by, I could tell I wasn’t getting through the wall of anguish.
After hanging up, I couldn’t get my son’s situation out of my mind. Finally I stopped everything else to pray about what he was going through. My son and his wife are active Christians and responsible young parents. I knew that he would do the best he could to support his family, but I knew, too, that the worldwide economic slump meant it was even more difficult than usual to get a good job.