Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Does God do parking?

“Please, please, please!”

“Damn. They were pulling in.”

“C’mon God. Give me a spot please. Just this once. C’mon!!”

“Hey maybe...crap.”

“Oh?!... OH!... Heck yeah! Score! Bing, bing, bing!! Thank You God!! A spot, and close to the front!”

I parked my car in front of the large bookstore located at the mall and proceed to the door. Prayers answered and a strong sense of smug accomplishment; happy as a kid who got the G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu Grip he asked for on Christmas in 1974.

Then I thought: “Did God reaaaallly grant me a parking space?”

This created a new topic to ponder as I strolled around the bookstore. I go to bookstores not always with the intent on acquiring a tome to my liking, but I like the silence. I like the smell. I like being surrounded by the stories of others presented for me to slip into. I just like bookstores.

I wondered as I flipped through the random pages about my recent “answered prayer.” I had issue with myself. Did I really spend more time and energy praying strong and out loud for a parking space? Do I consider God and all that’s holy nothing more than a simple cosmic vending machine to where I drop in a hollow prayer to immediately get my material good? Did my parking space simply get pushed to the end of the column of other vended goodies and by my selection fall to the little glass door for my retrieval?

I looked then to the other similar times of where I went into my little “fanny pack of prayers” pulling them out like the coupon lady at the grocery.

“Please God, let the donuts be fresh!”

“Please God, let there be some ink in the printer!”

“Please God, let us have ketchup!”

In retrospect and through introspect I find that sometimes we see prayers like coins. The pennies we toss about not even worrying if we lose a few in the couch cushions. The small prayers devalued; often unaware they all stimulate the same spiritual economy. The larger coins, the bills even, we save for the big ticket items. Overcoming illness, praying for relief from external burden and pain, oppression of others, dissolution of disasters–these are the prayers we value. I find for me that I must respect the source within me that sets the prayer in motion, and to whom I consider the recipient. It is not up to me to devalue the worth of a penny and I should spend all change wisely.

Then I thought, perhaps these “little requests” are not even prayers. Often I find whether answered in my favor or not, the answer is part of a greater whole–one step in a journey. These little moments of truth allowing us to feel cheated or grateful are part of a bigger lesson. Maybe denial of said request is teaching me patience. Maybe fulfillment showing me I am being heard even when I feel insignificant. I am always grateful when I am given tangible evidence my prayers are being heard. I think my gratitude sends my messages clearer in the future; my lack thereof maybe slowing delivery.

Today I was watching the news as I do in the morning. The major network news show had a touching story. An octogenarian woman had made it a practice for years to order a pizza every day from the same Domino’s; a large pepperoni, cooked light, with two sodas. She lived alone and somewhat in recluse. I do not know if she liked pizza that much or the company. Maybe both.

Every day at 10:00 AM when the pizza restaurant opened, the phone would ring regularly with her request. One Monday it did not–nor did it the two days prior. Upon arriving at work that Monday the manager of the pizza store mentioned to the regular delivery driver of this anomaly. The driver immediately became concerned. She exclaimed she was going to leave work to go check in on her regular customer. At the protest of the manager, the driver mentioned she would “get clocked out”, but would not be hindered in her human obligation to check on the elderly woman.

She arrived at the house. No answer as she pounded on the doors and windows calling her name. She checked with the neighbors. No one had seen nor heard from her. They never did. The driver called 911 for an ambulance and sent it to her address in grave concern. She returned briefly to work to check in and returned again a while later to the scene where officers and EMT professionals were pulling her from her home on a gurney. Alive!

The lady had fallen and lay injured on her floor for days. The lady asked who had called in her favor which saved her life. Emergency professionals told her the Dominos people. Her odd diet and brief daily interactions saved her life. Her prayers obviously heard. The Dominos delivery person was seemingly driven by divine opportunity or perhaps a vehicle in answering the prayers of another.

I love these stories of the tangible symphony of the transfer, receipt, and delivery of divine happenstance. I wonder if my little requests of selfish nature are clouding the airways. I wonder if they are of any importance or if my little shallow prayers are still working out these spiritual muscles. Maybe I can simply try to become aware of my intention behind them, who they serve, and for the greater good of whom. Is there a sliding value scale of the prayers God handles? I also realize sometimes the answer is “no.” Sometimes it is “not now.” It is still good for me.

I don’t know exactly if God does parking. I like to think he may have someone else handle that for him. I don’t know. I do however think he likes pizza.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The bes' day ebber!

Best days; I have had a few. I have been blessed to have done many things, gone many places, and met some really cool people. Those ingredients definitely can contribute to the recipe of some spectacular days.

I remember the day got accepted to the American Team to travel the country. I remember my TV debut. I remember driving off the lot in my first sports car. I remember seeing my work in print for the first time. Those were some really great days! I no longer have nor do those things.

I remember my graduation day from High School. I remember my graduation from beauty school. I remember days when I completed a long task and got recognized, certified, or the “atta-boys” I thought were so important. They were...then.

I also remember the first day my father told me he loved me. I was 21. There were more following. I remember when my wife agreed to marry me. We took a limo around town celebrating the fact that “this guy” got “that girl”. I remember hearing “I’m pregnant”; the kind you want to hear. I remember when she arrived. I remember when my son arrived. We became a whole family. I remember hearing news like, “She’s okay, the test came back negative”, or “the financing went through, we can keep our house”. Indeed these were “the best of days.” Gifts mind you. But we have many more.

Yesterday, a Saturday, my day started as most of mine do, not sleeping in and taking care of the family needs. That’s okay. I am an early riser. My son had basketball practice and my daughter was venturing out with a friend feeding her own interests.

My son plays well...for a kid who is short and slight. He is not well rehearsed in the game, but makes up for it in heart (what some may call hyper). I often read to allow me to focus on drowning out three hundred drumming basketballs being awkwardly bounced. I glance up whenever my son has the ball or it is his turn. When they play a scrimmage, the book closes. My son glances to the bleachers flashes me a smile. I return it with a “thumbs up!” He smiles bigger and returns to the game. He shoots, misses, and gets a thumbs up! Again smiling, he returns his focus to the game–both of us proud of the other.

Some of the other parents berate and yell game strategies and their disappointments at these fledgling athletes. Their children look around for reassurance in a public setting to find little or none there unless a score is made. I don’t get it–they’re seven years old.

The game ended. My son made a basket. I shared how proud I was of how he played. He didn’t win though. It didn’t matter. He was jazzed and we had bonding time ahead! He was panting as a pro athlete would, proud of his participation and accomplishment, satisfied of his performance of the day. His day could end there and he would be happy.
“You hungry son?”

“Yep, but Dad I want the place that has the pancakes and Hi-C!”

“That’s what I was thinking pal!”

“This is the bes’ day ebber!!” he shouted. Loudly.

The game’s loss forgotten as his focus was on syrup and Hi-C, and oh yeah, they make their donuts fresh, from scratch! We always get one to go!

Tired as I was from a food coma and an early rise to endure a bit of percussive thunder, I wanted a little sofa-surfing “dad-time” but was reminded of something. The new Lego set my son got the night before awaiting my plastic toy architectural prowess.

We set the dining room table with the protective mat, place the mini bricks of aggravation into their respective piles and proceeded.

“Wow Dad! You are Awesome!!!” (Well the directions helped a bit, but I will take the ribbon!)

After an hour or so, a bowl full of Skittles and a Capri sun, our mission was accomplished. The sugar fueled venture concluded in a few battle scenes taking place in our dining room until energy was spent. My son crashed on his bean bag chair in his room, newly constructed toy in hand, smile on his face in front of SpongeBob. His room destroyed–evidence of a level 4 bes’ day ebber!

An evening at a friends’ house, videogames, and pizza conclude the day’s itinerary. I asked him in the car on the way home, “Did you have a good time son?” He replied again in sleepy satisfaction, “The bes’ day ebber!”

Today. Early rise again. Coffee as the family lie in slumber. Giada DeLaurentis showing her cooking prowess on the streets of Capri. Time for church. The twenty minute drive accompanied by some beautiful music perfect for a sunny crisp morning. Great sermon. I went alone. Family slept in and went later. More good Dad time.

I studied my studies, went out for one of the best Vanilla Chai Teas in the city and returned home to spend time with family. Some couch time with the wife. She told me how much she liked our home. She also liked my recent paint job I did in the living room. I smiled. It is nice to be appreciated. I shared my Chai with her. I have her liking tea now. The dog got a bath. We went shopping for the kids’ valentines. We talked in the car. I went for groceries for school lunches as my wife returned to the kids. They were happy and doing kid stuff. I took out the trash and noticed the sun setting. The temperature here was actually pleasant for the first time in a while. The sunset beckoned. I donned my iPod headphones, put on some inspiring music and took a lap.

A wave of strong gratitude came over me to remind me once again that I am blessed, I am loved, I am lucky, and I am most thankful to have been given the grace to realize this. The years I missed these moments because I was too busy being “cool”. Too busy “making it”. Too blind.

There were no certificates today. There were no crowds or cameras. No awards or honors.
It was the bes’ day ebber!
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Monday, February 7, 2011

Drive Thru Greetings

This one has been marinating for a while. I typically will become inspired to write, collect my thoughts or views, and while the passion is stirring, I will put finger to keyboard. Not in this case. I decided to put my observational skills to work.

I have really made it a new life practice to become an observer. You may not know I am watching, but I am. It’s a really fun show out there. Something is always going on–something we can learn from or be entertained by. I think that type of vantage point presents itself in my writing. In observing I can steep myself into the flow of what is going on around me, but as if on a raft in a river, I am not in control of the flow, but I can dip my toe in the water as I watch what unfurls around me awaiting what may lie ahead around the next bend.

I first was struck by my newest quandary as I went through a local drive thru. Initially I thought the type of business (a fast food joint-I was getting a breakfast sandwich) would be significant evidence and support to my topic, but that is where I decided to let this one simmer, or marinate if you will.

The greeting was mechanical and rehearsed offering me a selection of something in which I had no interest. It was not human and thus forgivable to me. The human that finally spoke behind the metal screen confirmed my order, mentioned my fee, and then asked me “to move for...”. They always cut off the ending, but I knew the drill.

The robotic routine of the "money taker" already had him in mid-dialogue as he was taking the order of the car behind me while reaching for my precious five dollar bill. He then grunted my amount,took my money, and dropped my change in my hand. His furrowed brow held his eyes that barely met mine. They were not warm. They were tired and alone. A man, a cash register, a headset, trapped in a small box. He missed an opportunity to make contact beyond his confines. “Thanks, you have a great day”, I mentioned as I smiled and proceeded.

My food was waiting on me and “efficiently” pressed into my hand that was just emerging from my window. I guess this is commendable behavior when service should take no longer than 30 seconds. I was given a “Thanks” through unsmiling lips. I replied, “Tha...”, the sliding glass door slid shut. Next!

Hmmm. Okay I will put customer service aside. In businesses that often have annual turnover in their staffing well over one hundred percent, I guess I didn’t expect a hug upon arrival and departure, but it left me wondering is this the norm. Is this where a lot of human contact and interaction is being reduced to? Well, kinda.

I do indeed have people I encounter at certain establishments, as well as friends’ homes in which I feel like I am a celebrity. Like I am loved, or at least appreciated. I will even take tolerated at times. I think we all have those people that make us want to regularly return to where they are. Why? Because when they say “Good morning”, they mean it. When they say “thank you”, you know they feel gratitude. When they ask “how are you”, you know they really care and want to know. The words are genuine and organic.

In my observational pause prior to writing this, I noticed how many instances I encountered “Drive Thru Greetings” from many different people and places. Greetings that left me thinking I would prefer silence to a hollow and rehearsed sub-acknowledgement of my existence. “Did I really need to turn down the stereo for that!?”

I remember one time when dining with my family; we were enjoying time out at a fancy restaurant. Our waitress arrived apparently hurried and exasperated. She made miniscule eye contact and exhaled her “may I take your order?” We ordered. She never looked up other than to nod at the next person to prompt them into ordering. At the end my father asked with a smile, “Do you like your job here?” She replied, “Yeah...sure.” He said, “Well why don’t you let your face in on it?” A smile does help.

I wonder how often we miss an opportunity to make someone’s day by recognizing them. How often do we miss an opportunity to validate someone’s presence by a smile? How genuine are the greetings and closures we bestow upon those we encounter? Don’t we deserve more than grunts, nods, and a nanosecond of pulling our eyes away from a phone or text to engage someone?

I have found through my recent observation, I can change someone’s state with a smile. I create smiles by humbly allowing people to proceed in front of me in line. I can make kids’ giggle with a goofy face. I am on continual alert for opportunities to make someone’s day. All of these people will light up, even if a little bit, and from that, I in turn gain joy. The joy replenishes my ability to continue my efforts. Interestingly too, the more sad, melancholy, or alone I feel, I have found through this practice, the negative emotion leaves me that much sooner. Weird. (But I like it!)

If I ask you “How are you”, I really care. If I say “Good morning”, I want you to have one. If I say, “have a great day”, indeed I hope that is what happens to you. If I say “travel safe”, I truly want your journey unobstructed. And they say that “Thank you” can be one of the most precious prayers you offer to God thanking him for a gift divine. If it is good enough for God, it is good enough for me, so if you hear me say “thank you”..., well you know where I am going. The intention behind our brief greeting is like saying a brief prayer for that person. Hollow greeting, hollow prayers.

When you encounter people, try speaking your greetings from a place of genuineness, and listen to the responses with your heart. Sometimes it only takes 10 seconds to make someone’s day and to make them feel recognized.

And to all of you now, “Have a great day, travel safe, and most of all, Thank you!”

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