Sunday, October 27, 2013

Word Pictures

Life is busy isn’t it? I’m tempted right at the beginning to make a list of everything we do, but I am going to refrain.
Because I would like to paint a word picture for you.

What do you notice as you walk through your daily routine?  
Our minds have the ability to process. Our eyes to see things. Even from our busy viewpoint, 
we choose what we notice. Then we make assumptions.

Word pictures help us see life. I tend to notice things. Everything. Nuances. The obvious.  Innuendo (implications, overtones). And then I process them and come up with a conclusion based on what I see. Here are a couple of examples. 

I tend to notice body language. I see a restaurant patron, crumpled shoulders, no eye contact, eating slowly, alone. And begin to paint a word picture. Here are two: first one is, gosh, something terrible must have happened, maybe he lost his wife to cancer this week, or maybe no one loves him, or I wonder where he’s going from here, what kind of life he has. It must be really sad. Another is maybe he’s really a rich guy with a ton of money, and he wants to stay incognito because if people knew, he’d be paying through the nose for his breakfast.

I watch him, get up slowly, pay the cashier who greets him with familiarity and then as he walks outside and climbs into a rusty old truck with a wheelbarrow in back and slowly drives away.

Do you ever stop to wonder about people as you go about your daily routine?

I’m sure you noticed a young mother who is quietly “screaming” at her misbehaving child so people won’t dislike her? Her lips are tight, she is so distraught that she is about to burst, and the child she’s correcting jerks his arm from her tight hold, as she jerks it back making her even madder?

Instantly, at this last word picture, I’m mad. Mad at her for not being in control. Mad at her for being the adult and not acting like one.

Are you getting the picture?

Okay, here are a couple more scenarios. The guy in the creamy white Lexus  is driving above the speed limit and jerks into your lane for no apparent reason, causing you a near heart attack trying to avoid an accident. Yes, I know, you were probably driving a little too slow in the center lane but he was a jerk because he just drove on without a worry, and he came close to wrecking your vehicle. Mad? Oh yeah.

In those few seconds you noticed he had on a suit and figure he is some rich guy who owns four cars and a four-car garage to park them in. Probably born into a wealthy family and thinks everybody should get out of the way when he gets on the road.

Ever think that way? I do.

How about this. You see a beautiful woman in an upscale store you can’t afford to shop in and she is making noise at the cashier. She is dressed exquisitely , probably walked straight out of the beauty shop, her blond hair swept up in a perfect classic do, her electric blue dress and four inch heels that match perfectly, and she is actually, and you really hate to admit this, but she’s beautiful.

What do you know about these people?


So, why do we  feel we know everything about a person just by looking at them?  I ask myself that question all the time.

Here is the rest of the story.

Remember the guy eating breakfast and driving the old truck with the wheelbarrow? His son is a congressman. He has two daughters who adore him. Why? Because he’s a nice, quiet guy who works hard and loves his children. His wife adores him too, but knows he enjoys eating alone at the restaurant and she lets him.

Remember the woman who’s grabbing her child in anger?  She just learned that her husband is having an affair and the reason she married him was because he said marriage was forever and he would be faithful. 

Her husband turned out just like her father who ruined her family’s life because of his affairs. The thing is, she made sure to marry the man who said he’d be faithful to her. Now he’s leaving her too. Promises broken. Her son was jerking his arm from her, feeling the same hurt as she did when her father left.

Now for the man who cut you off this morning on the way to work in his beautiful creamy white Lexus, acting like he owned the road?

He is a jerk. His father raised him to be one. Taught him that if you weren’t first in life you were nothing. Oh yeah, he’s got the Lexus, the nice suit, the business that is successful, but his wife hates him, his kids have nothing to say to him, but by golly he’s got the nice house and perfectly trimmed yard.  

It’s what his father calls success.

Funny, but he doesn’t feel it. He was thinking about life as he was driving down the road, wondering why he wasn’t happy. Why he didn’t have any friends. He knew how to function as a boss, but had no idea how to be a friend. He actually envied guys at work who went home to wives and kids who loved them. But he didn’t know how to love his family.  No one showed him.

And for the beautiful woman. Now which of us ladies think she couldn’t possibly have any problems with those looks, those clothes, those shoes that matched that electric blue dress, for heaven’s sake?

Remember the guy in the Lexus? She’s his wife. When she married him, he was a young man striving to grow a business. She loved him for that. He worked hard and even though they started with a small house, she was happier back then.

Now she rarely sees her husband and when she does he wants her to look the part of “the boss’s wife.” Which means she has to be made up all the time. She was returning a dress her husband said made her look dumpy.

He wants to impress a potential client he is wooing at dinner tonight at the best restaurant  in town and no matter what she shows him she is wearing he dismisses as not good enough. To the world she is gorgeous, to him she is never enough. No wonder she was stressed at the cashier that day.

All she ever wanted was a close family. Mostly because her dad was the owner of a huge manufacturing business and she hardly ever saw him as a child. She thought she’d married a better man, but alas, to her ever-growing realization, she married someone like her father and her children felt the same way about their father as she had about hers.

Making quick judgments is easy. Truly understanding a person means getting to know them before you paint a word picture that isn’t true.

It may take a little time, but we can change how we see people, even if just a little at a time.

* * *

Here’s one more word picture. Several years ago I met a man as I waited in a train station.

He came in rather disheveled and yelling at the clerk behind the window, upset because he had missed his ride. When he turned around something inside me said to speak to him.  I did and he sat down on the bench

We exchanged first names and he began to tell me about his life. He talked about his hurts and failures, things that made him happy.  He needed someone to listen. For over an hour we talked, then as the conversation came to an end, I offered him an unopened bottle of iced tea I had in my bag, figuring he would be headed back to the streets.

That evening I rode the train home praying for the man I’d met and told my son about the encounter later that night, including the name of the band the guy played in.

My son gasped and said, “No way.”  

I had never heard of  the group so didn’t know the man’s face or name.
When I look back I believe God did not want me know his name or who he was. I might, because of his status in the world, looked at him differently.

Instead I just saw the man.

Word pictures. They can mean so many things. When you walk through life, notice things. Notice people. But don’t judge them. You don’t know where they’ve been or how many times they’ve been hit by invisible sticks and stones. How many verbal or physical beatings they’ve taken. How many rejections.

Look deeper instead. God will show you something in people if you just look a little deeper. You’ll find truth if you are willing to listen instead of forming a word picture in your mind.

~ Patricia Strefling

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stay In Your Lane

         Being a people-pleaser and someone who loves to encourage people, I recently found myself plagued with a reoccurring malady: overwhelming requests and not enough time. Add to that my penchant for needing to process life at a slower pace and think things through, I found myself in a race I couldn’t win.

          As I was thinking about this a word picture came to mind.

          I was down at the local high school track running in my lane, others in front of me, beside me, behind me. We were all running through life each looking ahead to the purpose we had inside of us.

         Then I pictured myself changing lanes. Doing something that was not me. When I found myself trying to run in someone else’s lane, I created chaos on the track. We were tripping and running into each other in a ball of tangled humanity. I instantly lost my focus.

      It became increasingly clear that every time I listened to someone’s voice telling me I should be doing this or that, I risked losing my place. We can be good people in a messed up world but if we try to be everything to everybody all the time, we lose the most important point in life -- knowing what we were created for.

       Staying in my particular lane meant writing. I love to write, create things, encourage people. When I stepped outside my box because of fear, guilt, or jealousy, trying to do things that people thought I should be doing, I was knocking everyone else out of theirs.  When I tried to be like them, I was stealing their purpose and trying to make it mine. Suddenly the word picture became clear in my mind.

        I began to feel less pressure to perform and stay where God had placed me. I no longer feel like I have to be anything more than what I am. And I’ve learned to enjoy running at my pace, doing my work.

        There are days we need to stop running, get off the track, smell the roses, take a long walk or check out our surroundings; let the wind lift our hair, take in a deep, full breath, and see other places and other people, before we get back on the track.
       Some of us run a little slower, enjoying the views that others might miss. For others their calling may require them to be “eyes straight ahead.” That’s okay too. But for me, I want to notice when the wind is blowing through the fields bending the wheat, when the leaves on the trees are bursting with color, when someone falls by the wayside and needs a hand.

                  When I stay in my lane,  I encourage others to do the same . . . to stay in the place they were born for. We don’t have to be everything to everyone. Just be ourselves and while we’re at it, become really good at what we do. Then we will achieve what we were born to do. Life can be a lot simpler. Just stay in your lane. I can’t think of a greater place to be, can you?

By : Patricia Strefling

Join the conversation on facebook. 

You can find her online.