When the early morning sun rose over Heredia, Costa Rica, it brought more than just heat. For our U.S. team of seventeen people from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Texas, the dawning of each new day revealed a landscape that most had never before seen, illuminated a way of life about which we had only obscure knowledge, and shone light and beauty that could be found in the inhabitants of the beautiful land. Heat or not, we anticipated each and every day of our week-long mission’s trip.
We had been invited to tour the land, teach in several churches, train up some local pastors, and conduct several worship symposiums. Months before the actual trip, we began making preparations. We selected persons who were qualified to help fulfill the assignments. Funds were raised; passports were obtained; airline tickets were purchased; and all physical accommodations were arranged.
While the other teachers and I were assembling our messages, our band and singers took on the added task of learning songs in Spanish. Extra nights of practice, along with some help with enunciation from a Spanish teacher, yielded a great-sounding, Spanish-singing worship team. The preparations were completed, the day arrived, and we departed for Costa Rica.
The first evening’s service brought surprises that we had not anticipated. Introductions were made and cordial greetings were exchanged. Then, the band began to lead us in song. Those in attendance were surprised (and delighted) that they could understand the words. They had come expecting to listen to foreign people singing in a foreign language. As each piece of music was performed, the participation of the congregants escalated as a revelation of similarity began to establish a bond of unity. We, likewise, were surprised (and delighted) as the cordial was replaced by heart-felt acceptance and genuine embraces. This same scenario was repeated in every meeting and with each new group of people.
A similar phenomenon occurred when we stood before area church leaders to teach doctrine from the Scriptures. In those cases, the common language was established by way of translators. We all had the same love for the Lord, appreciation of His word, and desire to see His will be done. The result – the distance caused by our diversity was bridged as we put forth the effort to stand side by side on common ground.
A new day of understanding dawned upon us that seemed to bring with it even more light and heat than the Costa Rican sun. What was the illumination? It was that making the effort to learn someone’s language, whether that is their spoken dialect or some form of their love language, tears down barriers that separate. What was the heat? It was the warmth of friendship.
No one need travel to a distant land to be confronted by barriers that separate us one from another. If just one person will take the time to school himself or herself with the language of the other person, a new day can dawn. If we maintain the mindset that they speak their “Spanish-type words” (metaphorically speaking) and we speak our “English-like vocabulary,” then we just may not experience the beginning of a day seldom if ever seen, the illumination of a way of life formerly obscure, or the light and beauty that shines forth from those in the world around us.
Habits! Some are good. Some are annoying. I remember my mother fussing at my father for twiddling his thumbs. If his hands weren’t busy with some form of construction, they were resting on his lap with fingers interlocked and thumbs rhythmically circling each other.
My husband used to pop his knuckles. He started his ritual by pulling his pinky, progressed one digit at a time until all ten yielded the pop-pop-crack, and then returned to press each finger inward toward his palm thus releasing another joint. After ten finger and ten knuckle cracks, he would intertwine his fingers, invert and extend his hands away from his body, and apply pressure to ensure that no joint had gone unattended. That accomplished, the ritual would begin all over again.
Thankfully, not all habits are designed to test the patience level of a spouse. Some habits are formed out of a conscious decision to repeat a behavior that is either useful or pleasing. Such is my husband’s and my habit of enjoying our morning coffee together. In the summer, we sit on the glider on our deck. During these cold days of winter, the couch in our family room is our designated resting spot.
We rise early before the sun; he usually hits the brew button on the coffee pot; I set out the cup-of-choice for the morning. He regularly turns on one small lamp on the end table while I customarily pull out the warm, hand-made coverlet under which we will nestle. After that daily routine, we fill our cups, settle down onto our comfortable sofa, and begin our day.
The habit of morning coffee provides us the chance to reflect over the events of yesterday or discuss the schedules of that day. Sometimes we have serious things about which to converse. Other mornings begin with review and analysis of our favorite T.V. show that we watched the night before. We almost never miss the opportunity to comment on the beauty that surrounds us, whether we are observing the sky, the lake in our backyard, or some aspect of our interior decor. Mornings at the Amsden household (now that the kids are grown) are peaceful and pleasant.
The best part of our morning-coffee-drinking-habit is the prayer time we share. We daily bow our heads to thank the Lord for His bounty and His blessing. Next, we take our burdens to God. Between our five children, their families, our friends, our church, and our nation, we have a plethora of burdens about which we offer petitions. There, in the serenity of our home prayer closet, we follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer asking for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
G. D. Boardman is known for the saying, “Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” Over five decades ago we became Christians and were taught about the act of prayer, which has become our firmly entrenched routine. According to Boardman, habits are building blocks for character and destiny. I believe he is correct. The Bible confirms that prayer has the potential to build personal godliness and release heaven’s providence.
Habits! Some are good. Some are annoying. Prayer may not replace every thumb-twiddling, knuckle-popping repetitive behavior that humans are prone to develop; but it is a habit from which we can reap blessing both in this life and that which is to come.
The pilot’s voice rang out over the intercom: “We are making our final approach to St. Louis International Airport. Cabin attendants, please prepare the cabin for landing.” As a frequent flyer, I had often heard those words. I knew the drill. I began to close down my laptop and secure all my belongings under the seat in front of me. My seat and tray table needed to be returned to their upright and locked positions. I busied myself following all the protocol. After a few moments, I settled down to look out the window for some familiar landmarks of home.
As I peered out the window next to my seat, I observed that we had entered into a cloudbank. The sunlight was dulled because of the dense fog-like haze through which the rays were attempting to penetrate. This whitish-gray mist was so opaque that I could barely see the wing just behind my seat. The whole scene was eerie. I entertained myself for a bit with thoughts from sci-fi movies. Music from the Twilight Zone danced through my head. For a short time span, I reverted to childhood days of imagination and role play. I was absorbed in inner thoughts when the voice of the stewardess broke the internal monologue and called me back to reality.
She was passing throughout the cabin to collect any last remaining items to be discarded. That completed, I returned to my window gazing. The scene had not changed. The dense cloud coverage was all that my eye could behold. This time, my thoughts meandered more along an adult line of reasoning. I noted that we had been in this thick haze for over twenty minutes. I began to think about safety. My body could detect that the plane was making turns, banking, changing elevations; but visually, everything looked the same. I thought about the pilots. I was grateful that Federal law mandated they be instrument-rated. If they could only navigate by visual acuity or some internal sense of perspicacity, we would surely have been in danger. Especially on days like this, pilots would have to place one hundred percent dependence upon the accuracy of the instrument’s readings over that which their senses would communicate.
That forever-the-Bible-teacher-thing in me kicked into operation. I thought about seasons in life when we enter into clouds of confusion. Our ability to get a clear line of sight on the horizon can often be blocked by the immediacy of the moment. The sense of balance that we normally derive from a healthy inner ear of our own wise advice can be disrupted by internal sounds of deception. When this occurs, the external voice of our counselors is clouded out. Our keenness, perception, or wisdom can become dulled when the dark haze of circumstances obstructs the senses. If we are not instrument-rated, we might lose our ability to navigate through life.
The Bible is a reliable compass. It transcends the temporal, grants insight beyond the immediate, and directs destiny through ambiguity. God’s Word illuminates our pathway and clarifies our individual steps. Those who know the Word are instrument-rated, having been trained in the use of God’s only tool for safe navigation through life’s cloud-obscured days.
The TV, internet, and discussions at the neighborhood market were all broadcasting the same weather report. A cold front, called a polar vortex, was imminently going to hit the Mid-West. The forecasted temperatures were to be minus 23 in Chicago and minus 2 in Collinsville, and those numbers did not include the wind chill factors that could plummet the cold’s effect another 20 or more degrees. All civil agencies were advising citizens to remain in their homes if at all possible. The area schools were being closed. Stay home, stay warm, stay safe – that was the advice of the professionals.
Stay home on the cold days of winter? Enjoy the warmth of my fireplace when the snow falls? Look at winter’s outdoor landscape through the window of a cozy home? Sure – I could do that! As a matter of fact, one of the particular factors that I love about living in the Mid-West is winter and winter days. Since the time that I was young, I relished a snow day. During the time when my children were young, I welcomed the occasional inclement weather that forced us all to stay home and play the day away. I would bake cookies, make hot chocolate, build a fire, and find games to play. I always made the cold outside an invitation to warm the hearts of the family. Stay home, stay, warm, stay safe – that advice was an invitation for me to remake winter’s best memories.
Monday morning arrived with the extreme weather that the meteorologists had predicted. My children are now grown with children of their own, so only my husband and I now occupy our home. But did the fact that there are only two of us stop me from reinventing a winter’s freeze day? No, it did not! I started early in the kitchen preparing special treats. Early morning coffee demanded pumpkin cream. The smell of baking wafted through the kitchen. Our fireplace burns gas rather than logs, so the ambiance was present even if the smoky smell was not. And games? I selected the card game of rummy.
By mid-morning, the game had commenced. We were only semi-serious about cards. A movie was playing in the background, to which we gave cursory heed. The whole environment was set for family interaction; and although the family was down to only two, we played the day away from the warmth of our home. And – by the way – I totally defeated my husband in rummy, which added a little extra joy to the whole day’s experience!
I went to bed Monday night thinking about how rarely we can turn an impending worst day into a best day. Life’s problems are almost never solved by a cup of hot chocolate or a causal game of cards. While I was cozy and warm during the vortex, others were seeking shelter from the cold. While I had a companion with whom to play, those who live alone might have been struggling with isolation and loneliness. While I could draw from satisfying family memories, there are people who have no paradigm from which to imagine joy in family life. Sometimes, an external polar vortex brings hazardous conditions from which we can hardly secure internal shelter.
Thankfully, a polar vortex is a temporary weather front. Wind currents can shift and bring warmth. Changing environments introduce new climates. Frigid temperatures become part of history while new headlines catch our attention in the present. If you are currently in a personal “polar vortex” of your own, I trust that God will grace you to find a place of internal warmth and shelter and a spiritual place to “stay home, stay warm, and stay safe” until warmer days arrive.