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.
I don’t know how she did it, but the cashier's eyes peered right into mine. I’d been discovered. I had tried to avoid eye contact as I was finishing the grocery shopping. More embarrassing than being seen in public coping with a rare meltdown would be someone discovering the “nothing to cry about” interaction that had triggered it.
I was holding it together—as long as I didn’t have to talk. My husband tried to phone me, but I couldn’t respond. It would have been messy (and noisy) if I attempted to communicate anything at all.
I had just moved to a new country with my husband and family. That meant new schools for the children and a new job for my husband. It was a difficult time of adjustment for all of us, but I was especially feeling the strain. My marriage was feeling it, too. There was a growing list of subjects that my husband and I stopped talking about, because we knew they would lead to arguments.
But then I got to know Toni.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
As the car kept winding up, up, up, I couldn't help but wonder if our friend's house had been built on the very top of the mountain. Darkness had fallen by the time my sister, two friends, and I got to our destination, but even at night the mountains seemed alive.
Our friend led us up a flight of dark and wobbly steps to the balcony, where we gasped at the panorama. Before us was the most beautiful view of the city of Iskenderun, Turkey, far below. Twinkling lights of all colors lined the Mediterranean, as though an angel had scooped up a ladle of stars and flung them across the darkness.