Anchorage, Alaska, March 2011. Packing and unpacking, trying to set up appointments – not too few, and “waste” the opportunity, not too many, and leave myself drained and exhausted. Navigating someone else’s city and driving around in a rental car. Tracking expenses, managing the cash and checks. Trying to stay on top of what’s come up, what’s about to come up, and what I’ve pushed to the back burner while I’m traveling but must not forget completely. And now I left family #1’s house key at family #2’s house, some 70 miles away, along with the card with family #2's phone number on it. Yikes.
Often when I travel, my strengths shine through: I’m outgoing and friendly, flexible, love meeting new people and learning about new places. I do fine with airlines and airports, suitcases and boarding passes and seatmates. And if I find myself in an unusual social situation, I smile inside, enjoy the challenge and start forming alliances. Like trying to find the alto part when singing with 20 bearded men at the pastors’ prayer breakfast F. took me to the other day. Who would have thought I’d find myself there? Had a great time, and am eager to pass on some of the stories and ideas I heard.
Often, as in this case, I came because I have something to contribute, something valuable and needed: I passed along the result of my studies and experience and helped history come alive to 50 people enrolled in two Perspectives classes. I love to love and serve the people I meet. Often, this means I have other people to take care of my needs, organize the schedule, and drive me around.
But sometimes travel lets my weaknesses shine through, too: I don’t like to drive, have trouble judging distances, and don’t remember how to get places. I’m extremely nervous about taking social initiative and making phone calls. In fact, the phone I have doesn’t even work in this city. I have trouble staying on top of administrative tasks and organizing physical things – knowing where I put that piece of paper you gave me that had something important on it, wrapping up my cords carefully rather than jamming them in the bag because you expect me to be ready to go. The rental car is a nice touch in that it gives me freedom – and makes the jobs of those I visit somewhat easier – but the responsibility of getting myself places increases my stress level considerably.
How we respond when our weaknesses are revealed is probably a lot more important than what are weaknesses are or how numerous, surprising, or inconvenient they may be. And on this count I find myself failing as well, and I feel a wave of self-loathing rise up like bile. Come on, anyone should be able to manage these simple life skills, I tell the woman in the mirror. What is your problem? Sometimes, unable to bear the pressure of such scrutiny, I look around for someone or something else to blame rather than face my deep fear that this just goes to show that I am a terrible and incompetent person who can’t be trusted (and probably can’t be loved), impossible to live with.
Only when I express such words to I see the melodrama, bring them out in the light, let the God of grace shine in through the cracks in my fingers when I’ve covered up my eyes.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8)