Life’s lessons best learned when we jump all the way in

[This religion column appears in section B-3 of today’s (1/20/13) Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette.  Currently, the paper does not include their local columnists pieces on their website.  With their permission, here it is.]

Don Follis 1/20/13 column:  “Life’s lessons best learned when we jump all the way in”
After years of pastoral-care trips to missionaries and pastors, I always return home having learned much more than I have taught others.  Every trip is a teacher with lessons aplenty. 
Just last week, en route to my sixth trip to Mazatlan, Mexico, my first lesson came at 5:45am at Willard airport in Champaign.
“I’m sorry, sir, the plane got in late last night and by law our crew can’t leave this morning for another two hours. Let’s see if we can get you rerouted since you’ll now miss your connection from Dallas to Mazatlan.”  Instead of arriving in Mazatlan before noon, I was rerouted through Mexico City, arriving in Mazatlan in the evening.  “That’s the best I can do for you today, sir.  Sorry.”
It’s easy for me to forget the lesson, which of course is that you are not nearly in control of as much of your life as you think.  Every experienced air traveler knows that.  Apparently, I am a very slow learner.  As I sat and waited for the first leg to Dallas I whined to myself that it was not fair that I now had to travel all day.  After all, I had carefully planned the trip.  I was entitled for the connections to work perfectly.  I was mad.
When I told my dilemma to a woman headed to San Diego she smiled and said, “Wow.  I love Mexico City.  You get to spend the afternoon people watching in the Mexico City airport.  That will be fun.  Just enjoy it.”  I smiled half-heartedly. 
Finally, I changed my attitude.  I’ll have to admit that she was right.  The Latin American businessmen wear some of the best-looking dress shoes I’ve ever seen.  The striking female flight attendants for AeroMexico Airlines wear bright red caps, bright red shoes and bright red lipstick. 
When I stepped in a Mexico City airport snack shop wearing my backpack and pulling my carry-on suitcase, I encountered my second lesson.  Even when you are in control, you can do some pretty stupid things.  So be careful about going around thinking you are so smart and responsible. 
After I paid for a granola bar and a bottle of juice, I walked out of the snack shop, leaving my carry-on bag beside the counter where I had just paid.  This was done by a guy who watches his bag like a hawk when he travels.
Fortunately, I sat in a seating area very close to the shop where I had purchased the snacks.  As soon as I took the wrapper off my granola bar, I suddenly jumped to my feet, realizing what I had done.  I ran into the store and there was my bag, right beside the counter where I had left it. 
Leaving the store pulling it to my side and breathing a huge sigh of relief, I was encountered by three security guards who stopped me.  None spoke English.  One took my bag and said, “Un momento porfavor.”  They motioned for me to follow them to an area when my bag and I were searched 10 times more thoroughly than when I had gone through security. 
Apparently my bag had been reported by the cashier in the store in the few minutes I was gone and the security guards were en route when I went back in to get it.  They were at the entrance as I walked out.  The “one moment, please,” turned into 35 minutes.  I was searched, questioned and the contents of my bag were examined for five minutes.
The security official who headed up the search finally was satisfied.  He handed me my passport, my boarding pass and my bag, patted me on the back of the head and said, “Ten cuidada.”  (Be careful.)  Ah yes, the old lesson in humility, which we apparently still need, even when we’re old.    
By far, though, the best lesson I learned came from interacting for a week with a young, cross-cultural church planting couple and their two children, ages 2 and 4.  Five-and-a-half years ago they moved into a poor, working-class Colonia of Mazatlan, a city of 500,000.  Guess what?  They really like it.  They have bought a house with a revolving front door.  Neighbors and church members constantly come and go.  They built a church building in the neighbor where they meet. 
Mazatlan is a city of contrasts. Sitting on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, the city’s beaches are lined with resorts and condominiums, attracting upwards to 40,000 winter snowbirds from the U.S. and Canada.  But travel 5 miles inland, where these young missionaries live and you have no clue that you are near the ocean or the wealth you see in and around the resorts.
In the Colonia where I stayed with the young family, the streets are not paved, other than with lots of trash and barking dogs and rusty nails.  No need for an alarm.  The roosters will awaken you at 4:00 or 4:30am.  
The watering holes in the neighborhood are one-room, brick tortilla shops and corner stores with eggs, bread, Coke and candy suckers.  This is the dry season and everything is covered with dust – the cars, the trees, the plastic bread sacks in the stores and the shoes of everyone, many of whom walk wherever they go.
One day the missionary couple said to me, “When we moved into this neighborhood five-and-a-half years ago we noticed all the trash along the streets and the bumpy, unpaved roads.  Now we notice the trees and how pretty they are.  We are so grateful for this place.  We love the people.  This is our home.” 
In life a heart of gratitude often comes when we stay present, hang in there and decide that where we are is where we will be.  So jump all the way in.  Don’t complain.  Look at the pretty trees and the classy shoes of the Mexican businessmen.  Thank the security guard for his kindness when you make a stupid mistake.  Go ahead.  Jump in.  The water is just fine.

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