Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lessons from Lucky Platter

Ah, yes, Lucky Platter diner with its homemade food and quirky décor. You slide into a crude wooden booth and while waiting for the hand-written menu, you gaze upward. Hundreds of round tin-foil wads stick like goofy spit-wads to the ceiling. Lighting the room are upside-down aluminum colander chandeliers rimmed with faceted crystal dangles As your eyes meander to framed art on the walls, you flashback to the fifties as you realize what’s framed are paint-by-number pictures you remember from your childhood.

Paint by Number. You fill in numbered spaces with paints corresponding to the numbers. Left-brained art. Imagined imagination. Do as you’re told. Nothing playful, mind you, just color within the lines.

Sometimes I feel my life is a paint-by-number kit. I do what I should do rather than what I want to do. Furthermore, I’m so used to staying within the lines, I don’t even know what I’d draw if I ignored the lines. What do I want to do with my life? I’m a Christian, so God’s desire for my life will guide me, but still, He’s designed me for something. Am I doing it? As I compliantly fulfill daily obligations, am I eagerly looking for His hand pointing to faith adventures?

One serious example of tiptoeing out, heart pounding, on stormy seas is telling the truth instead of not making waves. I am just beginning to color outside the lines on this one. Striving to always be nice is the paint-by-number formula for not showing your heart or communicating God’s heart to others. You’re just a mime palming the inside of a clear booth. To rip the sides off that booth and dance free, you have to risk people’s disapproval of you for speaking the truth.

A lighter-hearted example is figuring out what to do with your vacation savings this year. Of ten ideas on your bucket list, which will you choose? More importantly, why will you choose it? Because it’s easy, cheap, surfy, snowy, popular, pretty, familiar? Limited resources always make this a tough choice for me. I tend to stick with my favorite destinations and activities, which of course is fine. But sometimes I wonder what a vacation full of unknowns and new adventures would be like. Let’s see, shall I rappel or zip-line off this cliff into the jungle? Then I swish my paintbrush back inside the lines, glance at the number-color key, and once again, dare not dream.

Other life examples relate to creativity itself. I’d love to be able to draw and paint. So far, the classes I’ve taken have shown me to be rather timid facing a blank canvas and very unskilled at seeing shapes and tones in a scene. I finally know the sky is lighter closer to the horizon, but that’s because my left brain can memorize the principle, not because I can really see much difference. I’d love to dance, but I thank God during every Zumba exercise DVD that no one can see I’m just doing traditional jumping jacks to these high-energy, fun, dance-party salsa-flamenco-hiphop-reggaeton and other Latin rhythms, because when the instructors point at the TV audience and challenge, “Whatchoogot? Whatchoogot? Huh?” and I rotate my “booty” to show them, I feel like a flamenco hippo. Jump-by-number-jacks I can do. I gave up music aspirations decades ago, with no regrets from me or the listening world. Then there’s writing. How do I paint outside the lines on a word processor? As I explore that every day, I try to take my mind’s eye off the paint-by-number framed art and focus on flipping my aluminum colander upside-down, hanging crystal dangles from the edges, and shining light through the middle.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cloth Napkins

Pride has been present behind every partition of the human heart since the Garden of Eden, so I do not pretend any historical era has been exempt from it. But I wonder if disposable paper napkins in recent years have perhaps helped fool us into believing we’re cleaner than we are.

I’ve used paper napkins as long as I remember. If I’m feeling particularly frugal, I might use a paper napkin two or three times before tossing it, but mostly I’ve been a one-napkin kind of gal. Wipe the mouth with it, wad it up, and wastebasket, here it comes. I hardly ever even look at the napkin I’ve just used. 

My niece and her husband, returning from a trip around the world with a resolve to be kinder to the planet by using cloth napkins, raised my consciousness about filling landfills with unnecessary napkins. In France this fall, my French friend chided me for using disposable hand wipes instead of antibacterial gel, and a Paris café’s napkins were imprinted with an urgent reminder that fewer napkins contributes to a healthier planet. These influences convicted me to use the cloth napkins I have, not just for company, but for everyday meals.

This seems simple enough. But it does involve an adjustment. Cloth napkins must be laundered. My grandma, born in the 1890s, told me she thought the greatest invention of all time was not cars, not computers, but paper towels. Paper napkins offer the same time savings. Going back to cloth napkins is less convenient—and not just because you have to wash them.

Washing cloth napkins forces me to see my messes. What are all these large, amorphous, yellow blobs? Did any of my yellow food even end up in my stomach? Good grief, it’s all over both sides of the napkin. And the small bright red dots, what are they? I’d like to believe this was my husband’s napkin, but nope, it’s mine.

I lay the napkin flat on top of the washing machine. … My sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned ... (Psalm 51:3,4) I brush brown crumbs from a sticky translucent spot. … A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17) After squirting stain remover on all the spots, I toss the napkin in the washer to be renewed and reused. Create in me a pure heart, O God … (Psalm 51:10) This woman of unclean lips—in more ways than one—is ready for a fresh start, God’s new mercies to help me speak lovingly to and about others. Oh, and I might try to be a neater eater, too.