Road Trip, Road Trip!

I thought I’d have much more time to write when I retired, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s because I’m only semi-retired. And maybe it’s because I’m so busy doing other things that I couldn’t do while I was working all the time. Then again, I actually have been writing quite a bit, just not blog posts.

Excuses aside, I’m taking a few minutes to write about my recent trip to Washington, D.C. that I took with some friends. Not only will it help me to remember all of the cool sights and sounds, but it might also encourage some other people to make the trip. Before I get into the nitty gritty details, let me just say that’s it’s an awesome city and one that every American needs to visit.

When Tilara called to invite me about a month ago, I thought, “Sounds great, but I can’t really afford it right now.” Coming on the heels of Christmas, the opportunity was tempting, but I needed to curtail my spending for a while. Then she told me about her time share. Hmmm. Maybe it would be doable after all if I had no lodging expense.

We agreed to look into transportation possibilities including planes, trains, and automobiles and talk in a day or two. By this time, I had begun to think, “Why not?” instead of “No can do.” When Jeanita and Connie said they could go, I knew it was a perfect foursome, and all of my reservations went out the window. We decided that driving was the best way to go and that my car would be the most practical choice. It would hold us and our luggage comfortably, it gets good gas mileage, and it had just had a check up.

We headed out on Friday the 13th the around 7:00 a.m., and before we even made it to the interstate, we had made some ground rules, the main one being that if we were hungry or thirsty or in need of a potty break, we’d stop. We four believe that the journey is just as important as the destination and that there are a lot of interesting experiences to be savored off the beaten path. We didn’t go crazy with this, but we did enjoy lunch at a Cracker Barrel in NC and snacks at a Wawa in Virginia. At Cracker Barrel, we leisurely browsed through the store without someone hurrying us along by saying, “You about through looking?”

Around 4:00 p.m., we arrived in the city and rode around looking for the hotel. Tilara, the Washington expert, was driving, and she was getting concerned that we couldn’t find it right away. The rest of us were loving every minute of riding around the streets and avenues. We were like schoolkids saying, “Oh, look at that!” and “Hey, there’s the Washington monument!!”

Connie spotted the Renaissance, and as soon as we walked into the lobby we fell in love with the ambience. The music and the décor were marvelous, and the feng shui was perfect. We especially liked the library room and took pictures so that we could redo our bookshelves when we got home. On Monday morning Tilara and I met an accounting professor who was studying for classes in the “library.” He and I talked a little about the background work of preparing for class. You can’t just walk into class and go into a programmed spiel unless you’ve read and studied and practiced and tweaked and read and studied some more. But I digress.

That evening when we finally got settled, we made a foray onto the streets for a bite to eat. First we visited Barnes and Noble, and although I didn’t buy anything there, I enjoyed browsing through the books and reading a couple of magazines. Afterwards we walked around a little, and I spied an Anthropologie that I wanted to return to the next morning. It didn’t happen, but it’s not on my list of regrets because there were so many other fantastic things that we did. Plus, there’s always next time.

Hungry and tired from all those hours on the road, we ate at Hard Rock Café. The food was delicious, especially the appetizer, but I wish we could have had a different side than fries. I’m wondering if the chain hasn’t gotten the word that America has a growing obesity epidemic.  Although I liked the music and memorabilia, I’ve been in these establishments in different parts of the country for over 20 years, and they’re starting to run together. My favorite is in Myrtle Beach, SC, maybe because of the staircase descending down, down, down into the restaurant. The sky ceiling is unique too. Oops, I’m digressing again.

We bid Mama, our male server with a unique accent, farewell and walked back to the hotel. Although it was cold and dark, we were caught up in the magic of the capital city, and we took our time walking home, remarking on places we wanted to visit the next morning. The only thing that cast a shadow over the evening was the number of homeless people we saw wrapped in gray blankets. Feeling greedy, selfish, guilty, and compassionate, we left our Hard Rock leftovers on a bench for one of them.

Exhausted, we fell asleep easily, each of us remembering the day of traveling and the memories we’d already made. Stay tuned for Day One in Washington. It stands as proof that one never knows what good things lie in store, even when (maybe especially when) you aren’t looking for them.

Only if You Promise Not to Squander

A incident that occurred yesterday afternoon later prompted so much insight that I’d have to call it a revelation.

A incident that occurred yesterday afternoon later prompted so much insight that I’d have to call it a revelation.

In Columbia, I was at an exit near Fort Jackson and Forest Drive. I was about the fourth car in line, and as I sat waiting for the light to change I noticed a young man with a sign. Based on his attire, woebegone expression, and overall appearance, I didn’t have to read his sign to know that he was asking for money or food. The woman in the car in front of me rolled down her window and handed him some money.

Should I or shouldn’t I? Scrounging through my pocketbook, I found two whole dollars. What a huge amount! So I rolled my window down too, and he came over and got the money. He was very appreciative and said, “God bless you, Ma’am.”I wasn’t feeling particularly pious, but I did have a fleeting thought about the “when you have done it unto the least of these….” scripture. I gave him the money because he needed it and I had it. What he did with it is his business.

I went on to Hobby Lobby on a fruitless search for buttons and then to Sam’s for some goodies like grapes and bread. In Sam’s, I also browsed around taking in the selection of clothes and books while putting together some ideas for Christmas gifts. How could I not do so when I saw the Christmas décor? As always, I felt a bit whelmed at the huge selection of stuff lining the aisles. I was also struck by the juxtaposition of the haves and the have nots in our country and thought of the young man at the exit.

That’s when it hit me, the insight about the man at the exit. I’ve heard and read comments about how a person shouldn’t give money to the homeless or needy. Buying them a meal or giving them an article of clothing is a good idea, but giving them money is foolish (according to my reading and listening). After all, you never know what “these people” are going to do with it. They could buy alcohol or drugs! Do you really want to contribute to that???

Drum roll please. Here’s the revelation (at last) I got yesterday. Every single person walking the earth has got some talent, gift, or aptitude that is going to waste. People let their fear of failure, rejection, or ridicule keep them from developing and using their God-given gifts. In other words, they squander them. Question: What if God decided not to give any of us any gifts because He thought we might not use them the way He wants us to?

Whether it’s material wealth or a talent of some sort, it’s a gift from Him to you. You might say, “I have this wealth because I worked like the dickens. God didn’t give it to me.” But who gave you the energy and ability to work?? Do you see what I’m getting at? If you’ve been given an aptitude for singing, dancing, golfing, drawing, writing, telling jokes, nursing, constructing, leading, organizing, selling, or anything else and you aren’t using it, then to me you’re just like the person who takes monetary gifts and uses them to buy alcohol and drugs.

I’m just glad my Creator is more generous than we are. I’m glad He doesn’t withhold our gifts unless we promise not to squander them.

Denver and Mr. Ron

In my lesson on charity this morning, I included a reference to a recent novel chosen by my book club, Same Kind of Different as Me, and I decided to review the book here. This is actually a revised version of a review I posted at Amazon.com a couple of weeks ago. Truthfully, it took two years and two attempts before I was hooked by this book. When my son-in-law Charlie gave it to me and described it as “wonderful,” I began reading it right away. I stuck it out for two nights, but I couldn’t get into it for some reason.

“Where did the author come up with such a character as Denver?” I wondered. Could anyone have such a poor and miserable life? I knew that poverty, homelessness, and prejudice were serious issues in our society, but I just didn’t want to be reminded of it right before falling asleep. Plus, the dialect annoyed me. Did the author really have to make people from the South sound so illiterate and backwards? Then Ron entered the picture, and while I thought the accounts of life in the 1960s were pretty interesting, I began to get irritated with this character too. Was the reader supposed to believe that someone would wear matching plaid shirts and shorts, black knee socks, and brogans to a college football game in the 1960’s?

When my book club chose it for our March selection, I picked it up again. “Surely there’s something redeeming about this book for so many people to love it,” I thought. I downloaded it on my Kindle and listened to it on the way to and from work. It wasn’t long before I got involved in the lives of these two men, Denver and Ron, wondering when their lives would intersect. Living parallel lives in different parts of the country, their experiences couldn’t have been more different. One was an illiterate black man who, tired of being poor in Louisiana, hopped on a train and ended up homeless in Fort Worth. The other was a white millionaire, a college grad who seemed to live a charmed existence. Married to Miss Debbie, he was a successful art dealer.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the book was true…not based on truth, but absolutely true and told by the men who lived the stories. I’ll leave it up to you to read where and when and how their friendship began and grew. I’ll just say that the millionaire who set out to be a do-gooder philanthropist and the former sharecropper who later had a front row seat at a presidential inauguration were forever transformed by their shared experiences. Interestingly, the one who set out to give ended up being on the receiving end. He broadened my thinking too; because of Denver, I’m using Micah 6:8 as yet another guide for living my life.

As the book progresses, Denver and Ron take turns telling their life stories and their individual perceptions of the events described in the book. Each of them shares scenes so descriptive that the reader can see them and feel their essence. Whether Rocky Top, rural Louisiana, the “hood,” or the homeless shelter is being described, they all seem real. Denver’s visions of spirits, occasional scripture references, and pithy words of wisdom are as thought provoking and interesting as Ron’s big art deals and spiritual transformation.

The person who served as a catalyst for the book was Miss Debbie. Denver and Ron loved her, and so will you. Even as I type this, I’m wondering if I can persuade my husband to go to Fort Worth during Spring Break. There are some people I want to meet there…and an art gallery I want to visit.