toilet paper

I haven’t written for a while because the trip to Asia took a lot out of me!  But the stories I have to tell! Before I left I prayed for God to put some words on my heart, and the first word that came quickly to mind was flexibility.  I already knew that long flights (15 hours), time changes (again, 15 hours), food differences, and the rigors of teaching and interacting with new friends would require flexibility.  So my initial response to this word was, “Duh.”  I’m sure God just smiled at what I thought I knew.

Let me share one funny story before I share what God really wanted me learn about flexibility. The motel we stayed in gave a daily supply of toilet paper very sparingly.  One night I found myself desperately needing more and walked down to the lobby to ask for another — (roll is too grand of a word) — maybe spindle is more descriptive.  Despite all efforts I could not translate what I needed.  I was even so desperate I pantomimed my need.  In exasperation I went to the lobby restroom, pulled off the plastic covering for the larger, more American-sized roll of toilet paper (typically used in office restrooms) and absconded the entire roll to my room!  I had my supply for the week.  How’s that for flexibility!

However, the next day in our class we were talking about how addiction is a desire to recreate a world that doesn’t have suffering, rejection, relational failure, – in other words the need for flexibility.  In fact, I collect “artifacts” from hotels to show the hotel industry’s advertising pitch recognizing our longing for re-creation.  For example the Westin hotel promises you can “experience heaven on earth!”  Even the Holiday Inn guarantees you will be refreshed and know “rest and reality restored!”  I challenged the class that if they could find something from this “bare-bones” hotel that promised something similar, I would give them a reward.  By the next break one man had indeed found a brochure that promised many surprising things about our lodging, but the first was “personal attention to your every need.”  He certainly deserved a prize and I could think of nothing better than that hidden treasure of toilet paper in my suitcase.  So I awarded him his prize!   When I offered to give an alternative — like some food treat brought from the States, he quickly declined.  He knew a respite from flexibility when he saw one!

The more soul-impacting lesson about flexibility I learned came in an elevator in a “mall” when I was hurrying to the grocery store (in the bottom level of this 7-floor structure) to try to find something for digestive relief (another area in need of flexibility!).  This elevator had an elevator attendant who immediately reminded me of another elevator I had ridden years ago with a Chinese elevator attendant. Our family was in San Francisco, riding the elevator up the Observatory.  The Chinese man looked at the four of us and smiled and said, “Oh, happy family.”  None of us smiled.  Our family was on the edge of breaking up (my ex-husband and I knew that) and though our children didn’t know about the marriage, they had been doing their version of vacation sibling bonding before the ride.  You know:  “She’s touching me;” “He’s wearing the same clothes he wore yesterday.  Yhew!”  The happy family wasn’t so happy.

As I got on this elevator the Chinese woman who was the attendant gently held my arm and said (now I think this is what she said — anyway it’s what I heard), “Oh, woman with sad heart.”  At first I was taken back and then I thought she mistook my expression for the intestinal distress I was feeling, but then I thought about flexibility.  The truth is the quality of our lives is determined by how flexible we are when we don’t get what we want.  I certainly wanted the happy family –the family that stayed together with all the trappings of happiness.  Instead we’ve known a lot of struggle, disappointment, and relational heartache.

I think flexibility can either mean willfully stealing the toilet paper to get what I want because I want it, or it can mean trusting God that He will give good gifts in His good timing. (Now I don’t want to carry the toilet paper metaphor too far, because that seems a little ridiculous.)  But true flexibility trusts that a sad heart is exactly the heart I’m supposed to have.  In the lyrics of my new favorite song, “. . . I won’t pretend I’ve got it all figured out/That I don’t have any doubts/I’ve got a busted heart, I need You now/Yeah, I need You now.” (For King & Country – “Busted Heart”)

Flexibility becomes holy when it compels me to live moment by moment in the reality, “I need You.”

“I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs.  He listens.”  Psalm 77:1