Observations and Lessons from the Golden State

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe the habits of indigenous Californians in their natural habitat. 🙂 Let me tell you, it made for some interesting discoveries…

For instance, I learned that the majority of them are extremely pushy drivers.  Not aggressive, necessarily, but they don’t wait for you to get out of the way before they start moving, nor let you have the right of way, even when it’s yours.  [My thought here is that they feel the need to take full advantage of the rare times when they’re not sitting at a full stop on the 5 or the 405.]  And that’s another thing:  Californians have a strange predilection for referring to their freeways as “The” whatever.  Not “Interstate” or “Highway” or even “I-so and so.”  THE 405.  THE 5.  THE 8, like these are the end-all, be-all, creme-de-la-creme of roads.  It’s easy to tell the tourists from the natives – just ask which roads they take to get somewhere.

A very strange custom, to my Texas way of thinking, is their utter disinclination to purchase and/or use air conditioning.  Now, granted, they don’t really NEED it most days, but that’s beside the point.  (Or maybe it’s the part I can’t comprehend. 🙂 )  One night, I had dinner with a good friend (a transplanted Texan for about 20 years now) and his lovely family members (all native Californians), and when I got to their house around 4:30 pm, they had the windows wide open and IT WAS AMAZINGLY COMFORTABLE INSIDE.  This, coupled with their casual answer to my query regarding when it is necessary to use an A/C (“Uhhh, pretty much never.  We don’t own one,”) seriously threatened to short-circuit my synapses.  Not needing an air conditioner is a completely foreign concept to me, especially considering that as of this writing, my town is on day 71 of 100 degree-plus temperatures for the year and there are plenty more forecast.  I spent a few furtive moments ostensibly using the restroom but  actually looking out all the windows for an A/C unit.  They didn’t lie to me – there wasn’t one.  It baffles me yet.

The most interesting and thought-provoking thing I saw was the nearly universal use of sweaters/sweatshirts/hoodies in the evenings.  Now, you would think that people living in a place where the high and low temperatures are maybe 8 degrees apart at most wouldn’t really need to do this.  But those people froze the minute the temperature hit about 68 – the same crazy people who willingly swim and surf in the frigid, subzero* waters of the Pacific Ocean, I might add!  I, on the other hand,  lived blissfully in tank tops and shorts or jeans and loved every second of the marvelous cool. [Note: In my previous post, I mentioned wearing a sweater when I went to Little Italy one night, but that was only for the purpose of covering my back pocket, which had my wallet in it.  And, well, you saw how well THAT turned out…after I lost my wallet, I took my sweater off because I was actually too warm in it.]  I said this was thought-provoking because even my Texas transplant friend had a long-sleeved shirt on in the evening, and it got me to pondering how humans will acclimate to just about anything, given enough time.  And that, in turn, led me to thinking about how we, as followers of Christ, are to be in the world but not of it.  In other words, don’t acclimate.  This doesn’t mean “don’t get involved in the world around you.”  It’s more like “don’t get used to your environment to the point that you do what the natives do.”

It’s unfortunate but true that many Christians mirror more of the world’s culture than they do Jesus.  Now, I am not one of those people who thinks Christians need to be separatists tucked away inside their little four-walled chapels.  Actually, I think we need to get our butts out into society.  But people should be able to sense, if not see, something different about us.  We should be walking down the street, same as they do, but we should be in tank tops when they’re all wearing sweatshirts – and we should be COMFORTABLE doing so.  We should pique their interest merely from the way we carry ourselves.  They should see us and wonder why we’re not cold in 68-degree weather.  And when we tell them why, it should be with love, honor, and compassion, NOT with snobbery or an elitist attitude (which, if we are truly pursuing having the mind of Christ , shouldn’t be an issue).  To further the analogy, if we start to get cold like they do, we should probably take a look at ourselves and figure out why all of a sudden we’re acting like them – and we definitely shouldn’t borrow a sweater.

I think sometimes, we go to extremes.  Either we beat them over the head with condemnation in the name of Jesus, or we are completely “tolerant” of whatever they do, whenever, and however.  The world doesn’t understand the concept of hating the sin and loving the sinner – they can’t differentiate one from the other.  Sadly, many Christians cannot, either.  But if we’re called to show the love of Jesus to those around us, we have to learn.  And it has to be our genuine MO, what truly makes us live and move and have our being.  Love is the key.  We were never told to change anyone; that’s Jesus’ business.  We are made to love with HIS love, in all its implications. So my suggestion is that we start with ourselves.  Let’s fall so in love with the Lord that we can’t help but pour it out on others.  I promise you that this one thing will make us stand out – we won’t have to try to be set apart.  BUT.  This one thing will also be the thing that others find irresistible, intriguing, and challenging in a good way.

Thank you, California, for making me think.

*This is only a slight exaggeration.

Palm Trees, Pickpockets (or Maybe Not), and Perceptual Fine-Tuning

I’ve just gotten back from San Diego, and I confess to feeling a little guilty.  I’m more than halfway in love with California – yes, I now  understand firsthand the California mystique: the amazing beaches.  The weather.  The fresh fruits and veggies.  The weather.  Hollywood and Vine.  Did I mention the weather????  The guilt stems from feeling slightly disloyal to Texas, because if God told me to move to Cali tomorrow, I so would.  There’s an internal argument going on, here.  I’m all, “Excuse me, Little Feeling-Guilty Part, but did you not absolutely loooove the mid-60s temps after this crazy drought all summer?”  Well, actually, it isn’t really an argument because what can Little Feeling-Guilty Part reeeeally say to THAT?  Nothing, that’s what.  So LFGP resorts to pouting and mumbling, “Remember the Alamo!” while the rest of me dreams of perfect fish tacos on the pier at Ocean Beach…

I learned a lot during this trip.  One, there really ARE palm trees everywhere in California.  On the beaches.  On Rodeo Drive (which is best driven down in the company of a good friend, his lovely wife whom you’re just really getting to know, and their two hilarious children).  In front yards.  In hotel lobbies.  It’s crazy.

Two, it’s really easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle, at least in San Diego and the surrounding area.  I walked more during the three days I was there than I have all summer long.  I covered the entire downtown area.  I walked on every beach around.  I hiked the whole of Coronado Island.  I traipsed through the Orange Circle in Orange and wandered down Hollywood Boulevard.  This was practically heaven for me because my favorite mode of transportation is my own two feet, and I’ve not been able to use them much outside recently because I’ve been afraid my shoes would melt and my feet would sear themselves on the sidewalks here at home.  And the food – I didn’t eat any junk, except maybe the astoundingly good Creme Brulee Waffle from Bruxie’s, and even that was 1) homemade 2) full of fresh strawberries and 3) split with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school.  I had the aforementioned perfect fish taco, amazing handmade lasagna, and Thai that was, well, mediocre but chock-full of veggies and brown rice.  Oh, and In-N-Out Burger (without the orange goo; why is everyone’s “secret sauce” always Thousand Island?), which was fresh and good but not as tasty as a local place here called P. Terry’s.

Three, my quest to hear God clearly continues, as does His grace.  There’s a story here:  My second night in San Diego, I decided to hop the trolley and go to Little Italy for a meal.  There was a trolley stop a couple of blocks away from my hotel, so I walked to it, got my ticket, and proceeded to wait on the platform for the Blue Line.  I was feeling a little uncomfortable and had a very strong sense that maybe I should just forget this little excursion and go back to my hotel.  But I chalked it up to getting weird vibes from a couple of unsavory types who were also waiting at the stop, rationalizing that I’d already bought my ticket and I hated to waste it (they’re only good for two hours past time of purchase).  So I boarded and went to Little Italy as planned.  I walked up and down India Street, where the majority of the restaurants are, and finally settled on one.  I ordered my Penne con Salmone Affumicato (penne pasta with smoked salmon, garlic, and onions in  cognac cream and marinara sauces), opened my journal, and had taken a single sip of whatever red the waiter had recommended when I realized that I couldn’t feel my wallet in my back pocket.  (Those of you who know me know that I don’t carry a purse and pretty much feel that if it doesn’t fit in my pocket, I don’t need it.)  So of course, I dashed out and retraced my steps on India, to no avail.  I walked back to the trolley stop and when the Blue Line pulled up, I asked the driver if anyone had turned in a wallet.  He, of course, said no, and refused to let me on the trolley to check for it, saying, “You don’t even know if it was this train, lady.  I gotta go,” before slamming his window shut and pulling out of the station.  By this time, it was around 11pm and I was a good 15 blocks or so from my hotel, with no ID and only $20 cash.  I found a very nice security guard and asked him about contacting the police or the transit people – he was very helpful and drove me back to my hotel, also, where I proceeded to call and cancel my various credit and debit cards, as well as the gift card I’d been using as funding for the trip.  And then I thought about my yucky feeling earlier on the platform and heard myself saying, “Did I miss it, God?  I missed it, didn’t I?  I’m so sorry.”  It wasn’t that I didn’t hear Him, but I misunderstood what He was saying.  It wasn’t,”Watch out for these creepy people sitting next to you.”  It was, “Don’t go to Little Italy.”

In retrospect, if I’d understood what I was hearing, I’d only have been out $2.50 for the ticket instead of having to deal with losing all my cards.  And I don’t think it was a pickpocket because I was wearing a sweater that went almost to my knees, making it very difficult to get to my back pocket.  I didn’t feel anyone brush up against me; no one bumped into me.  Somehow, my wallet fell out of my pocket, which had never happened before.  And I was warned…and missed it.

But I mentioned grace.  An amazing thing happened the next day.  I got up bright and early, determined not to let this ruin the rest of my trip.  Hubby wired me some money, and I decided to visit a few beaches.  And I was standing on Sunset Cliffs, watching the ocean and listening to Rick Pino sing the words, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” when my BlackBerry buzzed and I got an email from the downtown Bank of America location saying someone had turned in my wallet, and because I had a military account with them, they were able to get my email to contact me.  I tell you, I stood there in tears.  And then I drove to Ocean Beach, my favorite place in San Diego, and stood there in tears, too.  The absolute goodness of God just overwhelmed me.  I had told Him that morning, “Okay, lesson learned.  Can we move on now?”  and of course, I’d prayed (along with many of  my praying friends – you know who you are and THANK YOU so much) that my stuff would be returned to me.  And here, less than 24 hours later, it was.  The only thing missing was the gift card.  Everything else, including my driver’s license and both my and M’s Social Security cards, was there.

So now I’m back in the sticky heat of central Texas.  Back to reality.  And I realize that, overall,  my California trip was like a golden dream.  It’s probably very different actually living there than being there on vacation.  People have the same realities to deal with that I do here in Texas, except maybe this brutal drought.  They get up and go to work or school, they find bills in the mailbox, they have cranky relatives.  And so forth.  But I’ve come back from that lovely place with understanding that I didn’t have before, and, while God could have taught me that lesson at home, He chose to do so 1500 miles away, while I was on vacation from my own reality.  So now, when I think of California,  not only will I dream of the beaches and the amazing weather, but I’ll also think of it as a place of manifested grace.  And I might (half-jokingly) ask if I can move there.