Traveling mercies

While I’m visiting my dad in El Paso I attend the 11am Sunday service at his church, Sun Valley Baptist Temple. I usually don’t see him there—he has been the treasurer for many years, and is in the back tending to the money. He gets his teaching at the Sunday and Wednesday evening services. I don’t attend those, and he doesn’t expect me to. But we both go to the Tuesday morning men’s Bible study, held at a nearby Denny’s at 6am.

So while here I get regular doses of old fashioned Baptist thinking and language, which is solid in its way but tends to the sclerotic. The words and phrases still give comfort but lock the speaker into well-worn paths. I’m rarely surprised at where a sermon will go—a key phrase signals what the next few minutes will contain, almost to the word. This is true not just in sermons but in conversation, before or after the service or at the Bible study.

During a sermon it tends to leave me cold—I know the ground pretty well, and can’t even enjoy the presentation because it is highly canned. But during conversation I find it comforting. Not everything needs to be challenging, actively seeking, iron sharpening iron. Sometimes it’s enough to enjoy the company of brothers and sisters, signalling our bond in Christ in the words we use, empty though they may be.

The Bible study ends with a round of prayer requests, with plenty of common phrasing—the Lord’s will, offer a praise, please pray for so-and-so, I have an unspoken. Although I value creative use of language, I don’t see anything wrong with clichés, chestnuts, and the like in that context, any more than with reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The clichés help us make a thorough inventory, rather than leaving the matter to spontaneity—and forgetfulness. And they guide folks into those paths who might not spend much time there otherwise.

I’m an outsider, and my good health denies me the litany of complaints that fuels many of the other requests, so I generally offer the same thing every time, namely gratitude for a good visit. Except at the final meeting of my visit, when I get to ask for “traveling mercies.” That’s what I asked for yesterday, and I gladly took all the good wishes I got in return.

(Here endeth the rumination. Following is another attempt at recording detail. At some point I will write about what I am trying to accomplish with these exercises, but for now just the exercise, which you are invited to skip.)

I’ll be flying out mid-afternoon, so most of the morning will be spent preparing to leave. When I get to El Paso I set up my portable office in the unused dining room—my laptop, an external second monitor, a wireless keyboard and mouse, a box of random office supplies (envelopes, stamps, note cards). Over the three weeks of my stay the dining table gets cluttered and messy. I see some Wal-Mart receipts that need to be tossed out, some tax documents for my dad that need to be filed, the last tomato for my last salad, which I’ll eat for lunch later today, a thumb drive, pocket spiral notepad, checkbook, and on and on. It all needs to be tossed out or put away or packed in my carry-on bag. It won’t take long, 15 or 20 minutes total, but I’ll spread it out over the morning and spend more than minimal time on the job so as not to forget anything.

I got up at the usual 6:30am, took my heartburn pill, checked emails and answered a couple, then put on shoes and went to get the newspaper, which I set out on the couch for my dad. I started my first cup of coffee (I use a cheap Melitta pour-over funnel here while here, too lazy to pack my beloved AeroPress back and forth, too cheap to buy a second one), and before it was done my dad was up so I poured him his customary half-glass of orange juice (half a juice glass, so just a few ounces) and then brought my coffee into the dining room and did some work.

I don’t care to work while in transit so I try to arrange for a light work day when I’m traveling. Today’s work is finishing up a newsletter. I wrote the first draft yesterday and mailed it to my boss, who sent me revisions and additional content. I added and formatted his new content, updated some numbers, made corrections, added an introduction, and sent the second draft back for review. Then I began working on this post and continued until 8am, when my dad’s caretaker arrived. Usually I wait until after 9am to start my walk, but I needed a bit more post-walk time before leaving so I left right away.

The walk was as uneventful as usual, except that I was uncomfortably reminded how long it takes my back muscles to loosen up in the morning. Generally I need to spend at least 30 minutes after getting out of bed in a slightly reclined position, and some time seated after that, or I have backaches when I stand or walk. This morning I started the walk 90 minutes after waking up, and it was still a little early—I spent parts of the first 15 minutes with my hands behind my back, pushing into the small of it, which helped some. Things eventually loosened up, and when I arrived home after 45 minutes my back was somewhere down my list of aches (replaced by my right knee, another story for another day).

Part of the reason I left early today was that I wanted to get a load of laundry in this morning, so as to travel in clean clothes and not leave any dirty ones here. (I keep a minimal wardrobe in El Paso, so that when I travel the only clothes I carry are what I’m wearing. ) I took a quick shower, changed, and put what needed washing into the washer. Then I gathered a few things out of my office sprawl and put them way. By the time I sat back down at the computer my boss had sent back my second newsletter draft, approved, so I mailed it to the 65 or so teachers on our roster. Next I made a second cup of coffee, rinsed out the filter cone and put it away, found a ziploc bag for the remaining coffee and put it in the freezer. Then back here to continue this post, with about two hours to go before leaving.

Image result for bolilloAfter I’m done here I’ll get on with packing. In about an hour I’ll assemble and eat my final salad—the lettuce, tomatoes, and made-up salad dressing extended just far enough, but I’ll toss out mushrooms and a bit of cucumber. Then I’ll make and pack my afternoon snack/dinner for the trip—an apple, a banana, and two cheese sandwiches. On Monday I stopped in the Wal-Mart deli, asked the lady to slice me four slices of Muenster cheese, and bought two bollilos for the sandwiches. Bollilos are a sort of French bread, very common in Mexico and points just north. There are nearby bakeries that have much better ones, but one of my occasional disciplines is to tame my belly by not seeking out the best food around, and though the fresh bread at Wal-Mart is mediocre it’s good enough. I’ll butter those rolls (butter is currently softening in the sun on the dining table), add the cheese, put the sandwiches into one or two ziplocs, and eat them in Houston during my layover there.

I haven’t yet decided how to spend my transit time. Usually I spend it reading on my Kindle. On my flight here I was reading a hardcover copy of Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart, which I didn’t have on my Kindle—and of course I left it on the plane, so now I have a Kindle copy. But I’m thinking about writing on this trip, since lots of blog posts are waiting to be realized. I don’t know if it will work—my laptop is rather large and power-hungry, and planes are pretty cramped these days. But I will give it a try.

And now, enough. Time to start in on the things I’ve mentioned. And if there’s any time left before leaving, I’ll use it to join my dad, who is cleaning pecans and watching Captain Blood on TCM (swashbuckler day today!).


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