Sometimes when I am on one of my long drives around my hometown area I try to look at my surroundings as though I am one of the many tourists who come here year after year. We locals tend to forget that this is a resort area (for those of us who live far away from the beach it's easy to do). This is a Favorite Place for many people. I recently helped coordinate a wedding in Virginia Beach. One of my tasks was to deliver gift bags to the hotels where the out-of-town guests were staying. As I entered one of the hotels, so did a bus load of tourists. Over 40 people stood in front of me in various kinds of beachwear ready for Fun in the Sun! Inflatable sea dragons, huge beach hats, and lawn chairs now decorated the Hilton lobby. Oh yeah- I'm at the Beach. It's so easy to forget that! They had traveled from Pennsylvania to make memories here. What kind would they make? Would we, the native Virginians, be good hosts? While driving home I tried to look at the interstate signs through their eyes and I wondered if the tourists had difficulty getting about? Some of our signs don't make a lot of sense unless you already know the area. (East and West don't always mean East and West)
I also look at our areas off the main highways. You know, the places we gaze at that are near the off-ramps: they have the obligatory Target, a grocery store of some kind, a Chinese restaurant. There now seems to be a Starbucks at every exit much like there is one on every block in NYC. Do these places look inviting and welcoming to our visitors? Are they easy to get to and when we are there are they warm and inviting?
This thought came to me one night at church. I was looking around during our Wednesday fellowship meal and I switched into What if I Came In as a Visitor mode...What would I think as I entered and saw people greeting each other? I am happy to say that I liked what I saw! There were seniors arriving and doors being held for them by children who didn't even know them--they just knew it was the right thing to do. That, my friends, is good home training. There were people greeting each other as though they had been on an extended trip- it had only been since Sunday - but Oh! sometimes the weeks are so long and we need to gather again as family and just...exhale. There was laughter, there was fellowship, and there was joy.
And then, and then- there was prayer. It is not unusual to see small groups of people off to the side huddled, leaning in, arms around each other-praying. To be a newcomer arriving for the first time to that environment! It is church at its finest because IT is US. And for that moment we were living out what we should be doing all the time.
So what about when we aren't there? What are we like then, when no one we know is watching (except the One Who knows us best)? Are we greeting people with a smile? Do we hold doors for each other?
Do we care?
Are we living the "greatest commandment" daily and publicly? Would the waiter, the store clerk, the driver in front of you say that you loved him as yourself? What about the customer service rep after you've held on long enough to go through the loop of bad hold music...twice?
My husband and I have recently discovered the joy of hiking. Before you become concerned, know that we're not going nuts here with climbing mountains and such. We go nowhere that requires any sort of "equipment." Our interest mainly revolves around seeing God's creation while wearing super comfy shoes. I'm talking very gentle terrain and clearly marked trails. (Except that time in West Va but we'll chalk that up to the thin mountain air.) One of the things hikers are instructed to do is to leave the trail better than how you found it. (Pick up trash, don't disturb foliage, etc.) It's amazing how messy and careless so-called Nature Lovers can be. There are hikers who are paid by the park service just to go into the hills and clean up after other hikers. Really? You're going to strap on a back pack and grab a bottle of water and then go high up into some of the most beautiful places on God's planet, take pictures and blog and be left breathless not from the altitude but from the beauty and then leave your granola wrappers on a log? So then it hits me: Are we leaving our trail better than we found it? Are we leaving that customer service rep with the feeling that there was something special about us? Was the driver in front of you blessed by not being tailgated?
Was the waiter's day actually better because he had your table?
As we all go through this journey, in the temple or outside the city gates, let's try to remember that we are always responsible for the way we leave our trail.