Last weekend we took a family summer get-a-way to St. Louis. It was the first time the kids had been to the city, so we did the classic St. Louis stuff. We took in a Cardinals game, saw the famous Clydesdales, went up in the arch, and ate Imo’s pizza–twice. Shameless plug here: if you can take your kids to the City Museum, do it. Ours had a blast.

The first stop on our tour de fun was the arch. Keirsten was super excited about it. She gets that way sometimes and I love that about her (last year she was super excited about Mt. Rushmore). What she wasn’t super excited about was the wait. We had an hour and a half between our ticket purchase and our tram-time, and hour of which was outside (H-O-T!!) because they’re restricting entrance times to 30-minutes prior to ticket time due to construction. My offspring’s misery and near demise (note my sarcasm) was fairly forgotten once we cooled back off in the air conditioning and were killing time wandering through the gift shop. And then we got in line again.

At least it was fairly cool in there. Trying to teach kids to be patient isn’t necessarily easy, especially when they’re anxious for what’s ahead. Thankfully, it was a good anticipation but even at that I didn’t want to start our tour de fun with the constant barrage of “How much longer? What’s taking so long? When will it be our turn?” So what to do when you don’t want to focus on your own delay/struggle/trial? Focus on someone else!

We found out that the couple behind us was from Utah. They were celebrating their 30th anniversary by taking a road trip around the country visiting places important to their faith. They were having a good trip. And they were nice. The family in front of us looked a lot like our family dynamic about 4 years ago: dad, mom, preschooler girl and slightly older boy. Their kids seemed just as restless with the line as ours were, if not more. Micah struck up a conversation with the dad, which proved to be slightly humorous but beautifully enlightening to listen to. If you’ve ever heard my husband talk, it’s quite obvious that he’s a country boy. I think that’s putting it mildly, lol. Every where he goes people ask him where he’s from. This time Micah turned the tables and asked our fellow line-travelers where they were from.

Taiwan. They were from Taiwan. Over the next half hour, my husband and this man, whose English was adequate but still rather choppy, purposefully communicated with each other although it was laborious at times. Their family was on a multi-week trip through the Midwest. They’d already been to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri and were going to finish up with Illinois (wanted to see Lincoln’s historical sites there) and Indiana. They had a goal to travel to all 50 states in their lifetime and this wasn’t their first trip to America. Their kids were 3 1/2 and 7…just like ours were 4 years prior. He was, ironically, an English teacher. He first visited America 20 years ago and started learning English from a teacher in New York City who had a British accent and he became a Yankee fan during his stay. His beautiful wife was fairly quiet but her face got bright when her husband excitedly told her that Micah worked for Walmart. She exclaimed, “I LOVE Walmart!” then nodded and smiled some more.

Before the Arch’s computer problems got resolved and the line finally started moving again, our new Taiwanese friend gave Micah his business card. He said, “If you ever come to Taiwan please call. You will be honored guests.” His card was all in Chinese but one word…Richard. Apparently his Taiwanese name, which he did share with us, wasn’t as memorable as Richard. Hopefully his first contact with people from Arkansas was memorable too. This is what I learned by listening to two strangers from totally different cultures talk that day:

Our lives are basically similar despite our differences.

Kids get restless, tired and cranky. We work, take care of our families, and try to have fun too. Spouses don’t always agree on what’s fun (when Richard found out we were going to a Cardinals game that night he tried to convince his wife they should go too but she didn’t seem convinced that was a good idea…something about tired kids…).

If you truly want to understand someone different than you, you can if you take the time.

If you slow down, simplify, and actually make an effort then you will probably find a way to build a bridge of communication. Finding common denominators helps. This time ours happened to be our kids.

We take so much for granted in America.

I knew this already but talking with Richard reinforced it. I would like to visit all 50 states in my lifetime too, but these people were committed! Flying 20 hours with two little kids to drive around a country that wasn’t even their own heritage for two weeks? Visiting the historic sites of OUR great presidents? As Americans sometimes we forget about what it means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s good to get an occasional reminder from the outside about just how good it is on the inside. Things may not always be going the way I think they should here, but there’s still no place I’d rather call home. Plus, we have Walmart. Lol.

Be eager to learn and disciplined enough to know what your weaknesses are.

Richard knew a lot of English but he still had trouble with various dialects. He made a focused effort to receive instructions. Any time the Arch associates spoke to us, he made his kids be quiet and gave the speaker his full attention. And he wasn’t afraid to ask questions. You could tell he knew that his family depended on him being able to navigate them through the facility and he didn’t take that lightly.

A smile and some kindness and a little effort can go a long way.

In just a few short minutes, Richard became so trusting of Micah that he wanted Micah to hold him over a two-story balcony to retrieve the plastic tram card his daughter had dropped over the ledge. The other people all around us chimed in with “no way!!” Thankfully, Richard’s trust in Micah’s strength wasn’t necessary; Micah’s height & long arms retrieved the lost tram card from the other side of the balcony rail without Richard ever having to leave the ground, to the relief of EVERYONE in our line, lol.

I will think kindly of Taiwanese people, because Richard and his family are the only comparison I have.

Hopefully they will think the same of us…as being from Arkansas…as a Walmart employee…as being an American family…the list could go on and on. What a reminder to be a constant life-flow of goodness and grace wherever I am because that will quite possibly be my only opportunity to affect and influence someone else’s life.

So thank you, Richard. Your students are lucky to have you. You are a great teacher. And thank you, God, for sending Richard and his family to the arch that day. You knew the Baldwins needed to meet them. We all need to meet the people around us…every color, every culture, every creed…it’ll help us realize we’re not as different as we think.

 

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.

Ephesians 4:1-4 NLT

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