Learning to Merge

As of June 10, LuAnn and I have lived the life of Pilgrims and true mendicants (those who at least attempt to rely fully on God’s providence) for three full years.  The whole bankruptcy, foreclosure, and job loss proceeded that date by another full year but June 10 is the day we took to the road on what we called our Great Adventure; our Grand Quest.

For your interest and to put things in perspective, I’ve included a photo of our home—our 2007 Dodge Caravan.  Our living room and dining room are the driver and passenger seats.  Our bedroom is the back of the van with all the seats stowed away.  It measures 48” wide and 80” long.  We have a little space on both sides (small compartments on the top of the wheel wells) and 36″ from our bed to the ceiling.  Everything we need to survive is in plastic tubes that slide out from under our bed.  It’s the ultimate tiny house.

I’ve been working on a blog posting that attempts to explain what it’s like living and traveling the way we do.  The working title is, “You Have to Get Used to a Lot of Stuff.”

I’ve been getting used to a lot of stuff these past three years and, in the process, learning a few things.

I’m learning to slow down.

I’m learning to slow down because I’m getting older but it’s not because of my age.  My body no longer wants to maintain the same pace it used to.  I’ll admit that.  But my slowing isn’t because I’m tired.  I’ve slowed down because I want to slow down.  I’ve slowed down because I’ve grown weary of being in a hurry.  I’ve slowed down because I don’t want to miss anything.

I’ve discovered something as a result of slowing down.  It’s called the Slow Lane.  Have you heard of it?  Throughout most of my life, I paid little attention to that lane.

As I’ve mentioned, LuAnn and I stay off the freeways as much as possible but sometimes it’s unavoidable.  It’s there, on the multi-lane freeways, where you’ll find the slow lane.  It’s the lane farthest to the right.  It’s the lane where drivers exit off the freeway and it’s the lane where drivers merge back on.  And, at my slow pace, it’s where the road signs tell me to drive.

I’ve learned something by driving in the slow lane.  A lot of people don’t know how to merge.

When merging onto a freeway, it is essential that you match the speed of the existing traffic so as to seamlessly merge together by slipping in ahead of oncoming traffic or sliding in behind those who have just passed by.  The idea is to become like those other vehicles so as to join their flow without disruption.

That’s merging.

Simple, right?  Apparently not.  More times than not, the merging vehicle ends up running parallel to me just as their merging lane comes to an end, leaving me with the responsibility to speed up or slow down so as to let them in.  And, if I don’t, if I don’t adjust my speed to theirs, they become angry.  Really angry.  Angry at me.  As if it’s my fault.

That’s not merging.

If you want to learn to merge, you can’t be thinking about yourself.  You must think of others.  You must see where others are and do everything you can to enter into their flow.  I have come to realize, through the analogy of “learning to merge,” I want to be a person who merges well in all areas of my life.

As we travel, LuAnn and I are learning to merge by serving those we encounter along the way.   We’ve learned to make ourselves at home in other people’s homes but to do so in a manner befitting the preferences of our hosts.  When people say, “Make yourself at home,” what they really mean is, “Make yourself at home the way we make ourselves at home.”  It’s important to respect those differences.  We’ve learned to acclimatize ourselves to religious particularities, political preferences, and dietary proclivities.  We watch to see if we need to take our shoes off at the door or if we can rest our feet on the coffee table.

That’s merging.

If there are projects in or around the homes we visit, we pitch in.  If the dishes need doing, we do them.  We share in the cooking of meals and the cleaning of houses, garages, and yards.  We’ve helped power-wash roofs, clean out fish ponds, mow lawns, cut down trees, paint houses, pour cement, build porches, decorate for holidays and other celebrations, and even complete the construction of a houseboat so as to enjoy its maiden voyage.

That’s merging.

When our children were young and I was pursuing my career, I realized I was dragging a lot of work home with me.  As I entered my home at the end of my workday, I was ill-prepared to transition into my role as husband and father.  I wasn’t merging well.

Inspired by the story of Jesus—when he took a basin of water and a cloth and washed his disciple’s feet—I created a merging reminder.  I fastened a small white cloth on the head of the doorway between the garage and the house.  Every day when I arrived home and crossed that threshold, I reached up, placed my hand on that cloth—that cloth that represented Jesus’ surrender to others—and prayed, “Lord, as I enter my home, help me to be a servant not a king.”  That helped.

That’s merging.

Oh, and the way LuAnn and I have had to learn to merge into each other’s lives having lived in such close proximity to each other for three years…well…that will take separate posting.

I’m learning that my identity—who I believe myself to be—is not so much a right I enforce as it is a privilege I enjoy.  I get to exercise who I am for the sake of others; for community and the betterment of this world.  I don’t get to insist upon being who I am to the detriment or exclusion of others.

My “self” is something to be willingly surrendered rather than stubbornly defended.  I do not lay claim to my identity so I can selfishly be who I want to be.  I lay it down so I can sacrificially be who others need me to be.

That’s merging.  And, by God’s grace, I’m learning.

So, regarding that slow lane:

It no longer bothers me when I have to adjust my speed, allowing an approaching vehicle to join me.  They’re probably still learning to merge, just like me.

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