Friday, July 20, 2018

Can We Talk About the Use of Technology in Public Restrooms?

Can we just stop for a minute and talk about the state of automation in public restrooms in America these days?

I mean seriously, can we be honest and talk about what is happening in our society?

I want to know why every single bathroom I enter anymore has different automation? There is no “uniform code” to this room that serves, well basically, a basic function.  All consistency has been tossed in the name of innovation. Every toilet, soap dispenser, sink and hand dryer is different. 

Not only is consistency an issue, but also I’m questioning the level of cleanliness in our high-tech johns these days.  Sure, all the flushing and flowing sounds (sinks, I’m talking about sinks here) appear so perfect and orderly when you walk into these rooms, but are these rooms any cleaner for all the shiny and sleek automated chrome?  All that glitters is not gold people. 

I regularly find the whole experience of using a public facility utterly absurd and sometimes even confusing.  Yes!  Confusing!  I’m not afraid to admit it! My issues with high-tech bathrooms has been growing for a while now, so please hang with me as I work through my list of complaints:

1)   TOILETS: Sometimes the toilet flushes on it’s own, and sometimes you are left wondering which little button on the side accomplishes that task?  Where did the handles go?  I simply must ask: if you are getting rid of handles because they are unsanitary, why in the world did we move towards small, little, hidden buttons?

a)    Self-flushing toilets can be their own hazard when they flush in the middle of the personal process!  Can I get a witness here?  
b)   The aggressive nature of the auto-flushing process often showers down water, albeit clean water, all over the seat.  (Note – this ties into my comments on hand dryers).
i)     I’ve yet to meet a toddler that will sit on one of these self-flushing seats out of fear for their very lives!
c)    How about all the water wasted by over-sensitive-self-flushers that run in empty stalls simply because they are on a timer or because a stall door activates the mechanism?
d)   What about those seats with the plastic liners that rotate before you sit down, providing a sanitary experience, but on which there is no upper toilet seat making them incredibly uncomfortable?

2)   SOAP DISPENSERS: Sometimes you push up on soap dispensers, sometimes you pump down, sometimes you push inward, and sometimes you wait for the device to squirt.  I rarely get these suckers right.

a)    No matter which device is installed, these items are always out of reach for children.  Always. 
b)   I also want to know who sets the timing on these squirters?  Am I am the only one who ends up with more soap on the ground or in the sink because I get irritated with waiting and pull my hand away (too late? too soon? – I’m unclear which applies). Adding insult to injury, there’s no way to clean up this type of mess because paper towels are gone in most restrooms these days (again, I point you to the section on hand dryers)
c)    Is it too much to ask that I want to determine my own quantity of soap?  Who measures out that tiny pump of liquid that most of these dispensers release?   Making matters worse, these auto-dispensers are also on a timer!  By the time I realize I don’t have enough soap (because the pea-size amount we are initially given basically produces zero suds [even though the photos on the mirrors over the sinks indicate we should be washing with tons of suds]), I have to wait for the soap dispenser to re-time itself and deliver another portion and by then the water has turned back off!  This is a cycle of insanity!  

i)     Sub-sub-point on the cycle of insanity – can you picture this process times multiple children?  I can.  I’ve been there.  Not to mention little ones who lay their bodies over wet sinks to reach the high-tech-looking-but-totally-stupid automated soap dispenser. (See more on this under sinks and hand dryers)

3)   SINKS:  Sometimes sinks turn on by themselves, and sometimes they don’t. No matter which type you encounter, as I’ve previously pointed out, chances are they will always be a cesspool of standing water.

a)    If the sink does have a sensor, you will be lucky to find that one little sweet spot that actually initiates water flow and stay in that zone long enough to accomplish the hand washing.
b)   If the sink does not have a sensor, you will likely stand at the faucet waiving your hands around for a while waiting for the sink to start running before you realize it’s the “old fashion kind” you have to turn on yourself.  You will also likely walk away from this type of sink and leave the water running afterwards. (See more on this under the combination of automation section).
c)    I cannot express the frustration that I experience when I do finally manage to get soap on my hands only TO NOT BE ABLE TO ACTIVATE THE WATER TO RINSE OFF THE SOAP.  Am I the only one to visit an establishment where none of the high-tech faucets dispense water because their low-tech batteries are dead?   TALK TO ME PEOPLE! ! (YES!  I AM SHOUTING!) 

i)     As pointed out in 2.c.i. – in almost every occasion that I visit a public bathroom, the sinks are covered in water.  It is so gross.  I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing myself more harm than good by attempting to wash my hands in these environments!  You know what I’m saying?   Do I want to deal with my personal germs or the combined germs of every single person who’s visited the bathroom on any given day?  It’s the hygienic form of Russian roulette, I say. 

4)   HAND DRYERS: It’s probably on this point I’m going to draw some controversy, but I’m willing to risk it.   I miss paper towels in bathrooms so much!   I want to be able to wipe down the sink, clean up spills, use the towel to open the door handle to leave the room, just to name a few uses.  Let’s make a deal, shall we?  Whenever possible, let’s do both.  I’ll happily use the super power automated dryer to save trees, reduce waste, and “prevent disease”.   But, can I please have a few towels to wipe down the water on the sink.  Pretty please?

a)    You’ve been reading this blog long enough by now to know nothing is simple.  Even if we are lucky enough to get paper towels in a bathroom, it’s not always easy or efficient.  These devices have the same complications as most sinks these days.   Some you wave your hand in front of, some under, some you crank, and others you pull to dispense a towel (all of which release a towel of so many varying sizes, some of which are uselessly small, but frankly I think I’ve made enough points in this blog post).   
b)   The automated dryers were cool in the beginning.  I was a fan of punching that silver nob and, overall, efficiently completing the task of getting my hands dry.  But, some of the ones I’ve found recently practically hurt in their aggressive drying manner.  It’s somewhat terrorizing to stick your hands down into that style of dryer where you literally see your skin being wrung dry.

5)   COMBINATION OF ANY OF THE ABOVE MENTIONED AUTOMATION:  What to know what drives me nuts more than anything I’ve listed above?  It’s those bathrooms that are combination of technology and good ole’ fashioned plumbing! 

a)    Who decides to have the combination of an automated toilet, pump soap, an old fashion sink, and a high-powered-blow-your-hands-off dryer?  Or a toilet you have to flush, squirting soap, water you assume will auto disperse like the soap, but indeed you have to turn the handle yourself, followed up by a paper towel unit that is jammed and no air dryers.  

PSYC!   Now they are just messing with our heads! Forget norms, now we are just living in plain ole confusion.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I AM VERY GRATEFUL FOR PUBLIC RESTROOMS.  But, I can’t help but wonder, if we are allowing technology to make something very simple too hard? I’m not calling for government standards or anything here, but for crying-out-loud I want to know what engineers and developers are thinking?  I realize that somebody decided to time water dispersion to save resources, but has anyone ever really examined how many times I activate the same faucet in one hand washing?

Finally, while it’s on my mind, I happy to report that airplane lavatories have remain largely unchanged as of yet in the technological age.  However I would be remiss not to ask: why do airplane manufactures continue to produce lavatory doors that include giant warnings quoting federal statues and warn against smoking WHILE AT THE SAME TIME include ashtrays in each and every door?  Paradigm much?   I’m so confused by this messaging.

In summary I’m asking:  Are we overthinking toilets in western society?  Or, is this just me?

Ok, I’m done.  (You’re welcome.)  

Next up on my list of social irritations to discuss:  Apple’s headset adaptors, ever-changing charging systems, and those STUPID glass screens.   

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Searching for Rainbows

Several afternoons this past week we experienced spotty thunderstorms in Sarasota, which is pretty normal this time of year.  There’s been a line of threatening grey set against a line of gorgeous blue as the sun begins its slow descent.  I’ve found myself walking outside searching for rainbows.  Actually, if I’m being completely honest, on one of the days I even hopped in the car and drove around searching for this phenomenon that frequently paints the Florida sky.  I’ve been disappointed each day that I could not find one.  

All of the explanations as to where rainbows appear and about the refraction and dispersion of light through water seem to be just beyond my grasp of meteorological science. Although I’ve been fairly certain the necessary components and conditions have been in place for a rainbow to be present this week, there’s not a rainbow to be found. I get that the sun has to break through the rain, but our perspectives seem to be a big key to observing the beautiful prisms of light too. After all, we have to be looking up and towards the proper direction for a rainbow to be observed. 

Why am I searching for rainbows?   There’s probably not one single perfect answer to that question.  I am still having a mad love affair with Sarasota.   Almost 3 years later I’m still shocked that I live in the state I’ve dreamed of my entire life.  I don’t want to miss a single minute of the beauty that surrounds me. I still run to sunsets if the sky appears to be staging something spectacular, pull the car over to snap a picture of delightful scenery, and drive down random roads just to see if they lead to the water.  Simply put, for years now I have practiced stopping and soaking in, well, Florida life. 

Beyond the natural beauty though, I’m searching for rainbows because they signify a promise.  They are promise that comes after a storm. The storms of life often make us cower and run for shelter.  Although rain is ultimately life giving and therefore full of hope, we don’t like the discomfort of being wet and/ or the threat of something worse happening (for instance when our curly hair takes over!)  But looking up changes our perspective. That’s where rainbows appear. They are draped in the heavens, somewhere between the light and the rain, to give us a whole new picture. Rainbows are curtains of color displayed for the promise of hope, newness, and on-going life.  

I guess you could say that I’m searching for rainbows because I am a promise seeker.   It’s also been said that dreamers chase rainbows.  I guess I’m a dreamer then too.  I’m simply a promise-seeking-dreamer. Storms are frequent in my life, just like they are frequent in Florida this time of year. I’m looking up to the heavens and holding onto the promises, instead of cowering to fear; I’m seeking truth that comes with the new rain, instead of focusing on inconveniences; I’m dreaming of what’s ahead for my family, instead of focusing on the complications that threaten to wash away our hope.  

I’m searching for rainbows because I’d rather be found with my eyes looking to the heavens for promises rather than running from the rain.  Admittedly, I might not completely understand the science or even be looking the right way.  But I’m always going to keep trying, seeking, looking, hoping, and searching for the promise of life.  Sometime soon the conditions will be right and I will be looking just the right way to spot a rainbow. I still hear rumbling thunder.  There will be one crossing my path again soon, I just know it. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Extremes of Love

The capacity for which the human heart can stretch is astounding.  Our hearts exist on this enormous spectrum that ranges from numbing grief to euphoric joy. There are times when love can fill our souls so full it’s like a balloon filled with helium, demanding release to soar high.  Conversely, there are times when our heart is broken and wounded, when the pain is so great, we curse love, question its worth, and wonder if we will ever feel whole again.  But I’m discovering the most complex challenge for the human heart is when we are thrust into a form of dualism, those situations when we are given great pain and great joy at the same time.  Is there an authentic pathway through the extremes love demands?

In the spring of 2003, my grandma was in a hospital room on one side of the city of St. Louis with my mom, aunt, and grandpa by her side. She was nearing the end of her time on earth and her passing was imminent.  Meanwhile, my sister went into labor with her third child.   My mom left the bedside of her dying mother to attend to the bedside of her daughter giving birth on the other side of St. Louis.  Within hours, my mom was given the privilege of witnessing the birth of another granddaughter, this one who was destined to carry the name of her great-grandmother.   A new Lela arrived while her namesake was passing.  My mom’s heart was required to stretch across a city, across the generations, and across the span of life of death within a few hours.  

These past few weeks in my life have been lived in state of impossible heart stretching.  On one side of this great chasm is a son who is hurting, away, searching and healing.  On the other side are daughters who are thriving, present, focused and soaring.  Then there are my littles, who are in the know, but still somewhat oblivious to the great highs and lows their mama is facing. My heart is struggling to authentically rejoice for my girls, while remaining vulnerable and present for my son, and simultaneously stabilize the environment for my youngest children. I’m flailing here in this place. I feel empty, broken, poured out and utterly incapable of coping in this chasm. How can we love big and hurt deep? How can we possibly live out authentic, honest, yet vulnerable love?  How does new life come out of broken?

I’ve learned that emotional pain and physical pain both emanate from the same areas of the brain. Although science hasn’t yet discovered why our hearts hurt from this pain, they do know our brains interpret emotional pain and physical pain in the same way.  Oddly enough, early studies have shown that taking Tylenol for emotional pain seems to have the same impact as it does on physical pain.  Imagine that, taking 2 Tylenol might actually be a prescription for our souls. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.”  This is after all what our Savior has done for us. Jesus was broken and poured out because he so loved.  His heart broke so that ours could be filled.  Is this not the better way? The broken way?  Are we not also called to broken and poured out, to love without regard, without restraint, without self-protection, to embrace the broken parts of our life?  Isn't this the path to resiliency? Always, the upside-down Gospel of Christ challenges us to view everything differently – even love.  Especially love. 

It’s okay to be sad for what is sad. Ann Voskamp writes, “There is no fear in letting tears come. Sadness is a gift to avoid the nothingness of numbness, and all hard places need water. Grief is a gift, and after a rain of tears, there is always more of you than before. Rain always brings growth.”  Likewise, it’s okay to be joyful for what is good.  It’s right for me to celebrate the successes of my daughters, because as a wise friend said to me:  your girls deserve that generous part of your love.  

You’d think that a broken heart would stop trying to love, but the funny thing is that somehow we still love with all of those broken pieces.  These days half my heart is living in the valley and half my heart is living on the mountaintop.  I haven’t found many roadmaps that show me how to live in both places at once.  I’m learning you have to simply figure it out every day, in every moment, with every breath.  And as always in my story, worship guides the way to life despite the extremes of love. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

In the Master's Hands

I bought a wall clock a few years ago that I really loved, but quickly learned it didn't work quite right.  It was one of those cute, decorative, big-hands, small-battery operated clocks. It fit my coastal chic décor perfectly, but was lousy at keeping time.  Occasionally it would work as expected, but more often than not we’d look up at the wall and realized that clock was seriously behind schedule.  

Over the course of time (no pun intended), we replaced the battery, tighten the screws holding the parts in place, and even bought a new set of hands to try and fix the problem.  Nothing we tried fixed the clock. At some point, the hands just dropped and stopped even trying to move. The clock was simply not functional for the intended purpose of being a keeper of time.  At a loss of what else to do, I pulled it off the wall.   

When we moved into our current home I had just the space for that cute, albeit not functional clock.  I really wanted to hang the broken thing on my wall just because it fit so perfectly.  But, it had driven us crazy before because no matter how much you tell yourself it doesn’t matter that it didn’t work, you still expected the darn thing to keep time. Our brains are funny that way.  We expect a clock to tell time, not just be wall décor.

Maybe it was time to seek some professional help to restore and reset this piece I loved. Maybe there was a master tradesman or artisan that knew exactly what we needed to make this clock function. Maybe somebody, somewhere could help us repair the time.  

There are only three clock shops in our entire community; clearly restoring beautiful and precious pieces is a by-gone tradition in our disposable world.  Walking into this shop, only open a few days per week and only a few hours on those days, was like stepping back in time. From the stately grandfather clocks to the quirky wall-hanging cuckoos, clocks of every size and style were all syncing in a similar rhythm and all dancing together in the expected tick-tock sound.  

As the shop’s aged owner walked towards the front to greet me, I was struck by one particular set of clock guts that were strewn all over the counter obviously in mid-repair.  The hands were separated from each other, laying off to one side was the face, on the other side were some gears, and on the counter nearby was the clock body.  To me, it looked like one big mess of parts.  To the master craftsman, the one with the magnification spec in one eye and a lifetime of experience, it probably made a lot more sense -  something more like a beautiful work of art in the middle of a needed restoration.  

I showed the clock repairer my simple, yet cute, wooden wall clock.  Immediately he diagnosed the problem:  the clock’s guts were too small to function through the wooden frame and too small for the big hands on the front.  The clock needed a bigger mechanism that would be better suited for the size and style of this piece.  For $35 and a few more days of patience, he would repair our coastal clock so that it could function effectively.  

In the midst of the loud tick-tocking, cuckoo-birding, step back in time moment it hit me: the master craftsman always knows what is needed to reset and restore each piece.  Sometimes the master has to get to the core to the matter, by taking the smallest inward and hidden pieces apart, to reset the function.  Other times, critical parts needs to be replaced  with parts better suited for the environment in which they must operate.  

None of the tinkering, simple-repairs by the adoring and well-intentioned clock owner could fix what needed to be repaired with this unit. There are situations when only those with a lifetime of experience and special skills can make the clock tick again.  Sometimes, you have to leave your loved and super cute, yet un-functioning pieces, in the hands of a master.  In those times, you walk away and trust that the Master will complete what he has promised and will return your clock better than it was when it first came into your hands.  

Saturday, March 31, 2018

H.O.P.E. - Hold On, Pain Ends

Nobody likes pain. Pain hurts and it is almost always something humans try to avoid. Pain has differing levels of intensity and is a telling factor in diagnosing what might be wrong.  Pain can be acute or chronic and can lead to a myriad of physical reactions. Pain is our signal – an unconscious reflex - that something is very wrong with our body. Pain is a physical experience, but we also suffer pain emotionally.  Often the emotional pain is harder to deal with in life.  You can’t put a Band-Aid over a broken heart and expect it to heal in 6-8 weeks.  Emotional pain, or soul pain, has its own timeline and healing process. 

Pain is incredibly isolating.  Nobody else can feel, share, or climb into your pain. Pain – both the physical and emotional types - makes you feel totally alone, even if people are surrounding you.  I experienced the worst physical pain of my life when I was giving birth to my twins.  My husband was supporting me on one side, my mother on the other.  There were doctors and nurses all around me and I was safe in a hospital environment.  Yet, hours of laboring and pushing without pain relief left me lost in my own head.  With two full term babies inside, and Baby A (my son) presenting the wrong direction, the delivery was difficult.  As any birthing mother knows, the contractions climb on top of each other.  With two babies inside, I couldn’t get a full breath to adequately push for the duration of each contraction.  At this point unable to speak from the pain, I was screaming inside “you are going to die with your husband on one side and your mom on the other.”  And as each contraction subsided, I would tell myself “you will not die, everyone is here to help, think positively.”  This war of the internal voices lasted for many difficult hours until my twins were birthed.  I’ve never been as lost in my own physical pain as I was on November 20, 2001.

Pain is also distorting, it creates a me-centric point of view.  That’s not a critical statement, it’s just a fact.  Pain turns us inward to deal with what’s broken whether that is a leg or a heart.  Sometimes pain shuts us down entirely leading to sleep, depression or apathy.  When in pain, it’s difficult to understand why your world has stopped rotating and how everyone keeps moving forward unaffected by the trauma that has reduced you to nothingness. While I was laboring in the worst pain of my life, family and friends were celebrating the arrival of the new babies in the waiting room. We know rationally that everyone is on different journeys and yet emotionally we want, no we need, everyone else to climb into and experience our pain so we are not alone.

For all its discomfort though, physical and mental pain both have a purpose. Pain helps to prepare us and mature us; pain helps us take on our own identity and discover our purpose; pain helps us to heal.  Pain can lead to new life, as described in my own birthing example.  We often connect pain with defeat, rejection or loss, instead of viewing it through the lens of healing, strengthening or improving.

Jesus understood these truths about pain. He experienced emotional and mental anguish prior to his trial and unfathomable physical pain during his crucifixion.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he knew what was ahead for him and he didn’t want to be alone either.  His disciples were close, only a stone’s throw away, yet they were unable to bring him comfort.  In fact, they slept out of their own unexplainable sorrow.  Luke records that Christ’s anguish was so great that he actually sweated drops of blood.  Luke also tells us that angel came from heaven to comfort him:   

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.
Luke 22:39-45 (NIV)

Pastor Paul Purvis says, “God’s presence does not equal pain’s absence.  However, because of God’s presence, pain’s potency is limited.  Difficult times may certainly lead to dark days, but dark days need not mean defeat.”[1]

HOPE!   Hold on, pain ends.

Even though Christ had to endure the pain alone, he willingly did so to accomplish a greater purpose to bring hope to mankind. Jesus knew that his pain would bring new life!  We may feel utterly alone and lost in our pain, but it should comfort us that Jesus has been there too.  He’s walked in our shoes and can identify with our suffering.  And yet, through his suffering, we can find hope that pain will end.  No matter how it may feel today, you are not alone!  Sometimes there are even angels that are sent to strengthen us in the process.  Christ has been there too and He will guide you through to newness of life.

This Easter may you find HOPE.  For all those who are hurting, HOLD ON.  Allow pain to have its good work in your life and know that PAIN ENDS. 

[1] Paul Purvis, May 29, A call to the Lord for Salvation, God’s Wisdom for Today, my daily Scripture Devotional.
2013. Thomas Nelson

Friday, March 23, 2018

Embracing a Spirit of Nevertheless

Last week I had the privilege of attended a leadership training session led by Dr. Jay Strack, President and Founder of Student Leadership University.  As a motivational leader, his Christ-focused training was filled with wisdom, humor, and practical advice.  I took notes, highlighted the material, and left the session inspired and focused. But there was this one phrase that went into my soul like a hook: always embracing a spirit of nevertheless.

Define:  nev·er·the·less
adverb: nevertheless
in spite of that; notwithstanding; all the same.

Have you ever fallen down hard, been hit by a truck, or suffered an unexpected emotional blow?  I have. In fact, I have experienced all three of these events in the past few weeks.  When the fall, hit, or blow occurs it takes your breath away and leaves you somewhat paralyzed by what just happened.  I’ve noticed it seems to take a second for your mind to catch up with what’s happened to your body or soul.  It’s like in the movies when everything goes into slow motion because it’s impossible to see or understand all that’s happening in regular time.

Nevertheless, in all 3 situations, I got back up.

This theme resonates deeply with me because I have faced many hard, dark and lonely places in my adult life. My book, that God-willing someday I will finish and share with you, is titled Called to War.  Part autobiographical and part inspirational, it's a story is about faith and transformation.  Framed metaphorically in militaristic language, I explore how the very thing you run from becomes the very thing you embrace, because a journey with God transforms your heart, your eyes, and your walk.  In the middle of the battles we all face in life, this book tells my personal story of surrender to self, while learning to sacrifice for others. 

And now I also realize another thread throughout the story and my life is learning how to embrace a spirit of nevertheless.  

I am in the middle of a new battle these days, one that often overwhelms my heart and consumes my time.  Once again, my book is back in the proverbial drawer, where it waits until today’s battle recedes so that I can resume writing.  As I'm sure you've noticed, my blog has largely been put on hold too. Sometimes I wish my life was easier, gentler, less filled with warring and battles.  Yet, I know that I’ve been transformed for the purpose of rescue and restoration.   I’m thankful that previous battles have taught me how to worship, how to overcome fear, and frankly, how to war.

In spite of the falls, hits and battles of life, we all have to get back up again.  Learning to embrace a spirit of nevertheless can become an anthem, if we focus more on the goal than the process.  Songs help this process – at least they help me! For instance, I Get Knocked Down (the real title is Tubthumping) by the British rock band, Chumbawamba.  It’s actually a drinking song, but I often hear those lyrics pumping through my head when something hits me unexpectedly:

“I get knocked down, but I get up again. 
You are never going to keep me down.” 

Another song that always helps me get back up is Rachel Platten’s Fight Song.  Whenever I hear this one it gets cranked up all the way:

“This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me.”

I don’t know what tomorrow holds for this war I’m currently fighting, but I do know I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.  Falls might happen, trucks may hit me, emotional blows may come, but NEVERTHELESS, I’m getting back up!