by Joanie Butman
During my recent trip I met a variety of guides, one of whom I mentioned last week – cute Ivan who took us kayaking and hiking in Croatia. Unfortunately, not all our guides shared his boyish charm. We enjoyed a variety of personalities – all of them imparting their knowledge and experience, but in dramatically different ways. Some were business-like, and some more personable than others. Two stick out in my mind more than most.
There was ‘Bitter Bob’ in Split. He was an Eeyore you couldn’t help but like, despite his pessimistic attitude towards life and negative view of his country’s politics and people in general. He did make a mean olive oil though. Surprisingly, while explaining his olive oil business, he discussed a paradox of life: the more stressed the tree, the better the quality of its olives. Contrary to what you might think, being exposed to the elements doesn’t endanger the tree, it makes it stronger. He went on to say it’s not unlike humans. Often the worst conditions bring out the best in people. Hmm, there was more to Bitter Bob than met the eye, which is the case with most people if you look hard enough.
Then there was Paul in Italy. After Bob, I was hoping for someone a bit more upbeat. Spoiled by Ivan’s stunning good looks and friendly disposition, I was anticipating a young Italian hiker to lead us through the Cinque Terra. When we arrived at the designated meeting spot, you can imagine my dismay to find a middle-aged man from Rhode Island with a paunch and a sizeable chip on his shoulder, which didn’t take long to surface. I nicknamed him ‘Pissed-off Paul.’
He guided us through trails with expertise, pointing out resting areas, guiding us to water, warning us to slow down when the path got steep or rocky, and encouraging us with promises of “just a few more minutes to the ‘Oh wow!’” To be honest, by that time, the only oh wow I was interested in was the gelato waiting in the next town.
Regardless, along with Paul’s knowledge of the area and its inhabitants, we were subjected to his disgust with the tourists, his litany of accomplishments in life and high opinion of himself, and were chastised for speeding past the best view in the Cinque Terra because he claimed I was too focused on my feet. Ha, little did he know it wasn’t my feet, it was the gelato I was focused on—which turned out to be a better oh wow than that vista. At one point my daughter asked a question he refused to answer and was reprimanded, “I told you that on the way up. You weren't listening.” I wondered on more than one occasion why I was paying a sizable amount of money to spend the day with this man.
Guides come in many forms throughout life. We’re all guides of some sort – parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors. The list is endless. Much like the guides I met, we too are often called to be guides to strangers. Everyone possesses knowledge, wisdom and experience that can benefit others. This exercise emphasized the importance of choosing what kind of guide you want to be and made me thoughtfully consider where I fall on the guide spectrum. Do I live in a way that attracts people? Am I an encourager? Do I share what I’ve learned in a manner that engages people or am I off-putting? Am I bitter or joyful? Am I a know-it-all? Most importantly for me, from a Christian perspective, do I live in a way that leads people to Christ? The answers depend on the day I suppose.
The most defining decision that influences the type of guide you are has got to be who you choose as your guide. Who is mine? The answer to that question doesn’t depend on the day - the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever. It's only when my focus strays off Him that I lose my bearings and often start down paths I shouldn’t be on. Bitter Bob and Pissed-off Paul are excellent reminders to make an effort to be a better guide than I’ve been in the past, keeping my eyes on Jesus not on my own two feet. He is the source of my hope, strength, comfort, love and joy. When you're walking with Him, you can't help but share those blessings with others.
I thought of the friend I mentioned last Sunday that passed away this week and those people who lovingly guided her home, showering her with love and comfort. Don’t ever underestimate your ability to be someone else’s guide, even if it is simply walking alongside them in their suffering.
I will close with the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, For Good:
I've heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are lead to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you.
I didn’t know Barbara long, but witnessing how she carried her suffering with enduring faith changed us all for the better. Even in death Barbara continued to lead people to Christ as her service yesterday was all about her faith and how she shared it with others in such a transforming manner.
In Loving Memory of Barbara Oddo Del Gatto