"Kim! Look out!"
Aleesha's scream almost gave me a heart attack as it split the early afternoon lull and reverberated throughout the Skyfly Departures Terminal at San Diego International Airport.
Before I could figure out what I was supposed to look out for, my feet started sliding gracelessly across the floor. Was this one of those California earthquakes I'd heard so much about?
But how could it be when I seemed to be the only object shaking or moving?
As I teetered and tottered to maintain my balance, I felt like a pedestrian who's stepped on an unexpected patch of icy sidewalk. . .and never stopped sliding.
I didn't have a chance to think about protecting the arm I'd broken in Mexico a couple of weeks earlier. I was too concerned with not breaking my neck this time.
Just as I stopped skating out of control and started regaining my stability, I made the mistake of shifting my weight the tiniest bit. That motion offset my center of gravity just enough to make both feet shoot out from under me. Although Aleesha had gotten close enough to grasp my unbroken arm, she couldn't hold onto it.
I wish I could say her valiant effort served as a parachute slowing my fall, but truth be known, I probably more closely resembled a jumper whose chute has failed to open.
From a speeding, out-of-control vertical position to splattered-flat-on the-floor in 3.353 seconds. That would be a new record for any accident-prone eighteen-year-old. It was for me.
"Ow." Good girl, Kim. No cursing. God cured you of that in Santa María.
I sat up and wiggled back and forth a time or two to make sure my most important body parts were still working. I focused on the expressions of concerned passersby to keep from having to look at Aleesha's laughing face.
As much as my body ached from the fall, this accident didn't match bashing my head on a rock the first night in Santa María or breaking my arm the next day when I caught my toe in the cuff of my flared trousers and fell off the first rung of a short ladder. This spill had probably only added a bruised bottom—not a broken one—to my ever-lengthening list of minor mishaps.
Although I was too sore, too shocked, and too aggravated to blush with embarrassment, I could feel that same quantity of blood flooding the surface of my face with righteous anger.
"Stupid kids must've dropped dice or marbles on the floor," I said under my breath, half-afraid their parents would overhear and cuss me out for stepping on their children's toys. Parents could be strange the way they defended careless children. But only their own.
I ought to know. Mom and Dad spent long years doing that for me before forcing me to take some responsibility for myself. Unfortunately, the lessons had been slow, painful, and not altogether successful.
I looked around. No parents in sight. No kids, either. Thank You, Lord.
What was I sitting on, though? It felt familiar. Like. . .pebbles.
Giggling for all she was worth, Aleesha pointed to the washed-out looking denim tote bag that lay collapsed and lifeless on the floor beside me. Before leaving the village five hours earlier, I'd filled it about a third of the way with pea-sized pebbles.
I'd planned to hand them out when I told the youth group at church about my mission trip. Our youth director, Pastor Ron, would appreciate the idea, even if no one else did.
Besides that, authentic Mexican pebbles—I wouldn't have to admit I hadn't bought them—were cheaper than bringing everyone souvenirs. As if I'd had that kind of money. Besides, I hadn't been anywhere that sold souvenirs.
Except for the airport, that was.
I had it all worked out in my head. I would talk about trusting God when minor things went wrong and seemed more serious than they were—I'd had plenty of recent experience with that—and I would illustrate by talking about the pebbles under my blanket the first night in the village.
I looked in the bag. Nothing.
I turned it inside out. Not one pebble. . .or one speck of pebble dust. Not even any regular dust. The bag couldn't have been emptier.
What it did have, though, was a triangular flap where two intersecting seams had torn—each one maybe two inches long.
Okay, so maybe I hadn't quite overcome a lifetime of carelessness during my stay in Santa María. I should've known better than to fill that denim tote with ten times as many pebbles as I needed. Each one had looked so tiny by itself. And what an idiot I'd been, making it twice as heavy as I could carry comfortably with my good arm.
My good friend Neil had offered to help me with it—bless his heart!—but I figured anybody as scrawny looking as him wasn't apt to be much stronger than me. Besides, I'd already loaded him down with my other stuff. None of the other 143 team members had brought four suitcases of items they didn't need.
Fortunately for Neil, I'd left as much stuff in Santa María as I could. Skyfly Airlines might legitimately charge me for an excess number of bags, but they couldn't claim my luggage was overweight.
Not this time.
I'd half-carried, half-dragged the denim bag across the street and bumped it up onto the curb to get it into the building. Because my left arm was already killing me, I decided to try pushing the bag with my feet.
My shoes had a slight point, though, and I might have pushed my cargo a little harder and faster than necessary. Truth be known, after making very little progress urging the bag forward with gentleness, I developed a good working rhythm kicking it with all my might.
I didn't notice the hole in the tote or the pebbles leaking out like spring water dribbling down a rocky mountainside. Then an extra good kick sent the bag scooting ten feet ahead of me, turning the dribble into Niagara Falls and carrying me along with it.
Okay, so I should have noticed the bag getting light, lighter, lightest. I couldn't have kicked it that far otherwise.
But I hadn't caught on yet. I thought I'd simply perfected my technique.
So much for pebble-based preaching. Once again, God had used a Kim-tastrophe to teach me a lesson. He just hadn't revealed yet what it was.
"You looked silly trying to prance on those pebbles, girl," Aleesha said somewhere between the chuckles and the guffaws. "I'll have to teach you to do that right."
Her black face radiated the joy of her relationship with a Savior whose friendship meant even more to her than mine did, and that's saying a lot. Our biracial sister-hood worked beautifully because Jesus was the most important person in my life, too.
I was trying to make Him most important, anyhow. Especially after going on this mission trip and being reminded once more that the world didn't revolve around me.
"I could've done a fancy dance on those pebbles of yours," Aleesha said as she reached down to help me up. "Come on, girl. Let's get moving before the cleanup crew follows the pebble trail, catches up, and blames me."
I gave her a playful frown and then glanced back over my shoulder. She might have been teasing about blame, but two fellows with huge brooms and tiny dustpans were closing in fast. They were still maybe forty-five yards back, though. I couldn't tell at that distance if they looked angry or just disgusted, and I didn't plan to stick around and find out.
I looked at Aleesha and held an arm out. Pull me up, would you?
"No, girl." She snorted. "Not that one."
I lowered my broken arm, and she rolled her eyes and shook her head. She might as well have added, "You dodo."
But she wasn't like that.
I held up the other arm, and she grasped it firmly. She was nonstop giggles as she uh-ed and oh-ed, pretending to struggle hard to pull petite, lightweight me to my feet. We stepped carefully to avoid any remaining pebbles and then took off running in the opposite direction from the pebble sweepers.
I had no idea what Aleesha meant about doing a "fancy dance," but I didn't doubt her dancing abilities—on pebbles or anywhere else.
"Anybody. . ." She looked at me and hesitated. "Anybody who's halfway coordinated, that is, can dance on a good, clean surface. And any uncoordinated fool—nothing personal, girl—is certain to slip and fall on an unstable one."
I shrugged. She had me pegged accurately, even though I couldn't imagine where she was going with this monolog.
"But if someone can prance or dance on a loose surface,"—she stopped to look back at the pebbles that had led to my, uh, downfall—"a layer of those little roly-poly critters, for example, she must be. . ." She paused and finished her sentence in the exaggerated, dignified tone of a famous actor-to-be. "She must be exceedingly talented." A grin lit up her face. "Like me."
I looked at her with all the doubt I could muster. After two weeks of listening to her make the impossible sound not only plausible, but effortless, that was tough. I waited for her to laugh, but she didn't.
"So," I said, "you're saying African-Americans like you can prance on pebbles better than skinny white girls like me?"
We both giggled. No two people could have had more fun coming up with outrageous, nonexistent racial differences.
"Not at all, my dear Miss Kim. I'm saying we folks of color only prance on pebbles when no one else is around. We wouldn't want word to get out that a few of us are just as uncoordinated as you."
"Girl. . ." Her face softened the way it did when she was about to say something especially meaningful. Her dark brown eyes peered into mine as if she was looking for something, and she smiled as if she'd found it. "I was just messing with your head about 'prancing on pebbles.'"
"Physically, that is," she said. "But my dad talks a lot about something he calls a 'Season of Pebbles.' He says all Christians have them sooner or later, and I believe him."
I'd never heard of a 'Season of Pebbles,' and Aleesha's reference to her father as an active, ongoing presence in her life caught me off guard. She'd barely mentioned him before. So much for thinking I'd outgrown all of my racial stereotypes.
"The worst troubles, problems, and challenges in life. . .they're all pebbles that can make you fall. They're peskier than real ones, though. Peskier, more dangerous, and almost too numerous to count at times. During a time of prolonged difficulties..."
"A 'Season of Pebbles'?"
She nodded. "Those pebbles are there, ready to trip a Christian morally, emotionally, and spiritually. So 'prancing on pebbles' means 'depending on God to stay upright.'" She paused, apparently giving her explanation additional thought.
"More than upright, though. Prancing suggests forward motion. No matter how unbalanced you feel. So to take it to a deeper level, 'prancing on pebbles' means demonstrating the real meaning of 'Victory in Jesus.'" She began humming the familiar hymn.
"Like overcoming my problems in Santa María, you mean?"
"Kim, as irritating as those things were, they were nothing compared to what I'm talking about. You never came close to falling there."
She smirked, and I chuckled.
"Well," she said, "except for the time you actually fell down."
"I'm not expecting anything major to happen for a while. No pebbles for me. I think God's going to let me rest up from Santa María and live a normal life for a while."
"I hope you're right, girlfriend," she said as we hugged goodbye.