The Needy Season

The Christmas season is upon us again, and for most people, including us, that means that life becomes a whirlwind of family, friends, and general merriment.  It means that we have been to parties and observed time-honored traditions that bring our family joy.  It also means that we have taken a couple of occasions to throw the door open wide and welcome all comers to celebrate with us:

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However, this year more than ever, I’ve noticed a funny thing in the midst of all this joy-making.  It seems like this time of year, when everyone is, at least in appearance, prioritizing family and community togetherness, we notice so much more the parts of family and community that we lack.  It’s as if the light of all the holiday cheer casts a glare on the holes in our support system.  I know people struggling with all sorts of forms of loneliness this time of year.  People who want spouses and have none; people who were betrayed by the spouses they have; people who are mourning the loss of loved ones that should still be here.  The list goes on.  I know for me, I’ve been haunted by so many memories of my dead brother this season that it’s as if his ghost has taken up residence in the house.  He is as much a part of my current environment as the presents under my tree, and his memories burst into my mind every day, begging to be spoken.  One of my secret joys is having a friend who shares his name so that several times a week, I can at least say it out loud.  I love the sound of it rolling off my tongue; it gives some little relief to the build-up of memories in my mind.

But it’s not just dead people who haunt us this time of year:  it’s any perceived lack in family and community.  All of our “holes” are magnified when seen in contrast to holiday cheer.  The type of friends we want but don’t have.  The family we wish for but don’t experience.  The life we pictured but haven’t seen in reality yet.  So many holes.

And I’ve decided that at least for me…maybe my holes are a hidden mercy.  Maybe, instead of being a failure in the Christmas system, they point me to the true meaning of Christmas.

I was reading an Advent devo by William Willemon this morning, and he pointed out that everyone, even the “nominally religious” loves Christmas because it gives us a chance to celebrate our own generosity, to celebrate what we have to offer to the world, instead of what was offered to us by God.  In one provocative passage, he argues:

We love Christmas because, as we say, Christmas brings out the best in us.  Everyone gives at Christmas, even the stingiest among us, even the Ebenezer Scrooges.  Charles Dickens’ story of Scrooge’s transformation has probably done more to form our notion of Christmas than St. Luke’s story of the manger.  Whereas Luke tells us of God’s gift to us, Dickens tells us how we can give to others.  A Christmas Carol is more congenial to our favorite images of ourselves.  Dickens suggests that deep down, even the worst of us can become generous, giving people.

Yet I suggest, we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people, but because we are proud, arrogant people.  The Christmas story–the one according to Luke, not Dickens–is not about how blessed it is to be givers, but how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.”

Now, listen:  I love A Christmas Carol as much as the next person, and I love giving gifts.  But I think Willemon might be onto something.  At least, I’m pretty sure that at its root, the Christmas season isn’t about family togetherness or gift giving.  At its root, the message of Christmas is that we were all poor, we were all in need, and we were all desperate for a Savior–a Savior that was given freely to us by a loving God.  And I don’t think you can feel the impact of that gift without understanding the holes in your life.  The lack.  The deep, yearning need.  The sense that all is not as it should be.

I have felt that lack this holiday season.  I have felt needy, and I hate feeling needy.  Not only have I felt the holes in my own soul, I have felt my lack of ability to patch the holes in others’ souls.  I see people suffering and understand intuitively that I cannot meet their deep needs, no matter how many Christmas parties I invite them to.  I can fill their stomachs with food, and their hands with treats, but their souls?  I’m sorry, but I don’t have that in me right now.

And I don’t think I ever did.

I think I needed to be reminded of that.  I needed to be reminded that I am not anyone’s Savior, I am not even my own Savior, but instead that I am desperately in need of a Savior.  When I think of that, I begin to see my “holes” as acts of grace from God.  Then, I begin to open my heart and let Him fill those holes.  And He does in beautiful ways–and funnily enough, He tends to use those who are historically considered to be “the least of these.”

For instance, yesterday, a small two-year-old girl who was visiting my house snuggled up to me out of nowhere and sang to me.  For no reason at all, she took the time to shine light into my soul yesterday.

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Then this morning, I was approached by an Iranian widow who attends my church, and she handed me a beautiful scarf that she had knit for me.  She has so little in her life.  She is all alone in a foreign environment; even the yarn she used to knit was a gift to her.  And she used that gift to pour blessing into my life.

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When I don’t see the holes in my soul, I am tempted to think that little toddlers and poor widows have nothing to offer me.  That instead, should be the one taking care of them.  I do try to take care of them, but my holes remind me that I am also needy.  That we all are.  And while we can minister to each other as best we can within our limited means, we ultimately are dependent on a Savior.  We can’t fill our own holes, and we can barely patch up the holes of others, but, through God’s love, we can find grace and peace in the Savior He sent for us all.

On my own, I am needy, so desperately needy.  But…unto me a child was born.  And that child was a gift that I could never earn through my own merit.  I understand that more at Christmastime, which is why I’m thankful for this needy season.

I Have EVERYTHING I NEED for Life

In our Wednesday night class last week, we women talked about all the ways we feel overwhelmed. We come from all walks of life, but a common thread of our answers was that, in some way or another, most of us were overwhelmed by the demands of work or family–or the demand of balancing work AND family. There was also a theme of feeling inadequate…like we were not “up” to our tasks, like we did not have “enough.” We didn’t have the talent…or maybe the money…or perhaps the organizational skills…or the patience…or the time…to do all the things we had to do.

In light of that discussion, we read a really crazy verse from the Bible:

“His divine power has given us EVERYTHING WE NEED FOR A GODLY LIFE through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

A similarly unbelievable verse is found in 2 Corinthians 9:8…

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, HAVING ALL THAT YOU NEED, you will abound in every good work.”

I emphasize the “all that you need” part because both verses challenge our faith and our current experience of life. After we read them, we had to ask ourselves, “Do I really believe this?”

And even more importantly, “If I believe this is true, then why do I so often feel that I DON’T have everything I need?”

eynFor the next five weeks in class, we are going to explore that conflict. My dear friend, Courtney Steed, has written a Bible study called, “Everything You Need,” in which she uses Scripture and good ol’ fashioned logic to help Christian women grasp the wonderful idea that with Christ, we do have “everything we need.”

One thing I love about Courtney’s study is that is is SO practical.  It’s not simply, “Of course you have everything you need because you have God’s Spirit in you.”  That’s true, and it’s a big deal…but often our needs seem more tangible than that.  As Courtney says,

“So much of what I feel I need is not in a cloud above my head. What I need is not kindness, it’s a enough of money to pay the mortgage. It’s not just patience (though I need that tremendously), it’s time to go to the grocery store. Its not just gentleness, it’s time to myself. I need a nap, relief from my pain, for my relationships to be easier, my house to be clean and my kids to behave.”

Amen!

This study, then, is going to be very relevant and practical for our day to day lives.  Last week, the main thing we discussed to set the stage for this week was the idea of Supply and Demand.  All of us have “Demands” that need to be met…from the demand for sleep, the demands of a job, the demands of a mother, the demands of relationships, health demands, time demands…it goes on and on.  We are only able to meet those Demands with our Supply, our resources.  This week we are going to talk more in detail about our Supply, but the one point we made last week was that our Supply always comes from God.  It’s all from Him, and that idea that we have it naturally in us, that we just have to dig down deep or pull ourselves up by our bootstraps or whatever is more of an American idea than it is a Christian idea.  In fact, Jesus Himself tells us,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

So that’s Truth #1 from our study so far:  Our Supply comes from God.

Truth #2 is this:  Our Demand is determined by God.

God doesn’t guarantee us that we have “everything we need” to do whatever it is we want to do.  We don’t have “everything we need” to meet our own goals, but to glorify Him.  To me, this is a freeing concept.  So much of my Demand is self-imposed.  It is a list that I give myself, out of feelings of guilt or obligation.  In the next five weeks, we are going to learn how to determine God’s Demand for us, as opposed to Society’s Demands, or Others’ Demands, or even Our Own Demands.  I can’t tell you how liberating this idea has been in my life.  Since I’ve embraced these ideas, I have had so much more peace and feelings of adequacy when it comes to my tasks.  I still have a ways to go, but my soul definitely rests easier now, and I have much less stress in my life.  That’s why I’m so excited to share this study with our women’s class!

I can’t wait to walk through the ideas in this study with the women at church.  This week, we are going to look at our Supply and what all it includes.  I think you will be surprised–you have more than you think!

Nothing Happened This Week

Here I am at the end of another week, and I almost didn’t blog.  I actually had the time to do so, and as a lifelong journaller, I enjoy the chance to process the past week, but it was just that, “Nothing happened.”

Thinking casually back over the week, I just couldn’t think of many clear memories.  I enjoyed sometime at the end of the week to relax and unwind, I remember that, but what happened before?

Then I looked at my pictures.  There weren’t a ton of them, but they reminded me that this past week where “nothing happened” was actually a week rich in friendships and family time and memories.

For instance, nothing happened this week except that when we got home from Murphy on Sunday, my mom had left a bunch of clothes for the kids on my kitchen table.  She had stopped by on her way home from Louisville.

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So nothing happened besides the fact that my mom showed yet again her amazing generosity and her love for all of us.

And nothing happened besides Greg getting to take his first day off in a long while on Monday.  Our family went up to Y.E.S. for lunch because one of our college friends, Shana, was providing it (but that’s “nothing,” right?  Everyone has amazing friends from college who help out in their ministries, right?)  We wanted to see her and to see the kids at Y.E.S.  Our kids ate lunch there, too, and enjoyed playing for awhile before we headed on to take a nature walk.

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It was “nothing.”  Just some rock-skipping lessons on the edge of a calm lake on a beautiful day.  Nothing to see here, folks.

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Nothing happened but a family walk and a chance to catch up with my husband.

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We haven’t seen a lot of him this summer; he’s been busy with camps and trips with the teens, pouring himself into ministry, and acing grad school.  I’m so proud of this man—and so is Anna, who gave him the flower that is behind his ear!

That evening, nothing happened, except that I made two dinners, one for my friend, Heidi, and one for us.  I ended up staying and talking to Heidi for longer than expected, so I told my family to just eat without me:).  But really, that’s nothing.  Getting to talk to a wonderful friend who has just moved back and feed a bottle to her beautiful baby…nothing special there! 

I got home in time to eat dinner and pop popcorn for our movie night:

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But it was nothing.  Just another movie night with the family that I love so much.

On Tuesday morning, nothing much happened besides a visit from our friends, the Steeds.  Afterward, they talked Luke into coming home and spending the night with them, but having good friends like that (and having a bff who knows everything about you) is “nothing.”  Not worth blogging about, certainly.

Once they left, Anna and I didn’t do anything besides go to a local park where she rode her scooter:

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Absolutely nothing happened there besides a beautiful evening with my daughter.

On Wednesday morning, there was nothing to do besides go roller skating with Anna.  After all, Luke and Greg do not like roller skating, so we needed to take advantage of the time when neither of them were there! 

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Nothing happened at the skating rink besides the fact that I got to watch my daughter’s amazing determination yet again.  I got to see her fall, then fall again, and again, and every time, bounce back up with a determined smile on her face.  She skated for miles that morning. 

We ended up sharing the rink with a YMCA camp group, which worked out because there were several games.  Anna’s favorite was limbo.

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She was one of the five people who never got out!  But that’s really “nothing,” right?

That evening, I gave my testimony at church.  It could only be about ten minutes long, so this was the condensed version, and I didn’t pass out or throw up, so I’m counting it as a win.  The most surprising part was when I was mobbed by little girls while I was talking!

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At the time, I was so confused by what made Anna come running to me, followed closely by her cohorts.  Afterward, Greg pointed out that I had been highlighting things that I still needed to work on as a Christian (selfishness, impatience, etc).  My point was not to put myself down, but to explain that as Christians, we can be honest about our flaws without letting them discourage us.  The whole point of my talk was how God gradually transforms us, so we know that, if we let Him, He is going to keep making us more and more like His Son.  Anna didn’t let me get that far, however, before she came running, out, apparently, to comfort me:).  Her friends were all giggly and happy, so even though it was a couple minutes before we restored order, at least it was a cute interruption!

After I finished, they all promptly piled on my lap. 

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I felt very loved.  I had been nervous about speaking in front of everybody, so I’ve gotta say, this wasn’t a bad way to be greeted after I finished!

So yeah…nothing happened on Wednesday night besides the fact that I talked in front of my church for the first time and then got love-mobbed by a ton of adorable little girls.  Happens all the time, right?

On Thursday morning, we had nothing to do besides meet some friends at the zoo:

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I didn’t get many pictures, and Anna and I couldn’t stay long, but we had a good time with the Burnells, the Wilsons, and my friend, Melissa.  It’s probably bad to say, but my favorite part of the zoo that day was seeing the kangaroos fight:

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I normally don’t enjoy watching animals fight, but kangaroos are just so comical!

But besides the awesome kangaroos and the time spent with a great group of friends, nothing really happened there, you know?

Luke had ended up spending two nights with the Steeds, so we went to pick him up after we left the zoo.  Then it was home for a relaxing afternoon.  Nothing really happened that night, just that my friend, Caroline, came over for dinner.  She and I had really needed to catch up, and we shared a deep chat, with both tears and laughter, for hours.  But that was it, nothing else…well, nothing besides the fact that we each got a text/call from a teen from church, Brenda, who wanted to come over.  At first, we were worried that something awful had happened…but no, she had just texted Greg in grad school, and he told her we were at the house.  Brenda was excited that she had gotten her driver’s license, so she and her brother, Fidel, stopped by. 

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Around 10:00, Greg got home from grad school, and the five of us sat and talked on the couch, and I think I laughed harder than I had all week.  Brenda is crazy!  It was 11:00 before everyone left and our kids were in bed. 

So really…”nothing happened” that night besides a deep conversation with an amazing friend, my husband’s completion of his summer grad school course, his giving of a GREAT presentation in class, and a happy group of friends in our living room, laughing until we cried.

Friday was a much-needed “home recovery” day.  I did nothing besides clean, organize, hang out with my kids, and then grill out with my family and have dinner together on the back porch.  “Nothing.”

And today, nothing happened besides having dinner with some great people:

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So that’s it.  As you can see, nothing really happened this week.  Nothing besides coming home to a surprise from my mom; getting some much-needed time with Greg; visiting with my best friend, Courtney; spending some quality time with Anna; feeling amazing love from the little girls at church; hanging out at the zoo with church friends; catching up with my friend, Caroline; celebrating with Brenda and Fidel; and eating dinner with our long-time friends, Heidi and Michael.

Honestly, when I first thought over this week, I thought of its stressors:  things that were really not worth blogging about, simply because they are unoriginal and there’s not much I can even do about them.  But looking at my pictures reminded me of all the blessings of the week, all the times where God’s love and faithfulness were showered on me through my physical family and my church family.  I really think that God purposely lavished me with love this week from His people, and that love filled me with joy and peace.  In the One Year Bible this week, I read Romans 8, which reminded me that nothing can separate me from that love.  Looking back at this week’s blessings, I see how true those verses are.

And that’s a lot of comfort from a week where, really, “nothing happened.”

Things that Happen in Russian Prisons and Minnesota Malls

When you are gone, what do you want to leave behind?

What impact do you want to have made?

russian prison cellI ask, because I just finished a book called The Insanity of God, in which a man writes about his many interviews with Christians who have faced intense persecution.  Reading it, I was amazed at the impact that such simple things could have on others.  One story that stuck with me was from a man who had spent fifteen years in a prison in the USSR.  He was imprisoned for his faith, tortured, and starved for so long.  The only things that kept him faithful were two practices he had.  One was to get up first thing every morning, stand at attention, and loudly sing a worship song.  It was always the same worship song.  The book called it a HeartSong, but I don’t really know what that means.  Anyway, he sang it every morning.  The other thing he did was whenever he found a scrap of paper and something to write with, he would fill the paper with all the Scripture he could fit on it and then stick it to a freezing pole in his room.  He met great opposition with these two practices.  When he sang his HeartSong, for instance, all the other prisoners would jeer and mock him and even throw their own excrement into his cell to stop him.  And when he put up scripture, it was inevitably discovered, which led to more torture and mistreatment.

After years of maintaining these two practices, the authorities decided that he was to be executed.  They came to his cell and started to lead him away.  It was then that an amazing thing happened:

 The prison held 1,500 prisoners, and all of them got up, stood at attention, and started singing this man’s HeartSong.

Can you picture that?  Can you picture one man’s faithful behavior day after day, one simple act repeated, that inspired a whole prison around him?  What an amazing image.

And happily, the guards were so astonished and terrified that they thought the man had special powers and they let him live, which is how we know the story today.

Thinking about the impact of that single prisoner makes me think of my own impact in life, even in circumstances very different from his.  I think we have no idea the effect we can have on others through the witness of our actions.  I’m still not sure what a HeartSong is, but I do think every life has a central message that it shares with others, whether we mean for it to or not.  And the challenge for Christians is for that message, that song that we sing, to point to Jesus, in hopes that even when we are gone, our “song” will continue.

I saw a great illustration of this idea yesterday.  You may have heard the story of Zach Sobiech, a teenager who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and decided to make the most of the time he had left.  One of the things he did that made the biggest impact was write songs as a way to process what was happening to him.  His song, “Clouds,” was extremely popular on youtube.  The link above goes to a short documentary on his life, but this three-minute video also gives a good recap.

I had heard of Zach before he died, and now he has passed away.  What I didn’t know until yesterday, was that a year after his death, a huge group of 5,000  people who had heard of him and loved him gathered together to sing his song in the Mall of America.  The video is amazing:

When I saw that video, tears came to my eyes.  It just provided such a beautiful image of the impact we can have on others through the way we live our lives.

And when I think about that Russian prisoner and American teenager, I can’t help but think of others, like Greg’s Granddaddy Kirby, whose “song” of faithfulness to God and family is still being sung by every one of his descendants.

I think of Uncle Rob, whose song of joy in adversity impacted everyone who met him.

And I think of my brother, who left behind so many literal songs, some of which I still sing to my children–and to myself, when I need them.

And I also think of my own life.

How will my life impact others?

What song is my life singing?

And will others sing it after I’m gone?

Reading History as a Spiritual Practice

I understand that a lot of people “don’t like History.”

I just don’t understand why.

And so I put “don’t like History” in quotes because part of me suspects that people really do like History–they just have been wrongly taught what it is.

They have been taught to think that History is memorizing a bunch of names and dates about people and events that are irrelevant to their lives.  But that’s not what History is.  For one thing, History is not the study of “names and dates”: it’s the study of people.  History is the story of how people have lived on this earth, and how they have handled the circumstances life threw at them, like power or disaster or wealth or pain or opportunity.

And it’s not irrelevant to our lives.  In a very real way, History explains what you see when you look out the window.  It explains why you do the things you do, drive on the roads you drive on, eat the foods you eat, think the thoughts you think.  It explains in large part why you see the world the way you do and why that way is different from your fellow man across the street or the country or the globe.  In other words, History examines the complex forces which have come together to form this present moment.

To me, that is fascinating.  Learning about people is fascinating.  And learning about myself is fascinating.  So with all that fascination, what’s not to like?

Lately, though, I’ve realized that reading about History is not simply an entertaining and informative practice in my life; it is also a kind of spiritual exercise.  This makes me happy because my life hypothesis is that everything I do can be to the glory of God.  And I’ve always assumed that reading History falls into that category because it improves the mind God gave me and also gives me a better understanding of the world He created.  I still believe that, but now I’m seeing so many added benefits of History, benefits that directly affect my relationship with God and my ability to my “good works” in this world.  For instance…

History relieves my stress.

Like a lot of people, I struggle with worry and anxiety.  Over the years, I’ve realized that worry and anxiety consume me when I am too focused on my immediate circumstances.  I think there is such a think as mentally drowning in your surroundings:  YOUR health, YOUR family, YOUR finances, YOUR plans.  When those things begin to take up too much of my focus, my anxiety over them skyrockets.  Conversely, I’ve found that “getting outside myself” and serving others gives me back that freeing perspective that comes with knowing the world is bigger than my problems.  Allowing others’ lives and perspectives into my thoughts helps put my own in perspective.

trumanThe same thing happens when I read History.  I read David McCullough’s excellent biography, Truman, for example, in a time of great financial stress for Greg and me.  We were trying to sell our house in South Carolina and having to still make payments on it while also carrying a mortgage on our house in Tennessee.  It was bad.   It caused me lots of anxiety.  And nothing helped relieve that anxiety than by reading about all Harry Truman went through as President.   I drew actual comfort while reading about this average American who grew up on a farm was thrust into the highest office in the land without so much of a briefing of how World War 2 was going…how he was expected to negotiate the end of the war in Europe…to make a decision about dropping a terrible weapon to end the war in the Pacific…and forced to take the lead in rebuilding the world.  At one point, he and his advisers thought they were literally faced with the beginning of World War 3 and were frantically trying to avoid it, and Truman’s stoicism and courage in that time was such a inspiration to me.

And I can honestly say that “watching” that man navigate and handle such immense stress in his own life really put my own stress in perspective.  It helped me to relax about my financial situation, and realize that it truly wasn’t the end of the world.  At least, not in the same way that World War 3 would be the end of the world!

History calms my fears.

Sometimes when you look at the scope of the whole world and all that is going on, it seems very scary.  History doesn’t necessarily negate that awareness, but when I read History, I’m reminded that the world has always been scary…and that lots of times have been way scarier than these times.  Reading History also reminds me that the scary times pass, and that’s comforting to me.  On September 11, 2001, a day that was full of fear and turmoil, one of the most genuinely comforting thoughts I had was picturing the wording that my high school History textbook, The American Pageant, would use to describe the event in twenty years.  Maybe that seems like a weird source of comfort, but there is something inherently calming in knowing that what seems so huge and tumultuous and fearful will one day be just another source of boredom to a disinterested high school student.

History gives me perspective on my life situation.

This is a huge spiritual benefit of reading History.  I think humans naturally tend to assume that our experience is normal, whereas History reminds us of all the ways our circumstances are unique.  For example, in our area of the country and time and History, we might assume a certain house size is “normal,” a certain amount of clothes are “normal,” or the ways we spend our money are “normal.”  History tells us that it isn’t.  In fact, History tells us that today’ “normal” lifestyle in America is actually quite excessive, and knowing that helps me to better evaluate my use of resources.  That’s just one example of how History has redefined my life expectations.  I could also talk about my expectations of “normal” when it comes to experiencing pain or educating my children or eating food or a number of other issues.  But suffice it to say that History has both made me more grateful and more thoughtful about how I live my life.

History provides me with useful examples of how to live this life.

This may sound crazy, but when you read hundreds of pages on a person’s life, get to nose through all their private correspondence and peer into their relationships…well, you kind of feel like you’re friends at the end of it.  At least, you sort of feel like you know them.  You know how something will happen, and you’ll think, I wonder what so-and-so would think of this, so-and-so being your spouse or family member or good friend.  And you know that person well enough to hazard an educated guess on their reaction or what they might say.  Well, I now think that thought, not only about my own family and friends, but about a variety of past Presidents and statesmen!  When I first read Walter Isaacson’s biography on Ben Franklin, I spent way too much time looking at the circumstances of this current world and wondering, “What would Ben Franklin think of this?”  Like, what would he think about…cars…or the radio…or the state of civil rights…or even women’s dress these days (RE that last one, I think that after he got over being appalled, he would LOVE it!)

Now, in addition to, “What would Ben Franklin think of this,” I can reasonable ask myself, “What would Harry Truman do in this situation?” or “How would Teddy Roosevelt handle this?”

This is more than a nerdy/fun mental exercise.  Because of my Christian beliefs, I am inspired to use my little life to the absolute best of my abilities, and the more advisers and examples I can have, the better.  And I’m not talking about some one-dimensional perspective like, “I should always do what Harry Truman did.”  No, that’s not it at all.  It’s more like, by observing these influential people and the way they spent their little lives, I can glean lessons and inspiration for my own–both through their triumphs and their faults.

I guess you could say that History deepens my understanding and experience of humanity by giving me a rich source of varied experiences from which to draw.

Those are just some of the ways that reading History shapes me on a spiritual level.  To demonstrate this, I’d like to occasionally review History books I’ve read and specifically point out their spiritual lessons.  And I have a great book to start with…stay tuned!

Do you like History?  Why or why not?

 

The Evolution of a T-Shirt Quilt

When I was in college, t-shirt bedding was popular.  There were t-shirt sheets and t-shirt pillowcases.  And one day, I saw that someone had a t-shirt quilt.  Now, the quilt was different from the bedding and pillowcases, which were simply made out of stretchy t-shirt material.  The quilts were actually made out of squares one’s old t-shirts.  And friends, I had a lot of t-shirts.  I had t-shirts from youth rallies and camps, from tennis tournaments and high school events, from Lipscomb organizations and trips.  And I loved them all, not because I loved t-shirts, but because of the memories each represented.  To me, these t-shirts were symbolic representations of very important, shaping events in my life.  I had way too many of them to wear, but I just couldn’t throw them away because of their emotional value.

I needed one of those t-shirt quilts.

And I knew just the person who could make me one:  my mom.

It never occurred to me that my mom couldn’t make a t-shirt quilt, even though I’d never known her to make a patchwork quilt and even though I was fuzzy on the details of what t-shirt quilts actually were.  My mom could make anything with her hands.  This is knew.  It was immutable fact, as sure as her love for me.  I also knew that she would make me one if I asked.  Again, this was not guesswork for me.  So I called her and asked.  I described what it was as best I could.  And of course, she never hesitated in accepting the challenge.  Even though she had never heard of a t-shirt quilt or knew what one even was supposed to look like, she agreed to make one.

I carefully picked out the shirts I wanted, handed them over to her, let her work out all the other details, and…fifteen years later, I still have the quilt:

The quilt that began it all...

The quilt that began it all…

loved this quilt.  When I first received it in college, each square was a physical embodiment of all that had shaped me in the last ten years…

…or so I thought.

See, a funny thing has happened with my t-shirt quilt.  Now, when I look at it, I can’t remember any specific details about any of those events.  How did I do in the Randy King Memorial tournament?  I couldn’t tell you, other than to say I’m pretty sure I got my clock cleaned.  What happened at the ’93 Lads to Leaders/Leaderettes convention?  How am I supposed to know??  I was thirteen years old!  That was ages ago!  And those Winterfests?  Those Camp Canaans?  Those Impacts and Youth in Actions?  I really have almost no memory of them, except that I think I had a good time at most of them.

Fifteen years later, I could not tell you a thing about these “formative,” “shaping” events.

But you know what?  Even though I can’t remember anything specific about the t-shirts, I love this quilt even more now than I did when I first got it.

Do you know why?

Because my mom made it.

This was her first patchwork quilt.

She’s gone on to make dozens of t-shirt quilts for high school graduates.  And beautiful baby quilts for new moms.  And countless other quilts that she has given away to people she loves or people who are in need of some love.  She’s entered quilts in the fair and won many awards.  I have her first blue ribbon quilt on my bed, and in the winter, it lays on top of her first “People’s Choice Award” quilt.  My kids have quilts made by her.  We all have Christmas quilts.

And I love them all not just because they are all exquisitely beautiful, although they are (you can call me biased, but you could hardly call the judges at the fair biased, not to mention the quilt-voting-populace of middle Georgia).  I love them because they were made by the woman I love most in this world.

Especially that first quilt.  Because fifteen years later, I can look at it and realize that what formed me most were not the church events I went to or the camps I went to or even the college I went to.  Instead, it was the woman who both literally and figuratively knitted all those things together in my life.  She was the formative, shaping influence (she and my dad, of course). In fifteen years, all those detailed memories have fallen away–or rather, they have been distilled into what was actually important.  Now, when I look back at my high school years, I don’t remember all those little events I attended.  Instead, I remember my parents’ presence.  And their love.  And their influence on me.

I just finished a book called Hold On To Your Kids.  It is all about how for about the past fifty years, the generations of youth have become increasingly more “peer-oriented,” instead of “adult-oriented.”  That means they view their peers as their “compass points,” their chief, guiding force in life.  You can read the book for all the details, but basically, the authors make a really compelling case that this is a bad thing.  Kids simply aren’t equipped to be each other’s compass points.  That job belongs to adults.  And when kids do it, it leads to a world of trouble, both individually and on a societal level.  Reading the book, I realized that my parents were really, really good at establishing themselves as our compass points.  And they did it in just the way the book suggested:  by nurturing very close and loving relationships with my brother and me.

And that’s what molded me into the person I am.  I still look at my t-shirt quilt as a representation of what formed and shaped me…but it’s no longer because of the events in the squares.

It’s because I had someone in my life who loved me enough to make it for me.

On Sherlock Obsessions and Quiet Time

As I admitted to my class on Wednesday, I have recently developed a consuming obsession with the BBC show, Sherlock.  A friend introduced my to it a little over a week ago, and since then, I have passionately ingested every show in the first two “series.”  Thankfully, there are only six of them.  However, they are also each ninety minutes long, so watching them all has certainly taken some commitment on my part.  My newfound love was well-timed, since the third series started this past Sunday, and as an added bonus, I got THIS in the mail on Saturday:

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people.  Feel free to judge...

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people. Feel free to judge…

Now, I might be a little more embarrassed to admit this obsession to you, were it not for the fact that so many of my friends on Facebook have shared this meme, so I feel like they know what I’m talking about:

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Exactly!  So yeah…you get it.

Here’s the thing about my quirky Sherlock obsession, though.  You see, I have this other thing called My Real Life.  And shockingly, Sherlock has served to distract me from my real life.  When I’m taking care of the important business of getting all caught up on Sherlock, it seems somehow much less important to…oh, I don’t know…do the dishes, or plan for Wednesday night class, or educate my children.  You know, little things like that.  At times this past week, Sherlock has obscured those priorities.  I mean, it’s just so much more fun to solve thrilling mysteries like how Moriarty accessed the British crown jewels in the Tower of London than to solve the mystery of how my family can have thirteen unmatched white socks in the laundry (<—not making that up).  

Of course, it’s easy enough to come out of my Sherlock obsession because I simply have to remind myself of this one little detail:  the show is not real.  My life, on the other hand, is real.  And that makes it more important than Sherlock.

Along those same lines though, I often get “trapped” in my own mind, just like I get trapped in a Sherlock episode.  In this case, however, my view of reality is not obscured by intriguing mysteries, delightful British accents, and fast-paced humor; instead, my view of reality is obscured by my own feelings and perceptions.  Let me give you an example of a time I got trapped in my own mind last week.  Now, read carefully, because I’m going to ask you a question at the end:

On Wednesday afternoon, I felt like exploding because my house was messy, and I hate mess and clutter.  I need things to be straight for my sanity, and when things aren’t straight, it drives me crazy.  I hate it when my house is so cluttered!

Okay, here is your question:  what pronoun is most prominently featured in that little rant?

Yes, the first person singular:  I, me, my.  Never mind that one half of  the “mess” was caused by a wonderful art project in which my kids were trying to paint their own version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the other half was caused by all the supplies and prep I needed to host a party for the little girls at church on Saturday–two worthy endeavors.  No, all that mattered in that moment was my own, personal dislike of clutter.  I was trapped in my own mind.  And when you get trapped in your own mind, your perceptions and feelings become very, very important.  When you’re trapped in your own mind, YOU are all that matters.  And therefore, if something bothers youthen of course you should react.  Of course it makes sense to explode over something like clutter.  Because clutter bothers YOU.

Or me.  Whatever.

This week in class, I shared my #1, best strategy for getting out of the trap of my own mind.  For me, the key to that prison has always been found in some form of quiet time with God.  It can take many different forms:  maybe it’s reading something from the Bible, maybe it’s a silent prayer, or writing a prayer down, or meditating on a verse, or even just sitting in silence for a few minutes and quieting my thoughts.  Regardless of the form, just taking that time to step out of my own concerns and focus on something so much bigger than my own little life circumstances really helps me to realign with reality.  It puts my life into perspective for me, much the same way as, say, going out and looking at all the stars at night reminds me of how small I am.  Taking a few minutes to ponder God and eternity makes me realize that my petty preferences, such as a dislike of clutter, are just that:  petty.  They are certainly not worth exploding over, and they’re certainly not an excuse to be unloving to other people.

resources-bookIt turns out that I am not alone in this.  In class, several other women shared how time with God helped them to focus on what mattered in their day and to keep proper priorities.  For those who did not spend daily time with God, we talked some about what that looked like.  It can truly be done any time and anywhere where you have a few moments of quiet.  And it can take many forms, such as the ones I’ve listed above.  But the bottom line is that taking that few minutes to spend with God can help remind you that your feelings, your concerns, and your preferences are not the most important things in life.

That may be an elementary concept (couldn’t resist; just call me Sherlock), but it’s one that can keep us from exploding throughout the day.

This Wednesday, we are going to continue on to “stuffing,” but before we move on, Do you have any other tricks to keep from exploding?  

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