Tag Archives: legacy

No Strangers Admitted

No strangers admitted. It sounds cliquish or downright hostile—not a legacy we want to leave as Christians.

Yet two of the most spiritual women I know (who are among my favorite people) practice this theology every day of their lives. And without apology.

Debbie and Mindy would never dream of admitting a stranger into their lives. Instead, they make everyone a friend and usually about as quick as it takes to say hello.

Years ago, Debbie and her husband John sat a few rows in front of us on a flight to Cancun. On arrival at the Mexican terminal, Debbie proudly introduced us to the third occupant of their row. She not only knew the girl’s name and story, but informed us that she’d invited her to visit us at our condo in Akumal sixty-five miles away.

That might not sound terribly unusual if you’re imagining a couple of twenty-somethings planning a beach party or splitting the cost of a boat rental.

Not the story here.

Though Debbie isn’t against being the life of a party, what she had in mind was encouraging a  new friend. You see, Debbie makes a habit of engaging those she can point to Jesus. And if you already know him, your burdens are hers. People are her calling.

When I walk with Mindy in her neighborhood, we stop to talk with people blocks away from her house. She asks one how his wife is recovering from a recent illness and the next about the job. She knows family members by name, and everyone seems to know her.

When Mindy’s in a crowd of teenagers, she’s no less popular. That’s because she has a knack for zeroing in on those who might benefit from her special brand of mentoring. It makes no difference whether they are church kids or random youth on a picket line; the eager and the hostile alike benefit from her gentle concern.

Those of us who find it difficult to dive into friendship with strangers often chalk it up to a difference in personality.

I’m just shy. Or that’s not my thing.

After all, we say, I ‘m friendly and caring. I chat with strangers in the line at the grocery store. I empathize with my friends, and even weep with those whose troubles are plastered on the television screen. But if you are like me, you’re usually too self-conscious and second-guessing of your observations to enter someone’s life without a direct invitation. It makes us uncomfortable.

At a Hume Lake marriage retreat we attended years ago, Bob Phillips and Ken Poure taught about the four basic personality types using the then popular Gary Smalley/John Trent Personality Inventory. Each character type is named for an animal with corresponding traits. (For a quick synopsis or to see how those line up with other assessments, check here.) At the conference we learned that Otters, for example, find it easy to talk to strangers, while Golden Retrievers are good listeners.

Those groups ought to shine at the hard and sometimes messy work of befriending strangers because it fits their personality. The rest of us rest of us are off the hook. Right?

But the Otters have a handicap. Sometimes they’re shallow and egocentric. And the Retrievers can be too fearful to approach people. So then maybe the job of befriending strangers should go to the adventurous Lions. But it turns out they might as easily be cold when it comes to people. And the discerning Beavers have a tendency to be unsocial.

God created every personality type to minister to people.

Though each of us has a strength we could use, we also carry one or more potential weakness that could sabotage the same mission. That’s because all strengths become liabilities when they are not continually nurtured and led by the Spirit. Sounds like these personality downsides might have something in common with sin.

The S… word is our clue that self-conscious reticence will have no place in God’s kingdom. We won’t be able to claim our quiet contemplative nature, our fear, or our lack of emotional warmth either. Our temperament does not excuse us from the business of loving. Besides, if we’re honest, we often don’t even see those who are hungry for kindness. We’ve got our nose in the grocery list, the meeting agenda or some other equally urgent matter.

Like Gears in Sync

Like Gears in Sync

All of us should approach strangers with our eyes open to possible friendship, witness, and service. Like Debbie and Mindy we need to let God empower the strengths he has given us. Though my friends do have winning personalities, their secret is that they are already moving in sync with Jesus when it comes to caring about people. And, like Jesus, people admitted into their lives don’t remain strangers. They become friends.

A Little More About the 1000 Generations

A Very Few Generations Back

A Very Few Generations Back

I want to dream big for a moment, because I think that’s what it will take to leave a legacy that will last a thousand generations.

On the about page I talked about why I incorporated Exodus 20:6 into the tagline of Carry the Blessing. I discussed God using us in his mission to bless a thousand generations.

In this post it’s the number in that verse that concerns us.

Take a look at it written a different way:

1000 Generations

Not a thousand years (the track my mind keeps wanting to turn down,) but a thousand generations. That’s a very long time. So long, in fact, that it dwarfs the distance from the cross. Generations are measured at anywhere from 20 to 30 years. If we take the shorter, 20 years, and we’re 2000 years from Christ and another 1400+ back to the giving of that promise to Moses, then we are a little past generation 170.

But is this a literal one thousand generations of direct descent?

I usually hope for a literal interpretation of scripture when there’s poetry at stake. Things like mountains singing and trees clapping their hands give me a shiver of anticipation. And if the stones start to cry out…I’m all in. I’d like to see God breathe life into the inanimate. While the natural world is beautiful and elaborate beyond word or art, it’s fun to imagine the glories that might be possible in a world restored. Images of singing mountains and crying rocks speak the wonder of God to our spirit.

A magic of a gray day not diminished by a dumpster in the foreground.

Facsimile of Glory

Of course, these scriptures could be figurative only. And so too our one thousand generations. While the Hebrew verse probably means just a very long time or, more accurately, a whole lot of people, neither of those express the magnitude of God’s blessing quite as well as the poetry of “one thousand generations.”

One thousand generations is a picture of boundless mercy—the love of Christ stretching through our life into the indefinite.

Or could it be both poetic and literal? Is it possible that a thousand generations could be blessed through us?

The Bible pictures our lives as branches grafted into a living vine. We bear fruit when the life of the vine flows through us to others in acts of love. But vines are often tangled, making it hard to see the whole picture. The multiple branchings are more obvious if you think of a tree. New limbs divide off of and run concurrently with main branches. The thousand generations might do the same thing. Think of the number of lives God has blessed through a Jonathan Edwards or a Billy Graham.

Most of us are not likely to reach a thousand outright. Still, we might reach it in a different way. Andy Andrews illustrates the phenomenon of unexpected impact in his book The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters. His inspiring video explains the premise much better than I can, but here’s my illustration:

Say the Compassion child you sponsor, has a mother, father, and maybe a grandparent at home. That’s three generations. If you help change a child’s life such that it affects his children and grandchildren, that’s five (not to mention the countless opportunities for blessing that each of them might have in their lifetime.) And if you support more than one child, it could really add up.

It’s likely that reaching any one person sends off side shoots you will never know about in this life. Good News Clubs affect curious older siblings that don’t attend. Prison or street ministries change families you never meet. Medical missions leave a graft behind in a foreign land. There are lots of places where blessings multiply over time.

But we need to dream big and take action. God has a legacy he wants to leave the generations. He wants to funnel our love and obedience into the lives of others until the blessing overwhelms them and they, in turn, bless a thousand others.

Do you believe God could use you to bless a thousand generations?

 

The Stuck Pickup…and other legends III

Stuck in the Mind

See Part I here, and here for Part II

The Innocent Party

The Innocent Party

Now we come to the finer points of waiting out a hot…did I say hot? Make that a miserable  day of extreme heat.

But I had no right to gripe. I got to spend it at the river, plunging in to cool off when I wanted. Nicole was easily the happiest member of our party, swimming, watching the boats, even napping in the porta-crib with sweat beaded on her face. My Dad, on the other hand—

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

We had high hopes of rescue every time a group of canoe and kayakers rallied to the chore of delivering us from the river. And that was often. The Buffalo National River is almost a mandatory pilgrimage for those who love paddle boats. And since it was summer and high season, an unending stream of boats nosed past us while our pickup dangled its slipper in the river’s main channel.

So how many canoeists did it take to lever us out of the water? I can tell you the magic wasn’t in two or three or even four additional sets of biceps. The legend gets a little hazy at this point. I chalk that up to that honest fish tale phenomenon mentioned earlier. While I’m sure it was ten who couldn’t lift the rear of the truck, my husband remembers it as at least eight.

With the truck resting on its belly, and the water deeper just off the right rear fender, those trying to muscle it upward stood low enough that they had to lift from the chest, unable to get their legs into it. My father was cautious too, not allowing anyone to get into a position that had a potential for danger. He didn’t want anyone swept under the truck or to have it fall on them.

After many attempts, my dad accepted the commission for a of a six mile slog through the Arkansas jungle to Morning Star in one hundred plus degree heat to get a tow truck . The fortunate got to spend the next several hours politely rebuffing all the high school youth who passed in their flotillas, assuring them that stronger men than they had already failed to evict the truck from the river.

A better way to cross rivers

A better way to cross rivers

*

The question is: why is repeating this adventure something of a family tradition? Why any story? Quirky details or hyped emotions might decide which stories we choose to tell, but they don’t explain our need to tell them.

I think storytelling reminds us who we are. Our lives are in a constant state of change as we grow, leave families, and make new connections and relationships. And the future will bring more changes.

Stories about our life link us to a fixed moment in time—something we can hold on to.

We spend most of our lives focused on the next thing—what we have to do, where we’re going. A Yoda quote puts it like this: “Never his mind on where he was—what he was doing.” Yoda taught that real life is not in a future that may not even happen. It inhabits the moment in which you find yourself—in other words, the now.

In that case, some might counter, stories about the past would be equally pointless

I disagree here When we tell a story, we slow down the motion picture of our life and get a freeze frame of a real moment—the people, the detail, the emotion, everything. We capture a little slice of life that continues to breathe. In telling our stories, we affirm that the puzzle pieces of our lives are important, not just the completed work.

And because we rightly make plans for the future, and look forward to our life with Christ, It is right to plant our feet deep in the life we are living. As we honor the past and the future we affirm the eternal nature of our souls. We affirm that God has been good, he is good, and he will be good.

*

Thankful to have hitched a ride the last few miles, my dad returned only half melted. With no tow trucks available he accepted help from a jeep owner who promptly got stuck himself in our thick bottomland sand. The driver had to wench both his truck and ours, one at a time, in a piecemeal fashion through a hundred yards of seasonally flooded ground.

Our river crossing was not an almost. With the boggy sand that awaited us we never came close to making it.

It would be great if all our stories were heroic and inspiring…or would it?

We’re seldom heroic people, after all. Things often go wrong. Even if its only the little stuff. (Don’t get me started on the farina again.)

But our stories still have the power to unite. In remembering them we frame our relationships and connect generations. But only if we are faithful to tell them over and over. So when your teenagers or grandchildren roll their eyes at you, ignore them. Remind yourself that you’re busy working on their legacy as well as yours.

A New Generation Takes to the River

A New Generation Takes to the River

 

Miss Hendrich

We refer to most women in our church as Miss, whether married or not. Some people say it more like Ms. (I think it’s the local southern flavor that colors their accents.), but the title evolved long before liberation. However you say it, Miss/Ms is a charming relic of our small-church past, the familiarity inherent in a family.Ms Hendrich

Since we attach the title to first names instead of last, it has the effect of making everyone feel no more distant a relation than aunt or cousin. Children don’t have to mangle difficult surnames, and adults don’t need total recall. Elderly Sunday School teachers, teenagers working in Awana, and janitors all garner respect.

Though she has the same familiar title as the rest of us, Miss Hendrich, a married great-grandmother, somehow merits a last name. I don’t know exactly how this happened. She is older than most of us. Or maybe it’s because she’s spent most of her life as a Child Evangelism missionary and has taught generations of children about Jesus. Maybe there’s no particular reason.

But if I needed to come up with a special merit, it would be her thankful heart. Many can attest to her attitude of near continuous thanksgiving. In person or by phone or written note, Miss Hendrich’s legacy is a never-ending stream of thanks offered up for herself and others. Though many are thankful for the huge blessings in life—salvation, family, and health—nothing escapes Miss Hendrich’s notice.

The first time I went to her house was for a prayer meeting to match prospective mentors with mentees. When we had completed our task, she surprised us with an invitation to stay for lunch. The smell of lasagna floating from the kitchen decided our answer.

While we waited for it to come out of the oven, she asked if she could show us around her elegant, but comfortably worn ranch house.

I expected to see nothing special.

But I was wrong.

Without a trace of boasting, she held up pillows of embroidery or crewel, pointed out pictures or quilts. “Look what God has given me. Isn’t it beautiful?” Then, with a radiant face, she would tell of the hands that made it for her or fondly remember the one who had given it to her. “Isn’t God good?” she said again and again, calling our attention to the giver as well as the receiver.

I was amazed, humbled by the Holy Spirit made visible in her thankful heart. I had never met anyone who literally, as it says in I Thess 5:18, gave “thanks for everything”.

Her sweet words inspired me, making me consider how I can be more like her. I asked myself what I could be more thankful for.

The answer that first came to me was everything. That’s the Bible answer, after all. And since I like my stuff a lot and think I am fairly appreciative of my blessings (I might be deceived in this.), I might have quit right there.

But it felt like a cop-out. To be like Miss Hendrich, I needed to attach my thankfulness to specific things and people. I needed to really appreciate them.

Carving 2One day my eyes fell on a Chinese made accent chair I got cheap at T.J.Maxx. I was thankful for the price and the colors that fit my living room perfectly. The wooden arms were beautifully carved, and the pattern match was precise, which is saying a lot. (I noticed that because I have done some upholstery and because the matching on my mass-produced sofa stinks.)

I wondered who made it. Did they know they were good at their work and that it was appreciated? And did they make a decent living wage? (A particular concern knowing what I paid for it.)

The chair became the focus of my thankfulness project. I often thank God for the fact that I get to enjoy it. Then I pray for the one/ones who made it, that they have the opportunity to know and love God, and that He blesses their life. I pray I will get to meet them some day and thank them personally.

Lastly, I thank God for the legacy that Miss Hendrich has left me. Because of her I try to make my thankfulness more specific and personal. I try to look beyond the things themselves to see the people behind them.

Is there someone or something that encourages a thankful heart in you?

Out of the Gate

Christ Church College gateSo what would my life look like if I really believed a thousand generations could be blessed because of what I do?

A lot different than it does, I’m afraid. Life seems full enough without worrying about the alien landscape of even twenty years from now. Most days I barely accomplish the urgent. That black stuff under the shower mat blooms overnight. And how does tax season wheel around so quickly?

But worse, I feel the threat of imminent neglect looming in all my relationships. It is as if I’m juggling everyone, diving to catch first a friend I haven’t spoken to in a month,  then reaching to connect with the daughter who has moved away while simultaneously nabbing my husband in mid-air.

And I don’t have the excuse of a demanding job or family.

My problem is focus.

I will never have enough time for all that I would like to be and do this side of heaven. So how do I pursue the important? And what qualifies?

For me, the goal has narrowed to one word: people.  If a job, activity or hobby doesn’t build relationships, help others or further God’s kingdom, I need to rethink my committment to it.

Some things I gave up long ago, like couponing. Cutting, sorting, then throwing most of them away two months later, there just wasn’t enough return for the time I spent.  But I’ve added other things to my life. My husband and I started kayaking two years ago because we needed something to get us out of the house together. With the children gone, we needed to forge new connections in our relationship.Kayaking

So where does a blog fit in, since it consumes more of that precious time?

First, I plan to chronicle successes (and failures) to inspire others. If you find an idea you can use, it will help redeem my time. If I should steal a good idea from your comments, it scores a double coupon.

Second, I intend the blog as a written legacy to my children and grandchildren of some of the good things we have lived—sort of a “Remember when…?”

Now that I am out of the gate, next post I’ll change perspective from distance to foreground. I hope it will make it easier for you to spot the donkeys in your life.

Not as Scary as You Thought

Celebrating LifeWhew! That epic tagline needs a   little levity.

What better than the unbridled joy of childhood. Though our legacy surely is a weighty matter, much of it rests on intimate moments like this.

At “Carry the Blessing” I dream big and preach shamelessly; scold myself for squandered opportunities; share party games, love notes, and snowballs; and, oh yes, run with the donkeys every chance I get.