Friends, Stories, and Songs

A few months ago, my husband and I attended a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Rogers on the topic of CS Lewis and creativity in Christian community. Instead of lecturing on the finer points of the nature of creativity in church life, or outlining Five Points for Pursuing a More Creative Life, Dr. Rogers began by telling us a story.

He wanted to talk about his friend who had just passed away a few weeks before. You might recognize his friend, Ben Ellis, from a viral video from last year. When Mr. Ellis was in his last days on earth, students from the high school where he taught for years, made a special trip to his house and sang to him. (Mutual friend Russ Ramsey tells more about Mr. Ellis here.)

What Jonathan wanted us to know about his friend Ben was that he was a man who pursued friends as his creative pursuit. He knew all the students, as well as their siblings, by name. He had a reputation for making students late for class because he would ask them — and really want to know — about their worlds. He was creative in the ways he thought about people and encouraging them. He made everyone who knew him feel seen and known.

Pursuing friends and Christian community as a creative pursuit — what an idea! How can we as Christians be about developing this culture? Since we are all made to be sub-creators, in the image of God, the ultimate Creator, we can order our worlds and create priorities within the freedom God has afforded us.

Pursuing people in this manner is an area where I could stand to grow. It requires effort and paying attention. Mr. Ben Ellis remembered everyone’s names, attaining for himself a reputation of thoughtfulness that was earned with hard mental labor. I’ll never forget the first day of class with one of my education professors. She took a picture of each of us. She had them printed and flipped through them each morning, praying for us by name. We all knew we were on her heart while she sipped her morning coffee.

There’s one character from recent pop culture that comes to my mind when we discuss attentive friendship:  Leslie Knope, the unquenchable optimist from Parks and Recreation. galentines-day-card-1Is there any other character you can think of who is a more considerate friend? It becomes a joke on a regular basis, because not one of her friends, nor her husband, can possibly keep up with her. She knows everything about everybody — and instead of using it for ill, she capitalizes on it for doing good to those people. She knows Ron Swanson’s ideal birthday would be a quiet evening (with steak, a cigar, and “Bridge on the River Kwai”) instead of a giant surprise party. Beyond birthdays, Leslie gives each of her female friends a personalized gift on her invented holiday “Galentine’s Day” — “an event for celebrating lady friends!”

Most often creativity is spoken about in terms of visual art, song, and the written word. But culture is created wherever humans make their lives together. Our homes, marriages, friendships, and family relationships are an area where gratitude, creativity, and joy in one another can be on display. We can’t all be Leslie Knope –though I have a few friends who would rival her! — but we can all grow in creatively embracing and loving the people in our circles.

The First Week of August

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The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.
― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

And Yet He (She) is Such a Man (Woman)

Well, who can believe Election 2016?! Really?!

It came to me last night that the feeling I’ve been having about this year’s Presidential campaigns is akin to a moment in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. As the conventions draw to a close, there is a kind of resignation that has settled over the nation. Here they are, our two major party candidates. And yet…

Mr. Wickham. He is the scoundrel in Pride and Prejudice (200-year-old spoiler, sorry). He’s handsome and charming. Yet his true character is revealed when he takes off in the middle of the night with the Bennet’s youngest daughter, Lydia, who has been convinced that she is in love with him.

Elizabeth and the family finally receive word that Lydia is fine, and that Wickham has agreed to financial terms to marry her. Naturally the family has to agree to pay him a hefty sum, but they are willing to do so to attempt to salvage their reputation. If they did not, the chances of the other girls being able to marry at all disappear.

There’s a moment in this scene where you see Elizabeth come to terms with the situation. She speaks to her father:

“And may I ask — ?” said Elizabeth, “but the terms, I suppose, must be complied with.”

“Complied with! I am only ashamed of his asking so little.”

“And they must marry! Yet he is such a man!”

“Yes, yes, they must marry. There is nothing else to be done….”

Of course, we learn later (another spoiler, sorry) that this is actually Mr. Darcy’s great moment of self-sacrifice for Elizabeth — and all comes out well in the end. All well, except for the Bennet sisters who now have a miscreant for a brother-in-law.

Look, I get that last night was a big deal historically speaking. I do. A woman was nominated by a major party. First time. High five, sisters. I want to be happy. I am happy, as far as that goes. America has finally caught up with Europe in this respect, for starters.

But we must elect someone this year.47_mrs_bennet_Pride_and_Prejudice

And yet she is such a woman.

And across the aisle….such a man.

*sigh*

Where are my smelling salts?

 

Grandma McGlone and a Letter from Denver

Last year my husband’s grandmother passed away. She had lived in Colorado most of her life and always cheered for the Broncos. After the funeral, the family went to Mile High where my brother-in-law completed a pass to my husband on the front steps of the stadium.

Throughout the fall, the family passed around via snail mail Grandma McGlone’s t-shirt. Everyone took turns wearing it for a Bronco victory.

So you might say…it’s in the blood, and has been for decades.

In September, David was catching up on sports headlines on ESPN and saw this story by Scott VanPelt (sorry for the clunkiness — I can’t get this to embed).

SVP: One big thing – ESPN Video

David saw a letter-writing routine to be in keeping with Paul’s exhortation to “encourage one another” in I Thessalonians 5. He was inspired to write some letters. He bought some stationery and stamps, and began the next week. Every morning he wrote a note of encouragement to someone in our church.

When he completed the entire church directory, before he began again, he decided to write a note to the guy who inspired him to do so in the first place. So he jotted a note to Peyton Manning, tracked down a generic Broncos address online, and sent it off.

Three weeks later, an envelope from the “Denver Broncos Training Facility” arrived in our mailbox. I saw it and my heart sunk — I was sure David’s note had been returned. Maybe he had the wrong address, or they sent a generic “thanks for the note” reply.

It turned out that Mr. Manning is just really prompt with replying to his mail.

Inside was an autographed picture of Peyton, inscribed with a handwritten note to David and the familiar signature.

So — pretty hard not to cheer for Peyton Manning last night, despite my eleven years in Charlotte. I’m certain the Panthers have many years of success ahead of them. But I’m really glad Peyton got to go out with a win.

It’s Just Another Day

Here’s a repost from 2011. The holidays are upon us again:  the time of year when we are most at risk for unrealistic expectations. It’s handy to remember at this time that Jesus Christ died for sinners like us — in fact, that is the reason we celebrate.

“The real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation.” – JI Packer

Here we are, three days from the most hyped day of the year.  Our home — like many homes across America I’m sure — is crammed with wrapped packages and sweets.  The tree is decorated, the nativity scene set up, and the outside of our home glows each night with white lights.  The anticipation is palpable as each morning we rehearse how many days, and this morning, how many hours, until Christmas.

As one of my friends properly observed, this week is like finals week for moms.  I’ve been up until midnight every night this week so far, wrapping gifts, addressing cards, and cleaning up from yet another baking adventure.  The laundry still has to be done.  The house seems to get dirty faster because the kids are idle, not confined to their schoolwork.

As a result, a lot of expectations rest on the Christmas day payoff.  The culmination of all this effort is confined to a few blissful hours.  So it is easy, as a mom of littles, to be disappointed.  I found myself frustrated a few years ago when I was exhausted and the kids started fighting on Christmas morning.  Somebody didn’t like the special breakfast I made.  A diaper needed to be changed right in the middle of opening gifts.

I realized that year that it’s best to keep the expectations low.  Yes, it’s Christmas and yes, it’s special to celebrate with little kids.  But goodness knows we are all still sinful human beings.  Someone is going to cry.  One of the kids will make some sort of ungrateful comment about a gift you thought they’d really like.  We’re all still learning.  It’s Jesus’ coming to Earth, the very reason we celebrate, that redeems all the ugliness.

So breathe through it, moms.  Your high expectations will only make you and your family miserable.  Enjoy and be grateful.  Even though it comes just once a year, it’s just another day.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Hebrews 13:15

Prayer for Thanksgiving

Here’s a prayer from Robert Louis Stevenson that  would be fitting for your Thanksgiving table — or any table.

Lord, behold our family here assembled. We thank thee for this place in which we dwell, for the love that unites us, for the peace accorded to us this day, for the health, for the food, and the bright skies that make our lives delightful, for our friends in all parts of the earth.

Give us courage, gaiety, and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften us to our enemies. Bless us, if may be, in all our innocent endeavours. If may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come.May we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune loyal and loving to one another.

As the clay to the potter, as the windmill to the wind, as the children of their sire, we beseech of Thee this help and mercy for Christs sake. Amen.

~~Robert Louis Stevenson

Also, find a full collection of poetry, songs and hymns for the holiday at Ambleside Online.

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Glory Seen and Unseen

My day today will look very similar to this one five years ago — no baby who needs a nap anymore, though. Today she’ll help set the table. I pray you’re finding moments of sacred this Holy Week.

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I enter the van post-shopping trip, nerves frayed and patience gone. There was too much touching in the store, not enough listening and obeying. A young woman greeted me in the aisle and counted aloud, and then informed me that she wasn’t surprised that there were two bottles of wine in the cart.

As we click our safety belts and settle in for the ten minute ride home, a request comes from the backseat for “a popular CD.” OK, I think…rustling through the mismatched CDs and their cases, in search of something to satisfy the various musical tastes.

Found it. It’s Holy Week. Time for a weeklong reprieve in the storage of Behold the Lamb of God.

As we back out of the parking space, Andrew reads to us of The Story, of a young hero coming to rescue the one that He loves. The children fall silent, awaiting…

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