Shades of Dirt

Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have taken me on mission trips around the nation and into surrounding countries. For some, the idea of being dragged from place to place every summer for the better half of their lives seems exhausting and unappealing, but for me, nothing sounds more intriguing, more comfortable, or more like home.

Traveling has always been one of my deepest passions. I love to see new places for the first time: the way the air smells, the color of the ground, and the mixture of noises that roll down the streets are the very first things I notice and document (because one should always document the brown-ness of the dirt when traveling).  I am a sucker for aesthetics, and there really is something beautiful about observing the physical characteristics that make a town, country, or village unique. However, in the midst of God’s extravagantly stunning terrain, there is something about each new place I visit that never fails to captivate me the most: the people.

I have never journeyed to a place where the people weren’t completely and whole-heartedly hospitable to me. Yes, this might sound ridiculously naïve of me to say because, hello, we’re living in a world where people tend to thrive off of nothing but hating, shaming, and ridiculing others. However, I’m here to tell you that, for the most part, people are generally good at their core, at least to those who are sincerely interested in knowing them.

Don’t read me wrong.

I know that there are rotten people in the world. I know that violence, hate, discrimination, and terrorism are real and prevalent today. I know that the world isn’t full of rainbows and unicorns, and trust me when I say that I know that not everyone is nice, accepting, or honest. I know that the media reports more on arbitrary acts of brutality than random acts of kindness. I know all of these things and understand them to be true, but I also know that warmth and sincerity are appreciated. I know that compassion and generosity do not go unnoticed by their recipients. I know that, by taking the time to truly get to know someone, strangers can be made family.

I could tell you a hundred stories about the mission trips I have gone on, the places I have seen, or the shades of dirt that I have written about in my travel journals, but the thing that I feel most passionately about today is hospitality. Being hospitable is most commonly associated with the idea that one should welcome others into their homes, feed them, and care for them when they are in need, and while that association is appropriate, it isn’t exactly the only way of showing hospitality to others. Hospitality can be as simple as welcoming a stranger into a conversation, showing kindness to the driver who can’t pick a lane, or accepting the fact that someone else can hold an opposing opinion on politics. Showing hospitality isn’t difficult. It isn’t costly or even that time consuming. It’s important, it’s cherished, and it has the power to change someone’s world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2

Written by Haley

Image credit: Haley Briggs

Take Chances, Make Mistakes

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday, one of my family’s favorite traditions is watching the annual Mythbusters marathon on the Science channel. For anyone who actually has things to do over the holidays and has no time to flip channels, Mythbusters episodes—all fourteen seasons—run back-to-back for nearly two weeks, saving everyone the breath it takes to moan, “There’s never anything on over Christmas!” It’s almost as good as a college education, but with practical knowledge instead of vague theories. (Sorry, college.)

Among the many notable quotes from the show (e.g. “This is starting to sound like a bad idea,” “Am I missing an eyebrow?” and “I reject your reality and substitute my own”) is one used quite often throughout the show’s run. In the episode in which this particular quote was first used, the Mythbusters hosts attempt to get two trucks to fuse together by crushing a small car between them at high speed, but no matter what they do, some part of the experimental process goes wrong. After several failed attempts and discouraging results, the hosts finally manage to completely demolish the trucks and car, but, just before the test, they spray-paint a valuable lesson on the sides of the semis: “Failure is always an option.”

The idea of failure being a viable option is easy enough to learn when the whole idea of an endeavor is to learn whether or not something can be done, like in the process of myth-busting. When the stakes are higher—say, a student must make an A on her final exam in order to pass her class—failure suddenly becomes a lot scarier. When we think of failure, we often think of an ashamed student refusing to look his or her angry parents in the eye as they wave a test with a big, red F scribbled across it, but it’s not always that simple. Failure can take different forms for different people; even the student with a 4.0 GPA can live in fear of that first A- (ask me how I know). Writers know this well; after all, what if their manuscripts aren’t good enough for a publisher to accept?

Sometimes we need a little push to get going on a task and do it well, and fear of failure is as good an incentive as any. However, letting that fear of failure run our lives is a much bigger mistake. Say, for example, all your friends are going ice skating at the mall, and they invite you to go with them. The thing is, you’ve never skated before, and you’re sure you’ll end up on your backside, bruised and embarrassed, with the entire mall laughing at you. What’s the harm in saving yourself a little dignity? Besides the fact that you could be a great skater and you just don’t know it yet, you’re giving up valuable bonding time with your friends. Plus, even if you do have trouble simply standing in skates, you might have a good time, anyway.

Most importantly, though, failing gracefully in a small instance such as this failed ice skating excursion would give you the ability to fail gracefully in bigger situations. I can’t stress enough how important it is to train your mind to not beat yourself up over mistakes. It takes conscious effort to say, “Hey, that didn’t go well, but I’m still smart and capable, and I can learn from this, so I can avoid making the same mistake again.” However, as hard as that can be, completely forgiving one’s own mistakes is even harder.

There are endless Bible verses about forgiveness, but sometimes we forget that those verses aren’t just for sinners to receive admittance to heaven. We can rest easy in God’s forgiveness, knowing that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our sins are covered, so what are our blunders to God? They simply don’t matter. That means we can forgive ourselves; we can refuse to dwell on our mistakes and move on; we can learn from them, but they don’t have to signify the end. In that sense, failure is absolutely an option.

ms-frizzle

The end of the Mythbusters story didn’t come for another four years. This was the time when the valiant Mythbusters decided to retest the myth—only this time, the test was successful. The ultimate conclusion, that two semis cannot fuse together via high-speed collision, was the same, but this time, everything went according to plan, and everyone was satisfied (except for the unfortunate assortment of vehicles, of course; they didn’t stand a chance against a rocket sled). That’s the thing about failure—it’s almost never final. In a vast majority of cases, failure is still a perfectly viable option. Failure is a chance to learn and grow. Don’t rob yourself of that chance. Go out on that limb. Maybe you’ll regret it in the moment, but chances are, you won’t regret it forever.

Written by Catherine

Image credits: Header image, Ms. Frizzle

The Unnatural Nature of Thanksgiving

At the time when the fates delegated the Thanksgiving blog to me, I wasn’t in a very thankful state of mind. That’s how I ended up writing this blog during a MRI. Of course, I wasn’t actually typing it out, because giant magnets and computers go together about as well as red wine and wedding dresses, but I had a whole lot of time to get my thoughts together.

Imagine going to a dubstep concert where the DJ has no idea what he’s doing. Now imagine that you’re attending that concert inside of a coffin. There is an IV dangling from your arm, and if you move, you have to start the whole experience over again. To top it off, suppose that you have a hatred of needles (due to a bad incident involving a venomous spider and a Daffy Duck shaped hole punch) and no one warned you about the intrusive IV. Now you’ve got a pretty good idea of where I was at.

Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally. If you don’t believe me, check out the first few chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve didn’t verbally express their thanks to Creator God, and their actions certainly didn’t reflect any kind of thanksgiving.  A thankful heart comes only by choice. It’s wrapped up in our free will. There is always something to be thankful for, assuming you’re willing to acknowledge it. But I’ll warn you—it’s much easier to find all the things you’re not so thankful for.

That’s exactly what I did during the first half of my MRI. In order to distract myself from my misery, I started making a list of all the things I would rather do than be in my present situation: park in the freshman lot for the rest of my DBU career, only be allowed to listen to country music for the rest of my life, and other terrible things like that. Not surprisingly, my mood didn’t improve much, and the minutes until my scan was over didn’t tick by any faster. I wanted to feel the peace and joy that comes with a thankful heart, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to actually be grateful.

But with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, I figured I might as well swallow my self-pity and find some things to thank God for. I started with the easy stuff.

“Thank you God for not letting me pass out when they put that stupid needle in my arm.”

“Thank you for parents who love me and pay for my medical bills instead of making me take a second job at Taco Bell.”

But as I progressed, it became easier and easier for me to lay claim to my bountiful blessings.

“Thank you for giving me a little brother who is bright, funny, and a joy to watch grow up.”

“Thank you for bringing me to a university that puts your glory above everything else.”

“Thank you for my sweet boyfriend waiting for me in the lobby.”

“Thank you for a job that allows me to minister through my talents.”

I thanked the Lord for everything from cute nail polish to the gift of salvation. My situation didn’t change a bit, but I was no longer drowning in self-pity and negativity. The idea that thankfulness can transform the outlook of a grim situation is not a feel-good lie from the big wigs of Christianity; it works.

Everybody likes to pretend like they actually use the Thanksgiving holiday to count their blessings. But if we’re honest, other than saying grace at the family meal, few of us take the time to list the scores of people and things we are thankful for because gratitude is not voluntary. Thankfulness won’t come to you on its own; you must intentionally go out and get it.  Whether this holiday season is the best you’ve ever had or the worst you can possibly imagine, I urge you to find the positives in your life and thank the One who gave them to you.

If you find it difficult to get started, don’t sweat it. You’re going up against your natural tendency toward ingratitude. Thanklessness is natural; thankfulness is hard.  Push on anyway. I promise you’ll thank me later.

Written by Savanna

Image credit

To the Highly Esteemed Mother

My mom is the best, and I will brag about her as often as I’m sure she brags about her kids. (If you’re reading this, Mom, ignore that last sentence and just put in something about “I love you very much.”) I’ve never known a human being who was wiser, more sacrificial, or more loving than my mother. I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. Even with eight children to care for, Mom does her best to treat each of us as individuals in quiet ways, such as making our birthdays extra special or letting us take turns picking a special cereal for the week. She shows loving patience every day as a mother and a wife. If I can someday be half as amazing as she is, I will be happy.

Sometimes, I wonder how she does it. Where does she find the strength to move forward even when the baby has been awake for most of the night and the big kids need to do schoolwork the next day?

I don’t know where my mom gets her strength because I’ve never asked. Perhaps I should, one of these days. What I do know, however, is that when the Bible speaks of mothers, it is almost always in a positive way. The light of God shines upon the position of motherhood. I’m very aware that no mom is perfect, and some moms seem to be the complete opposite of what we would call a “good mother,” and I don’t want to overlook that in any way. However, the twisted world we live in does not change the fact that God the Father has a special job for mothers. Case in point: Lois and Eunice.

“Who in the world are you talking about?” you may find yourself asking, as well you might. Lois and Eunice are granted only one verse in 2 Timothy 1:5, which reads, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (New International Version).

I don’t know about you, but if I knew I was going to be mentioned in a single sentence in the Bible, I would want that sentence to be like this one. The one thing these women are remembered for is passing their faith through their family down to the one Paul is writing to—Timothy, the pastor who more or less took over Paul’s ministry after his death. It couldn’t have been easy; after all, being a follower of Christ in Paul’s day was very dangerous, perhaps almost as dangerous as a hallway filled with a child’s LEGOs. Despite this challenge, the faith of Lois and Eunice may have changed the entire face of Christianity, and God thought that was cool enough to be mentioned in His Word.

Not every mother’s child, of course, will go on to such a prominent position as Timothy. However, I believe one of the greatest things my mother has done is exemplify her faith in her daily life. She has always been faithful in her duties as a wife and mother, even when she doesn’t feel like it. Now that I am grown, out of the house (for the most part) and starting my own life, I can look at her and know what a godly womanhood looks like. Regardless of how she does it, it is the mother’s job to impart her faith upon her children for them to discover for themselves, thus opening the door for countless others to hear the Gospel.

So thanks, Mom, not just for making sure I survived childhood, but also for giving me something to shoot for in terms of my spiritual life. Your job is hard sometimes, and even knowing that you’re doing the right thing might sometimes not be a lot of encouragement, but I appreciate it. You’ve given up a lot for me and for all the other kids, but in so doing, you’ve showed us how to give our all for those we love. From diapers to dorm rooms, you’ve been there for me, exemplifying the love of Christ every step of the way.

From all of us at the UWC, thank you to moms everywhere. We wouldn’t be who we are today without you. We love you!

Written by Catherine

Image credit: http://image.naldzgraphics.net/2013/04/26-hug-mother-child-pohotogprahy.jpg