Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spreading Smiles


"I mean," {said Alice}, "what is an un-birthday present?"
"A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course."
Alice considered a little. "I like birthday presents best," she said at last.
"You don't know what you're talking about!" cried Humpty-Dumpty. "How many days are there in a year?"
"Three hundred and sixty-five," said Alice.
"And how many birthdays have you?"
"One."
... "and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents–"
"Certainly," said Alice.
"And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!"

Valentine's Day has come and gone; the red and pink have vanished from the seasonal aisles in the stores, but it is now that I am making cards. When I was growing up, Valentine's Day was a family holiday: my younger sister and brother and I would make Valentines for everyone, using prodigious amounts of red and pink construction paper, glue, and stickers. My parents would give us each a card and a little silver wire basket of pink and red peanut M&Ms and silver Hershey's kisses. Sometimes they would give us a new DVD which our whole family could enjoy watching. It was not so much the Lover's Holiday as a day to remind everyone why you loved them.

I confess I miss something of that communal spirit of the holiday. While it would be rather overwhelming to return to making Valentines for every one of my family members, it seems more than reasonable for me to make it a general practice to send "Un-Valentines." When was the last time you got a card in the mail from someone special that wasn't for your birthday or anniversary? I certainly love getting cards for special occasions, but even more exciting is an unexpected envelope that is just for me, just because someone likes me.

I would like to make this a more common practice. I would like to make it a habit for me to tell the people who are dear to me that they are dear to me, and not just on their birthdays but all year round, too. I know that when I come to the end of my life I am never going to regret the stamps or the time making cards or the money I spend if I buy them (as Nate will tell you, I have a weakness for Papyrus cards. They call to me every time I walk into Target.)

That's why this morning my dining room table looked like this:



So... I have a proposal for you. Yes. YOU. You reading this page right now. Whoever you are. Do you like getting things in the mail (that aren't credit card offers or bills)?

Of course you do.

Would you like to get a card in the mail? A handmade card?

I will send you one.

Yes.

You read that correctly. I will send you one. Even if you don't know me. You could be one of my closest friends (in which case you probably already have one or two cards from me, and I will be more than delighted to send you another!) or you might be just an acquaintance, or maybe you stumbled onto my blog by accident. It doesn't matter.

I
   will
          make
                    a
                        card
                                and
                                       send
                                               it
                                                  to
                                                       you.

All you have to do is email me (meredithlynn89@gmail.com) and tell me your address, your favorite color, and three things that make you smile and bring joy to your heart.


The catch:
(sneakily inserted after the picture, of course)

After your 100% bona fide handmade spread-the-smiles card arrives in your mailbox, you have to promise that you will pass on the love. You have to make (or buy, it doesn't matter) a card for someone dear to you, a just-because-they're-special card, and send it to them.

Perhaps, if "just because" does not seem like a good enough reason to send a card to someone, you might send her (or him) a card a wishing him (or her) a Happy End-of-Winter, or an It's-Almost-Spring card. Or a card celebrating your mutual favorite Starbucks drink. Or a "Here's to Fridays!" card. Or my favorite: a "Just-wanted-to-make-you-smile" card.

It doesn't matter. What matters is making the small, small amount of effort to make someone's day– to remind someone of how special she (or he) is, to simply celebrate the people we love and not wait for birthdays to tell them.

Will you try it with me?



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Eternal Echoes

Today I was given a good reminder, via my dearest mother, that changing the world might look like simply making a very small impact in my own small world.

I'm an idealist, a dreamer– the second I see how things are, especially bad things, I begin to think about how they ought to be or how they could be bettered. My goals as a teenager were moderate– I either wanted to be a concert pianist, or to write a great American novel that would change the world. 

The concert-pianist gig didn't really pan out (but check with my younger sister! She's well on her way!) and the novel has been put on the back-burner for now since I've realized that most of the truly great, lasting, classic novels were written by people significantly older than I am (with the notable exception of Pride and Prejudice– Jane was only 21 when she first started writing it, though it wasn't published until almost 20 years later– but since I make no claim to Jane's genius, I think it safer to wait till I'm older). 

But I'm still left with my idealistic self, that burns every time I read a new article, or get a new letter, or hear a new story about the darkness in this beautiful, wretchedly sin-stricken world we live in. I want to change something. I want to do something. 

And the question of what I ought to do has been on my mind ever since I finished up my last credits for my degree. Children are starving around the world; women are raped and beaten in third-world-countries and in the very city I live in; men are tortured and killed for sharing the faith that gives them hope; war and poverty and disease rip apart whole countries leaving millions of dead and millions who have no way to survive. And sometimes it maddens me that I sit at home and read books and start a book club and make dinner and go and have coffee with my friends. 

I told my mother about this turmoil today, and she told me: remember that it is more important to do what you can, than to do nothing just because you can't do something big or famous or flashy. 

It's there, isn't it? Even in my desire to help, to take action against evil, to bring healing and light to dark places, there is that secret streak of lust for glory, for fame, for being someone who is known for her goodness. There is that elusive longing for recognition, to do something big so that everyone can know how I changed the world. 

But in the economy of Heaven, the last shall be first and the least shall be greatest. Pride will be humbled, and humility will be exalted. 

And I realized, looking around me, that there are things I can do right now, with the resources and skills I have right now, where I am right now. They aren't big things and they aren't flashy things. They aren't going to make the news. They aren't going to stop poverty, or end hunger, or make wars cease. They're tiny, everyday things. But maybe that's what takes faith: to believe that when I do the tiny, everyday things, things that might seem occasionally more like inconvenience than sacrifice, simple or even simply mundane– that's what I'm supposed to be doing because that's where I am right now. Because in the end, it's not about my actions, it's about what God can do with a heart willing to trust Him and obey Him in the mundane and the simple. It's about what it looks like to love the people brought to my attention, whether that's children living in poverty half a world away, or a friend in my community with a small need I can meet. 

The one line I remember from Gladiator is when Maximus says, "What we do in life echoes in eternity." I think that means all of life– not just the big dramatic things, but all the simple, mundane things in between, the daily choices between selfishness and sacrifice, the tiny ways I can push back against evil in the world... until that day when all things will be made new. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Uncertain Living

When I was twelve, I was fascinated by gypsies. I didn't really know much about them, especially not about real Romanian gypsies, since my knowledge derived mostly from a few fantasy novels featuring gypsies and was supplemented by my own imagination. I was intrigued by the picture of a wandering people, roaming a country in wagons that were their homes, having "no fixed abode" and the ability to pack up and move on whenever the notion suited them. However inaccurate this portrait may be, it was highly romantic to my twelve-year-old self, so much so that I made the hero of the novel I was writing into a gypsy boy, complete with long black hair, a flashing white smile, and a gold earring.

Sometimes I have wondered if my interest in the nomadic lifestyle was prophetic of my future as an Air Force wife. Fast forward six or seven years from my twelve-year old self and I would have denied this adamantly (and did on multiple occasions to multiple people. Just ask my Colorado friends.) In fact I swore that I would never marry into the military. The lack of control in a military lifestyle was not appealing to me–a life of continual uprooting, of never knowing where the next assignment would be, of never knowing what my husband would be asked to do next, of enduring long periods apart from him, anxious for his safety– I wanted none of it. Good thing my twelve-year-old self's romanticism resurfaced when I met the Pilot. It was easy, during the first exhilarating rush of love, to decide that perhaps the Air Force lifestyle was not, after all, an insuperable obstacle to happiness. It was easy to mentally cast myself in the role of the heroine, who would give up control and security and certainty to be with her beloved gypsy, or in this case, Air Force pilot-in-training. 

Now I have been married a little over a year, and this week the uncertainty of military life is more on my mind because at the end of the week the Pilot and I will know where we're going next, once Phoenix training is finished and it's time to move to our first operational assignment. The list of available assignments was handed off to the Pilot's class a few days ago, and somehow, by the end of the week, they will have decided on the most fair way to distribute out the slots. Everyone, of course, has preferences, and in a class of fourteen active-duty pilots, it is impossible that everyone will get to go exactly where they want. In fact, it is more than likely that some will have to go where they very much do not want to go. It is the reality of the Air Force.

Or is it just the Air Force? Perhaps it is the reality of all of life, and the Air Force lifestyle simply makes it more apparent? 

I think a lot of American society– particularly the middle class and upwards– lives in a constant illusion of certainty. After all, we believe that if we are willing to work hard that we can do just about anything, be whomever we choose to be, and live in whatever way seems best to us. We crave the security of certainty. With enough money, or enough determination, or enough work, or enough health, or enough fame (the list goes on indefinitely), we are convinced that we will control our lives, obtain certainty of our futures– command our destiny. 

Isn't that one of the reasons Americans tend to avoid pain at all costs? Obviously pain is painful, which is one reason to avoid it. But for Americans, living in our mirage of certainty and control, pain reminds us that the walls which we have carefully constructed about our lives to protect our own well-being are like ice– they may look impenetrable, but they will melt away the minute the heat is turned up. The walls may be built of many things– money, or a good reputation, or a healthy lifestyle, or the very popular belief in a kind of karma that says if you live a good life and "do the right thing" then God or the Universe or whatever Force is out there owes you a good life. Yet all it takes is something tragic– a death, a disease, a relationship destroyed– or perhaps something less serious yet still painful, like a job loss, or a military assignment that you didn't want– to melt away our illusions of certainty.





But is it possible that this disillusionment may actually be a good thing?

Disillusionment tends to breed either despair or cynicism, but is it possible there might be a third option that leads neither to depression nor bitterness?

Of course, I believe there is. Every time our self-protective walls melt away, every time hardship shatters our defenses, every time we are faced with the stark reality of our own inability to control anything, there is an invitation extended from the Someone who is in control. Someone who is telling the story. Someone who brings good out of bad, right out of wrong, peace out of chaos.

We can choose to ignore this invitation, if we like. He won't force our trust.

But He longs for our trust, because He knows that as long as we strive and stretch and grasp at the illusion of control, we are like people dying of thirst in a desert, going our own way, clutching towards a mirage, when He wants only for us to turn and see that He offers us a real oasis. 

The pattern of military life is serving to drive home this reality to me, and it is not an easy thing to learn. I have been addicted to control. Perhaps that is one of the reasons God planned for me to fall in love with the Pilot– because only until I was faced with my own inability to control anything, through loving a man with a dangerous job, an uncertain future, and very little knowledge of what the next twenty years would look like– could I begin to learn that trusting God instead of myself with the uncertainty of the days is exchanging blindness for sight. People speak of blind faith, but where is the blindness in determining to trust the only Person who can see with perfect and infinite clarity what is happening?

So I'm learning to live in the midst of uncertainty and not be paralyzed by it, or fearful of it, or angry at it. Which is not to say that I never feel frozen, or afraid, or angry– plenty of times I'm all three simultaneously. Yet the anger, the fear, is the natural result of refusing God's invitation to trust Him, because if I refuse it then I have only myself to fall back on, my own weakness, my own incapacity to control anything. The key to trusting is to remember who I am– for as Paul Tripp puts it, "If you are God's child, you are the object of love of the Person who rules everything that there is to rule... You are secure for one reason and one reason alone: God exists and he is your Father."

It is no impersonal force, no cosmic karma, no distant deity who directs the universe– and none of those things would be worthy of trust. Only love can birth trust. Only a God who loves me so much, so intensely, so personally, as to sacrifice everything, even His life, to make me His daughter, can truly be worthy of all trust. Only that kind of love can bring real, lasting peace in the midst of an uncertain life.