Since I was about five, my family has taken summer vacations to the Emerald Coast of Florida. I remember getting ready to leave on our very first trip, and my mom telling me about a cute bathing suit she had seen for me. Clothes have always excited me, and I knew I had to have it! Looking back, I'm sure she regretted telling me about it because I bugged her about it so much that I eventually made her draw me a picture of it, and I clutched that sketch in my hands until that pink and green two-piece appeared in my packed suitcase. There is a photo of my older brother Justin and I on the beach, and I am sporting that lovely little bathing suit. And there are decades of other family memories made on those very shores.
Last year, I continued family tradition and introduced Jett to Florida. I believe that a love for the ocean is hereditary because he was as thrilled as his mama about the beach. I have pictures of him soaking up the warmth of the sun and visually consuming the vastness of the sea. He sat for the longest time in the white sand peering out at the ocean and letting the crystal clear water wash over his toes. He loved every second of it! And of course, we built sand castles. Jett is a very industrious toddler, so once I showed him how to fill the buckets and set them upright, he wanted to make them by himself.
His first attempts failed, but once he got the concept of packing the sand, they started to take shape. As I watched him build, I noticed he was knocking them down, some as soon as he removed the molds. At first, I chalked it up to the destructive nature of little boys and the excitement that it brings them, but as I watched closer, I realized something else; he was knocking them down because they weren't perfect. Jett has a need for autonomy, even at such a young age. He wants to be able to not only do something on his own, but he wants to do it well. He has very little patience with himself when he doesn't immediately master a skill with perfection. I believe that this quality, appropriately harnessed, will serve him well in his future, but I also see some potential risks.
This reminded me of myself and how I tend to do the very same thing. If something I do, whether accomplished or attempted, is not impeccable on my first try, I immediately knock it down by diminishing it's value.
I've been thinking about these sand castles over the past few weeks: tiny particles of stone that alone aren't really much of anything, but with a little water and a mold, they can be constructed into some pretty awesome structures!
The individual grains of sand remind me of our unique talents, characteristics, and skills. One of my favorite college classes was personality psychology. I already had a divested interest in the topic because my college boyfriend was one of the most beautifully peculiar beings I have ever met. To say we were opposites would be the understatement of the century, and if they say men are from Mars, then he was from an uncharted planet that we have yet to discover. I sought to understand him in the way that you try to understand nuclear physics or Greek etymology, feeling like true comprehension was just out of reach. Certain theories and personality types seemed to fit about as well as a cheap suit; you just can't define people like that, and I'm glad because their total essence is much more stunning.
He was the epitome of mad scientist brilliant, exuding wisdom and theories of theology and science nonchalantly over coffee, like he was talking about the weather. He was completely socially awkward, studied for enjoyment, and valued material things about as much as Mother Teresa. He was my mirror opposite in all of these ways and more, and that completely intrigued me. Being a fairly superficial teen myself, he opened my eyes to concepts I had never even conceived as possibilities, and challenged me to think deeply and often. He was also a talented musician and artist and found beauty in the most obscure places. His presence in my life birthed a boundless appreciation for human individuality, and by seeking to understand our differences, he led me to a path of self-discovery, and for that I'm grateful. Thanks Jake.
I have a pretty good hold on who I am these days. I know what I believe, my strengths, my weaknesses, and my goals. I have a lot of experiences under my belt and can pull knowledge from lessons learned. The question I ask myself now, as I have many times before, is how do I take what I have and make a difference in my world and for my God? I've obsessed over my purpose for years. It is one thing to know what you bring to the table but quite another to practically apply your gifts and talents on a daily basis. I think I wasted a lot of time complicating things and second guessing my strengths. Conceptually, I have been very inspired to use my talents as a ministry, but I always found myself tangled in logistics: is that even a ministry? How will that skill of mine really help someone on a deep level?
The answer came to me a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out my car. It doesn't seem to matter how often I do this because with small children comes lots of stuff, and the next day it looks like tiny squatters have moved back in. I digress. I do find the strangest items in my car though, and this day I found a small fortune cookie paper of an origin that I have no recollection. It said, "Sometimes the simplest answer is to act".
This struck me. I don't always seek infinite wisdom from fortune cookies, but on this day it fit. I realized that it is not my job to try to figure out all of the "whys" of how my talents may impact someone else. It's just my job to exercise them. For years, I have tossed around the notion of blogging. And many, many times I squashed the idea because what difference would my words make? What if it wasn't good? What if no one read it? The idea never left me though. Sometimes, it haunted me. So last month, after wrestling with the notion forever, I just decided to act.
I've always been attracted to and moved by storytelling. I’ve been crafting my own story for 31 years, and no one else can tell it like I can. I’ve realized that it's not my job to control where the stories land. It’s just my job to put it out there. When I stopped the over-analyzing, it took a tremendous amount of pressure off of me. Why has it taken me so long to arrive here? I think of this saying that I heard years ago. “Over analysis leads to paralysis.” It’s catchy and so true. We have all done it at some point; we have thought about something so much that our thoughts impeded our actions.
I get it though. Embracing and sharing our talents leaves us in a vulnerable, uncomfortable position, and often, we just want to find a reason or excuse that will let us off the hook. One way we do this is by depreciating. We discount our abilities, and we discount ourselves. We start buying into this mythical ideology and talking ourselves out of our purpose.
Myth: The things that I am good at are not very “spiritual”.
I grew up in a denomination where the highest and most spiritual calling one could receive came with the title of minister: pastor, evangelist, missionary. I don't believe this directly stated, but it was strongly implied. Being a sensitive and enthusiastic young person, I remember wondering where this left me. For one thing, these positions were very dominantly male occupied. God must have made me the wrong sex because the willingness in my heart certainly didn’t match up with my anatomical makeup. And secondly, I remember it making me very angry when it was suggested that being the wife of one of these was my best chance of being greatly used by God. This felt ill-intentioned and wrong like I was being encouraged to marry for money or fame. I did not like it at all! Surely, this isn’t how the system was supposed to work. It seemed so archaic and ripe with gender inequality.
Now, I look at my “spiritual calling” with more perspective and see that the framework for these ideas were flawed. I have read that my greatest commission is to love people, and that takes on many different forms. Love can be instructional like what a pastor does on Sunday or what a mother does to a child when teaching them how to make their way through this world. Love can be inclusive and give people a place to belong like a Life Group built on common interests or a youth group that makes an unconnected teenager feel like he/she is a part of something bigger. Love can be generous in giving people words of hope in a seemingly desolate situation or by giving a needy family money during a time of crisis or despair.
I recently heard someone say that the most common way that God reveals his presence is through other people. Having felt his presence during a worship service or prayer, I had to think about this for a bit. Was this really true? So, again I started analyzing, and I found myself trying to recount events where I had a spiritual experience through a physical interaction. And then I looked in the Bible, and once again my perspective changed.
One fallacy that I think we constantly buy into as Christians is that there is a barrier between the physical and spiritual worlds. If there is a separation, it’s very thin: diaphanous and sheer. I think of it like a flimsy tissue paper or fine, porous gauze, where the two spheres penetrate the other with relative ease. Some of the most miraculous, supernatural events that occurred in the Bible surrounded the most mundane and conventional daily happenings like eating. My new favorite author, Shauna Niequist, says so eloquently, "Sometimes the most spiritual things we do are the most physical, the most tactile. Feeding people is one of those things, whether we're helping feed hungry people or feeding the hunger in each one of us".
I can relate to this because when I was going through my dark time, some of the most spiritual things for me were receiving sound legal advice from a friend that had been there, having someone sit beside me in a new church where I knew very few people, hugs, a meal purchased by a friend and the conversation that followed, and having someone watch my boys so I could finally get a little sleep. I believe that these are all ways that God used people to act out his divine love for me. I believe that all of these acts of love opened my eyes even more to a God that has always been there. I think that is why loving people is such a weighty spiritual calling that we should all heed with reverence. When we do it wholeheartedly, we are doing more than being responsible Christians. We are guiding people to the feet of Jesus and to a Love that transforms lives and mends brokenness.
I think we need to stop analyzing and defining, and start acting! If you are really good at something, and it makes you feel alive, then that is probably your calling. My grandmother is the most amazing cook, and all of my life, she has weekly brought our family and friends together for meals and conversations and community. She has blessed thousands with her gift. That is her ministry. My aunt is the most social and thoughtful person I know in that she never misses a baby shower, wedding, graduation, or birthday party. She makes people feel special by simply giving them her time. You can't tell me that doesn't make a difference in their lives. Maybe those things don’t seem overtly “spiritual” to you, but my grandmother is feeding more than bellies and my aunt is showing up for more than just a party.
Myth: How can I help others when I can barely help myself?
Another thing we do is believe that we aren't “good” enough to help other people. We let our past or current circumstances define our worthiness, and we let our inadequacies heap shame upon us. Shame stifles us in so many capacities, and then we find ourselves doing nothing.
One fact that I find great comfort in is that God seems to be fond of imperfect, dysfunctional people. He has a heart for strays and mutts like me. Some of the most powerfully used were also the most deeply flawed. No matter how different we all are, the one thing we all have in common is that we all have cracks, dents, and bruises. In this aspect, it is our common weaknesses should unite us, not separate us.
This kind of makes me laugh now, but when I first started going to counselling at the beginning of my divorce, I was talking to my therapist about how to deal with all that had happened and sorting out all of my…stuff. With tear filled eyes and a shaky voice, I asked, "Am I broken?" With a smile, he matter-of-factly stated, "We are all broken." Oddly this made me feel much better, and it even gave me comfort that he (the man I was paying to “fix” me) included himself right up in there. It put a hope inside of me that you don’t have to be perfect to have purpose.
It makes me think that Christine Caine is really on to something when she said, "People admire your strength, but they relate to your weakness." I truly believe that when we let God put the pieces back together, he constructs something more exquisite than we could have fathomed. In him, I believe that brokenness is made beautiful, that healing comes from pain, and that we can find strength in our weaknesses. He is really creative like that!
More accurately, he is the CREATOR. He made us, and we kind of resemble him, so I think we were born to make things. He made everyone creative. Whether you make beautiful music or art that speaks to people's souls, make plans and schedules that keep things flowing smoothly, make friends anywhere you go, or make connections that bring chaos to order, please make something! It is what you were made for: the reason you're here.
Let's stop the discounting. Let's stop knocking down our sand castles before they even get built because we’re equating their value on a flawed scale. Each of our talents, attributes, and skills are vitally integral to this construction. Alone we may just been tiny grains of sand, but together we are a great structure because you see, we aren't just building castles in the sand. We are building eternal and heavenly kingdoms!
Envision and establish,
Hey! My name is Andrea. I'm a teacher by day in a small Texas town, but in every other aspect of my life, I consider myself a learner. This blog is about life: learning through experiences, sharing through stories, and growing through faith.