Open Letter to the Generations Before Me

The following is for the blog tour of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Making It Home. Did you know Emily has provided blog prompts?

Here are Emily’s blog prompts 14 and 15:

14. How would you encourage a woman who feels unnoticed, left out, or no longer relevant as she grows older?

15. How can the older generation encourage the younger generation to stay focused on God’s peace, identity and purpose through multiple life changes and seasons?

282471_MakingItHomeWierenga_Pins2

Dear Christ followers of the generations before me:

I once overheard someone ask a woman in her twenties, “Are you going to the women’s mini-retreat?”

“Nah,” the twenty-something replied, “It’s just going to be a bunch of old ladies.”

This young woman came to church dressed in classy leather boots and neatly arranged, fashionable clothing. Her hair was expertly highlighted and curled, her makeup applied with a model’s know-how. Her dad was an influential leader in the church. When she threw a party, all the other young and younger ladies wanted an invitation. She landed a go-getter job that could easily extend into a prestigious career. She volunteered in the children’s ministry and was popular with kids and teens.

These are the girls and teens who heard her say, essentially, that she’s too cool to hang with the old ladies.

I wish that twenty-something woman and those girls and teens would be intentional about getting to know you. I wish they knew Amelia Sorensen, the woman in her eighties who taught my husband’s Sunday school when he was in first grade and invited families with teenagers over for a home-cooked meal. I wish they knew Hal DeMooy, the man who modeled daily Bible reading and encouraged the young to do the same—or Jim Downing, the Pearl Harbor survivor who, at age 102 and counting, is mentoring teens. I wish they knew the python-slaying Egelers.

I wish they knew the value of interacting with you, the generations who came before. Because if they don’t, they miss out on a chance to be rich—like passing by a cave of precious metals and walking away without mining it.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

(Proverbs 19:20)

Your white hair and wrinkles represent decades refined and lived out under God’s grace, like nuggets and flakes of gold. You have the advantageous perspective of looking back on the same years and experiences younger generations still look forward to. You have already seen, perhaps multiple times, the same struggles and blessings I am experiencing right now.

I once sat on a panel to answer a local MOPS group’s questions about parenting. The young moms asked questions like, “What can you do when the kids don’t eat?” and “What if you and your husband don’t agree on the kids’ discipline?” and “How do you educate the child about ‘stranger danger’ and still encourage them to treat strangers kindly?” All of the questions were narrowed down to one person’s specific situation.

It occurred to me that a single answer could address every concern brought to the table:

You.

You are the answer that would provide a custom solution not only for every young mom but even for that individual’s pinpointed question at that Q&A.

So I encouraged those moms leaning forward and eagerly asking questions of the panel before them:

Find a mentor. Or several mentors.

Then I told them I get together with Jill once a month and Jean once a week. My senior year in college, when I was a newlywed navigating the new relationship with my husband’s parents, I pursued Mary to ask about her in-law relationships. I call Linda when I’m having a parenting crisis. When I was a new mom, I turned to Miriam, the Byrnes, Paula, and others. One day a few years ago I called Dorothy and asked, “I need help with marriage. Could I come over?”

“Sure, dear. When would you like to come?”

“What time do you get up in the morning?” I asked. I was there at seven a.m. the next day.

Richard Peck, Newbery-winning YA author and former high school teacher, agrees with me that we need you. He makes sure an elderly character appears in each of his novels:

I need them. Young readers need them more. The old folks are there in the novels as counterbalances. They provide wisdom and seasoning won only through long lifetimes, and compassion unavailable from the peer group. They offer alternatives in the accelerating battle between parents and children, and glimpses of the problems and sorrows of old age for a young generation fixated on their own.

– Richard Peck, Invitations to the World (New York: Dial Books, 2002), 26-27

We need you, and we need to pursue relationships with you. I’ve asked myself, How could I draw out wisdom from the older women around me? How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take? More than once, I’ve started by asking you for a recipe in hopes that it will lead to deeper friendship.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.

(Proverbs 20:5)

And then you remind me that every person is both young and old, so I ask myself questions as an older woman, too: What young person could I reach out to today? How can I be winsome and inviting to the young? What can I learn from the young?

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. What would we do without you who have gone before?

With deep gratitude and appreciation,
Monica

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Best of Community: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back

Positive Thoughts, Mr Glen

Several years ago a mentor told me, “Potential does not equal calling.”

“It doesn’t?” I replied, puzzled. Because if I’m not supposed to take on a new task, why did God give me the ability? Why all these golden opportunities if I’m just supposed to say no?

She then gave Jesus as an example . . .

——–

This week marks the last week for many editors at The High Calling. Many thanks to them for their excellent work in making community and connections over the years. I am honored that they chose one of my articles as part of their “Best of Community” highlights. Read the full article at The High Calling: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back.

Photo credit: Glen Scott, via Flickr Creative Commons

Curbing Comparison (by Jennifer Dukes Lee)

The following article appeared at Today’s Christian Woman. Reprinted by permission of Jennifer Dukes Lee, award-winning journalist and best-selling author of Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval—and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes. Jennifer (and others) have traveled to Ferguson “to listen to people’s stories, and maybe to write some of those stories … to get a first-hand look at what’s been happening in Ferguson, to talk to people doing good work there, and to see how the Church can lead better in times like this.” Follow Jennifer on Twitter for updates.

I have asked Jennifer for permission to reprint her article “Curbing Comparison” because I identify so closely with every word.

365 Days (2009): Day 107

by Jennifer Dukes Lee

I learned early how comparison can wound a person.

I was 12 years old, sitting on a street curb with my friend on a July afternoon. It was so hot that the street’s tar bubbled up around our flip-flopped feet.

I had called a curbside meeting because I needed her ear. I don’t remember what had troubled me, but I do remember how I thought my heart might burst with sadness. Tears spilled down my face.

I wiped my cheek with the back of my hand and started to confide in her.

“Oh-OOOOH-ooh,” she interrupted me. “Sounds like trouble in paradise.”

I remember how she rolled her eyes, how her blonde ponytail whipped through the air when she shook her head—and how it felt like she took satisfaction in my momentary troubles.

My friend saw only the outside of my life, only the parts that looked like some version of paradise. The truth is, I did have a good life. I lived in a nice house, earned good grades, wore nice clothes, had dependable parents. Our family gathered around our dinner table almost every night, just after the six o’clock whistle blew from the top of the town’s water tower.

My life wasn’t perfect, but to my friend, it must have looked rather Beaver Cleaver-ish. My friend lived in a single-parent, low-income home. School was difficult for her, and her big brother was often getting into trouble.

When my friend held her life up next to mine, she saw a trash heap next to a gold mine. And I can’t say for sure, but I walked away from the curb that day believing that, somewhere deep inside her, she felt a little bit better because I was hurting so badly.

Curbs are everywhere

Turns out, our little-girl penchant for comparison grows up with us.

Turns out, women can be 25 or 55 or 75 and still trying to figure out how they measure up to one another.

Turns out, there are curbs everywhere.

The curbs are on Facebook and at the city park. There are curbs on Twitter and the blogosphere and in churches and school gymnasiums and the carpool lane.

It gets hot out there on the curb, where people’s envy bubbles up like tar. We’re comparing waist sizes, square footage, IQs, kids’ report cards, approval ratings.

Comparison is a quiet vulture, swooping in to peck its sharp beak at our joy, our camaraderie, and our witness to the world.

We compare our trash-heaps days to someone’s paradisiacal online updates. We might be tempted to roll our eyes at the precocious comments that some preschool mama quotes. Somewhere inside of us, we might be turning green with envy at another writer’s bestselling book, a former colleague’s success in a new business venture, another couple’s second trip to the beach in a year. We might even quietly harbor a sense of satisfaction when the object of our envy stumbles.

Comparison is folly, and no one wins—or ever has.

We’ve been measuring ourselves against one another for approximately forever—sometimes with deadly consequences.

Cain compared himself to Abel, with a jealous anger that ended in his brother’s murder. Joseph’s brothers, moved by envy, sold him into slavery. Jesus’ disciples bickered and compared themselves to one another on several occasions.

Paul pointed out the foolishness of it all:

But in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point. (2 Corinthians 10:12, The Message)

We might not be killing our sisters or selling them off to the Egyptians. But are we killing each other’s spirits? And are we killing our own souls?

Are we, as the verse says, missing the point?

Someone always gets hurt when we compare, even if we think it’s a secret battle we’re fighting on the inside. It hurts us, and it hurts the person sitting on the other side of our envy. Comparison creates an us-versus-them mentality that can rob the body of Christ of its unity and fellowship. And it can open up doorways to petty criticism of the people we believe are “living in paradise.”

Psychologists tell us that when we feel inadequate, we might try to protect our own self-worth by diminishing the work of those we envy. Cheap shots are delivered. Snickering ensues. We might get annoyed at the Facebook posts of the person who ran another ten miles, lost another ten pounds, or gained another ten followers. And when they’re not looking, we might try to knock them down about ten notches.

My friend Carey told me the other day how a group of moms had made fun of her for being a “Pinterest mom.”

“They talked about how bad Pinterest moms make them feel for not making cute valentines or throwing ‘extreme’ birthday parties,” Carey said. “It was hurtful. I have never in my life gone overboard on my kids’ birthday parties in order to make someone else feel bad. I do it because creating special things brings me joy.”

When we compare our insides to someone else’s outsides, we hurt them. And we hurt ourselves. I’m convinced that comparison is one of the biggest joy-robbers and dream-shredders in a Christian’s life.

The Comparison Monster wedges its ugly self smack-dab between us and whatever God is calling us to do: start a blog, write a song, lead a Bible study, apply for a promotion. Nothing will kill a dream faster than looking at the life of someone who’s already living your dream, then believing it’s too good for you.

If you can’t do it like her, why try?

Can’t blog like her? Forget it.

Can’t make a difference like your friend does? Throw in the towel.

When we compare, we forget the value of our own lives. We forget that we’re the only “us” that the world will ever get.

We forget that God made us incomparable. We forget that we are so exceptionally crafted as to make any comparison invalid.

For the sake of ourselves and our sisters, we have to stop this. Life is not a competition. We’re actually all on the same team, and it’s called the body of Christ.

The greatest antidote to comparison

One of the greatest antidotes to comparison is praise. We can praise God for what he has given us and—this one might be harder—praise God for the unique gifts he has given to our sisters. Instead of envying them, we can rejoice with them. Consider what would happen if we started celebrating other’s victories instead of trampling on their parades. What if we started living out God’s call on our lives, without worrying whether we’ll measure up to some invisible standard? What if we picked up some pom-poms and cheered on our friends instead of picking up sticks or stones?

What if we ditched the lists?

Any of us can look back on our childhood lives and remember the lists that shaped us: honor rolls published in the local paper, school-play casting calls, homecoming courts, birthday-party invitations, and more. When we grow up, the lists grow up with us: the Fortune 500, the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, the Top 100 Bloggers, the richest, the sexiest, the most relevant. Even Christian leaders have come up with online lists to tell us which authors are the most influential.

In a world of list makers, we can begin to live only for the Maker’s list:

Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20, KJV)

We can link hands and elbows as we sit on the curb of life. We can brush away each other’s tears, squeeze each other’s hands, and cheer wildly when it goes well for our sisters. I have plenty of friends who have attained a great amount of earthly success, while remaining humble and true to their callings. I have pledged to them that I won’t compare their beautiful lives to mine, and I’ll never cut them down when they’re not looking.

We can sit at the curb together and say this pledge to each other: “I promise that I’ll be for you.” And we can curb our comparing, at the feet of our incomparable Savior.

———-

Photo credit: amber dawn pullin via flickr creative commons

Words Not Dropped

And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
(1 Samuel 3:19, ESV)

Let flavorful tidbits
roll off your tongue.
Take a twist or two

from the salt mill.
Add grace to taste
(no measuring). Then

God will not let
your words go
to waste, like

leftovers scraped
off the plate.
Someone hungry will

devour them
and not a crumb
will fall to the ground.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
(1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
(Psalm 19:14)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
(Ephesians 4:29)

Linking with Sandy:

Sandra Heska King - Still Saturday

How Is a Ham Bone Like a Cedar Tree?

(I just made ham stock for split-pea soup, so this story has been on my mind. Originally posted on June 1, 2011.)

———-

I met Kathy in 2005, when I was new to our church and feeling friendless. It was Easter 2006, so I had only known Kathy for a few months. We were chatting about our Easter-meal plans. Kathy’s mother, Charlotte, was flying over for the holiday. Others in her family were coming, too. I do remember very clearly that Kathy had ordered a Honeybaked. I think I drooled when she told me.

“Oooh!” I said, still drooling. “Are you going to make split-pea soup with the ham bone?” I love making split-pea soup from ham bones. I imagined how ham stock made with a Honeybaked Ham would taste.

“Nah, I’m not into that,” Kathy answered.

Several days later, after Easter, I was doing this or that in the kitchen when my doorbell rang. My doorbell never rings unless it’s a solicitor, so I approached the front door with my guard up.

Sock-footed, I walked stealthily to the door and looked through the peephole. Immediately my guard went down; it was Kathy! The furrowed-brow wrinkles above my eyes migrated into smiling crow’s feet at the sides of my eyes. I opened the door. In her hands was something in a plastic bag, the kind you get from Safeway or King Soopers.

The first words out of her mouth: “I brought you a ham bone!”

Wide-eyed and wordless, I took the bag.

“I even left quite a bit of the meat on it, too,” Kathy said, grinning.

I never knew how much a picked-over ham bone would mean to me. It meant she was listening. It meant that one day, in her own kitchen, cleaning after a big family Easter dinner, she thought of me. It meant she remembered I liked ham bones for split-pea soup.

It meant I was a friend.

I often don’t realize who I am or how God has blessed or gifted me until someone else recognizes it and expresses the recognition in real actions.

Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.
(1 Samuel 5:11-12)

What Hiram did was a form of encouragement. I have friends like this—friends who have helped me see who I am, what I should be doing, what I am to them. Friends who send me cedar trees (or ham bones). Thank God.

What cedar tree could I send? Whom should I be encouraging in this way?

Lord, I have received it. How can I give it? To whom?

———-

(Linking up with Crystal Stine at (in)courage. Read Crystal’s post and find other community thoughts on The Power of Encouragement!)

While Running Up Centennial Trail

(For this month’s theme at T.S. Poetry: “Angels.” See the T.S. Poetry Press Facebook page for more!)

Waters gathered from some repeated precipitation
(whether steady snowmelt or fly-by rainstorm)

caused a depression, a canyon’s precursor,
this rut running the length of her

trail, a rut she tried to circumvent by aiming
the soles of her Asics beside it or leaping over

to the other side where the ground was still
the same—fallow and in desperate need

of breaking, made arid by long afternoons
of scorching, self-centered heat.

Repeated doubts and questions pounded, the same way
too much uphill running makes shin splints, fractures,

stresses that make her plead with the regular
cadence of her strides, “Don’t let me give up,

don’t let me give up.” And then, two men
on mountain bikes (whether Specialized

or Cannondale or Gary Fisher, she’ll never
know) came down—it was God’s kind way

of answering—for the man on the bike who came
down first encouraged, almost fiercely, “Good job!”

So the woman kept running and wondered if angels
went mountain biking down Centennial trail.

A Minute Forty-Six

One of my dark days loomed (the kind
of dark that makes time vague
and turns an hour into an age)
when the phone rang—a friend
asking after me, checking in
like a mother who leaves
the night-light on, and I knew,
after we hung up, the dark
was averted. How long
did that phone call last?
I checked the phone log:
under two minutes. So she held
me up, helped me dodge another era
of dark—

and to think
it only took a minute
forty-six.

Father, how could I encourage someone today? Is there a phone call I should make, a note to pen, an email to send? What power could You pour into something in less than two minutes?

If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging.
(Romans 12:8)

(This week Ann Voskamp hosts a community of those who share about The Practice of New Habits. Click on the Holy Experience badge below to read more community posts on New Habits!)

When Starvation Is Good

I’ve been meaning to tell you about my guest post at The Chronicles of Church Fellowship, where I tell of friends who helped me bring starvation to…

(Read the post here.)

ALSO:
At the end of that post is a quote with the attribution missing! I would be remiss not to clarify that the quote is by John Henry Jowett.

Priceless Correspondence

Now they come at four dimes
and four pennies apiece
in neat sheets, like pages
out of a history volume boasting
of our own, our own brush strokes
and space probes and man around the globe.

Winslow Homer stamp
Alan Shepard stamp
Mercury MESSENGER stamp

They come like syncopated
rhythms of modern bards’ music,
lively bits of conversation
between strings and brass brought
from a mix of New Orleans and Africa
and isles nearby, improvised and styled.

Jazz stamp

They come like a billboard
listing simple steps saying
how to save the earth and go green.

Go Green stamps

They come separated by wavy lines
to simulate the old perforations,
like a monument remembering
the way they used to be.

stamp's wavy lines

They always come in Love.
I’ve received them that way
and that is how I send them,
a letter on paper, ink from a pen
guided by my own hand
and stamped.

Love stamps

For the poetry prompt to write about something I got for less than a buck.

When was the last time you picked up a pen and wrote a letter or note of encouragement? There’s something about getting an envelope in the mailbox, the address written by a loved one’s hand, instantly recognizable…