Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Death of Contentment?

Recently, I headed out the door both excited and a bit apprehensive to attend an “art night” at my friend’s house. While I’d love to consider myself artsy, I’m just… not. I must have been in the other room when God handed out the visually creative genes. I can write (sometimes), and I can sing (a little), and I used to be able to play the piano (before I had three kids and lost too many brain cells), but the truth is, I can barely draw a stick figure. So, the prospect of me doing something that involved painting and drawing was a little scary – no, let me re-phrase that – UBER, extremely, super-dee-duper scary.

Our little group settled in to make ATC’s, which, if you’re a cool, in-the-know artist type, you already recognize the acronym. The rest of you will just have to guess… No, just kidding! ATC stands for Artist Trading Card. It’s like a mini work of art about the same size as a baseball card. Artists use a variety of techniques to decorate these mini canvases, from paint and texture to magazine cut-outs and collages.

So, after instructions by our gracious hostess, I was off and creating. Happily. In my own little artsy world. Until I looked to the left and saw the coolest, most beautiful ATC created by a gal who said she wasn’t artsy or craftsy at all. What? I’m sitting next to an undiscovered Van Gogh!

This ought to be excellent for my budding artist self-esteem.

Then, across the table, another supposed “non-artsy” person was layering color upon gorgeous color with texture and glitter to make yet another fabulous ATC! 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was happy for these closet artists who were discovering their inner Michelangelos. Really, I was. It was just that my own little humble ATC looked so simple and homely by comparison.

By comparison.

Did you catch those two little cancerous words?

Someone once said, “Comparison is the death of contentment.” Isn’t this so true?

Like I said above, I was happily creating in my own little world UNTIL I started comparing myself to others. The truth is, my mini canvas was beautiful in its own way – it was just DIFFERENT from theirs.

And the truth is, your life, mapped out JUST FOR YOU by a loving and gracious heavenly Father who has carefully crafted EVERY detail, is incredibly beautiful in its own way!

So why we do find ourselves playing the comparison game all the time?

We compare our kids to the ones who are smarter, better behaved, happier, more well-adjusted… or so we think.

We compare our husbands to our friends’ husbands, who we THINK have better jobs, more vacation time, do more around the house, buy better gifts, or write better love notes.  

We compare our lives to the girl next door. And you know what? She does the same!

So how do we get off this never-ending, death-to-contentment, crazy comparison carousel?

As you can see, I definitely don’t have that answer all wrapped up.

One thing I do know: God doesn’t want us comparing ourselves to others. Why? Because it leads to one of two things: 1) Pride (as in “Wow, I’m SO glad MY kids don’t behave that way!”) or 2) Discontent (as in “Man, I wish MY house was decorated like hers.”)

Either way, we’re in the wrong. So what’s a girl to do?

Check out this verse I found in Galatians 6:4-5 (it’s a dead-on paraphrase from The Message and I absolutely LOVE it!):

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Whoa! Did you get that? Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Yes. Yes! That’s it! But it’s oh-so easier said than done, isn’t it, friends?

Here’s what I’m going to do the next time I find myself playing the comparison game, and I hope you’ll join me: 1) Look up Galatians 6:4-5 (or write it down now and have it handy). 2) Read it out loud at least three times. 3) Thank God for three things about whatever or whomever you’re comparing. For example, if you’re comparing your child to someone else’s, think of three things you’re thankful for about YOUR child. 4) Then pray for contentment and freedom from comparison.

Thank you, Lord, for the life you have given me. Help me to stop comparing myself to others, and to keep my focus on You, the author and finisher of my faith!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Underground Railroad Adventure

A few days ago, I walked in the long-forgotten footsteps of runaway slaves.

My feet touched the same smooth ash floorboards as theirs did over 170 years ago when they were rushed through a side door and silently led upstairs to a cramped hiding place.

My hands touched the same walls that symbolized refuge and safety to these refugees seeking a better life.

My children sat in the same wagon that had smuggled these brave souls past slave hunters to a red brick house on the Underground Railroad.

On one occasion 17 slaves hid in this small wagon.

And I thanked God for freedom.

I wondered what would motivate men like Levi Coffin risk their lives for people they didn’t even know.

Was it love for their fellow man? The ability to look beyond color and see slaves as who they really were – people just like themselves? Conviction? Faith? Bravery? Maybe all of the above.

Whatever the reason, Coffin’s house still stands brave and strong in Fountain City, Indiana, a monument to the man who helped more than 2,000 escaped slaves taste freedom.

My children and I have been fascinated with the Underground Railroad ever since we read Freedom Train, a biography of Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who led thousands of her people to freedom. Coffin and Tubman met somewhere on the Underground Railroad route, although the exact location is not known. I’m sure they hit it off instantly.

During the two-hour tour of this “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad, we marveled at the facts and stories told to us by two very knowledgeable guides.

Here is just a sampling of what we saw and heard:

·       Levi and Catharine Coffin were Quakers who moved to Indiana from North Carolina in 1826 because they opposed slavery.

·       In the 1840s, strong, healthy adult slaves were worth $1,000 each – that’s around $26,000 in today’s money. On one occasion, a wagon concealing 17 – yes, that’s right, SEVENTEEN – slaves arrived at Coffin’s side door.

·       A rare indoor well helped conceal the fact that there were more people living in the house than usual. If the Coffin children would have been seen going to an outdoor well for water 10 or more times a day, people may have become suspicious.

·       Once, Coffin helped rescue two little girls from slave hunters by smuggling them out of a nearby house dressed as boys and hiding them INSIDE beds in one of his upstairs bedrooms. The girls were talking and giggling so much he had to put them in two separate beds!

·       The most well-used hiding spot in the house was in the garret/attic in the upstairs bedroom. This was a tiny space under the sloping roof of the house, with a three-foot tall door leading to it. The door could be concealed by moving the bed in front of it.

Can you imagine hiding in this cramped space on a 90 degree day for more than 12 hours? Slaves were not allowed to move around at all during the day, but they were able come out of the garret in the evening. As I peeked inside the tiny hiding spot during our tour, I could almost hear their whispered conversations about freedom and their shared hopes and dreams of life as free men and women.

If you live remotely close to east central Indiana, I highly recommend a trip to the Levi Coffin house. History will come alive for students and adults alike who have studied the Underground Railroad.

The house is located at 113 N. US Highway 27 in Fountain City, Indiana (close to Richmond). Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children (ages 6-18). For more information, call the museum’s information line at (765) 847-2432.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lost & Found: Lessons from Psalm 139

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. Psalm 139:17-18 

Junk drawers often hold the best treasures. The other day, I found a hidden gem in my overflowing junk drawer, tucked inside a notebook full of recipes, sermon notes, and miscellaneous jottings.

If I knew who had said these inspiring words, I would give him (or her) credit. But unfortunately, I don't. I only know these simple thoughts are the answer to who we are and why we have worth in God's eyes.

Read Psalm 139 today and meditate on these four simple thoughts. I promise these truths will cause you to respond to life in a completely new way:

1. God KNOWS me. (verses 1-4)
2. He PROTECTS me. (verses 5-12)
3. He CREATED me. (verses 13-16)
4. He VALUES me. (verses 17-18)

You are precious in God's sight, my friend! You are His prized possession, created in His image. Trust Him with your life, and you will never regret it!