Saturday, October 07, 2006

Word Up, Yo

Words can stay with us forever.

Last week, I blogged about Wendy, a friend who'd quit modeling because she didn't want young girls to believe her tall, trim figure was the standard for beauty. Wendy sent me some words that made me smile:

Great article, Hol. I'm so glad my words meant something to you. I always wondered if I had made an impact by making that decision. Now I know I have. Imagine all the young girls right now who don't know how lovely they are. Keep making your mark!

This got me thinking about how meaningful words can be. My writer pal Teeriffic loves quotes. She'll chew on one tiny sentence for hours, savoring it like a gourmet meal. Thoughtful words feed her soul.

Over the years, I've collected some words in my mind. Some are good words: They've built me up and helped me grow. Some, like Wendy's words, have inspired me deeply. I carry her words with me every time I'm around young people, hoping I can inspire them to see the beauty within themselves.

Someone did that for me when I was a teenager. It was a high-school teacher--I'll call him Mr. T--and I'll bet he never knew how much it impacted me when he said:

"No one fully appreciates the beauty of their youth."

He'd shown some of us students a picture of himself in his glory days. In that photo, he looked like an Olympian: young, strong, vibrant. It was a sharp contrast to the way we students saw him: an often tired-eyed teacher who'd obviously spent too many hours around whiny teenagers and was a bit worse for the wear.

After seeing that photo and hearing those words, my teenage mind decided I'd see myself as beautiful right then and there, instead of waiting until I was in my 30s to nostalgically reflect on my own glory days. "Lookit that pretty girl!" I'd proclaim to myself on passing every mirror.

As I entered my early-20s, I still thought about Mr. T's words from time to time. I wondered if I'd really understood their meaning. Maybe he wasn't referring to physical appearance. Maybe Mr. T meant for us to embrace life while we were still young and able-bodied enough to enjoy it, before time and circumstances drained us of youthful energy. So I climbed mountains and jumped in lakes. I drank in the wind and the sunshine, and devoured the world around me with my eyes and ears and hands and feet. Then came my mid-20s. Perhaps Mr. T had been talking about inner youth, I thought, the innocence and trust and wonder that seems to disappear with knowledge and experience. At the time, I was on a spiritual journey which took me through every religion and "ism" imaginable. I thought if I could just make myself good enough for God, I'd get back to that innocence and wonder I longed for.

Now I'm into my 30s. Earlier this week, I read these words in my Bible: "You take care of the earth and send rain to help the soil grow all kinds of crops. Your rivers never run dry, and you prepare the earth to produce much grain. ... Wherever your footsteps touch the earth, a rich harvest is gathered. Desert pastures blossom, and mountains celebrate. Meadows are filled with sheep and goats; valleys overflow with grain and echo with joyful songs." (Psalm 65: 9, 11-13, CEV).

Suddenly, Mr. T's words popped into my head again. His words took on a new meaning in light of this Scripture. I realized: My youth is every day I am alive, until the day I die. The beauty of youth--of life, really--is God's presence. We think we contribute so much to our own existence by working, making money, paying bills, eating, exercising, building families and societies. That's nothing compared to making the sun rise (what human can do that?), sending rain and providing all the right conditions so food can grow. What if God didn't provide sun and rain and fertile soil? Think about that the next time you're talking about putting food on the table--is it really your efforts, or is it God's doing? I buy a cotton t-shirt from Old Navy for $5 and feel impressed with myself for putting clothes on my back. But did I create a plant that could be used to make clothing? If I eat chicken tonight, do I worry chickens might not reproduce ever again, and the meat source would be gone?

God takes care of so many things in our lives. He's got a handle on it, down to the last detail. Yet, how often do I say, "Thank you, God, for providing enough water on the planet so I can have something to drink today. (Wow, there's even enough for me to wash my face and launder my Old Navy t-shirt!) Thank you, God, for making cows, because I sure do love milkshakes and hamburgers. Thank you, God, for the breeze when I sit on the patio. The weatherman's talking about how westerly winds are going to affect temperatures, and the scientists are talking about how to harness energy from the wind. Me, I just like how it feels on my face. Thanks for giving me that feeling, God." Truthfully, I don't think to thank God for these daily blessings all that often.

I'm still not entirely sure what Mr. T meant. But I'm glad his words made me realize what a beautiful life God has given me. And it's too true I'll never fully appreciate the beauty of my life. Tomorrow, I might be more concerned about what we're having for dinner than where the food originated. Tomorrow, I might not notice the gentle autumn breeze. Tomorrow, I might be sitting in traffic, fully grouchy and completely inappreciative.

So, while it's on my mind: Thank you, God. It's a beautiful life.

To ponder:
What are some good words that have stayed with you for years? Why are those particular words important to you?

2) Bad words can stay with us, too. Are there words that have caused you hurt over the years? Tell God how those words make you feel. Then, ask him to give you new words--good words--to replace the bad ones.

3) I've often asked God to give me good words--helpful statements that would encourage others. And sometimes, I believe God has completely shut my mouth. That's because I needed to listen rather than speak. Is there someone you don't seem to have the right words for? Consider admitting to them you don't have the answers they need. Then point them to The One who does.

4) Need some good words right now? Check out these ones (Isaiah 40:28-31).

No comments: