All the Small Things

Holding one of the "small things." Isn't he cute?!
Holding one of the “small things.” Isn’t he cute?!

I’ve always liked small things.

Especially animals. I even have a title to go with it. During my tenure as a “Fearless Leader” (aka coordinator) for Junior Greek Life at OSU, I was dubbed “The Fearless Leader of All Things Cute and Fluffy.” I’d like to say that this obsession with small furry animals has changed since I became a serious and mature graduate student, but it hasn’t. I still “ooo” and “ahh” over baby bunnies, and I might have taken 50+ photos of the chipmunk that lived behind my house last year. And every time I’m home over break, holding guinea pigs at the pet store with my family is a highlight.

Small children aren’t bad either. Granted, I’m not as much of a natural with them as my sister Rascal (Kids that don’t even know her will flock to her. She’s like a magnet. Seriously.), but I get a kick out of watching little kids. Just last week I was helping out in the nursery during my church’s Ash Wednesday service when I met one of the funniest kids. Sweet little Ella Mae sat on the floor for the entire hour and a half and did absolutely nothing. Didn’t move. Didn’t smile. I don’t think she even blinked. And no matter how hard I tried to make her smile, laugh, or simply change facial expressions, she wouldn’t. The girl was stoic, and it was impressive. But when her mom came to pick her up—BAM!—she snapped out of her trance and became an energetic, animated, and normal little kid. Talk about hilarious…. and more than a little bizarre.

Small countries are also cool. During my semester abroad, I was able to spend a few days in Slovenia. For those of you who aren’t experts on European geography, Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia and is wedged between Austria, Italy, and Croatia. It’s also itty-bitty. With an area of only 7,827 square miles, the entire country could fit into New Jersey with room to spare. And yet despite being tiny, Slovenia was easily the most beautiful and memorable country I visited. Filled with caves, castles built into mountains, turquoise rivers, and—my personal favorite—a bright blue lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains, trees, and white sand (see below), Slovenia is the best kept secret in Central and Eastern Europe. To quote their cheesy (but genius) tourist slogan: I definitely feel sLOVEnia. 😉

Bohinj, Slovenia.
Bohinj, Slovenia.

But as much as I enjoy small things, my love for the miniature has its limits. Why?

Because I don’t like feeling small.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I am small. And let’s face it; we all are. Sure, we might be able to ignore our relative insignificance most of the time, but when it comes down to it, we’re all tiny in the grand scheme of things. According to the World Bank, there are 7.046 billion people in the world today. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that 108 billion people have lived on the Earth since its beginning.

To put this in perspective, take a look out the window next time you’re in an airplane. See all those buildings and streets below you? They are all filled—literally filled—with people. And that goes for the buildings and streets in all the other cities you’re flying over. That’s a whole lot of people.

aerial view

Maybe you’re like my mom and flying isn’t your thing. Instead, take a drive to your local grocery store or, better yet, Walmart. See all those products on the shelf? And all the produce by the entrance? Or the B-rate movies in the $5 bin? Each thing you see represents entire teams of people working behind the scenes, coming up with the product, writing the cheesy description, determining the nutrition facts, designing that eye-catching label, physically making it, and then delivering it to that exact spot on the shelf where you are currently staring at it. If that’s not overwhelming, then I don’t know what is.

Now to be entirely honest, I prefer not to think about my own smallness. If I had my way, I would be the center of my own miniature universe where I can feel valuable and purposeful and relatively big.

But what if that’s missing the point? What if God actually wants me—you, us—to feel small?

This week, my pastor preached about Moses and his encounter with the burning bush. When God tells Moses to free the Israelites from slavery, Moses responds by asking, “Who am I?” He’s a screw-up, a mess-up, a failure, an insignificant little guy—and he knows it. But rather than boosting Moses’ self-esteem with empty praise, God simply replies, “Certainly I will be with you.” And that will be enough. Essentially, God is saying, “You feel small because you are small. But I AM big. And that’s what matters.” His message to Moses is also meant for us. The question is do we choose to believe it?

You see, yes, we are small. Yes, in the great expanse of time, our lives are very short. Yes, there are 7.046 billion people in the world, and we each represent only one of them. But—and here’s the kicker—we serve an infinitely big God. And by His grace, we matter. He uses us tiny people to reveal His immeasurable glory. His power is perfected in our weakness. And in His hands our lives take on far greater purpose, meaning, and significance than we could have ever dreamed or created on our own. When we follow Him, we small people can make a big–and eternal–impact.

So whenever you feel insignificant or like your life doesn’t matter, remember this: God has a special heart for all the small things—including you and me. 🙂

I FEEL sLOVEnia 418

Daddy’s Girl

Image

At four years old, I had found my life’s goal. I knew my calling. I wanted to be just like my Papa.

Now at that point, I had no idea what my Papa actually did, so my attempts at emulating didn’t include his career path or interactions with the outside world. Rather, I developed the classic “monkey see, monkey do” mentality, doing my utmost best to observe and imitate his every move.

For instance, my Papa shaved his face, so I wanted to shave my face. And like the good Papa he was (and still is), he gave me a fake bronze razor and unlimited (until he learned a lesson and made it limited) access to his Barbasol shaving cream. Papa made coffee every morning, so I helped him make coffee in the morning (I became the official pusher of the “on” button, which I intelligently deemed the “pretty light”). Papa read the newspaper in our orange-and-brown flowered (yay 1970’s!) easy chair, so I read the newspaper in the orange-and-brown flowered easy chair. There was just one tiny problem, though:

I couldn’t read.

Now, to the four-year-old me, that was no big deal. After a minute or two, I got bored and moved onto more exciting things… like ponies. And luckily, my illiteracy didn’t last much longer. While homeschooling the now five-year-old version of me, my saintly mother taught me to read. And after finally conquering the difficult words like “was” and “though” (who decided to make the “s” sound like a “z”? and what imbecile decided to make the “ugh” silent even though it makes up half of the word?), I could read. Granted, my skill wasn’t advanced enough to tackle the Kansas City Star quite yet, but I was well on my way.

For some reason, that memory of the newspaper and the flowered chair has stuck with me over the years. In fact, it has even become one of my more vivid childhood memories. Occasionally, I find myself pondering it. What was I thinking as I looked at that newspaper? And how did the words look before I could understand what they said? Try as I might, I couldn’t transport my mind back to that time and place. I couldn’t remember my impressions. But then, I had an epiphany.  

Jetzt muss ich ein Bisschen auf Deutsch schreiben. Und ein Bisschen mehr… und ein Bisschen mehr… Ja, das ist genug.

Chances are, you probably didn’t understand that at all. Maybe you caught a word or two (or thought you caught a word or two), but unless you copied and pasted it into an online translator (or happen to have studied German, which is highly unlikely), you were clueless. You may have known it was German, but you had no idea what it said.

*LIGHTBULB!!! That’s how English looks (with fewer capital letters) when you don’t know how to read! It’s like a foreign language! Suddenly my lifelong (minus 4 years) question had been answered. And naturally, I was super excited, or should I say, “total aufgeregt”? 😉

Now that I knew what English looked like to illiterate people, I had a new musing: What does English sound like if you can’t understand it? Fortunately, I happened to pose this question to my friend John Box who had an immediate answer. True to his super smart, full-of-random-yet-useful-knowledge form, he sent me a video of an Italian TV show episode. On this show, the actors sing and dance to an “English” song, which is actually not English at all. Instead, it’s gibberish words strung together to sound just like English. It’s bizarre. You have to watch it (first without subtitles, then with them). Anyway, after viewing the video (and sharing it with multiple people), I had my answer; I had experienced English as a non-English speaker. Can you say, “Mama Mia!”? 😉

So why am I sharing this with you? That, my friend, is a very good question. But don’t worry; I think I have at least a decently good answer. And if I don’t, feel free to whack me with a newspaper (but please let me read it when you’re done). Okay, here goes…

Our relationship with God is a lot like learning to understand or read a new language. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of weird, but hear me out. Have you ever read the Bible? If so, have you ever felt like it was just a bunch of holy gibberish full of funny names (my personal favorite: Dodo) or impossible-to-pronounce places (like ”Adramyttium”? Or have you flipped to one of the Gospels and thought, “What in the Hades is Jesus saying?” Well, if you have, you’re not alone. I have definitely been there and, to be honest, I still find myself there often. But just like my mom so kindly taught me to read, I’m not permanently lost in the land of endless “begats”. And who is this tutor? I’m so glad you asked! He’s immortal; He’s invisible; He’s none other than…

The Holy Spirit.

That’s right; this often-forgotten, easily overlooked, frequently misunderstood Third Person of the Trinity is here to help you out. In fact, Jesus even called the Holy Spirit “the Helper” when He promised His coming to the disciples. In John 14:26, Jesus tells the disciples not to worry because “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” And that’s exactly what He does… and so much more.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t just help us understand what Jesus says and how to follow Him; He empowers us to live as God’s children. He gives us the strength to overcome temptation, He corrects our course when we start to veer off track into sin, and He empowers us to live the way Christ calls us to live. And unlike a human tutor or personal trainer, He doesn’t just leave us at the end of the lesson. No, on the contrary, He lives inside of us. That’s right; if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the SPIRIT OF GOD HIMSELF lives INSIDE OF YOU (Ezekiel 36:25-27). If that doesn’t blow your mind, it should! He is constantly working in you, molding you, and transforming you more and more to look like Jesus (Romans 8:29).

But that’s not all. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not just an impersonal force that Luke Skywalker hears from Hans Solo should be with him. The Holy Spirit has emotions just like you and I do, and He cares about you. It breaks His heart when we choose not to follow what He knows is best for us. When we pick our own way, we bring Him sorrow. Not because He wants us to live boring, prudish lives without any fun, but He understands what true freedom—true life—looks like, and He desperately wants us to have it. But He doesn’t stop there. No, He helps us to achieve it! He makes the Bible come to life as He reveals its meaning to us; He opens our hearts to the things of God and shows us what to do, and He helps us live He’s our heavenly tutor, our supernatural “Hooked on Phonics”, and He lives inside us, teaching, prompting, and perfecting us. Gradually, day-by-day and in His perfect timing, He transforms us to be more and more like our heavenly Daddy… But don’t worry; you won’t have to learn to shave.  😉