Category Archives: faith

You are of inestimable value

Tip-toeing along the forested trail with an early morning group of birders, I marveled at a ray of sun peeking through the canopy and illuminating the brush below. Binoculars at the ready, our small band had stopped to look and listen for the sounds of the small creatures around us. I became instantly aware of my own smallness in the midst of the magnificence of the natural world. There was only silence, but in that silence, I heard this:

You are of inestimable value, but you must diminish in self-importance.

I have to admit, this struck an immediate chord. Even among this little troupe I felt the need to be knowledgeable and capable; thus to demonstrate my value, I suppose. This became particularly and painfully evident to me among these experienced birders who knew much and didn’t feel the need to defend or withhold what they knew. They spotted and identified, not for show, but in order to point it out so that others could see it and learn to recognize it, too.

Bird identification, I have found, is quite a difficult skill. But it is one that can be learned over many hours of practice with a helpful mentor or teacher and a good bird book or two. The fact that you took an ornithology class with Dr. Byrd many years ago at William and Mary is nice but simply has no standing.

Still, in this moment of self-realization, I am also utterly assured of my inestimable value. Can I tell you I teared up a bit at this? It was okay to be less than; in fact, it would be necessary in order to claim my full value.

Shifting gears, here, but stick with me….

Upholding this new perspective on my return from the birding expedition, I felt inclined (nothing to lose!) to email the nationally known cookware retailer from whom I had purchased an expensive Christmas gift but which turned out to have a defective mechanism. We had only now (in May) had the opportunity to try it out and I no longer had the sales receipt, but I felt sure that upon hearing from a valued customer that this expensive item was defective they would surely make it right.

Well, a dozen emails later, including those with photos attached (per their request), the credit card statement indicating the date of sale, purchase price and the sales transaction number (also, requested), they ultimately and summarily declined to replace, repair or credit me for the item. Without a receipt, “they could not help me.” Their final word:

“I wanted to reach back out to you after I was advised by a member of Leadership on your situation. Regretfully, as was relayed to you previously, without proof of purchase we are unable to issue a replacement or a refund. I apologize for any disappointment this may cause. This may not be the answer you were hoping for, but I trust you understand that your request far exceeds our guarantee and return window. Thank you and please feel free to contact us with any other questions. ~ Warm regards, Heather M., Customer Service

Warm regards, eh? But yes, I was asking them to forgo their usual policy in a gratuitous act of kindness and generosity they were not prepared to offer. I did now own $145.00 worth of beautifully hand-crafted Italian wood salt and pepper shakers that are completely useless. They made it clear that I have no right to ask for special exceptions; I am not that important.

And fortunately, having just embraced both my inestimable value and my need to diminish in self-importance, I was able (barely) to quench my desire to shoot back an email to this customer service representative threatening never to shop at this store again and to tell my friends the same and to post this on FB and twitter and perhaps contact the Better Business Bureau. As you can see, my dark, self-important side gave it a good run.

The truth is: the store was within their rights to deny my request. The bigger truth is: doing what you have the right to do isn’t always the right thing to do.

The newly humbled me did send a conciliatory email reply, thanking Heather M for looking into this for me and assuring her that next time I would try out my purchase right away and be sure not to misplace the receipt. Killing them with kindness didn’t get me a refund either.

But whoa, this interchange sure offered me an up-close look at my relationship with my own self-importance (aka pride) and how it can control me. I am not so important that I can make demands or expect special consideration. My ability to spend does not earn me extra attention. My status does not earn me exemption from the rules or excuse me from honoring the stated policy.

And while we’re at it, the One who established my value seemed to say, you are not too important to clean toilets or change diapers. Nor to do the dishes and take out the trash. Nor to teach special needs children, nor university students nor be President. Your value is, and must by rights be, separate from all these things. My sole responsibility in all circumstances is to do my part. My opportunity: to live the life I’m capable of. My calling: to do it all without drawing attention to myself. God is good with that.

When I am keenly aware of my inestimable value which cannot be diminished by any earthly thing, I don’t waste time buffing up my importance or defending it to others. I am nothing and that’s the starting point for everything.

Now I have a pair of useless salt and pepper shakers as a daily reminder. Maybe I’ll take them apart and see if I can get them to work right. Got nothing to lose.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11

The day God danced, too

It’s been raining for days and days and days. The sky gray with clouds. Puddles turning to ponds in the backyard. The bluebirds have sought shelter. Even the ducks swimming in the pond out back dart this way and that, pelted by the deluge that lessens then grows but just won’t give up.

I confess my mood falters with the growing gloom. Damp like the pages of the magazine that had the misfortune to be left outside on the screened in porch. When will it stop? When can I go outside? Where is the sun, the warmth, the inhale of clean breath I remember from a day so long ago?

Wait. What’s that? Could it be? It is! The glow of sunshine through the window. Throw open the shutters. Oh my goodness, run out in the yard, skip to the mailbox, spin in circles. Gather the whole 360. It has NEVER felt so good to be in a new day!!

Ahhh, I write on my chalk message board. Who can think of anything better to say?

Thank you, Thursday, for being gorgeous. Clear and sunny. Not a drop of humidity. Perfect temperature. As if this day was made strictly to my very own specifications.

… For a moment, I feel guilty for loving the day so much. I mean really, there are many days much like this in central Florida. There they awake to sunshine, yawn and go on about their business. Treating each day pretty much like the rest, one day indistinguishable, from the other. In the constancy, they are unaware of their good fortune. But today here in Virginia, I celebrate…

And then, for a glancing moment — really a split second — I look up in my reverie and wonder if this might be the way it happens up there in the heavens amongst the onlooking saints. That the day-by-day good-doers are applauded as one would a Florida day, unsurpassed but unsurprising, while the day-by-day sin-committers — the ones trudging through the driving rain, soaked to the skin, clouded over and covered in mud…

Oh, on that day! The day they see the light and turn their face to it, now THAT is a day like today. A run, skip and twirl kind of day. A day God dances in the driveway, too.

More than a view: the spiritual practice of noticing

Looking out from our back porch, a visitor to our new home once lamented, “Too bad they left those trees to spoil your view.” She was referring to a stand of three pines left as remnants of the thick foliage that once covered our lot.

Now, this is the view.

Plenty to take in. It is marvelous, show-stopping, in fact. And by my account, it is not at all spoiled by the trees. Actually, it’s enhanced by the them. Yes, because they add color, texture and dimension, but also because they form a frame for my daily animation. They provide branches for the bluebirds to perch on and peck at, a stage from which the cardinals often sing, a scurrying course for the squirrels at play and even an occasional roost for a resting heron.

Yes, very far from spoiling our view, the trees enhance it. No, I don’t have an unobstructed view of the lake and its backdrop, but I do have a close-up look at the natural world that’s before me. As if I am part of it as it proceeds. Not just a viewer, but a participant.

I confess that I did wonder whether there would come a time when I would pass by the view of the lake with little thought, as if it were simply a painting hanging in my hallway, just a thing to be shown off to visitors when they came over.

Perhaps, if it were just a view. But its more than just a view; it’s a scene. And more than just a scene, it’s a setting for the characters which take the stage each day in my backyard. For goodness sake, it’s live theater! …with an unseen crew who regularly adjusts lighting and weather conditions, not to mention welcoming seasonal color changes in delightful hues.

My view is so much more than something to look at. It’s a marvel to appreciate. The shimmer of sun off the still water. Quivering reflections after the wind disturbs the surface. The overlapping V’s in the wake of happy mallards paddling smartly along and suddenly the startling splash of a diving osprey and then the wriggle of its prey as it carries it away.

Yes, animation calls to me. It insists I attend to it. Not just to see it, but to watch it unfold. The mind wanders and the imagination is piqued. What will happen next? It holds my interest in a way that no suspended moment ever has, however glorious. The view is constantly changing, and as I pay attention, so do I.

Isn’t it odd, this human tendency to seek the perfect, unobstructed view? To hurry past stragglers, shoving our way to the front to witness the spectacle everyone else says is worth seeing? And then to snap a photo in order to “capture the moment” forever.

But we can’t capture moments. We live them and, if we’re lucky, we live through them. As tempting as it may be to stay and enjoy the view, that’s not how the world works. Day follows day and we move with it.

We are not props on the day’s stage, but actors in the current scene in the performance of our lives. Our Creator is directing the play. This is such good news. In spite of our predilection for still life and snapshots, they don’t tell our whole story. They can’t as long as our view keeps changing.

How grateful I am for those pines that stand tall and proud and “in the way.” Instead of spoiling my view, they’ve expanded it.

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