Recently, I completed a psychiatric evaluation for a professional certification I am pursuing. The day consisted of three exams including multiple choice and fill in the blank questions. The rumor prior to entering the test was that if you weren't insane before starting you would be before you finished! It was a long and tiring test day. After completing over 500 bubble in questions with a #2 pencil, I felt a bit drained but continued to the written questions with only a short break. One of the questions was to name three famous people (no religious leaders allowed) and then list what qualities you admire and desire about each person. In that moment, I began to think of famous people as the question asked. But, I could not think of a single famous woman who was not a religious leader. Mother Teresa was the only famous woman that would come to mind (and I'm pretty sure she counts as a religious leader). Being the independent and equality focused woman that I am, I was really frustrated with myself and refused to list all of my answers as men. So, I sat there and stared at my paper. I instantly thought of many men of varying degrees of fame including Abraham Lincoln, Louis Zamperini, Martin Luther King Jr., and Shane Claiborne. Of course, there is Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, Bill Cosby, Beethoven, George Lucas, and Steve Jobs. There were many famous men floating through my mind in that split second.
As a woman, I really wanted to include at least one woman in my list of influential famous people. But, why could I not think of any women? I am not certain what my frustration or dis-satisfaction with an all male answer would say of my psychiatric exam results (although I’m sure the reviewing psychiatrist can explain). However, I know that once I sat back, took a deep breath and paused for a few moments, the women came rushing into memory. Women (also of varying degrees of fame) like Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty White, Taylor Swift, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Jen Hatmaker, Lucille Ball, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, and Amelia Earhart. These women have all gained their fame for some reason or another. Like the men who came to mind, the reasons they are famous are all different. Like the men, these women have many other roles than the role the public puts on them. They are not solely known for their fame as authors, artists, musicians, comedians or leaders. They are known to others as daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and friends. Women today and throughout history have often worn so many hats that fame is simply one more for these women to keep up with. There are many attributes about each of these women that I admire and desire. I narrowed my list and moved on to the remainder of my test. This thought stuck with me, how could anyone, man or woman, handle the added pressures of fame today? Who would ever want to be famous?
After discussing a famous athlete recently in the news, I told a friend at worship on Sunday night that I have no desire to be famous because of the scrutiny that surrounds fame. I told him that fame must surely be hard to manage and to live into. Fame allows the world to feel like they know you and give you every piece of advice imaginable (from your hair color and your baby's name to your philanthropic efforts and devotional routine). Fame pushes you to be a leader and example setter. After all, once famous, people look to you and the choices you make, right? They watch your actions, listen to your words and take note of your priorities. They favorite your tweets and share your status updates. Fame, permissible or not, adds another perceived layer of accountability to one’s actions. Fame seems to require a lot more responsibility!
After my statement about not wanting to be famous, my friend looked at me and informed me that he thought I was already famous. I quickly replied no (with a chuckle) and asked him why he thought I would be considered famous. With true genuineness, he reminded me that to my 8 year-old son and to my niece and nephews and to the kids in our mission congregation, I’m definitely famous. My choices, my style, my language, and how I spend my time and money may not be broadcast on social media or on television. However, as a mom, aunt, spiritual care giver, and a teacher in our mission congregation, I’m famous. And, no matter your title or role, you are famous too.
This thought has stuck with me since listing those famous men and women. It has stuck with me because although we live in a world where it is easy to find fault with others, we also live in a world where it is easy to set a good example, make a difference, give back, create charity, spread good ideas, build community, live passionately, embrace the small things and live fully into the persons God called each of us to be (in my case, a woman!).
I hope you feel famous today. Not for the pressure it may insinuate but for the possibilities it holds. It may be another hat to wear, but how you live your life indeed impacts others.
My favorite memory of my friend Jerry is something I'm sure he said weekly as an usher in our church. First, I must explain that our church is laid out in a unique way and if you are on the side of adult classes, you must either go outside or walk back through the sanctuary to get to the children's classes or the back parking lot. Since our family typically attends the early service and Jerry handed out the bulletins at the late service, we would pass by Jerry each week to get back to the other side of the church (especially lately in this cold weather, I took the shortcut). And each week, Jerry would ask, "JPT?". For Jerry, "JPT" stood for "just passing through". And nearly every week, we would reply to Jerry, "JPT, we are just passing through". Jerry left this earth and went on to heaven this week. JPT now has a new meaning to me and I'm sure to a few others as well. Because we are indeed all just passing through, aren't we?
If you spotted me yesterday morning, it was likely you heard me as well. The tears could simply not be slowed down. It all started when I spotted my parents. You see in the last week, not only have I been reminded by Jerry's life that we are all JPT, but I've watched my closest friends say goodbye to some very special family members in their lives as well. Some of those goodbyes were sudden and some of them were not. But, it surely doesn't make saying goodbye much easier. And, when I saw my parents on Sunday, and thought of all these great individuals I personally know who have passed away all in the same week, the emotions simply came pouring out.
Yes, the tears eventually ceased and I felt better after a good Sunday afternoon nap. But, honestly, it isn't easy watching others leave this earth, even when we know earth is temporary. We all know there is no guarantee of how many days we will walk this earth. The one absolute guarantee is that we are only here for a relatively short time. And, I believe many of us agree that the guarantee that follows is even greater because we then have eternal life. I know this - good grief - I know this. This is not a news flash or new information. I do think that it is good to grieve the loss of great people and it is also good to celebrate what lies ahead.
In processing the loss and grief that has surrounded me this week, I was reminded that even Jesus showed his grief when his friend, Lazarus, died. We just don't have the ability to bring our friends back like Jesus did! So, let this time of just passing through help us appreciate the one life we do have. Here is to finding beauty in the everyday things, hugging the ones you love, celebrating the lives of the ones you've lost, making a difference, giving back, loving until it hurts, weeping until the tears run dry, capturing moments you don't want to end, and simply living life to the fullest.
This past week has been full and at times overwhelming (if I'm to be truly honest). I'm very thankful I started the year off with a silent retreat last weekend to prepare (if even barely) for the coming year. We are now already ten days into a new year as I write these words.
I love words. Words help me heal, they help me share, they help me love, they help me process, they help me understand, they help me mourn, they help me believe, they help me have hope, they help. Words are powerful. So, for me, to select a single word for the coming year is a greater challenge than creating a long list of wordy resolutions (yes, I know I am wordy and this alone should likely be on a resolution list - hence the silent retreat). Choosing one word for the year is a practice I've entered in before and this year, with the help of Christine, I was encouraged and confirmed in my word:
So, although only God knows what is to come in 2013, I choose to embrace it (whatever that means or may look like). This week I have multiple friends facing the loss of loved ones (some with time to say goodbye and some of those friends have lost their loved ones unexpectedly). I have a precious boy celebrating Honor Roll. I have new opportunities in ministry. And, I also have a sink full of dirty dishes, mail to be opened, bills to be paid and a cough that has returned. I have some new boundaries and exciting new challenges. The only way to live fully into the coming year is to embrace each of these moments and the many more to come because only God knows the road ahead.
"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone." -Thomas Merton
Whitney R. Simpson
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