A few days ago, for the first time, I attended a 100th birthday party.
My friend still lives in her own apartment (though with daily help) one floor above me. She looks lovely in her royal blue dress, her white hair framing bright eyes and the smile-lines of her face.
I hear stories from the few others present (all vaccinated, masked and socially distanced) of how when she retired at age sixty-five, she took up a volunteer position three days a week in the church office and stayed twenty years. She greeted by name each preschooler who came for the parents and tots program, welcomed each homeless friend who wandered in off the street. A friendly smile, a silent prayer, someone to see them—her simple offerings have blessed many.
As we finish our cake, someone asks, “Phyllis, the rest of us haven’t reached 100 yet. If you had one piece of advice for us younger ones, what would it be?” Without hesitation she replied, “Just be yourself, keep loving God, and serve.” She has lived this way.
Three Woven Strands
“Just be yourself, keep loving God, and serve.” It’s the weaving together of these three strands of her advice that keeps them all beautiful and true, the burden light.
“Just be yourself, keep loving God. . .” God doesn’t ask us to love him with someone else’s mind or strength, but with our own, however great or small that may be.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
“. . . and serve.” Serving, too, is lighter when it is the overflow of God’s love for us and ours for him rather than rising from a deep need to please others in order to feel safe. (Ask me how I know!)
It’s what Jesus has said from the beginning: fruit flows from making our home in him.
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” (John 15:5 The Message)
An Abundant and Varied Harvest
Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn has just begun. While farm wives are posting Instagram photos of their favorite farmers harvesting various grains, this girl in the heart of the city is delighting in the variety of berries and seed pods of all shapes and sizes that peek out between leaves or scatter the ground.
I’m intrigued all over again by how creative God is, and how varied his creation. And I’m reminded all over again that a perfect Gala apple does not taste like the very best tangerine, nor is it shaped like an ideal banana. A perfect apple is itself. And in being what it was created to be, it brings glory to its Creator.
I’m so grateful that God doesn’t ask us to be our neighbor, just to love them as we cling close to him, becoming more fully and freely ourselves in his love.
A Thank You
This morning, I want to whisper my thanks first to the One who sets us increasingly free to be ourselves in his love, and, second, to you. We have something to celebrate today. Together, we’ve just won the Word Guild’s Best Blog of the Year Award! I’ve prayed and written and posted here on this blog for over eleven years. You’ve read and prayed and encouraged and shared posts on facebook or forwarded them to a friend. Thank you!
Thank you for being your own beautiful self. Thank you for keeping on loving God, even, or especially, in the hard times. Thank you for glimpses you’ve let me see of your own life through an occasional comment or note. I am deeply honored to be entrusted with this sacred work of listening and writing, and I’m deeply honored to do it with you as we each press in, God helping us, to listen together to God’s heartbeat and make our home in Christ’s love.
May we each be given the grace today to just be ourselves, keep loving God, and serve from that place of overflowing love. Bless you, friend.