8.2.16

Giving small things

I recently read the story of Lilias Trotter.   Lilias was 19th century woman who is best known for her work in Algeria.  Before she ever stepped foot in Africa, however, she spent years pursuing a career in painting.  She gave it all up at the age of 35 to follow her dream of going onto the mission field - which she did completely on her own because no organization would take her on due to poor health.  What she gave up at great sacrifice - a promising career in the arts, which was unheard of for a woman in that day -   God so graciously gave back to her later on in her life.  Over forty years of her work in Algeria, she used writing and watercolor to develop methods and materials to reach the Arab people.  Her eye for beauty and artistic talent coupled with her desire to honor God became one of her greatest and most enduring legacies.

A page from Lilias Trotter's The Bird Book.  Translation: "We love the birds because God loves them.  And Christ said: "Even one of them is not forgotten." He teaches them and we must listen to their story.  

I love stories like this.  I love seeing someone find their little niche in the world and use it to serve God.  He gives people such exceptionally unique gifts, and where I see this happening, I pay very close attention.  I see the prayer warriors pray.  The dancers dance.  I watch people great in the kitchen make meals for families with sick kids and new babies.  Every week we're blessed by teenagers who adore kids serving in the church nursery.  And other's stories: God made Eric Liddel fast.  Aaron had a way with words and became the voice for Moses.  An American mom finds a way to help Syrian refugees by donating baby carriers to make their journey safer and easier.   Joanna Gaines has mad decorating skills. (love Fixer Upper!) An elderly woman in Iowa sews a dress a day and gives away 1,000 dresses on her 100th birthday.  Acts 9 tells the story of another seamstress, who made clothes and gave them to the poor.  

What I admire about these people are the qualities of wisdom and humility they exhibit.  They have the wisdom to know what they are good at, and rather than using their gifts to bring attention to themselves, they use it to serve others.   I recently read a insightful definition of humility: 

Taking up exactly the amount of space that God created us to take up.  

"If we believe ourselves entitled to more space than we deserve we will make a show of what we have and even attempt to create the illusion that we have more.  If we believe ourselves to be unworthy of what we have then we will present ourselves as less than and either give everything away or try to hide that we have it.  Neither of these show humility.  One draws undue attention to ourselves and the other tries to give away something that God intended for us."

Lilias could have had a very big space with an exceptional career in painting - but God intended her space to be smaller, and ultimately more significant, than that. Dorcas might have been so self conscious of her gift that she was afraid to give it away.  But her pride or legacy didn't lie in her fine craftsmanship, but in the condition of her heart.  "She was full of good works and acts of charity," Acts 9:36 says.  This is the lesson all of these men and women, near and far, past and present, teach me: 

Big or small, whatever you're good at or whatever you love, 
it becomes a gift when you offer it to someone else.

I've stepping out in faith in a handful of ways this past year, trying to give back to God what he has given me.  The one example I will share with you today is this: letter writing.  I have been making, writing, and mailing my own Christmas cards for as long as I can remember.  It's kind of odd to think about getting a Christmas card from a 10-year-old now, but it's a long-standing legacy I inherited from my family, and I embrace it now.   Nothing brings me more joy today than writing and sending off mail.

Last year I started writing letters to the persecuted church.  Hebrews 13:3 says this: "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body."   I am commanded to remember them, I want to pray for these brothers and sisters of mine, and on top of all that, I love to write letters.  It seemed like something any church I've ever been to seemed to ignore, so right here was a little niche I could fill.  So I gathered all my materials: pen, paper, envelopes, my Bible, an online translating tool, and the names, information, and addresses of dozens of Christians sitting in prisons all over the world (learn more here): Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, China, Vietnam, Egypt, Uzbekistan.   I read their stories, I wrote and I prayed and I remembered these men and women.  I loved it. 

And as I sat down in my comfortable chair in my free time, without even knowing it, they have become my teachers. Most of them live in places where people possess an understanding that I don't: that to follow Jesus is to follow a difficult path.  They don't have churches they can freely walk into and they don't have a faith that easily goes with the flow.  They would rather go to jail than tell a lie.   They think it more important to show their families their unyielding faith in Jesus - whatever the consequences - than the possibility of ever seeing their children's faces ever again.   They are bolder and more courageous and depend on God more than I ever could imagine in my comfortable life. They deserve more than my sympathy and petty prayers.  Where I come from, when we ask God to bless us we generally mean we want more stuff.  They ask God's blessings on their faith to bear fruit and doors for their message to be flung wide open. They desire God's presence and boldness more than freedom and comfort.  They consider it an honor and a privilege of suffering for Him.  I hope someday we can all understand this.  

After reading the biography of Lilias Trotter, I did a little bit of research and found some of her artwork that she did in Algeria.  A far cry from what could have been had she pursued her career in the arts,  her work is mostly unpublished or out of print.  I don't know a lot about her works except they have sat in the basement of a museum for many years.  She wrote short, illustrated moral stories in Arabic, perfect for having printed and tucking into cards for my Arabic-speaking friends. 



 I am happy to pass Lilias Trotter's legacy on, even in this very small way. I thank God for her faithfulness to the gift that God gave her.  It can be said of Lilias, Mary, and may it also be true of you and me:  She did what she could.  (Mark 14:8) .  Because big or small, when we do what we can do with what God gives us, not taking up more or less space than we ought, all of us have gifts to give.  

"May the God of peace...that great shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything 
good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ". 
-Hebrews 13:20-21


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