Friday, January 16, 2009

Laughing, We Endure...

I've been writing this for myself, over the past few days, just jotting down my thoughts, but I decided to share it here because it's what I've been thinking about. I turned it into something more like a post, but I don't have time to cut and edit, so please forgive the length and maybe some redundancy.

I hope you'll have a lovely weekend. :-)

***

My mom is a Ruth Bell Graham fan, and over the years, she's given me copies of some of Ruth's books. I love Ruth, too. She is honest and down-to-earth. She doesn't play saint. She's very real and very funny. She's also encouraging. One thing I like about Ruth is that she is clearly deep and deeply intelligent, but she writes plainly about ordinary things.

There was a time when I thought of her writings as somewhat simplistic-- more geared to a new or young Christian-- but the older I get, the more I realize how very simple I need to stay in my spiritual walk. So, I am finding encouragement in Ruth's simple thoughts and words, and, growing older, I increasingly realize that simple truths run very, very deep.

Here at Mom's house, I've been picking up and perusing Ruth Graham's books again. I find them encouraging in the same way that Edith Schaeffer's and Amy Carmichael's writings encourage me. Even if they are not saying anything that is new to me, they give me a large sense of someone who is a kindred spirit on the path. Not that I am where they are or know what they know or have walked what they have walked, but there is the same attitude and hope and desire and spirit in their writings as I have been putting into my journals for years. All of these women are mentors to me, and, recently, I'm especially connecting to Ruth Graham.

How can I not like someone who writes honestly, like this:

"The job of raising five little Grahams to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ is too big for me, who am not a good soldier myself. Feeling particularly distracted (or I should say overwhelmed and confused) this morning, I have been looking to the Lord asking, 'Where, from here?'

"Bill will be leaving soon for the San Fransisco meeting. And I almost have a sinking feeling. Not altogether a left-behind and left-out sort of feeling, but swamped, knowing that all the things I have depended on others to do, I shall have to do myself.

"And things have not gone smoothly. There is a terrible amount of fighting among the children, ugliness and back talk from Gigi, and peevishness on my part backed by sporadic, uncertain discipline...

"And I don't look to the ways of my household. The children are not well taught even about brushing their teeth and keeping their rooms straight. Regular family prayers at the supper table are not very regular. I don't always keep the children's clothes mended, neat, and organized. We get ready for Sunday on Saturday. Well, there's no use going into it all. It just boils down to the fact that I am not being a good mother.

"So I took it to Him this morning..."


And there, in the last line is the answer. We all feel out of sorts and incompetent and that we are just not doing our job at times. And we might feel guilty and a bit discouraged when we see the evidence ever so plainly in front of us. But just do like Ruth and take it to Him. She found her answer, and we will, too.

I have kept journals for years, and many of my writings start with the very tone that Ruth uses. Like hers, my husband was also away more than he was at home, and I was left with four little kids and the animals. I was left with all of the work (and there was plenty, but four kids to help!) and responsibility, and, like Ruth, I often felt incompetent. My daily journal entries occasionally started out reflecting that, but by the time I had finished writing, they had usually taken on a different tone, only because I had "taken it to Him," and, by His grace, a bit of hope and even humor emerged. I most often arose from the table with an optimistic energy, and God knows I needed it! :-)

I have watched, and have emulated, people like Ruth, who refuse to wallow in a discouraging situations, but have eventually worked their way-- in quiet and prayer and trust-- to laughter, because they have taken it to Him. And mostly what I get from Ruth's example is laughter. She struggled honestly, but she was joyful because she, I think, chose joy. In one poem, she ended with the words, "laughing we endure."

Ruth had a wonderful sense of humor and fun. She was light and active, busy and family-oriented, grace-filled and a lover of beauty. She created a lovely home and made it into a warm and secure refuge for her family and for friends. It was full of laughter. A child who grows up in a home with people who can laugh, no matter what, has been given a very good gift.

As I was thinking about how Ruth Graham's writings connect with me right where I am and inspire me onward, I was trying to remember a Bible verse to the effect that we should follow the example of the faithful ones who have endured. I couldn't place it, and then today I just happened to run across it (or one like it) in my morning Bible reading:

"...imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." (Hebrews 6:12)

There have been many people and many authors who have had a huge impact on my spiritual life, on my decisions, and in the way I choose to live my days. I would even say that there are many authors whose writings I like better, in some ways, than Ruth Graham's. They stimulate my spiritual intellect. They challenge me deeply. They make me think about things I sometimes haven't thought about before.

Ruth Graham is different. She meets me just where I am in my plain, everyday, ordinary life, and she tends to think and write about it in just the same way I would. But Ruth has gone much further than me. She is one who "through faith and patience has inherited what has been promised." I am following along on a path she has already walked faithfully.

I relate well to Ruth's stories of both her joys and her difficulties, and I can imitate her pursuit of God in all things because she has walked faithfully to the end. The faithfulness and the joy are what inspire me. Life gets a bit messy sometimes. Sometimes we fail in our attitudes, in our tasks, in the raising of our kids, in our relationship with our spouse, in everything! And sometimes we struggle and even flounder. But no matter. We can just get back up, praying, and carry on. Don't wallow. Don't be discouraged. Don't give up. And for heaven's sake, laugh! Life is just too short not to choose to laugh. As Ruth Graham writes, laughing, we endure.

I am thinking of many people whose example of laughter through the ups and downs of life has taught me to laugh. And, more specifically, I am thinking of my mother, who, every day, pointedly chooses to press ahead and to laugh along the way. She hurts like crazy just about every minute, but her humor marches on. She had me laughing so hard in the car the other night (and she was laughing, too) that I was practically in tears. Laughing, she endures. And, so I will imitate her, too (and I do).

I'm reminded of a favorite Chesterton quote, a saying I try always to remember: "Angels fly because they take themselves lightly."

I have been given the gift of a family who laughs. A family who takes themselves lightly. A family who does not make things bigger than they are. A family who does not wallow in emotions, but deals with them, and refuses to do anything but press ahead.* A family who tends to look things in the eye and feel unintimidated. This isn't to say we don't hurt or struggle, but, thankfully, I have been given the example of a long string of ancestors who carry on, who endure laughing, who take themselves lightly.

A cheerful heart doeth good like a medicine, you know. And, laughing, we endure.

*(I don't want to discount or discourage those who struggle with depression or are truly and deeply depressed. That does happen, and one shouldn't feel guilty about it, but should continue to seek God and seek encouragement and maybe find some help. But even in this case, it is good to willfully look to find a way to laugh.)