Early in my childhood we had a quintessential 70s style wooden plaque on the wall near our kitchen table. It’s edges were scalloped and wood burned and it had a couple of painted flowers on it. It said, “God is First, Friends are Second, We are Third.” I have no idea what happened to it (probably sold in a garage sale alongside my mom’s many macrame plant hangers) but I can picture it perfectly in my mind. There was also a lot of Billy Joel and Neil Diamond music playing in our house, 49ers games on TV and tennis magazines on the table. I can still hear the voices of my parents telling me they believed in me. What is regularly in front of us tends to stick.
While we are young, those influences (good or bad) are mostly placed for us. Once we begin to create our own surroundings and decide for ourselves what words and images we will let in, we can develop the ability to fix our eyes, train our thoughts and feed our souls. Philippians 4:8 from The Message says, “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of crap out there that can take up residence in our minds. Why not put things in front of ourselves that will take our thoughts where we want them to go?
There are things I need to see and hear as often as possible and there are things I need to shut out. Life gets ahead of me and discouragement or resentment sets in and before I know it, I’ve forgotten who I am. I forget the precious gifts that surround me and I forget what my God can do. These are a few things I have put in my path to remind me:
A few years ago I read a great little book called Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren Winner. In addition to other gems found in those pages, this excerpt has stuck with me. She writes about her husband’s grandfather who was suffering memory loss in his old age.
“I would later speak to the privilege of sitting next to Grandaddy Gatewood. I would say that God Himself had a hand in arranging the seating. Because sitting next to him I could see (and hear) that Dr. Gatewood, who might not even remember how to count to ten, remembered how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed were somewhere in the foundation of his memory, beneath even his grandchildren’s names…One could, I suppose, ask some questions about Dr. Gatewood’s praying. Did he understand the propositions he was asserting in the creed? Maybe not, but then on many days I don’t understand them either. I don’t know whether he could have cogently analyzed the Lord’s Prayer or explained the Trinity to who it was directed. What I know is this: These words of prayer are amongst the most basic words Dr. Gatewood knows. When he has forgotten everything else, those words are the words he will have. Those words have formed his heart, and-regardless of what he feels or remembers on any particular morning- they continue to form his heart still.”
Where do you struggle?
What truth do you need reminded of?
What words do you want to form your heart?