What does it take to enlarge our vision of the world? I love starting out with a simple and easy to answer question. *snort* But I’m serious, what does it take to enlarge our vision of the world? I suppose we have to first decide if we want our vision enlarged or if we pretty much like things the way we already see them. Sure, maybe there are other things in the world that might lighten the burdens of “the way we’ve always been” but it takes energy, risk, and some amount of vulnerability to want to see things differently or in a larger way.
I’ve always had a love and an affinity for history. Not the dates and the times of specific large events particularly, but I like the stories. It fascinates me how people are stronger and more resilient and sometimes more connected to one another than we might think. And it fascinates me how the hand of God is often at work in ways of which we are often unaware.
So my maternal grandmother’s middle name was Northup. Doesn’t really seem like a middle name, right? Her actual middle name was June, but she didn’t like it, so she used her maiden name as her middle name when she got married. What a radical she was… in the days before hyphenating a maiden name with a husband’s last name, for women to keep some part of their own name upon marriage, my Grandma claimed hers for her middle name. The name came with the story that when our ancestors landed in New York, there were three brothers and their last name was Northrup. They decided to go their separate ways and decided to each keep their last name but they would each spell it differently. So one of them was a Northrup, one a Northrop, and one a Northup. A little interesting but no big deal.
But then in the 1950’s on the campus at K-State (not even making this up) two students who didn’t know one another met in a class, one whose last name was Northrup and one whose last name was Northup. They started talking AND they each had the SAME STORY about the 3 brothers separating and spelling their last name differently! These two students who had never met before, never had any connection, now knew they were related! I love that story. I love that it happened, that it was simply a peculiar thing that some human beings did, and that it came full circle generations after at a campus where I found myself as well! What are the odds?
I’m guessing you may have some family stories that go beyond ‘who begat who begat who’ as well. I wonder what they might tell you about yourself? I wonder if they might enlarge your vision of the world?
That same grandmother died in December of my first year of seminary. She was pretty happy I was going to seminary even thought at the time, I really didn’t know what I was going to do with the degree. I didn’t know I could preach and hadn’t really even considered that a possibility; after all, I was a girl. So I went, quite literally, because I wanted to know how it was that I had enough to eat and kids in Ethiopia did not. I assumed that meant I would be a missionary carrying bags of grain for Jesus’ children who were starving.
Then my grandma died. I couldn’t figure out why God would take away that support- she and I were always kindred spirits. She was a librarian and I love books. She went to college and graduated in the 1920’s – let’s just say women were not easily accepted in higher educational settings in that time. She also had a few dents in her lime green Ford LTD from not always looking exactly where she was going. Darn those trees that got in the way of her bumper when she was backing out her driveway. She also wrote a little poetry now and again, seeing and painting word pictures of the world a little differently than some.
When Grandma died, I decided to quit. The whole seminary thing was probably a lark anyway, and I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I would end up or how I would make a living or if people in Africa would even want me to carry bags of grain to them. So I took off one Monday in February, 1986, and headed from the seminary campus in Kansas City, Missouri for Quinter, Kansas and the small country cemetery where she was buried. I decided I would take a rose to her grave and figure out what I was supposed to do.
So I bought the rose in a little flower shop, walked out the door and heard a sign squeaking in the western Kansas wind. I glanced up and it was the sign for the Senior Citizens’ Center in Quinter. My grandma LOVED the Sr. Citizen’s Center in Quinter… Me? Not so much. We’d gone in a couple of times and it was filled with old people playing cards, quilting, playing checkers and taaaalllllkkkking… forever. That was my memory of going there with Grandma as a teen. But the sign was squeaking in the wind, and I looked at the rose and at the sign and decided I should take it in there and then go visit Grandma’s grave. They would enjoy it way more and besides, the wind blowing through the cemetery would just dry it up and blow it away.
I stepped one foot in the door, set the vase on the front desk, and said it was in honor of Lois Crissman and tried to get out before getting caught. That Senior Citizen sitting behind that welcome desk was faster than a speeding bullet and had a grip of steel which latched onto my elbow before I could escape. She proceeded to lead me into the depths of the Center and announce to everyone I was Lois’s granddaughter they’d heard so much about going into the ministry and didn’t they want to talk to me and tell me stories about my Grandma. Which they did for the next two hours and I laughed ‘til I snorted and cried a few tears and well… maybe had my vision enlarged a bit about a future into which I had yet to live built on a past, including my Grandma, that would not end.
So that was 31 years ago. I know, right? And I didn’t quit. I still didn’t know what direction my life would take exactly, but somehow I had a sense that wherever it went, I would be okay. I sometimes wonder: am I as open to the possibilities of those “happenings” now as I was then? Have I or we somehow reached a critical point where there is too much to lose to follow an urge, a feeling, a passion toward that which is less than concrete or nailed down? Have we already decided that how we see the world is right, or at least comfortable? Are we too comfortable to consider seeing differently or in a larger way that which God may yet have for us to envision? Jesus says to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John:
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. – John 3:8
So it is with EVERYONE who is born of the Spirit! I hope the wind is blowing in your spirit and in mine and that we have the courage to follow where that Spirit leads. The vision may be larger than we’ve ever imagined, but then, so is God!