unset Park is a little piece of fairytale on the coast of one of the Great Lakes, about twenty or so minutes from where I live. It looks like just a hill with the lake in the distance until you are a couple feet from the edge and realize you are standing at the top of a wall of rock falling to the thin rocky beach below. It is one of my favorite places to go to. It feels like, for a brief period of time, I can actually step into a fairytale world, or at least the Atlantic coast. I could sit on the edge of one of the crags or stand on the beach below for hours, watching the sun's journey towards the western horizon and thinking. Because the whole atmosphere is very conducive for thinking.
On a recent visit to Sunset Park, I decided to watch the sunset alone from the beach at the foot of the crags. It's a rocky climb down, but if you just find the right place, it's not to steep. I climbed down to the edge of the water and sat on a log that had, some time back, tumbled down from the height above. I watched the waves rushing towards my feet and then falling back again into the vast expanse of water, which, at our point in the lake, looks like it could go on forever to the edge of the world.
As I sat there at the edge of the water, my mind deep in thought, I realized what I want to do with my life.
The shore of the ocean or a natural lake is always changing. Occasionally a huge wave hits a shore and drastically changes it, but usually the changes occur slowly over time, by the work of small waves washing up and back one at a time. The waves rush up one by one onto the shore and then fall back, pulling bits of sand and pebbles with them. Slowly, the beach changes shape, the pebbles are rearranged, and over time, the rock and dirt erode. The crags at Sunset Park were formed, at least in part, from years of water washing up at the dirt and carrying it elsewhere. Even while I was there, the beach where I sat looked ever so slightly different by the time I left then it had when I arrived. And it made me think.
|pacific ocean off highway 1|
One wave doesn't do it all; they work together to change the shore they wash upon.
I'm only one life. I can't change the world by myself. But I can make what difference I can. I remembered a line from one of my favorite BBC miniseries, Wives and Daughters, where Squire Hamley tells Molly, “That's what we're here for, we're told ~ to leave the world a better place than where we found it.”
Many of us, particularly those from Fundamentalist backgrounds, have been laden with pressures to do great and huge things to be accepted by God and the Christian community. A missionary, a pastor's wife, or a prominent blogger and speaker is far better and far holier than being a teacher, a teller at a bank, or a secretary at a local business. But that evening, it dawned on me: instead of pining and wishing to be great and impressive, to change the world all at once all by myself (a task which is far too big for me), I can purpose to touch and change for the better each individual life I come in contact with, in however big or small away God sees fit. I don't have to do huge things like run a huge ministry in inner-city Chicago or become a famous missionary; I don't have to be canonized by the Catholics or biographied by the Protestants, in order to “not waste my life”. I can “live Jesus” ~ be like Him ~ living the same kind of practical love that he showed during his 33 years on earth. I can be there for the people right here that need someone to love them, and leave each person's world a better place than where I found it.
These thoughts were partially brought on by a conversation I'd been having with someone earlier, where I found out some more about the awful emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse some good friends had experienced at the hand of their dad (a deacon of a church) when they were growing up. It broke my heart to realize what they and so many other children have been through. Watching those waves and thinking about changing lives, and about these friends' lives, helped to solidify my desire to work with and be there for abused or neglected children (and adults), to stop abuse where I can (even that abuse which hides under the appearance of a “good Christian home”), to love those who don't get love at home, to be a haven and a ray of sunshine for someone in the midst of a stormy world.
I may not be able to stop all the abuse that happens in Patriarchal and Fundamentalist circles, but I can be there to help those who have been hurt by it, to encourage them and help them find hope, as best as I can, as others have done for me. And even if I can't do something huge or impressive, it is sometimes the small things that make the biggest difference. A kind word, a smile, a hug, just being there for someone, can mean so much.
I know from experience. During a devastatingly time earlier this year, there were a few individuals who were there for me, to listen to my fears, to encourage me to keep going, to point me to Jesus, to send “e-hugs” and tell me I was brave when I felt like my legs were made of jelly ... and it gave me the courage I needed to face one of the most difficult times in my life. There were even times when I was so lonely that I would feel like crying with happiness after been shown even the smallest acts of kindness, such as when a dating couple, who you'd think would be only concerned about each other, noticed me sitting alone at church and invited me to sit with them during the service ~ they made me feel like I was wanted, like I belonged. Even small gestures like that can mean so much. Just knowing someone notices and cares. Just knowing you belong. I want to provide that joy and sense of love and belonging for others.
I want to make a conscious effort, here and now, to reach the people right around me and love them and bring hope to their lives. I may not be able to change the world as a whole, but perhaps I can change someone's world. I may never become known as a famous “champion of the faith”, but what does that matter to the person who just needs a shoulder to lean on to get through a difficult time, who needs someone to love them? If I can make that person's world a little better than when I found it, in however small a way that may be, I will not feel I have wasted my life. And perhaps if all of us reach out where we can, in the realm of influence God gives us, touching and blessing the lives we come in contact with, we can, like the water in the ocean, change the world one wave of kindness at a time.
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
~ Helen Keller
Melanie is a tender-hearted young woman with a passion for God and His daughters.