I come from a long line of thrifty innovators. The kind that take great pride in sayings like:
So it surprised no one when the need arose for me to put my thrifty innovation to good use. I had recently been coerced by a friend to join a running group – a harrowing tale in its own right for someone whose use of the term running had heretofore always preceded a direct object. (Think: “running the microwave” or, on particularly ambitious days, “running the vacuum”.)
I quickly learned that for a sport that seemingly requires no equipment but your own two feet, a remarkably large market of running essentials exists. I splurged on a new pair of running shoes and pulled a water bottle from my hiking gear, but I balked at the reflective vest. Options ranged from a simple and lightweight mesh vest to strings of LED cables that flashed in assorted colors. That is when my ingenuity kicked in.
The Art of Making Do
I wasn’t about ready to strap on a battery pack, but a reflective vest was certainly within my purview. I grabbed a roll of silver furnace tape, fashioned a few straps I could slip over my head, and had the equivalent of my reflective vest for about 39 cents.
My running group was simultaneously impressed by my creativity and embarrassed to run with me.
Maybe my running vest fell a little short compared to the truly reflective gear worn by the others, but I was making do with what I had. I was getting by on my own, and it worked just fine, thank you very much.
The Gift That Changed it All
Fast forward a year into my running adventure. My running friend handed me a Christmas present with a smile. I opened it to unveil my first real running vest. It was fluorescent green with reflective trim and fit so light I barely knew I had it on. It was a beautiful Christmas present.
I retired my makeshift reflector with just a bit of nostalgia. There is a certain element of pride that comes from creating something on your own. I had been making do and getting by, but truthfully, the gift was even better.
Sometimes others know what we need even more than we do. We need people around us who can speak into our lives, share their own experiences, and open us to gifts we haven’t yet experienced. We need those who can come alongside and say, “I love that thrifty innovation you’re sporting. It’s now time for an upgrade.”
We need people who will help us set down our independence and accept a gift.
Even more than that, we need people around us who will point these earthly transactions toward a heavenly one. Even more than I needed a reflective vest, I needed the lesson it taught me. The lesson of sometimes needing to set down my prideful independence. The lesson of opening myself up to another way that is not my own. And, the lesson of accepting the greatest gift that has been given to me.
During the Christmas season we celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is the gift of God given to each of us. The opportunity to move beyond “making do” and embrace life to the full (John 10:10). God is giving us a free gift, but in order to receive it, we have to set down what our hearts have already embraced. We have to retire the make-shift life we were etching out for ourselves in order to receive the fullest life that God has planned for us. We must loosen our grip on our little plans before we can accept the plans so big they stretch further than we can dare to ask or dream.
Jesus said that to follow him we must lay down our life and pick up our cross. But He also promised that His burden is light, and He will never leave us.
Jesus, like life, was full of seeming contradictions.
The Path Forward
I am finding that the more I walk out my life in step with Jesus – and by that I mean consciously asking each day for God to show me his presence in my life and to give me wisdom in how I should live – the more I can sense his presence.
I don’t know where the path ahead will lead, but I am reminded this Christmas season that my job is first of all to release the stubborn “making do” life I have created. Second, my job is to receive the gifts of grace and guidance from the God who loves me. Third, my job is to pass along those gifts.
In short, my job is to reflect back the true light that has come into the world.
I’ve got a vest that will help me do exactly that.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s Word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her two- and four-footed friends. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org