given on Sunday, April 26, 2009
I celebrated my birthday this weekend and I decided I had to share a few of my gifts with you. Sometime we get gifts that have very significant meaning and what you see before you, my personal Willow Tree collection, is the result of one very small gift from a student—a Willow Tree ornament entitled “Learning.”
High School teachers just do not receive gifts from their students unlike elementary teachers. I really do not understand why, but I am fairly confident it is because elementary students become so connected to the one classroom teacher they have all day while high school students go from one teacher to another every or every other day. There is no extended time with which to become bonded with one teacher. Therefore, the gift of this small Willow Tree angel stunned me, literally took my breath. I never dreamed one of our at-risk students would share such a gift with me.
Gifts are a part of the holidays, but our family grew up sharing birthdays in a two-week span in late April and into May. We had Christmas in April. The birthday season in our family was special and my mom certainly made a point of keeping it special even when we grew up. We all made it home for a birthday weekend sometime in those few weeks. Each one of us does have a special birthday holiday. For me, it is a holiday celebrating the life God has given me.
I decided quite a few weeks ago, I wanted to talk about God’s gifts to each of us. God’s gifts help mold us into who we are. The question is do we know what the purposes of these gifts are in our lives. Last Sunday we read Ephesians 4:7-10 as we talked about the value of a word. The next three verses refer to the different talents God has given us to perform certain jobs:
11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
But the verses in Romans 12:6-8, are even more specific about the wide range of gifts God gives us. Sometimes, though, we do not realize what our gifts are. I know that if we can find God’s purpose our lives, we will also know why he gave us those special gifts. Look at the verses again and pick out the different gifts needed for all these roles:
6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Every single person is born with certain gifts which God wants them to use as we live the Christian life striving to share God’s message of love with others. Every single job we do fulfills a purpose. Everything we do for any other person is an opportunity to serve. We serve, and we are God’s hands in this very real world.
Susan Lordi has a gift—sculpting. She knew she had a special gift and a passion for the arts and earned her masters of fine arts in textile design. I recently found her story in the alumni magazine from MU and discovered that she had been on campus when I had been. I read it and the idea of knowing more about the Willow Trees started growing. Then I started thinking how I could share the Willow Trees with you. The words of the story and from the website presented the connection I needed:”
“…Experiencing healing. I think I craved doing something with the expressive power of the human gesture — All of my notebooks from past lecture classes in school are filled with figures doing all sorts of things in between the lines of notes I was supposed to be taking. Now, after years of two-dimensional figure-drawing, I welcome the challenge to sculpt figures in three dimensions.”
Years she had these angels and figurines were filling her mind and pages. Whatever the experience she had that needed healing became the means of released her God-given gifts. She found a purpose that allowed her to share her gifts with others helping them to heal, to express an emotion, or to find some solace or joy. This is Lordi’s purpose using God’s gifts for us.
As I mentioned earlier, my first Willow Tree was the simple figure—an ornament-sized angel holding a book. The title of this angel is “Learning.” As a high school student, I refused to listen to all the people who thought I should go into teaching. I only had one dream—to be a journalist. I could write and I always wanted to know what was going on. I was sure I could save the world as a journalist.
When the student gave me that angel, I had already been teaching for over 20 years. I had realized that journalism was not the career I had anticipated, and I made the change to teaching. This student’s gift was proof that I truly knew my purpose—to teach young people, especially the at-risk students who struggled.
This student told me that her grandmother had bought it and gave it to her to give to a teacher she felt made a difference. I was floored. This was one student that I did not realize I was reaching. She was so trapped in her at-risk life; but no matter what, we did our best to teach her how to be a strong, independent young woman. I was afraid we were not managing to make a difference. When she handed me that small angel and told me how she decided to give it to me, I froze. I knew then that God’s purpose for me was to use my gifts to work with these students.
Susan Lordi’s gift reached me and confirmed my purpose. Her gifts are proof of her purpose. The explanation she has provided on her website speaks volumes about the power of her work:
“At times, it’s hard to find the right words to express what you want to say, and sometimes there just aren’t any. For me, it’s always been easier to communicate or express my feelings visually rather than verbally. That’s what I want to do with Willow Tree. Give people a way to express an emotion or feeling that goes beyond words.”
Studying my Willow Tree angels, reconnects me to so many emotions and feelings. The wide range of subjects seems to mirror my wide range of interests, too. Look at these faceless figures and see how they can reach so many different people. For me, I look at each one and see the hidden significance for me:
1. Love—Love, everlasting and true. The single rose is a simple reminder of our emotional attachment to a spouse, a child, or any other individual who holds a special relationship within our hearts. For me, Bruce often started giving me roses before we were married and since. Now roses have a special place in my heart. Vada, my daughter, has joined in also making sure I have roses in my yard. This little angel sits beside my bed as a quiet reminder of the love I have for my husband and my family.
2. Courage—bringing a triumphant spirit, inspiration and courage. This is a quality we try to encourage in our students. It is a quality I think all parents work to implant in their children. Courage is an empowering quality in a world filled with uncertainty.
3. With Affection—I love our friendship. Actually this angel came from my friend Cathy, one of my college friends I call the Jewels. We selected it together when we spent a weekend together. Each of us have pets, and Lordi knows that even the friendship we offer to and receive from our pets is important. God approves, too, and churches around the world now offer special services to bless our even pet companions.
4. Angel of the Garden—Bringing forth a garden of love and beauty. This world we live in is a Garden of Eden, if we care for it. A garden is never easy to keep, it takes the spade and hard work, but the gardens we tend keep us happy. I have to have flowers, trees, grace and all that adds to this glorious garden Earth. I am reminded how much I love it, but also that I have to take care of it.
The Willow Tree collection goes on. Lordi creates each faceless angel in a way that each one of us who gazes upon it finds a message, a special connection to an emotion, an experience or a person. I believe God has given this quiet, private artist a unique purpose in life. She has provided so many of us a means of sharing, of giving, of reminding, or of reconnecting to some event, some person or possibly even to God. She is blessed for all the people she reaches through these simple figurines, which sit in our homes and offices as quiet angels.
Angels, as John Wesley saw them, were not little figurines. He described them in these words:
The angels of God have great power, in particular, over the human body; power either to cause or remove pain and diseases, either to kill or to heal. … This world is a world of mercy, wherein God pours down many mercies, even on the evil and the unthankful. …They may assist us in our search after truth, remove many doubts and difficulties, throw light on what was before dark and obscure, and confirm us in the truth that is after godliness. They may warn us of evil in disguise; and place what is good, in a clear, strong light. They may gently move our will to embrace what is good…”
I am unsure whether Lordi ever read Wesley’s sermon 71, but when she was asked about her thoughts on angels, she answered (one her website):
“Angels seem to resonate greatly with all ages and cultures of people. To some they represent protection, to some they are an outward reminder of inner peace and virtue, and to some they represent a way to remember those who have left this earth. Regardless of personal conviction, angels seem to provide comfort to those searching for answers in a world with so many unknowns.”
As we continue struggling to find our way in this world filled “with so many unknowns,” Susan Lordi has a purpose. She received God’s gift of vision and of sculpturing. She has taken her gifts and created an army of angels that may help each one of us find our way in this world, to connect with our friends, family and God, to find our purpose by seeing what others see in us.
None of us can fulfill our commitment to God without accepting his gifts. None of us can find a purpose if we do not use our gifts to serve one another in friendship, in healing, in kindness, or in love. Lordi reminds us, in her own way, that God did give the most unbelievable gift of his son to all of us. She has created that first nativity scene to share the story with others. Each time I decorate Christmas, I find that putting together her nativity scene (which I am still building) warms my heart. I know that a host of angels is there beside me each and every Christmas.
We each have special gifts from God. Are you accepting them and using them? Do you know what your purpose is here on this earth? Do you serve God each time you complete a task at work? Do you share God’s compassion for our fellow workers, drivers, neighbors, or even strangers? Can we use God’s gifts to us to act as an angel for someone else?
My birthday reminds me of all the wonderful people who have been and who are in my life. A new year reminds me that the next year will bring even more people into my life and I need to use God’s gifts to serve. I thank Susan Lordi for creating these little icons of God’s gifts, of his creation, of the angels, and even of the human emotions that fill our world with so much sadness and joy, pain and comfort, and loss and grace. I thank God for each and every one of you who know God and know that Jesus died for us and that with the power of the Holy Spirit we can use God’s gifts serving one another putting God’s love into action.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for all the wonderment of birthdays and all the gifts that you have given each one of us, your children. Help us to find the purpose of your gifts that allows us to share your love. Help us to know that you will provide whatever resources we may need to do your work. Thank you, too, for letting us share the experiences and emotions of our lives. Thank you, for giving Susan Lordi such talents and such love of you that she shares your story with so many. May she continue to receive your blessings. May each one here continue to receive your blessings, too, as they share their unique gifts. –Amen