My three-year-old has a new obsession.
Thankfully, it’s not her three older sisters’ Crayola markers. My couches are safe from rainbow-stained fingers. At least, for now.
Rather, it’s a preoccupation of the literary kind. In the last 48 hours, she’s requested I read the book, Miss Rumphius, to her three or four times. To which I agreed. If this enjoyment of hers continues, I may soon be able to recite the words of author Barbara Cooney verbatim.
If you’re unfamiliar with this American Book Award winner, it’s the tale of Alice, a little girl who determines to accomplish three goals in her lifetime. Her bucket list includes:
#1: Travel to faraway places.
#2: Live by the sea.
#3: Do something to make the world more beautiful.
At the end of her life, Alice, known in her adult years as Miss Rumphius, checks off all three as completed.
(Yep, that’s me, the picture-book spoiler who gives no alerts.)
What’s interesting is this: It isn’t Miss Rumphius’ world travels or the purchase of her seaside cottage that provide the greatest challenge. Which honestly, makes me wonder just how much this fictional librarian earned for a living. But I digress. You see, for grown-up Alice, the most difficult task is figuring out how to add beauty to the world.
Her answer finally presents itself in the form of lupine seeds. She buys five bushels and scatters them along the highways and country lanes. She sows them by the schoolhouse and church. When spring arrives, these flowering plants bloom everywhere, adding beauty to her small community.
On my first read or two, I thought, “Lupines are cool!” My third time through, though, I found myself thinking a bit more deeply about this story and applying it to my own life.
I asked myself: As a Jesus-follower, shouldn’t I have a similar goal to Miss Rumphius? Shouldn’t I too long to make the world around me more beautiful?
As I reflected on specific ways I can accomplish this, I was reminded of another book I’ve been reading lately. One that my three-year-old probably won’t find interesting for at least another twelve to fifteen years. It’s Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank’s book, The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home. In it, Carolyn writes, “In the biblical narrative, our work is a co-labor of love with our Creator for the benefit of others.”
Her words reminded me of something I believe the picture book Miss Rumphius may have missed.
It’s this: making the world more beautiful isn’t confined to our physical surroundings. It’s not limited to tending this earth that God’s given us charge over. It goes beyond that. And Miss Rumphius, well, she was adding beauty to it long before she decided to order lupine seeds. She just didn’t realize it.
As a child, she eagerly helped her busy grandfather paint the skies in his artwork.
As a young woman, she cheerfully helped library patrons locate books.
In her mid-life, she shared a meal and conversation with the humble king of a far-off fishing village and his wife.
And, in those last days of hers, she devoted her time to telling stories to the children in her community.
Even though she didn’t see it, these everyday efforts made the world around her more beautiful. At least, to those whose lives she touched.
It can be the same for you and me.
When we faithfully and cheerfully carry out the work God has given us, our efforts can benefit and add beauty to someone else’s day. As Carolyn writes, “Our daily labors—be they in the marketplace or home—are opportunities for us to love others through our efforts.” Whether that’s going into an office and sitting at a desk, interacting with clients or students all day, or washing dishes, changing diapers, and sorting dirty laundry, our work matters. It makes a difference, even if we don’t always see it.
Yeah, it’s simple, but profound.
What book will my three-year-old ask for tonight? I secretly hope she’ll pull Goodnight, Ninja or Goose Needs a Hug off the shelf. But, if she once again eagerly hands me Miss Rumphuis, I’m determined to cheerfully read it … for the fifth time. And as I do, I’ll remember that I have the daily opportunity to add beauty to the world around me. Literally, of course, but also through the day-to-day unfolding of my work.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the forthcoming book, Team Us: Marriage Together (Moody Publishers, June 2014). As the founder and editor of Ungrind Webzine (www.ungrind.org) and a regular contributor at Start Marriage Right, The Time-Warp Wife, and For the Family, she loves to combine the power of a good story with biblical truth and practical application. Her writing has appeared in print and online in publications including Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family, Marriage Partnership, and MomSense. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband Ted and four daughters. You can find her on Facebook here or follow her on Twitter at @ashslater.