The Eventual Enormity of Little by Little

As I begin to process the last months and years of my life, a theme has emerged. I’m beginning to see fruit which only comes from doing the same little things over time.

This is a very obvious concept, which I’m sure older generations may roll their eyes at or graciously nod along to. My generation is all about instant gratification, big impacts and immediate results. This could be attributed to a lot of things, namely our short attention spans, impatience, and how quickly everything changes. We seem to only have “this one shot” a lot. Sometimes we see those immediate results, and other times we get discouraged that nothing is happening. Consider this a pep talk to myself and my peers: big things happen over time when you’re daily faithful with the little things.

Last Fall, when I was first in France (feeling a ridiculous amount of pressure to change the world in 3 months or something), I was suddenly distracted by how profoundly impacted I am by the family who pastors my church in Portland.

Dwight Steele is our senior pastor. His wife, Genny, masterfully plays the piano for service. His oldest son, Randy, is the associate pastor. His middle son, Terry, teaches one of the bigger Sunday school classes. His daughter, Debs, leads worship. Their spouses are also very involved. You get the picture.

There hasn’t been one major event that made all the difference, but this family has always been there. Every week. Year after year, for over 30 years.

Debs taught me piano every Wednesday after school and also naturally became a mentor. From one pastor’s kid to another. Both Terry and Randy stepped in to being our youth pastor at different points during my 6 year–8 youth pastors–streak in junior high and high school. They were simultaneously, much needed continuity.

They’ve always been there. They’ve always loved me, encouraged me, and spoken truth. Pastor Dwight’s tender heart and love for Scripture has always impacted me. A lot of it used to go over my head, as I played MASH with my friends in the second row, but I grew steadily under his faithful teaching.

Five years ago I joined YWAM. The first three and a half years were a whirlwind of back-to-back intensives: facilitating week-long mission trips for youth groups, staffing 5-day wilderness backpacking leadership courses, staffing 6-month discipleship training schools. Full throttle, overdrive, making the most of every day we had with these students. It was great and also exhausting. Hats off to everyone in YWAM who has been following this schedule for years.

When God called me to Europe to be a good friend and neighbor to people coming from the Middle East, I didn’t know what all it would look like, but I liked the idea of a marathon pace over the previous sprints.

The word in Arabic for “little” is شوي pronounced shway. Put two together and شوي شوي becomes the word for slowly. Little by little. When I learned this word, God told me this was going to be my word. How was I going to learn Arabic? Slowly. Shway shway. How was I going to learn French? Slowly. Petit à petit.

Two years ago, Carly and I started putting our daily quiet times in blog form. We were just doing it, and hadn’t really considered what would happen when we covered the whole Bible, because that seemed like a huge undertaking. But we did it, because we stayed faithful to doing so every day for two years. Shway shway.

This completing of the Bible acted as a great encouragement that fruit can be visible over time. I mean, why even use the fruit analogy if you don’t want to presuppose that things take time? The average tree takes 4 years to begin producing fruit.

As I prepare to return stateside after this last stint in France, I won’t be returning with any epic, grandiose stories. But I can truly say my life over here is budding. Each day builds on the last. Most nights I have the pleasure of having friends over for dinner. I’m meeting new people, strengthening old friendships and taking time each morning to ask God how to love and serve the people around me in a way which glorifies Him.

I hope someday, a few people can say they felt loved, encouraged and served in the way I feel loved, encouraged and served by the Steele family.

I challenge my fellow man to think about what sort of impact you want to make in the world. Find something you can do a little of, every day. Don’t get overwhelmed by how long it may take, leave the timeline up to Him. Just keep at it.

شوي شوي

Step One: Decide It’s Funny

This has a real potential of coming across vain, but I won’t be bothered. Many people have suggested I write a book about my life. I’ve considered it, more recently, and created this blog as a channel in which my creative juices can flow.

I love memoirs, but only ones written by comedians. The first book I ever bought with my “own money” (aka allowance), was Mark Lowry’s “Out of Control. For those who don’t know him, He’s a Conservative Baptist comedian, singer-songwriter, most known for writing “Mary, Did You Know?” Since I also grew up Conservative Baptist, he was an early role model (along with one Kimberly Shivers).

Being “a comedian” is weird, because it starts innocently enough: a bunch of people calling you funny, followed by a personal decision to take that somewhere. You could say I “got my start” doing mission trip reports at church. I found myself on stage, microphone in hand, hundreds of people watching and subsequently laughing harder than you’re supposed to laugh in church. I was alive.

I only ever experienced mild stage freight, as a kid performing piano recitals. That was nerve-wrecking, because I have not-a-lot of control over my hands. The day I added singing to recitals, I discovered all nervousness left once my hand was preoccupied with a microphone.

So let’s say my future memoir is decidedly funny. Life is a mixed-up thing, and writing about it can present a lot of angles to choose from: Do I write about my numerous near-death experiences? Do I write about theology? Do I write about vagrancy and the many cities, states and countries I’ve lived in? This all sounds serious. I am serious, thoughtful, observant and funny. Can it be all those things too? Why not, if I’m all those things? How can I do it? How can I write the true me? Probably start by not overthinking it.

Ah, overthinking. My nemesis. Overthinking makes me anxious and certainly less funny.

During, what could be referred to as, a “peak” in my comedic life, I was emceeing a summer camp. Specifically, Camp Tadmor, summer of 2007. That was the year Andy O’Hara was my co-Emcee. We could read each other’s minds, on stage, and improvised everything. Our only prep was scrounging through costumes, backstage, saying, “I’ll wear this, you wear that, we will do this, and GO.” The only times we didn’t have people doubled over in laughter was when we over-planned.

I’ve read both of Mindy Kaling’s books: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and other concerns) and Why Not Me?, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please!, Ellen’s Seriously…I’m kidding, and Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn. (I know what you’re thinking, “Wow, Bethany, call the Oprah book club! You read 6 books!” To which I’ll say, “Yeah yeah, and I didn’t finish 3 of them, I’m too social to read, okay?!”) What I found, is a surprising sadness in each of their stories (Especially Tiffany Haddish, oh my gosh, that woman’s life is heinous). Life is sad, and comedians want to talk about it, but their first defense and processing filter is comedy. Life is only tragic if we can’t find these silver linings of laughter by the grace of God.

So I’v laid a few ground rules:

  1. Don’t take yourself seriously
  2. Don’t get preachy
  3. Ascribe worth and honor to people

We shall see where this goes. In the meantime, tell me about your favorite comedians and what you connect with them about. Let me know if there’s a certain story you feel I need to tell. And, if you’re having a rough day, decide it’s funny.