“Do you have the Smith wrinkle?” my distant cousin asks me over breakfast with a small group of family members, reunited in a Denny’s in Vancouver, WA in July. “Umm…I’m sorry?” I say. This lady is my dad’s first cousin, but because I’ve spent my life on the East Coast, I’ve only ‘met’ her a handful of times in my adulthood. She is lovely, but….the Smith wrinkle? She continues, smiling, “On your arm,” and reaches across my aunt who is sitting between us to turn over my right arm and push up my sleeve. “You do!!” she declares. I look down and realize then that the strange little line about one inch above the crook of my elbow now has an endearing name – my maiden name. “Do others have it?” I ask quizzically, shocked and delighted by this family tidbit. “As far as I know, all of us Smiths have it. It’s a genetic trait. It gets more defined as you get older.” My aunt is equally surprised. We roll up her sleeve. She’s got it. At the table are my grandpa and his sister. They both have it. The minute I get home a few days later, I check all three of my kids. They each have it, too. Well, I’ll be darned.
Family traits come in a variety of packages. There are genetic traits – like this fun little wrinkle in my family, or another family’s perky nose, or auburn hair, deep-set eyes and long eyelashes, feet that all look the same, etc. There are also personality traits – like inherent joyfulness, ambitiousness, or a strong preference for organized surroundings and schedules (or lack thereof). The possibilities are endless, and families fascinate me, because even where similarities exist, countless differences do as well. No two people, even genetically identical twins, are absolutely the same through and through. The most important part of them – the soul – is one of a kind.
In the past, I wondered about the malleability of my soul, because I’d heard many proponents of various belief systems stipulate (in one way or another) that we can change ourselves. They are loud and vocal in today’s world. Usually they advocate some sort of introspective process in which a person peels back layers (often painful memories) to try to uncover the essence of who they are, and from there, harness internal raw energy to embrace life with newfound vigor and awareness. While we can probably make small changes on our own, it’s been my experience that profound, lasting change requires more than…well, more than me. This introspective process worked for me to a point, but stopped when I came to grips with the fact that if I truly had the power to change myself, I would have already done it. My willpower alone should’ve been enough. But I was still plagued with bad habits and personality traits I disliked, and I hurt others with them too. I had to admit the possibility of a power greater than myself, and that I was NOT it.
Once I fully acknowledged that God was not me, and that I was not in control of much of anything, I returned to the faith of my upbringing and began to hear again the whisper of His voice. Here and there at first, then more as I began to study Him in earnest, and finally, regularly as I went to Him in prayer. What He taught me was so much more profound and soul-filling than anything I had found rooting around on my own. He showed me that not only is He more than enough, that He is who my soul was looking for, but also that to the degree I allow Him, His Spirit comes in and replaces my bad qualities with His perfect ones. He alone can heal my wounded and wayward soul. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells me, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” Further, I want to throw myself into His mercy, because the fruits of His love in those who love Him are so precious:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
— Galatians 5:22-25
Lord, make your traits more defined in me as I mature in my relationship with you, just as you’ll make the Smith wrinkle stand out more in my ‘senior’ years.