GNO: Ruth Stith’s Favorite Things

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I’ve been married to my best friend for 14 years, and we feel so fortunate to have a 8 year old daughter and 5 year-old twin boys. I love to make music and teach and exercise, avoid cooking at all costs, and dream about having the time to read. I strive to fully believe the words of Paul: “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”


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My Favorite Place to Travel: Bar Harbor. It was our last vacation before having children. We didn’t know that, actually – I had just suffered an ectopic pregnancy, and we weren’t sure what the future held with our current state of infertility and now loss. But I was finished with grad school, had a year of full-time teaching under my belt, and a vacation seemed like the right thing to do in the midst of so many changes. We’d heard about Bar Harbor, Maine, and the Acadia mountains, and so off we went.

If you love the mountains, go to Bar Harbor. If you love the ocean and the beach, go to Bar Harbor. The ruggedness, sometimes dense and slightly closed-in feel of the mountains is contrasted beautifully with the openness and freshness of the ocean. You can stand in one spot and see and enjoy them both at the same time. I grew up in a valley surrounded by mountains, so they feel like home. But I’ve always loved water and the ocean, too. This is the best of both worlds. I’ve been to many beautiful places – even picturesque Hawaii – but there is something special about Bar Harbor. The colors, the smells, and the charming town are simultaneously real and other worldly. I’ve longed to go back ever since I left.


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My Favorite Childhood Memory: Being a child growing up in the 80s meant that my parents gave me a lot of freedom and independence. They didn’t interfere in my life too much, nor were they too involved in it. They absolutely loved me, there was no question about that – parent/child relationships were just different back then.

So, it was completely shocking when my mother told me that she was sending me on a scavenger hunt. It was close to my 15th birthday, and she had me moving all over the house, finding notes with instructions to follow. The only one I remember clearly was that one note said to call my flute students who were coming over that afternoon, and to ask them to be sure to not be late. I thought that was really strange!

The last note led me to my closet and a favorite dress had a note attached, along with a newspaper article and two tickets. The article was about my teenage ‘obsession,’ (too strong of a word, but I can’t think of a better one) the dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov (yes, most of my friends loved New Kids on the Block, and I was fascinated by a ballet dancer). He was coming to New Orleans on a tour, and my parents had somehow found the money for two tickets. And it was that night! As soon as they saw the newspaper article about him coming to town, they clipped it out and hid it from me, and bought the tickets – and then waited a few months to give it to me.

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I loved the ballet and seeing someone in person who I had grown up admiring. But more than that, I was so touched that my parents would make the financial sacrifice, and give of their time planning a special way to give it to me, and then taking me to enjoy this experience. I hope to do something special and unforgettable like that for my own kids someday.


 

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My Favorite Cleaning Product:  I’ll just say it: it’s vinegar. I know, it smells bad (but at least it’s safe for your lungs, unlike bleach). But it has amazing anti-bacterial properties, it can be used to clean virtually anything, and yet it’s safe enough to be around children and pets – so much so that we can all consume it.

Combined with baking soda, it’s the very best way to get my kitchen sink shiny and clean (it also makes a fun, bubbling chemical reaction that will amaze your kids). You can use it as a laundry softener, it will get mineral deposits off shower heads and coffee pots. And apparently it will help remove wallpaper, take pain away from jellyfish stings, remove clogs from drains, polish silver, and is most effective and safe for washing produce. There are simply too many uses for it to list here. All this for just over $3 a gallon.


 

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My Favorite Teacher(s): Mr. Howell and Martha. I have been blessed with many wonderful teachers. It just has to be a two way tie (but really should be a 5-way tie). Maybe we can call one my favorite teacher and the other my favorite mentor, because that’s really what she was.

Mr. Howell was my 6th grade teacher. I went to a small-ish, Christian school through 6th grade, and the rumor circulating through the school was that Mr. Howell wore a toupee. We speculated about it all year. But there are three things that stand out to me in my memory from all those years ago.

  1. Mr. Howell really cared for us. He took the time to learn and memorize all kinds of random facts about each of us in his class over the summer. On the first day of school, he sat in front of us with nothing but a sheet of paper with our names on it, and asked us questions, like, “So, Becky, how is life on Arbory Lane?” or “Charles, are you going to take your dog, Rex, for a walk after school?” We were completely amazed. He knew more than one ‘extra’ detail about every single student. It must have taken him hours to collect all that information and then memorize it – this is long before the age of google.
  2. Mr. Howell really, really wanted us to learn. He pushed us hard, right out of our comfort zones. He gave me my first ever C. He taught us to research topics and then teach them to the class. He was always thinking of the most effective ways for us to learn, despite the fact that he was a veteran teacher and could easily have ‘coasted.’
  3. Mr. Howell cared most of all about our spiritual development. He told us at the beginning of the year that he had spent the summer meditating on Romans 12, and he intended to have us memorize the entire chapter by the end of the year. And we did. We had to recite a verse every week and put it all together. As much as we grumbled about doing it, I’m so thankful for that gift, because there is such richness in that chapter, and there is nothing quite like the ability to ponder something that is memorized. I memorized a lot of scripture when I was a child, and most of it is still in my head. Memorizing as an adult is completely different. I still try, but it’s never etched in as deep as it was growing up.

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Martha was my piano teacher in high school. She is the reason I majored in music and made something of a career out of it. I could go on forever in a really boring way about how wonderful she was, but I will just tell one story about her.

She taught a number of adult students in addition to children, and these adult students would have her house-sit for them when they traveled. She would almost always invite me to come over at some point during her stay so I could have some ‘supervised practice time.’ We would sometimes play through duets together, but usually she would be in the other room, cooking or sewing or something, and I would enjoy whatever lovely piano lived in that home. If I made a mistake, however, and didn’t immediately work on fixing it, I would hear, “I heard that!” come drifting in from the other room. There is no practice quite like the practice that is done when your teacher is listening!


 

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My Favorite Sermon: I am a closet sermon junkie. I have cleaned many a kitchen listening to Dan Doriani. During my last 5k, while the other joggers probably had great music blasting through their headphones, I had a Tim Keller sermon playing through mine (no joke – I can’t even remember the last time I ran to music, and Bob Hopper has been on many a run with me lately). I don’t often make this known, because I don’t want people to think I consider myself some kind of spiritual giant (or very, very weird!). Quite the contrary: I find that when left alone with a menial task and my thoughts, my tendency is to chase mental rabbit trails down very dark paths of worry and fear. I need the constant pointing to Christ.

I have been so blessed to have the privilege of hearing many sermons given by great men of God, so it’s difficult to point to one as my favorite. There is one, however, that stands out, mostly because it was directed to me specifically. It was the homily at my wedding, preached by Kevin Twit. Kevin was my pastor in college, and I continued to sit under his wonderful teaching after I graduated. We met for coffee many times during the 10 years I lived in Nashville, and he (still) knows me well. Maybe too well, because his sermon really hit me right between the eyes. (Note: We don’t have a link to that exact sermon, but a collection of Kevin Twit’s sermons can be found  HERE.)

Even though we heard it nearly 15 years ago now, Al and I are still reminding ourselves not to be slaves to the ‘tyranny of the urgent,’ as Kevin warned us. It was a challenge and encouragement to spend our lives focused on what is truly important, which is to love the Lord with every fiber of our being. When we aim for that above all else, everything else tends to fall into its correct place. Easy to say, hard to do!

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21


Your friend,
Ruth


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cake photo credit / desk photo credit / phone photo credit

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