The Gold Panther Can Change the World

photo This week I have had the life changing privilege of attending a conference in Chicago called Storyline.  It is run by author Donald Miller and the premise is learning to live a better story so that your life counts for God.  There are many reasons why I decided to come to the conference.  I am not going to say all of the reasons today but the first reason is that I love Donald Miller.  I have loved him from the very beginning of his career, from the first chapter I read out of Blue Like Jazz.  I instantly related to this guy and his story that was edgy and gutsy and funny.  Donald loves God, just not exactly like the American evangelical church tells him he should.  And that is exactly why I love him so much.  He is so interesting and I would love to get to know him as a person, but I will be happy for now just being a huge fan.  He believes that we all have a story to tell and is spending his life helping others have the guts to tell their story.  It is truly a beautiful act of love. As I packed for the conference I threw some things in my suitcase.  I looked up the weather and Chicago was getting a cold front the Tuesday I was coming in and the temperature was supposed to drop though out the week.  I went into the attic to pull out some of my winter clothes, which seemed odd because it was ninety degrees that day in Dallas, but whatever.  As I packed, I put my most valuable jewelry in a small case and put it in the front pocket of my suitcase.  I thought it was strange because I don’t always wear these pieces, and I certainly don’t ever travel with them, but I hurriedly put them in the bag and went on my way. At the airport, the flight was completely full and American announced at the gate that they would check the bags for free and I took them up on it because I was super shaky from my new asthma inhaler.  (If you have never had to take an inhaler please be so grateful because they make your heart race and that makes you feel weird and shaky and it makes it very hard to do much, including hauling around luggage.)  When I got on the plane I panicked because I realized I had checked my bag with my grandmother’s jewelry in it. I am oddly unattached to anything material and so it is a weird feeling for me to panic over the thought of losing something.  I wondered why I brought it to begin with. So I distracted myself and soon forgot about my precious cargo that was hopefully safe beneath the plane and I was relieved to find my bag on the baggage claim belt when I arrived in Chicago.  I quickly opened the pocket and felt the gold necklace and bracelet resting safe inside. Major sigh of relief. My amazing and dear friend Simone was there to pick me up from the airport shortly after that, and I quickly forgot about my jewelry between all of her kids asking me one hundred questions, and talking Halloween costumes and singing Frozen songs, and Simone and I trying to fit in a few adult conversations in between.  I was so glad to be there and to be with Simone and ready for my adventure. I got up the next morning and got ready for the conference and put on my grandmother’s panther necklace and her gold chain bracelet and went on my way.  As I walked into the conference I grabbed my necklace and I inhaled the fresh cool air and I thought about my grandmother.  I immediately realized why I had packed her jewelry.  Her necklace is a gold chain with a gold panther pendant.  It was apparently given to her when she lived in Panther Valley.  When she died we were each allowed to pick a small piece of her jewelry and I picked the gold panther necklace because I thought it was different and weird.  As I walked into the conference I clutched the panther in my fingers and thought about why I was even here.  My kids were hysterical when I left.  One of their goodbyes was like a scene from a horror film.  Was it worth it to leave? They hate it when I leave.  But I think they would hate it more if I didn’t tell my story. I held the necklace tight and I thought about my grandmother.  She lived and died without a story.  Read it again.  She lived and died without a story.  How incredibly awful.  More than I ever grieved her death I grieved her life. I have grieved over and over again that my grandmother’s life lacked meaning and was possibly harmful to her descendants because she lacked purpose.  I know it sounds so harsh.  I loved her.  She was funny and feisty and I loved her.  But her story was sad because it lacked content.  I let go of the necklace and let it drop and rest on my neck and I thanked God that He had a plan for me, even in the detail of having me to pack my grandmother’s jewelry.  I touch the necklace and am reminded to live a better story, to make my life count.  Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their graves with a song still in them.”  I will not go to my grave with my story; I will sing my song and tell my story until the day I die.