Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi is an award-winning faith writer and columnist.

I know my ladies will understand and appreciate this profoundly – sorry, guys – but have you ever brought one of your favorite old purses back into rotation and discovered a few long-lost pearls at the bottom?

No, not real pearls. But rather a favorite lipstick or a $20 bill or that new pair of earrings you wore once and thought you’d never see again?

I have to admit, it’s always a giggle to go through my old bags as if an archaeologist on a historical dig.

The other day, I was mining the contents of one of my favorite old bags, which had been buried in the closet for nearly a year.

Several exciting discoveries were unearthed: my favorite engraved pen, a small book on marriage I was given on my wedding day by a dear friend and several sheets of old life notes.

It shouldn’t be too surprising to learn I’m a note-taker. I take notes for myself often, nearly every day. I’m one of those people who always needs a small notepad and pen on my person, just in case. I write to-do lists, goal sheets, task lists, contact notes if I meet someone interesting, business strategy tools, educational classes I learn about and want to get more information on. I write spiritual wisdom, meaningful quotes and generally write down any other information I think I may want to refer back to later.

These are what I call life notes. They’re little tidbits of betterment, and I’m always encouraged to look back on them and think about where I was in life when I was writing down these little thoughts, often thinking, “Well, I’ve done that and accomplished that and still need to work on that.”

So as I was digging through my old purse, I pulled out a life note written exactly one year ago this month.

At the top, I wrote, “Comfort, prayer, movement.”

It was a spiritual meditation, and it was written down with steps.

I must have known this was a good one to try over and over again.

So, the note instructed me to turn off the lights and air conditioning, take off my shoes and examine my clothing. With eyes closed, I ask myself, “How new are my clothes? How clean are they?”

I then ask myself to examine the smells of my surrounding. “Does it smell good?”

If I can answer “yes” to the smells test, it’s because I’m privileged enough – and those around me are privileged enough – to buy deodorant to mitigate body odor, and we have plentiful access to clean water to wash our clothes and clean our homes and buildings.

Good smells, or the absence of bad odors, I wrote, meant we have the additional money to buy cleaning supplies, a functioning and competent government – yes, I just said that – who are able to install and maintain our sanitation and waste, so it’s properly routed away from our delicate senses and out-of-sight from our villages and towns. It means we have a quality of life. The absence of odor, or the ability to quickly solve the problem, is a first-world luxury most of us take for granted daily.

I then asked myself to meditate on the churches overseas, in Second and Third World countries, where conditions are not parallel.

They worship our same Lord, however, though they may do it in deplorable conditions.

They are the ones who pray for full tummies and clean water, clean clothing and shoes. They pray for health and safety against civil unrest; they pray for real hunger pains and protection against starvation. They believe and serve and remain faithful and do so while showing up to church in what many of us would consider dirty, smelly conditions. There is no air conditioning or comfortable pews to sit on. There are no “church clothes” or “Sunday best” attire; there is only what’s available.

And how do many Americans view the Third World churches? Are they the same as us? Do we see their life journey as valuable and significant, or those poor people over there?

As my life notes state, “Yet, they are seen as less than.”

In my final thoughts, I write, “Now, visualize Jesus in the first century. What did he look like? What did he smell like? Did he brush his teeth or wear deodorant? How often did he bathe and how clean were his clothes and feet? Who made up his small groups? What did they pray for?”

Finally, I wrote, “What do you pray for? Are you thankful for what he has given you?”

Truthfully, I don’t remember writing down this meditation, but I remember why I likely wrote it last June.

I was in a growth stage, and everything seemed harder then. I felt like God was forgetting me, not listening to my prayers. I felt like I had slowed down to speed up, only to slow down again, and I didn’t appreciate the roller coaster.

But was I grateful? Was I truly looking for the blessing, or was I looking for the hardship? I think I knew that I could be looking harder for the blessing.

You see, I knew I’d need this life note reminder later in life because perspective is essential to growth.

Digging this wisdom from the depths of my favorite old bag, I look back fondly at last year, realizing how far I’ve come and how bright and prosperous the future looks now, and I appreciate the climb. I cherish it.

And I’m reminded of how nothing is ever as bad as we think it is, especially when there are closets full of clean clothes, full tummies every day and air conditioning in the Southern heat.

Jennifer Mathlouthi is a thought leader on religion trends and global issues. Email her at jlpreyss@vicad.com or follow her on Twitter @jenniferpreyss or jenniferpreyss.work.

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