Saturday, May 29, 2010

Submission, or Death to the Ego!

Submission is a word that no one likes to talk about. But I'm reading the book, “How to Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior” by Scott Bessenecker – and this book is talking about it. The book was a gift to my from my friend, Dave, who is also the editor of the book and who came with me on the trip to Haiti. How could he have known that this is just the book I needed! God is Good!

Submission is difficult for me. I imagine it's difficult for everyone. But it can be especially difficult for actors. I mean, come on, you don't become an actor because you like anonymity and serving others. That's for stage managers, the people who hang the lights, pull the curtain, you get the point. You become an actor, in part, because you like being in the spotlight in front of lots of people (believe me there are other noble reasons for it too!). As a Christian, I'm having to figure out how to walk this tight-rope. I'm thankful that my work involves children and I seek to make them the center of my shows – but that doesn't mean it's not easy at times to ride an ego wave when a show goes well or receives lots of accolades. It's also difficult since doing the work I love to do requires earning a reputation as a performer – ie; getting noticed – so that people will invite me to perform. Achieving balance in this – so that it's not about me but about my belief in the work -- can be challenging. And in our self-aggrandizing culture, where the ego is lifted up and exalted, it becomes difficult to embrace a way of submissive servanthood – the way that Jesus has called us to.

I'm ashamed to say that much of last year I was pretty dissatisfied with life. I was staying at home, doing a lot of writing and a little performing, but it seemed like it wasn't going anywhere. Despite the fact that I was doing the work I loved, I wasn't happy. Why? I guess because no one was taking notice. This year, it's the exact opposite. I've got three books accepted to be published. More shows than I can keep track of. And am very satisfied with life. But I've realized the danger in this – my contentment or satisfaction has been based on whether or not others deem what I do as valuable. But there is something inherently wrong in this. As a follower of Jesus, my job is not to please man but to please God. So how can my satisfaction be wrapped up in my reputation, worldly success, recognition, the enlarging of my ego, etc? It can't! Or at least it shouldn't. I said to my husband that I wished I would've had a copy of this book about submission that I'm reading now last year when I was struggling with a lot of negative feelings related to my need to be noticed. He said that it's probably better that I didn't. Experiencing those feelings for the length of time that I did and now being able to look back and recognize them for what they are is probably a good thing – a growing thing. I'm just praying the next time I'm in that place, I'm able to take what I've learned and apply it. Easier said than done.

At any rate, it's been awhile since I've read the book “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, but I seem to remember an unforgettable part that is fitting to this discussion of the ego and submission. In this book there is a Lizard who represents the ego. Some people say he represents lust, but I think lust, or getting what we want when we want it without regard for how it affects God or others, is the driving force behind the ego anyway – so for the purposes of this discussion, I'm counting them as the same. At any rate, the Lizard sits on the shoulder of one of the protagonists – a Ghost – and an Angel tells the Ghost that the Lizard must be killed.

The Ghost is hesitant. He protests, saying: “How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did.” The Angel insists that it isn't so. The Ghost wants to wait, to come back tomorrow and do it, but the Angel says, “This moment contains all moments,” (ie; It's now or never! Make a choice! Will you let the ego live or will you let me kill it?” Then the Angel says, “I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?” The Angel moves forward as if to grab the Lizard around the throat and right at that moment the Lizard begins to plead his case to the Ghost who has the power to give him up to the Angel or let him live. He says: “He can kill me. . . Then you'll be without me for ever and ever. How could you live? You'd be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now.” (Of course the irony here is that the protagonist is a ghost, not a real man, however he doesn't see himself that way.)

This moment in the book is so compelling. At the moment that we consider the possibility of killing our own ego, we can be assured that he will strike back with vengeance. He will have every possible argument to tell us why we shouldn't. He tries to convince the protagonist that without him he is nothing – and the world tells us the same. It says that without the fame, recognition, and accolades of others, we are nothing. That if we aren't ever climbing the corporate or social ladder or any other ladder that takes us higher than our fellow man, we are nothing. This is so easy to believe, and yet it is the greatest of lies. It is the ego that keeps us always hungry, ever lusting after more, never content with what we have, ever comparing ourselves to others, unable to be happy for someone else's successes if we feel as though they have surpassed our own, completely absorbed in self.

We know that the ego needs killed, but it's so hard. At the moment where we are ready to give a decisive yes, the ego pleads, saying, “I'll be good. I admit I've sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won't do it again.” Of course these are more lies, bent on getting us to believe that just a little bit of ego can be a good thing. That we can hold on to both love of self and love of God simultaneously – but it doesn't work. You either pick up your cross or you don't. You either lose your life for the sake of the kingdom or you don't. There's no in between, although the modern day church has done a good job of making us believe otherwise.

In the end, the protagonist gives in, albeit somewhat reluctantly, (I think he's just tired of coming up with excuses for the Angel since he knows deep down that the Angel is in the right) and allows the Angel to kill the Lizard. And this is the image I remember more than anything else from the book. As the Angel twists the Lizard's body, he bites and writhes and screams. The protagonist screams and is reeling from this as well. Then the Angel flings the Lizard, broken-backed, onto the ground. The whole thing is quite painful and agonizing for both the Lizard and the Ghost. And so it is for us... killing our ego will take everything we've got. And as we watch it writhe and beg for mercy and as we feel the pain and hurt that its death brings (not getting your way does hurt!), we will want to give in, releasing our death hold and allowing our ego to go on living. But if we do, it will be to our own detriment and we will miss out on becoming what we were meant to be. Because the story isn't over.

After the back-breaking of the Lizard, something happens. It turns out that the Lizard is not actually dead. All this time he's been moving and writhing and growing larger, but taking on a different form. He becomes a silvery stallion. And the protagonist who was once a Ghost has become a real man. That which was once an apparition of a thing has become the real thing. And so it is with us.. . When we kill our ego, we don't lose ourselves. Instead, we become who we were truly meant to be.

I wish I could say that the Lizard on my shoulder were dead, but if I did, that would be a lie. At times, he is super convincing and plies me with all of the reasons why he should stay there and why I should let him go on living, and to be honest, sometimes I like the sound of his voice. He is my ego after all. But I know he is a liar. And so daily I'm working on submission – saying, “Yes God, you have my permission, take him and kill him.” And I think that's what it is – a daily choice. No matter how badly we bruise him today, that Lizard is tenacious and he will find a way to climb back onto our shoulder by tomorrow.

But the way of the ego is empty. In the end, it may leave you with a lot of accomplishments and attention, but you are still a ghost of a thing. And ghosts are dead. Ghosts are creatures who inhabit the world of the dead, but would do anything to get in on the world of the living, even for just a second.

The world of the living isn't what happens when we try to get bigger and better than everyone else. The world of the living is what happens when we wash each other's feet, when we sit around the table together and everyone has enough to eat, when we say 'thank you' and mean it, when I'm just as happy to see you succeed as I am to see myself succeed. It is a world void of jealousy and lust. Many of our poorer neighbors know something about it. And you don't need a college degree to understand it – in fact, maybe if you have one you are at a disadvantage.

Think about it – I spent 2 and half days with a family in Haiti. They never told me about their careers, their successes, or any of the rest of what our culture would deem as giving a person worth. Instead, they shared their food with me, their laughter, their friendship. They washed my feet. They practiced a kind of submission that is almost completely foreign in my culture, and I will never forget them because of it.

There's something special about the way that God does things. He doesn't allow anything to die without redeeming it and turning it into something newer and more full of promise than it was before. I'm going to try to remember that the next time I see my Lizard asking for mercy.

Reflections from Haiti

(Written May 25, 2010) I got home yesterday afternoon, and as I continue trying to process all of my experiences in Haiti, I find it rather disorienting. First of all, it's kind of hard to explain this trip. I've been on lots of missions trips in the past to many wonderful and exciting places – and when I got home I could say: “I helped build a playground or paint a wall” or “ Our team led worship services and did a Vacation Bible School.” But this trip was very different. It's not so easy to put into words. I don't take with me so much a sense that I did anything so much as that I experienced everything.

I wasn't there to do; I was there to listen and learn – to be fully present and take in whatever I could. And so it becomes problematic at times to find the right words to share with others in a way that they will understand and find meaningful. And yet, we live in a culture that is so focused on doing that oftentimes we never stop and take the time to listen and learn first. Our idea of missions has been one intent on doing, one intent on having something to show for our efforts, something that will look like progress to others. And so maybe this trip and my difficulty to explain it reveals something deeper to me. My need to do and to quantify my productivity is exactly that – it's my need. It's not God's need. God needs me to listen and and learn from Him – and then after listening and learning, perhaps, I'll know what it is that I should do. He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still, even when it doesn't make sense to everyone else what you are doing, even when you can't explain it satisfactorily, even when it would be easier to do something and feel better about yourself – be still because it's not about all of that anyway.

I take with me from this trip no simple statements about what I did or accomplished. Instead, I take with me a plethora of images and vignettes, feelings and experiences, which despite being a writer, I find hard to put into words. (Kudos to Kent here, because he did it so well in his book that I am still reeling by it! If you haven't read it yet, I think you would be blessed by reading his book: "Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle." It's published by Intervarsity Press and it's a fantastic and fascinating read in which the author, Kent Annan, is so honest and thoughtful that you will be amazed someone would be so transparent. There are gripping moments of sadness as you explore the realities of life in Haiti, but other moments that are just laugh out loud funny! I can't recommend it highly enough! I am going to start reading it again.. especially since the family he lived with and describes in the book is the one that I got to stay with and I can now put faces to all of the names!)

Anyway, back to what I take with me from this trip!

I take with me the deep imprint of the servant hospitality that comes from those who will wash your feet or sacrifice to buy ice for your drink (ice you can't even drink for fear of getting sick from the water). I take with me the lived ideal of community that makes loving your neighbor – not loving the idea of your neighbor – possible. In a culture like ours where we can so easily protect ourselves from our neighbors, holding them at a distance and only allowing them to see of us what we want them to see, I feel almost jealous, even desirous, of some Haitian cultural aspects which refuse to make escape from those we are supposed to love an option. Whether it be pumping water at the well for one another because we all depend on the same source or, as it strange as it may sound, not being afraid to wave and say “bon jou” to your neighbor who is standing there taking his or her bath, lathered up in soap, right before your eyes – I am encouraged by the idea of living with and loving neighbors whom you have seen and known – warts and all – and whose vulnerabilities are not hidden from you.

I take the laughter and courage of a people who have suffered deeply but who hang on because they believe in the goodness of life; because they understand that if they are still alive it means that there is work for them to do, people for them to care for, and joy and suffering to be found in it all.

On our first night in Haiti, we sang a song that was taught to us by Alex and Merline, John's brother -in-law and wife. The lyrics said: “Mwen se Ayiti.” It means, “ I am Haiti.” At one point there was a break in the song where we began to hum. Then we went around the circle, and one at at a time, everyone said: “Mwen se Ayiti tou,” or “I am Haiti too.” It seemed kind of funny to say it that first night, and some of us kind of giggled or wanted to, but for some reason, it doesn't feel funny any more. In fact, after what I have experienced, it feels completely natural.

And so, I say with confidence this time . . . Mwen se Ayiti tou. Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Haiti (Miami) Trip Day 1 -- A Wild Beginning

Dear Friends,

Well, my trip to Haiti is off to a wild start! Let's just say it's a good thing I left a day early to get to Miami. This morning, my first flight was delayed 30 minutes out of Akron Canton Airport. Knowing that I only had an hour in between flights as it was, the lady at the counter was kind enough to confirm me on the next flight out of Miami in case I missed my first one. We arrived in Atlanta and I had 30 minutes to make my connection. By the time they got my bag to me (which they'd taken when I boarded the plane), I had closer to 15-20 minutes. I was in concourse C and needed to be in concourse A, so I took off running in hopes of still making the first flight. First sign of bad news: the tram was out of service. Second sign: people backed up at the entrance to concourse A -- no one is moving! I learn that supposedly there was some kind of electrical fire and no one is being allowed into concourse A. I figure I've missed the first flight, I'll wait for #2.

I go upstairs to concourse B to find out what gate my next flight leaves out of -- unfortunately, it is also out of concourse A. So there is nothing to do but wait. At this point, there is a line in concourse B waiting to take the escalator down to concourse A and most people have no clue what is going on. An airport worker says that she has no idea when it will be open again. A man standing next to me asks if I speak Spanish, I tell him I do and he asks me to explain the situation. It turns out he is from Colombia -- but not only that, he's from Manizales -- my husband's hometown! Small world, huh? As I talk to him, I feel like I am talking to my brother-in-law because he has the same accent! Then he starts using some words that are "paisano" -- or from that part of Colombia, and it reminds me of Estith! :) We decide since we have to wait we will have something to eat. He says he is glad to have found someone who could explain what was going on because everyone was so busy that no one would stop to talk to him. He ends up buying me lunch -- which was very kind of him. The terminal opens again and I have to leave in the middle of the meal because I only have about 30-40 minutes before my next flight leaves.

I wait in line at the escalator. Tons of people. i get downstairs -- worse. People are backed up and we are only inching forward. Finally I make it to the escalator up to concourse A -- as we are moving, the escalator comes to a lurching stop. It doesn't stop again -- I carry my extra-large carry on bag up the escalator, just hoping that I don't miss the second flight, because since this is the airport's fault and not the airlines, I'm not really sure how this is going to be handled -- and it seems to affect everybody!! I get to the top of the escalator thinking it will be easy going from there. . WRONG! It is chaos! There is barely room to get off of the escalator. People are crowded around from all sides. Some are trying to go down the escalator next to mine. Others are trying to cross the terminal to the right and left, others are trying to go forward to the baggage claim, and wherever you turn you are sandwiched in like sardines and the people around you are moving in the opposite direction! I have NEVER seen anything like this in an airport before!! Finally, I get into the clear and run towards the nearest gate, realizing I don't know which gate I'm supposed to go out of. I am told my flight, which now leaves in 5 minutes, departs from A18. That is back the opposite way from which I just came -- through a huge bottle-neck of people!! I make another run for it, only to hit the crowd and be at slow goings again. . all of this while trying to keep my bag from hitting, bumping and/or running over people's toes as we are smashed together. We are told by an airport worker that the planes are being held -- but I've been told that before when it wasn't the case, so don't know if their word is trustworthy or if they're just trying to avoid a bunch of angry, disgruntled passengers who might riot at any moment because they can't get where they're headed! The people on the side of the terminal where I'm headed are trying to leave the terminal, but they can't because of the bottleneck! So basically, there is no room for those of us who are trying to get into the terminal! Luckily, my gate is the first one, and I manage to slide along the side until I can get there and am able to board, because indeed they did hold the plane! Phew!

I arrived in Miami at 5:30pm instead of 3:30pm, but I am just glad to be here! It is rainy and overcast, so I haven't missed any sun. . and so much for my plan to hit the pool before tomorrow's trip! :) Again, I feel blessed that I was able to leave a day early, because if my Haiti connection would have been today, I would have missed it for sure. It was wild in that airport -- there was no order, no one really making order and everyone trying to go their own way. I guess I would have thought the Atlanta airport would've been better prepared to handle such a thing, but I was wrong. I know this was minor in comparison, but as I stood there amongst the throngs of people it made me think about what it must have been like when the earthquake hit Haiti. In the aftermath of that, the stakes were much higher than people needing to get to their connecting flight. It was survival, food, medical attention -- and oftentimes, from the reports I've seen on TV -- there were so many people clamoring, trying to get help. I can't imagine how chaotic it must have been.

I'm not sure how much time I'll have to write while I'm in Haiti, but if I get a chance I will definitely post an update that I've arrived. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and support. God is good all the time! And tomorrow, the adventure continues!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Understanding Paul's Laments

Lately I have reconnected with some former members of my youth group on facebook. As I began checking out their profiles to see what they've been up to in the years since I've seen them, I found myself saddened to see that one listed his religion as 'atheist;' some of the others had descriptions that were more ambiguous but based on some of the language used and the pictures posted, I had my doubts about where their faith was headed as well.

I've found myself thinking about it a lot over the past few days, and it has made me feel very sad. I worked with these kids about six or seven years ago when they were in high school and middle school -- now many are in college or working. I thought about the lessons taught, the church lock-ins, the mission trips taken -- and wondered -- was it all for nothing? What happened? Or did they never really get it in the first place?

I don't know -- but I now have a deeper appreciation for Paul's letters in the Bible. I'm reading his letter to the Corinthians now, and I can feel his pain as he laments the poor choices the believers in Corinth have made and how they have turned away from the gospel to follow idols. Not only have they rejected the truth of the gospel, but in many ways they have turned against him as well -- despite all that he did for them.

But it doesn't matter. Paul's love for them remains strong. In fact, he says:

I will gladly spend myself and all I have for your spiritual good, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me. -- 2 Corinthians 12:15

Paul doesn't care how much they offend him or hurt him, he only wants them to be in a good spiritual place -- to have right relationships with the Lord. This is a convicting verse for me because I think of how often we want to give up on people or turn our backs the first time they offend or hurt us. But the gospel teaches us another way -- to love even those that don't love us; to love even when we are hurt and offended.

It's been eye-opening for me to see how much the college or post-high school years are formative in terms of religious growth. I think these are the years where we really determine what we believe and how we are going to live. My own college experience has had such an impact on where I am now and the person that I am that I could write a whole book about it. Thankfully, I was rooted in a solid fellowship of believers that helped me to grow in faith and challenged me and held me accountable. I wonder where I would be without this group that truly was heaven sent!

In high school, many kids are still going to church because their parents make them or at times because it provides a social outlet for them. But once out of the house, the choice becomes entirely up to the individual. I think the college years are make or break in a lot of ways. I'm not saying that if someone drifts during these years that they will never come back, but I feel that the likelihood is much less.

My sister is going off to college this year. She has chosen a Christian college, I think in large part because she fears losing her faith after high school. She goes to a Christian high school where she stays in the Word, must attend chapel services, etc; and perhaps she fears that once that structure is gone, she wouldn't be strong enough to make the choice to continue seeking God on her own. I don't see her choice as a sign of weakness, but rather of maturity. All of us are weak when it comes to the things of the spirit. Christ said: "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." I think my sister understands that the pull of the flesh will be great, especially in college, so it's best to be in an environment where the pull of the spirit will be encouraged -- especially during the years that may be the most crucial to her further development as both a person and a Christian.

How I pray that the youth that I work with now would understand the gospel and cling to it! And how I pray that the youth that I worked with before would remember the gospel and return to it! For there is no greater joy than living for the Lord, for apart from Christ there is no life. As Colossians 3:3-4 says:

Your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And . . Christ. . is your real life.

Looking for Donkeys

I have to laugh sometimes at God's sense of humor and the irony of some of the happenings in the Bible. Like take 1 Samuel 8 for example. Lately, I can't stop thinking about it. In this chapter we meet Israel's first king, Saul. Only at this time, he's not a king -- just a regular boy from the smallest tribe of Israel, and he readily admits that his family is the least important of all the families in his tribe! Basically, he's on the bottom of the totem pole!

Saul is out looking for his father's lost donkeys when he meets Samuel --the priest and judge who tells him he is going to become king. Imagine, you're out looking for donkeys when you receive the completely unexpected news that you're going to become king! I don't think looking for donkeys was any more glamorous in Saul's time than it would be in our day. So I had to laugh at how ironic the whole thing was. Saul leaves the house a donkey hunter and returns a king! Weird, huh?

As I read that passage, I thought to myself -- I bet there are a lot of people 'looking for donkeys' right now (ie; doing something that seems relatively unimportant to them and feeling like they are on the bottom of the totem pole). And yet, who knows what God has in store? Who knows how God might meet them and turn their whole life upside down when they least expect it? After all, that's what happened to Saul -- why couldn't it happen to you?

Monday, April 5, 2010


Well, the season of lent has come and gone. Although supposedly a time for reflection and stillness, it seems this lenten season was busier than most for me. I had set out with the intention of blogging every day, and yet, just couldn't make that happen. I ended up having to give myself some grace on that one as oftentimes it was a choice between blogging or spending quality time with my husband.

At any rate, the past few days have been truly amazing as I've considered the sacrifice of Christ. As with most stories that we've heard before, we fall into the mentality that we already know it, and the story loses its power. Even with a story as amazing and incredible as the resurrection, we often fail to see how miraculous and mind-blowing it was just because we've heard it so many times, celebrated it so many years.

But God has been doing something in my heart these past few days and I'm trying to figure out the best way to live it. This lenten journey has taught me that I have a lot of things to figure out still, and that life is about trying to figure them out. It's also about taking action. We can have the best of intentions, but if we don't do anything with them, it doesn't matter.

At any rate, on Sunday morning before heading for church, I happened to read 2 Corinthians 5. The whole chapter is fascinating -- talking about how we will one day be given new bodies in heaven, etc. But what stood out to me most were verses 18 and 19 which say:

And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others.

What an appropriate reading for Easter Sunday. Christ's death was all about reconciliation. And it struck me that our ministry as individuals and as the Church is one of reconciliation as well. I think the church has become good at telling the world everything that they're doing wrong, and clearly there is a lot of sin in the world. But Jesus came to bring reconciliation -- not to count people's sins against them. How many times in the church are we guilty of counting people's sins against them instead of setting about the ministry of reconciliation, instead of sharing the wonderful news that we have been given?

The night before we had a friend over for dinner, and he happened to talk about how Jesus was always eating with sinners. He made the comment that sinners back then were certainly no different than sinners today. Their language was probably foul and laced with expletives, their topics of conversation enough to make 'religious' ears blush, and their activities reprehensible. But that didn't stop Jesus from eating with them. He didn't expect them to clean up their act before He shared a meal with them. He could eat with them and He could see beyond all of that stuff to the soul of the beautiful person that He created. The religious leaders of the time often criticized Jesus by saying: "This man eats with sinners!" And I had to ask myself, would anyone describe me that way? Would anyone say of me: "This woman eats with sinners?" Because if they wouldn't, maybe I'm not doing something right. If they wouldn't, maybe it's because I'm too busy surrounding myself with people that are just like me, people who talk the way I do, believe what I believe, act the way I act. And if so, maybe I've been guilty of turning Christianity into a club for people that already have it figured out instead of a hospital for sinners, which is what Jesus had in mind.

On Thursday night, my husband was invited over to the house of one of his co-workers, his superior. My husband works for an electric company, and he has told me that his co-workers swear like sailors, talk about women in demeaning ways and drink too much. He accepted the invitation of his superior and went to his house along with another co-worker. The man lived out in the country and had a bunch of guns. Apparently at one point, he got out the guns and was shooting them into the woods and allowing my husband to do the same. It sounded like a strange way to pass the time to me, (especially after the man had had a few beers!) but I guess this was something he enjoyed and there was really no harm in it. At any rate, as my husband was describing his visit, I said, "I wish I could picture these people you work with. I have no idea what they look like." "You will," said my husband. "I'm sure you'll meet them soon." Then he told me that his co-worker had invited me to come along the next time. At first, I thought that I might feel a bit uncomfortable with the language and the guns and the whole nine yards -- and then it occurred to me that being uncomfortable isn't a bad thing. It's part of being an ambassador. Also, it would really be no different than being in another culture, which is something I love. When I go into another culture, I don't immediately understand their way of doing things. But while we may speak a different language and have different ways of doing things, that doesn't stand in the way of me trying to develop a relationship with the people. And I do that by listening, trying to learn from them and loving them.

I realized that I have been shamefully arrogant in the past. I have actually said that the people my husband works with are not the kind of people with whom we could be friends with. I said that thinking of their vocabulary and conversation topics and how their values didn't really mesh with our own. But shame on me!! I am ashamed of my attitude. These are exactly the type of people we can be friends with. These are the type of people that Jesus was friends with. Shame on me because I am a sinner saved by God's grace and given the ministry of reconciliation! But praise God for revealing to me the error of my ways and reminding me that I still have so much to learn.

I want to be an agent of reconciliation in the world. That is the purpose of the church! But this can only happen when we stop counting mens' sins against them and focus on the wonderful message Christ has given us to tell others. Judment for sin will come, but it is not our job to judge. We can leave that to the Righteous Judge who judges without partiality.

Will you tell others the wonderful news that by Christ's death on the cross they can be reconciled to God? Will I?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I haven't written a blog post in the last few days, but it's with good reason. You see, on Friday morning I woke up knowing that I had a show up in Cleveland so I'd have to leave the house around 11:30am. I had plenty of things to do -- clean the kitchen, do my daily devotions, do some paperwork, check emails, etc, etc -- but I sat down to pray and as I did a story just popped into my head. The strangest part was that the story that came to my head wasn't just a random story, but rather it was very clearly the sequel to my first children's book, Lily and the City of Light, which I wrote back in college and which is going to be coming out this summer.

Now, I never set out to write a sequel for this book, never really even considered the possibility -- but as I sat there I was just flooded with images. I saw the characters and what else they needed to accomplish and why this story needed to be told -- so I grabbed a pen and paper and started to write. and the ideas just kept coming. I had practically the whole story, written in snippets with a few wholes still to be filled in when I looked at the clock and realized that I'd better get in the shower and get ready to go or I was going to be late for my show! It was hard dragging myself away from my pen and paper because when inspiration strikes, the last thing you want to do is squelch it -- but duty called!

The crazy part was that as I drove up to Cleveland, all the holes in the story seemed to come to me and filled them in as well. The result being that by the time I got out of my car to go into the library, the rest of the story was fully formed in my head. I had a very full day and later that night got home and scribbled furiously all of my ideas onto paper. It wasn't until Sunday that I actually got to sit down with all of my pages and begin typing it into the computer. I kept marveling at the whole experience because I've written a lot of books, but very rarely do they come to me like this. But both this book and its predecessor came to me in their entirety with almost no pause for thought on my part. In both cases, it was as if the story were writing me instead of me writing the story.

In the Christian church we say that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. That, yes, men wrote it, but that God inspired them to write everything that they did. Now, I certainly don't put my works in line with those of the Bible, but I believe that my experiences of writing both of these stories have helped me to understand this whole idea of the Bible being inspired. In the end, I'm not sure where the ideas came from or how or why they came to me in that moment. I just knew that they were significant and that I had to take them down right away. I believe wholeheartedly that they were inspired -- and I believe that God is still inspiring men and women today. I have no idea how God is going to use either of these stories, but I have a feeling that He is because they are more His than mine.

The other thing I've noticed is how, subconsciously, the things that I'm learning about in regards to my faith and my daily devotions begin to seep through even my fiction writing. I was reading in 1 Corinthians when Paul says that he doesn't do what is best for himself, but rather what is best for others -- on Thursday. I actually journalled about it in my devotional journal. Then on Friday I was incorporating that same idea into my story without even really thinking about it. The Word has a way of getting inside of us and coming out when we least expect it. I believe it's the work of the Spirit, and it's awesome when you can say, "Yes, I saw God working at that particular moment in my life, with that particular verse, etc."

Last Friday morning after having furiously penned as much of my story as I could, I hopped in and out of the shower and took a look at the Psalms portion of my daily reading. It was from Psalm 47, but for some reason I kept reading and read Psalm 48:1 & 2:

How great is the Lord, and how much we should praise him in the city of our God, which is on his holy mountain! It is magnificent in elevation -- the whole earth rejoices to see it! Mount Zion, the holy mountain is the city of the great King!

I could only stare in amazement! My story is about a great city, set on a hill for all to see, in which lives a great King! I had incorporated all of these Biblical truths into my children's book without even thinking about it really. I guess the Spirit knows exactly what He is doing even when I don't have a clue!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Brake-Check of a Lifetime

Have you ever been brake-checked before? If you're unfamiliar with the term it refers to what happens when you are driving down the highway, usually at high speeds, and someone pulls in front of you and intentionally, without notice, slams on their brakes or slows down considerably, forcing you to slam on your brakes in order to avoid a dangerous collision. Well, yesterday I was driving on the highway on my way to a performance when someone two cars in front of me hit the brakes without warning, forcing me and the car in front of me to hit our brakes. Now I don't think this car was trying to do a brake-check, but for some reason the experience got me thinking about them. And I found myself smiling as I wondered if God would ever like to do a brake check on any of us.

See, most of us live life in the fast lane, as the the famous song reminds us. We are speeding from one task to another with no time to stop or even slow down. And I wonder as God watches us racing around, trying to fit more and more activity into the same 24 hour period, if He ever doesn't get the desire to do a brake-check on us -- to throw something in our path that makes us slow down, that makes us hit the brakes, that makes us remember that we have more than just a gas pedal at our disposal.

Strangely, not too long after I began thinking about this, I turned on the radio and was listening to a broadcast about Phil Visser, the creator of Veggie Tales. He was talking about how one night, while Veggie Tales was at the height of its popularity and he was working very hard to produce more and more videos and DVDs, he was sitting in his bed reading his Bible. He came upon the verses in Galatians 5:22-23 about the fruit of the Spirit. He read them and realized that he didn't have any of them. He said to his wife, "If this is what makes you a Christian, than I don't think I am one!" Here he was spending his life (and all his waking hours!) producing and creating videos for Christian audiences, and he wasn't even sure if he was a Christian himself. He had more stress and worry in his life than peace and joy.

Not long after that, I think God did a brake check on him. The Veggie Tales empire he had created came crashing down. He went from having realized his dream and seeing it reach the pinnacle of success to watching as it all came tumbling down around him. Over the next few months, he spent a lot of time in the Word and in prayer. He said that he finally discovered what it meant to walk with God. He'd been so busy trying to do something for God that he had never discovered what it meant to walk with God. Because Veggie Tales was his dream, the desire to see that dream come to fruition had practically consumed him, making him stressed and worried all of the time.

He shared that there are some questions that produce stress in our lives. They are: "How much? How many? How soon?" He said that if you are asking yourself these questions than you are probably going to become a person who is stressed out and worried rather than peaceful and joyful and all of the other good things that are gifts of the Spirit. He shared that those questions are often part of the building of a human empire rather than an empire based on God's values.

God doesn't want His children stressed and worried all the time. He knows that in that condition we cannot be a blessing to others. I know that I've asked myself some of those questions in just the last few months related to my own life and dreams, especially the how soon. I'm not always the most patient person, and I want everything to happen now, even if it means trying to do too many things simultaneously! I'm going to remember those questions though, and I'm going to use Galatians 5:22-23 as a touchstone. If something is getting in the way of me producing the fruit of the Spirit, then it has to go. Hopefully, I'll learn how to hit the brakes in the areas in which I'm going too fast or wanting too much so that God doesn't have to do a brake-check on me.

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
-- Galatians 5:22-23

Monday, March 22, 2010

Put Your Feet in the Water

So if you read the last post I told you I'd come back with some ideas -- ideas on where to begin in making a difference in the poverty and injustice in the world. I think sometimes we don't get involved in the solution because we become overwhelmed by the problem. It's so big that we often think: "How can I do anything about it?" It seems like all that we might do (whether by volunteering or donating money) is just a drop in the bucket, and so sometimes our good intentions outweigh our actions. But the good news is that enough drops in the bucket will fill up the bucket and pretty soon it will be overflowing with momentum. This is the attitude we need to assume. As I've heard quoted -- "I will not let what I cannot do get in the way of what I can do."

The world's problems seem like an unsuperable obstacle -- but for God and God's people, there are no obstacles, just opportunities. I love the story from Joshua chapter 3 where God's people are ready to cross into the Promised Land and claim it. There's only one problem -- the Jordan River. It's wide, and it's springtime, so the water is overflowing its banks already. But God tells the people through Joshua that all that has to happen is this -- the priests should put their feet into the water and as soon as they do the water flow will be cut off upstream and pile up in a heap allowing them to cross over. It's simple -- just put their feet in the water. Just take one step of faith, and God will do the rest.

I believe the same is true with many of the obstacles facing us today -- including poverty and injustice. If I focus on the fact that I can't change things, I'll never put my feet in the water. And if I never put my feet in the water than I'm inhibiting God's ability to work through me. We need to take the focus off of ourselves and say, "God, I know that what I can do seems small and insignificant, but what you can do with my small and insignificant offering is beyond what I can imagine."

I believe that if enough of us have faith enough to put our feet in the water -- to do even something that feels small to us but that through God can become great -- that we will begin to see change in this very generation. May it be so!

We can do no great things. Just small things with great love.
-- Mother Theresa

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Good We Ought to Do

Something interesting occurred to me yesterday while I was standing in line at the bank to deposit my husband's weekly paycheck. As many of you already know, over lent I've been reading the book, The Hole in Our Gospel, so issues of poverty and injustice in the world have been on my mind a lot lately. Well, for some reason as I stood there looking at his check, I thought about the multitudes of people living on $ a day. Estimates say that 1 billion people in the world are living on less than $1 a day, while 3 billion people (or nearly half of the world's population) are living on less than $2 a day. I looked at my husband's check and realized that in one week -- five days -- he had made more than a large percentage of the world's people will make in 365 days! It was quite sobering to realize just how inequitable things are in the world.
Today I filled up my gas tank and thought: "With the swipe of my credit card, I just spent someone's salary for a whole month in the developing world."

Often, I'm not sure how to deal with this. I find it hard living in the US with the knowledge of what it's like everywhere else. I walk into a grocery store and see aisle after aisle of food, all readily available for my consumption, and I wonder how it can be that there are places where people are literally starving to death. In fact, every three seconds a child dies because he or she didn't get enough to eat. This is unfathomable while I am able not just to meet my needs but to go to restaurants, to buy tubs of ice cream and candies, essentially, to have whatever I want.

27,000 children die each year from starvation. And yet, that's just a statistic. A number that doesn't mean much. I mean, sure it's a big number and we all say, "Wow! That's a lot!" But what if it was a child close to you? What if each one of those children were someone you knew personally -- your child or a friend's? What if you had met them instead of just lumped them into a category of statistical casualties? We have to be able to make poverty personal in order to care.

I am of the mind that the gospel is more than just the good news that Jesus has secured a place for us in heaven. The more I read God's own Word and the more I learn, the more I realize that it is also wrapped up in the words of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me,
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from the darkness. . .

As the author of the book of James would put it, the gospel is also wrapped up in caring for the widow and orphan.

The Bible is full of passages asking us to care for the poor, to share, to bring equality. In fact, I've read about a man who set about cutting out every passage in the Bible that related to the poor and needy. He did this because he felt that most Christians ignore these passages. Ask yourself: How often do you hear sermons about our responsibility to the poor? At any rate, when he was done cutting out the passages, the Bible was in tatters. It wouldn't even hold together! If the Bible can't hold together without all that God has to say about the poor, how can our faith hold together without some commitment to them?

It's interesting because the Church has become known for everything it's against and for criticizing people for those things that they shouldn't be doing -- whether it's the abuse of drugs or alcohol, murder, adultery, sexual promiscuity, gossip, lying, the list goes on. The author of my book calls these sins of commission --things that we choose to do that violate God's commands. Because of the church's zeal to condemn these sins, the church has earned a reputation of being intolerant and judgmental, defined by what we're against instead of what we're for.

But then the author brings up another kind of sin -- sins of omission. These aren't things we do, but rather things that we know we should do and don't. And he makes the interesting point that throughout the scriptures these are the sins that seem to grieve God the most. (See the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 for a good example of this.) How many times do we break God's heart not becuase of what we've done but because of what we've failed to do? One of the greatest commandments, to love our neighbor as ourself, sounds good until you really stop to consider what it's saying. Then you realize just how hard it is to do, being that we are selfish, sinful human beings.

If I've got $50 in my pocket and want to buy myself a new pair of jeans when I've already got three and know that someone else somewhere in the world has only the clothes on their back, how do I reconcile that? What do I do when my culture tells me I can have more but when my conscience tells me enough is enough? These are the questions that I am wrestling with and trying to find answers to as I'm surrounded by my affluent culture but immersed in the stories of those living in the most desperate kinds of poverty.

James 4:17 says, "Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it sins." Those are tough words. And I find it harder to keep myself clear of sins of omission than sins of commission because there is so much good that needs to be done and yet it's so easy to turn a blind eye to it when all of my needs are met and I'm doing just fine.

I don't want to end this post on a bad note. I don't want you going away feeling guilty for all that you have (although maybe that is the place where some of us need to start), but I do want to raise the questions. And I do want all of us (myself included!) to realize the great part that we can play in writing a history that has hope for the hopeless.

I leave you with this quote:

"Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering and injustice when He could do something about it."
"Well, why don't you ask Him?"
"Because I'm afraid He'd ask me the same question."
-- Anonymous

Coming tomorrow. . . some ideas on where to begin!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Grateful to Be a Vehicle

Life has been keeping me extremely busy and away from this blog. The ideas for writing topics have been piling up faster than I can keep up with them! I'm learning so many things that I can't wait to blog about, just haven't had the chance. . .

At any rate, last night I did a performance of "The Monkey and the Crocodile." There was a young boy in the audience, I'd estimate him to be about 11. I got him to play the crocodile in the show. At first, he seemed reluctant to come up, but the more the story went along, the more engaged he became. When it was over, he said to me, "That was great. It made me remember what it was like to be a child." I was delighted with his response to the show and with his honesty in sharing it. It was so endearing.

It may sound kind of funny -- those words coming from an 11 year old. But kids grow up so fast these days. . . TV, internet, and so many other things replace the joy of using your imagination. When he said those words, I thought about my own childhood. I was always making up scenes and acting them out to pass the time -- I was an only child and moved often, so I had a lot of time to pass! :) Then the young boy said, "You're coming back, right? When are you coming back?" Of course, it's not in my control whether I come back or not -- but I told him about the other nearby libraries I'd be going to and he asked the librarian for a listing with dates and locations. It may sound funny, but he looked as if he were glowing! There was a change in him, something different from the beginning of the performance to the end of it. He just seemed to light up as if he'd discovered something he'd forgotten about himself, or perhaps that he never knew, and it was magnificent.

The day before I made a break-through with another student -- a kind-spirited young girl with special needs. She was part of a four week afterschool program I was doing. For three consecutive Wednesdays I'd worked with her and she'd never volunteered to take part in any of the shows. But on Wednesday, during week four, before the show had a chance to begin, she took me by the hand and dragged me across the room to show me something that she had found. With that gesture, I knew she was showing trust in me. Later during the show, she volunteered to come up and shined in each way that she participated. I was so proud of her. I had witnessed so much growth in her from week 1 to week 4, and it was amazing!

These are the significant moments for me. These are the moments that keep me doing what I do. These moments are worth more to me than any paycheck. These are the moments that remind me that there is something going on each time I perform that is much bigger than me telling a story; and I'm just grateful that my work can be a vehicle for that, a vehicle that opens up the immense possibilities inherent in every child.

Certainly I don't recognize or get those moments every time I perform, but I'm always thankful when I do. And I hope that on my bad days, or the days where it seems like no one gets what I do or why I do it, I can remember them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Success vs. Significance

I was talking with a friend today who was sharing her frustrations with me. Despite the fact that she is doing very important work with youth, she feels like her life isn't amounting to much. She senses that she should be doing or accomplishing more. As I listened, I could relate to her feelings. I've gone through the same thing at stages in my life.

Of course, I can tell her that it's not true, that what she's doing does matter greatly; but when you're feeling the way she's feeling, sometimes it doesn't matter what people say -- you can't just change your feelings with the snap of a finger or an encouraging word. You want to see results!

But the book I've been reading has challenged my thinking on the matter. The author, Rich Stearns, who had achieved professional success by becoming the CEO of Lenox, the tableware company, left Lenox to become the President of World Vision. He talks about trading in success for significance. He had reached the pinnacle of his career and was more successful than many of us even dream of becoming -- and yet he turned his back on it because he saw an opportunity to become more significant, to make a difference in the lives of more people.

Oftentimes, I think we measure ourselves by our success instead of by our significance. When you are successful, you typically receive the attention of others. People notice you, often make a big deal out of you. Your abilities and accomplishments are confirmed by others -- even if those accomplishments aren't helping that many people. When you are significant, what you are doing matters. You are making a difference, but you might not get any recognition or credit for it. Perhaps no one knows about what you're doing or if they do, they don't say too much. I think success is more about me -- my goals and making a name for myself in my field. Significance is more about others -- about making what I do matter to others.

And so I've started asking myself the following question in relation to all that I do:
Are you working on becoming more successful or more significant?

As counter-cultural as it is, I want significance, not success, to be my goal -- and the measuring stick by which I evaluate my life.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Christian Chameleons

This past Saturday I was at a drama rehearsal for an upcoming event at my church. After the rehearsal had concluded, I was standing around talking with some of the other people involved -- one of whom is the director of a Christian camp. Each year she has the job of sorting through lots of applications from teens who want to be staff members at the camp. The teens take on the roles of counselors, serving as role models for the younger campers.

She mentioned that after reviewing each application that she would also check out the teen's facebook or myspace pages. In fact, there was a place on the application where she asked the applicant to put their facebook username and myspace web address. Visiting these sites, she said, was in many cases disturbing. Everything from the language used, to the sexual content to the attitudes and view expressed seemed to suggest anything but a Christian worldview on the part of the teen. Knowing that she was going to be checking out these pages, she actually wondered why some of them hadn't bothered to clean up the content.

Now, I'm not advocating that anyone should try to clean up their act to get a Christian job. But the disturbing part is that many of these teens saw no disconnect between their language, attitudes and behavior and their Christian faith. And this isn't a problem only with teensl I'd say it's pretty universal! Iit's just that the rampant use of technology among teens perhaps makes it more glaring.

Many people do not see Christian faith as an all-encompassing aspect of their life. Instead, they compartmentalize it. It becomes what they do on Sunday, or at camp over the summer, or at Wednesday night Bible study -- instead of what they do all the time. It has no say in how I talk or act the rest of the week, just where I go on Sunday. I'm afraid that this kind of thinking is extremely dangerous -- it's by this type of thinking that we deceive ourselves that we are followers of Christ. It's also by this type of thinking that we turn others away from the truth because our example shows them that we can be Christians without having changed hearts -- and this simply isn't true. (Saul didn't become Paul and then go back to persecuting Christians just on the weekends. No, he had a complete transformation of head and heart!) Now, the change may not come overnight, but it will come if we are earnest seekers. And Christ himself said that a good tree will bear good fruit -- so our Christian faith should be obvious to others, not something they'd never have guessed if they tried.

This morning some of the commentary in my Bible happened to be about chameleons - about how they can change colors depending upon their environment and how they do it for survival. I'm afraid that unfortunately, there are quite a few Christian chameleons out there. When surrounded by other Christians or on Sunday morning, they change to one color. But when they get on facebook, or with their friends, or go to a party, or are just home alone, they become another color entirely. But the Bible calls us to stand out. If we are truly in Christ, the only changing we should be doing is to be conforming ourselves more and more to the image and likeness of Christ. Staying the same color, irrespective of the circumstance or people around us, is another name for integrity.

I think youth is an especially hard time to figure out. Looking back, I can remember certain times where I lost integrity -- and probably because like many, I had compartmentalized my faith to some extent. As an earnest seeker of Christ at the time, I wonder if I would've gotten my act together sooner if someone would've confronted me and not been afraid to call me out on it -- to tell me that my color was all wrong for who I said I was. Obviously, we need to speak the truth in love. . . but the truth needs to be spoken. Faith needs to be integrated not compartmentalized. We cannot live as Christian chameleons any longer.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Why I Believe

I came across the following quote in a book that I've been reading and just have to share it with you. It's from C.S. Lewis, and I'm a huge fan of his, but had never heard this quote before. But as is the case with most things I read by C.S. Lewis, I'm amazed at how he's able to say things so succinctly and metaphorically in a way that makes complete sense to me. He said:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

The truth of this quote hit me so powerfully. I could try to expound upon this idea, but I don't think I could say anything that the quote isn't already saying so well. I'm at a loss for words -- something that doesn't happen too often. So I'll leave it at that -- allowing you to ponder it for yourself.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What Season Are You In?

I'm almost ashamed to share some of the ways I was feeling at the latter part of 2009 with you. But I believe that we've all had enough with pretending we feel good when we don't. And we've really had enough with Christians who pretend to have it all together when they don't -- so in the interest of honesty and transparency, I think I'll share.

At any rate, in December of last year, I wasn't in the happiest of states. Maybe that's an understatement. I was pretty miserable -- and to anyone close to me, I made it well known. I felt like I was working hard and nothing was happening. I was watching my friends go on adventures to other parts of the world while I felt stuck at home. It seemed like nothing was going right, or at least, nothing was going the way I wanted it to, at the rate I wanted it to. When I shared my feelings with my husband and told him how dull my life felt, how little I felt I'd accomplished as my 30th birthday drew ever closer, he thought there was something wrong with me. "Do you realize all that you've had the opportunity to do? All that you've already done and accomplished?" I'm sure I was being selfish, but in that moment none of that mattered. . . I still wanted more. I didn't want to have to look to the past to find the excitement in my life. I wanted it in the present moment.

And then during the last week of December I went to Urbana, and ever since I've come back, it seems like life has been one wild ride after another! From all that I learned there, to making a movie, to seeing the illustrations of my children's book which is going to be published in the coming months, to meeting some incredible new people, to finding out I'll be going to Haiti, to getting some awesome opportunities for my theatre company, to finding some exciting, new uses of drama in worship settings to working with an amazing group of kids in an afterschool program to. . . and the list goes on!

I actually have a friend who has commented on two separate occasions recently on my facebook page about how amazing my life is. And as I read her words I felt ashamed. She is right. My life is amazing -- amazing because of all the incredible things that God is doing and all the doors that He is opening. How shortsighted of me to get discouraged and how sad that I would ever become discontented with a life so full in so many ways!

And yet, it's easy to say that now, on the backside of things. But in the moment, when things were slow and grueling, that's just the way I felt. I didn't want to be in that funk, but I was. I can remember a time last fall when reading the psalms and happening upon a verse that said, "Though you sow with tears, you will reap with joy." I was sowing with tears much of last year when it felt like nothing was happening and now I am in a season of reaping with joy when it seems like more things are happening than I could ask for or imagine. But I'm coming to understand that we need these different seasons

During the season of sowing with tears, we learn to depend on God, not on our own abilities or successes. Without this season perhaps we would forget that God is in control. That no matter what we are capable of doing, no matter what our abilities -- without God nothing will happen. For you can plant everything perfectly, but without sun and rain, all your efforts will be for nought.

During the season of reaping, maybe we learn the value of the season of sowing. I look back and think about all that I learned during that season, and all of the things I was able to do that now, with the busier nature of my life, I lack the time to do. And I realize how valuable that time was. I didn't value it in the moment. In fact, I practically squandered it sometimes feeling bad for myself, wishing I had more going on. Now, what I wouldn't do for a string of free days where I had the time to just be; where I wasn't thinking about my to-do list 24/7!

And then too, I want to be someone who is grateful for each season. It's easy to praise during harvest season when you're seeing the fruit of your labor. But it's much harder to praise during sowing season, when you have no idea what, if anything, will come of your labors and toil. I guess the key is learning to be open to what God would teach you in every season. I'm sure that sowing season will come again -- I just hope I'll be able to remember this lesson when it does.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Dangerous Undertaking!

Lately reading the Bible has become a dangerous pastime for me. Now, reading the Bible should always be looked at as a dangerous undertaking because the Word has the power to unsettle us, to mess us up, to cut us to the quick -- if we'll let it. And that is a very big if.

For many, reading the Bible is just a rote activity where we re-read the stories that we already know to remind ourselves what they say but without really making any new discoveries or without allowing those stories to make us question our thoughts, attitudes, and the very foundations upon which we've built our lives. We have to be careful to make sure that we don't allow this to happen.

For me, over the past few months, the Bible has become dangerous for another reason. You see, lately I've been reading it much more from the eyes of an actor. Rather than reading to get the facts, I put myself into the mindset of the characters involved. I ask myself, "What were they thinking when they said that? Why did they do that? Who were these people? What did they want out of life?" In my acting training, my theatre professor taught me the most essential question that the actor must answer in every play, every scene, every moment that they portray on stage. That question is: "What do you want?" We are never just talking or just doing things. With each breath, we are trying to get something,and everything we do is either taking us closer or further away from getting what we want. Yes, there is a driving force behind us -- our desires.

My acting teacher was fond of stopping our scenes mid-sentence to say, "What do you want? What does your character want in this very moment!?" Usually, we'd give some lame-brained answer, like, "She wants to know that she is loved by her dad." And our teacher would say, "How will she know that?" We'd stop and think and say, "I don't know. Maybe if he gave her a hug?" And he'd say, "Okay, so she doesn't want to know something. She doesn't want words from him! She wants a hug! So, continue the scene and say your lines -- and the whole time you're saying them try to get that hug from him. The lines are just part of trying to get what you want!!"

Now, I hope I haven't lost you. You may be thinking this is a little crazy, but stick with me please! :) At any rate, when I read the Bible this way -- trying to answer the questions of what the people want and what they will do and are doing to get it, it really comes alive to me. I've come to the conclusion that if you can't act out what's happening on the pages of the Bible than you probably don't have a full understanding of what's going on -- myself included. There are so many layers, so many characters, so many attitudes, emotions, and things happening in one little scene.

The story of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10 is a good example of this. It's just 6 verses, so it's easy for us to read it quickly and think we've understood it. But I've been teaching this scene to the kids in my drama class and I used this same scene to illustrate the effectiveness of dramatizing the Bible this weekend at the Arts conference, and I've learned so many things that I didn't realize were there.

My kids have shown me the desperation that Bartimaeus must have been feeling. He could hear what was going on around him as the people ran toward Jesus, but he wasn't part of it, couldn't get close to it. When I saw one of my somewhat awkward high school students doing the part, I realized that he completely understands this story because he knows what it's like to be in the crowd but not part of what's going on. He understands what that feels like and how much it hurts!

A group of adults modernized the story in our workshop. In their scene, Jesus was a business executive. The disciples and crowds were following him telling him all of the things he had to do, meetings he had to attend, papers he had to sign, calls he had to take. All the while his cell phone kept ringing. And there, at the perimeter, was a seemingly insignificant woman trying to get his attention to get his signature for a homeless shelter for women that needed to be opened. Their scene made me realize how busy Jesus must have been, what demands must have been placed upon his time, how hard he must have had to work to keep balance.

In yet another scene, a woman in the crowd pushed her way forward to Jesus and then said to her friend, "Quick! Get my picture with him!" This made me realize the celebrity status that Jesus had attained. People didn't want to get close to get to know him necessarily. They wanted to get close because He was bigger than any American Idol. I can just picture a bunch of teens screaming at a concert in complete hysteria because their heart-throb has entered the arena. Certainly, Jesus had acquired such a status with certain people.

And so, every time I open the Bible, I find myself inspired to create something. Something that will help us to see the Word anew, as if for the first time. Sometimes I have to hold myself back. I have to say, "Whoa! First just take the time to be with the Word, to hear God's voice." It's almost scary for me to read any books or pick up the Word because I know something is going to hit me and will stir in me the desire to create -- which is a good thing, but like any good thing, requires balance.

Today, unexpectedly, Galatians 1 opened up to me in a way as I'd never seen it before. It's a letter. And I could just picture the people of the Galatian church gathered around the letter, eagerly waiting to hear what their friend Paul had written to them. And then after the nice introduction finding out that he was writing to rebuke them!! How that must have changed their attitude towards the letter from excitement to dread! From wanting to continue reading to thinking, "No thanks. I'd rather pass." And then I pictured Paul writing it to them, recounting his journey of faith all the way up to the last line of the chapter -- "And they gave glory to God because of me." I didn't hear any pride in Paul's voice, but rather a deep sense of humility. Realizing that you have been used by God that others might give Him glory is an overwhelming and humbling thought. The work of this early morning was turning the words of Galatians 1 into a skit that captures all of those feelings and the emotions and attitudes of all of those characters. Galatians 1 is alive to me, and I hope to have the chance to share that with others someday soon.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Back In Town with Lessons from a Headache

Well, I'm back in town . . . and it's funny just how appropriate last Friday's posting about rest was. I went to Pennsylvania for the weekend for a Worship Arts Conference where I was invited to teach a class about church drama ministry. We had a 7 hour drive to get there -- and I think I was crashing after a busy, somewhat stressful, week because I had a terrible headache for half of the ride and then for most of the night. But it was funny because before we'd even arrived at the conference, I'd already learned something. I'd learned the importance of rest. This is a lesson that I have to learn over and over again, because I'm just not wired to build rest into my life like we're supposed to.

But anyway, I realized that over the last few weeks I'd been spending a lot of time calling libraries and other places trying to get more work for the summer. In my head I could already think of a bunch more places I needed to call or email or places I should look into calling or emailing. I was planning on getting back to it as soon as I returned from the conference. Never mind the fact that for the upcoming summer I already have more work scheduled now in March than I ended up having all of last summer. And I considered last summer a good summer!

I thought about how tired I was right at that moment, how I'd been working hard over the last few weeks; and I thought about my head-ache because my head was still throbbing. And then I thought -- "I don't want to be driving to places this summer with a headache, feeling tired and worn-out and not able to give my best performance! No, that's not what I want!" Not only would I be miserable, but it wouldn't be fair to the places where I'm going. It wouldn't be fair to the people of Haiti whose story I'm going to tell. It wouldn't be fair to my husband because he'd inevitably end up getting the worst part of me -- the times when I'm exhausted and grouchy.

Now, this is not to say that I don't want to work hard. Believe me, I've got enough going to keep me working hard all summer. It's not even to say that I wouldn't be happy if more work came along and that I wouldn't take it if it did. But I feel like an annoying headache on a long car ride taught me that I need to be careful just how hard I run after work. So I'm taking a different approach right now. The calendar is pretty full -- so now I'm not going to spend hours each day pursuing more work. I'm going to take it one day at a time, doing what I can and being sure to make time for moments of rest so that I don't burn out. I'm going to trust that since I've done the work of getting the word out in the first place that the places where I'm supposed to visit this summer will get a hold of me. And I'm going to focus my attentions where they need to be focused. . .

It's so easy to go from wanting more to wanting too much. But when you put it all in perspective it's not worth it. . . In some cases the more work I get, the more time I have to spend away from home, away from my husband, and he is one of my top priorities!

How often do we evaluate if our actions and choices are leading us closer to who we want to be? Sometimes something as seemingly small as a headache can speak louder than words.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dear friends, I'll be out of town this weekend at a Worship Arts Conference in Pennsylvania and don't think I'll have much access to the internet, so I doubt there will be any posts until Monday. I hope you all have a wonderful and refreshing weekend. I leave you with this thought. . .

God gives rest to the ones He loves.

Psalm 127:2 says: In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for something to eat, for God gives rest to those He loves.

Sometimes we don't want to take that rest -- but God does grant it. As Jesus reminds us -- the Sabbath isn't for God -- God doesn't need rest! It's for man -- who does!

I hope you find rest today in the One who loves you.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do Me a Favor, Jesus!

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the story of James and John asking to sit at Jesus' right hand. In some accounts, it's their mother who asks for them. But in the book of Mark (Chapter 10) they ask Jesus themselves. I've read the account many times, but what I never really noticed before is what is immediately preceding this request.

See, the disciples are following Jesus to Jerusalem, and Jesus tells them: "When we get to Jerusalem, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again."

Then, right after that (in the very next verse!), James and John come up to Jesus and say, "Teacher, we want you to do us a favor. In your glorious kingdom, we want to sit in places of honor next to you."

Now this request isn't so shocking to me (we all like honor) as the timing of it. Jesus has just told them all of the horrible things that are going to happen to him in Jerusalmen -- Jesus is walking the road to Jerusalem -- to his horrible fate, and then James and John have the audacity to make their request for honor!! They are thinking of themselves and their honor in light of what Jesus is facing! How could they!!??

Well, it's easy to condemn them -- until I hold the mirror up to reality and realize that I'm no different. In the face of what others are suffering, I can still think solely of myself and how everything affects me. I'm quite sure I've listened to people telling me about the pain they are enduring and the difficulties they are facing all the while waiting for the opportunity to ask them for what I want -- what I need from them. Sure, I know it's wrong and selfish, just like James and John had to know it wasn't a good time to ask Jesus for their favor, but then, that's our ugly human nature. It makes us see only what we need.

As the old DC Talk song, "In the Light" says:

The disease of self runs through my blood.
It's a cancer fatal to my soul.
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
to bring this sickness under control.
Like the lyrics above suggest, I know that I am powerless to die to self on my own. Without Jesus it would be all about me all of the time. Sadly, even with Jesus, that sickness of self creeps up way too often. So, if any of you reading this have ever been hurt by my selfishness, have ever felt like I wanted to talk about me more than I wanted to listen to you, then I pray that you would forgive me. I am working on it -- but like cancer it usually requires repeated, often painful, treatments. I hope you will be patient. . . and as hard as this is to say, not be afraid to call me out on it when you see it creeping up again!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

That Odious Odor!

Yesterday I had some people come to clean our carpets. In some areas of the house, there is a strong odor -- what I believe is a pet odor left behind by the pets of the previous owners. In one particular area, it's so strong that I don't even like to go into that room. The carpet cleaning company said they guaranteed their work and wouldn't bother cleaning the carpets if they didn't think they could fix the problem -- so I thought I should give them a try before entertaining the expensive notion of replacing the carpet altogether!

So this morning after the carpets were dry I went down to the "problem room" to see if there had been any improvement. And to my frustration I found that the odor was still there, lingering in the room just as before. It irritated me. . . My line of thought began to work something like this. .. "They said they wouldn't clean the carpet if they didn't think it was worth it, if they thought they couldn't get rid of the smell. But it still stinks! What a minute. . . they did say that if it didn't come up the first time they'd come back and clean it again, but I'm not sure they're going to be able to do anything about it even with a second time around. The guy who was out here yesterday didn't even notice the smell. I think he must've had an olfactory problem because as he cleaned it was wafting through the whole house!!. . Now I'm going to have to call them, ask them to come back and then if it doesn't work, what then? I guess we'll have to replace the carpets altogether, and I'll have to ask for a refund because the money that we paid to have it done wasn't to make them look nice -- it was to get the smell out and if that didn't work it was a waste. And if they won't give us our money back, I'll have to complain, and if nothing happens, we'll have lost perfectly good money that could've been used to help pay for the new carpet that wouldn't smell!"

Whew! Yes, my mind went from 0 to 60 mph in no time flat. And as all these thoughts were going through my mind, I was feeling frustrated and distracted. I was feeling like I'd lost valuable time and money in getting my house into the condition it needs to be in order to feel like home -- the kind of home I could feel good inviting people into.

But then I had to stop myself. I realized how foolish I was being. I thought of a city in Egypt that I heard about while at Urbana. It's literally called "Garbage City." The people who live there are the garbage collectors of Cairo. They go into the city collect all of the trash and bring it back to their community where they recycle what they can and pitch what they can't into an area right where they live. I've never been there, but supposedly the smell is overwhelming. The people's homes are built right over a huge garbage dump. And this is where they live, where children play, where they spend all of their time. And all of a sudden, it put things into perspective for me. It was silly to be putting so much negative mental energy into this whole carpet thing in light of what other people are living with every day. Now, I'm not saying that means I'll just let the carpet thing go -- because the company is responsible for their work. But mentally, yes, I'm letting it go so that it doesn't consume my thoughts or rob me of my peace or keep me from being productive today.

After this whole realization, I happened to read this interesting paraphrase of Matthew 25 written by Rich Stearns, the president of World Vision. It says:

For I was hungry, while you had all you need. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison and you said I was getting what I deserved.

If that isn't convicting, I don't know what is! I pray today that I would learn to take those words to heart and to not allow myself to become consumed by the minor things that seek to bring me down, but rather remember all that I do have to be thankful for and how much I have to share. As my favorite author C.S. Lewis so aptly points out in his book, The Screwtape Letters, often the little things that distract our minds which we think are so innocent, merely our own thoughts, are the subtle ways that the Enemy works to keep our focus off of God.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Easy to Praise!

On a day like today it's super easy to praise. It's the kind of day where I just want to throw my hands in the air, jump up and down and dance for joy. Today around 2pm I received a call inviting me to go on an all expenses paid mission trip to Haiti. I'd applied for the trip by writing an essay. I had to answer the question: "How are you personally challenged by Jesus' invitation to live more fully and love dangerously, and how could this trip be part of that?"

At some point I'll post my answer to that question for you to see. I will say that in part I wrote about the conflict that is in me. It's a conflict that I feel almost every day. I can't help but wonder -- am I supposed to be on the ground, living as a missionary somewhere? I love missions, I love people, I love other cultures. I long to have a more simple life, to get rid of stuff I don't need, and be filled more by God and relationships than anything else. And there is a part of me that at any given moment would like to just sell everything and move to some distant land and live among the people there. And if I had my way, I'd probably globe-trot the world that way.

But then there's this other part of me -- the part that wonders if I'm supposed to be here where I'm at right now. If as much as I love the people of the world and want to be with them, if I'm not supposed be here at home getting other people as excited about loving the world as I am and showing them how they can make a difference. It's a hard call. There are days where I lean one way and days where I lean the other -- and ultimately, all I can do is lift my hands to God and say, "Make me open to your will whatever it is. And give me the grace to move if you ask me to move or stay if you ask me to stay. But, help me to hear your voice and not mine." Honestly our voice can drown out God's if we're not careful. And just because something is easy and agreeable and what we want doesn't necessarily make it God's will for us.

I believe that I started my company World of Difference Ltd. because of a dream that God put in my heart. All of my life experiences helped to make me who I am and to put this passion into my heart. I don't see my work as work so much as a ministry. I want to touch people every time I perform. I want to help them to see that the United States is not the center of the universe and that there is so much that can be learned from other people. And yet, I've had a hard time reconciling my need to create as an artist with the thought that maybe I'm not doing enough for God -- or that what I am doing isn't "ministry-oriented" enough. I've felt confused and frustrated about it.

And then at Urbana, the missions conference I attended, for the first time I heard someone say that if God made me an artist -- if he put that passion into me and gave me the ability for it -- than maybe that was my calling. The speaker said that God wanted to redeem everything in our world -- not just people but education, art, medicine, science -- and the only way to do that was by having committed Christians in every field. That was a liberating thought to me.

So, I do believe I have digressed, and yet, what I want to say is that God continues to amaze me. This summer I will be doing a folktale from Haiti for the summer reading program at libraries across Ohio and in Michigan as well. I chose this folktale last fall, before Haiti was in the news, before many people even knew where it was. I chose it because of its connection to a modern day issue -- the global water crisis and how everyone deserves access to clean water. I became excited about using World of Difference not only to teach about other cultures, but to teach about modern day issues affecting people in the world.

As many of you know, I was supposed to go on a mission trip to Africa last summer. Going to Africa is a long-time dream of mine. At the last minute, the trip was cancelled. I was crushed. This year, I found out that the trip to Africa was being re-scheduled. I really wanted to go but it didn't seem the right time. I knew my husband couldn't go and I didn't want to leave him for 2 months. At the same time, I felt like I was supposed be at home telling the story from Haiti. I felt like it was important for people to know. And yet, it stung -- wanting to go to Africa, knowing the opportunity was there, and that I wasn't even going for it.. .

And I prayed about Haiti. I wanted to go so badly for so many reasons. I get antsy when I haven't been overseas to serve for awhile ( I can't help it! It's just my personality!) And I wanted to know more about this country that I was going to teach about. And today when I got the phone call that I would be going, I was so emotional that I wanted to cry. I felt like God had brought everything together. I felt as though He were saying -- "You are supposed to tell this story this summer." And not only that, I saw that God is capable of opening doors I can't even imagine. . that He is always behind the scenes working things out even though I often know nothing about it. And to be honest, I felt something else -- I felt God's great love for me. I felt like His daughter today and I felt like He was saying, "See how much I love you. I know what's in your heart, and I care about it." He is so worthy of my praise!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Just a Glimpse

I've been thinking about Moses today. The book of Numbers tells how God told Moses to climb a mountain and look out over the land he was giving to the Israelites -- the Promised Land. Then He said, "After you've seen it, you will die for you rebelled against my instructions in the wilderness." (If you're not sure how he rebelled, see my post from 2 days ago.)

When I read those words spoken by God, I felt bad for Moses. He had been slandered by his fellow Israelites all while trying to help them. He had worked harder than anyone else to get the Israelites to the Promised Land and now all he gets is a glimpse of it. I can just picture him standing there on the mountain looking out over the great land that he'd worked so hard to get to and knowing that he'd never enter it. Imagine being on the cusp of your dream, everything you've wanted all your life, and then being told -- "Take a peek and then you die." I believe that God is good and so I believe that He was being gracious in allowing Moses to see the land before He died, and yet, in some ways it does seem a little cruel.

But the amazing thing is Moses' response. If I had been in his place, staring at my dream and then hearing it was my time to die, I think I'd have gotten down and begun to beg God, saying, "Please Lord! Please let me enter the Promised Land." Instead, Moses doesn't ask for anything for himself. He says, "Lord, please appoint a new leader for the community because without a leader these people are like sheep without a shepherd." In his last moment, Moses is still concerned about the people he's been leading. And it's not like these people were all that kind to him. They complained, they rebelled, they slandered -- and it doesn't matter, Moses still cared for them. That is the mark of a true leader.

Numbers 12:3 says that Moses was more humble than any other person on earth. Sure, he had a major slip as far as humility was concerned that kept him from the Promised Land. But at a moment when thinking of self would've been natural, he thinks of others. He shows that his true character was one of humility. In the difficult moments, where things don't go my way or I don't get what I've dreamed about and worked hard for, will I show a character of selfishness or one humility before the Lord?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Free to Dance!

I never got around to posting yesterday. I had a performance of "The Ram in the Chile Patch"my folktale from Mexico in the evening up in Lakewood. Thankfully, Estith was free so we went together. It was a smaller-sized crowd composed of many very, very young children as well as shy youngsters who weren't all that eager to come up and play parts in the show. So for the main character, Juan, I ended up going with an adult who seemed willing. He turned out to be the library director! He was a great sport! I wear a long, braided wig in the show. At one point, one of the little girls who was in the audience had to be taken out to use the bathroom. After the show her mother told me that while they were in there the little girl said, "I love people with long, brown braids. That's how I want my hair to be." I had to laugh since as most of you reading this know, I do not have long, brown hair, but rather wear a wig for this performance! Then after the show an elderly lady who had attended by herself came up to me and began speaking to me in Spanish. She told me that she didn't remember a lot of Spanish but a few things, like animals (words which were used in the performance) and other bits of vocab. I thought it was so sweet that she had attended the performance on her own and had participated so willingly. It's moments like those that make what I do so amazing. . I love meeting the people that I perform for, seeing the excitement in the kid's faces when they come on-stage or say a word in a foreign language or when a shy child gets on-stage and surprises everyone with just how dramatic they can be. That happened earlier in the week during a performance of "The Monkey and the Crocodile," my folktale from India. This sweet, quiet little girl from Thailand who looks about as gentle as you can imagine got up to become the evil Mrs. Crocodile and when I prompted her to pout and have a temper tantrum she let loose like no other child has ever done before in performance!! and it was much to the surprise of all of her classmates! She was extremely dramatic, and I wonder if anyone even knew!

I love those moments when the children surprise not only me but their parents, siblings, friends and teachers. Sometimes the kids who are most disruptive in class and have earned a reputation from their teachers shine on stage. I think sometimes the kids surprise even themselves! I've had kids do such creative things onstage that I've added things to my program to include their ideas. It's pretty cool.

And then there are the kids who won't come onstage, not because they're shy, but because they're afraid of looking silly in front of others. Or maybe they come up, but they won't get involved -- they go through the motions but without any feeling or real engagement. These are the children I feel bad for. They are so young and already they are afraid of looking silly in front of others. I sometimes joke that I make my living by making a fool of myself. And to any of you who have seen me perform, you know that I go all out, I hold nothing back. I do everything as big as I possibly can, becoming larger than life. And it's very freeing really. And I feel bad for the children, even small ones, who are already too concerned with their reputation to allow themselves to be children and have fun.

Today we had a service at church that was completely led by the children. There were a few standing in the back row that looked like they'd rather be shot than be standing up there singing. The thing is, I don't think that was really the case. I think they just didn't want to look like they were having a good time because it wouldn't fit with the reputation they'd carved out for themselves. I often wonder what happened to these children to make them this way. What is it that teaches our children this? Do they learn from their parents? From the media? The world in general? Have they been hurt in some way that they feel the need for self-preservation and so they build up an icy wall that prevents them from showing any emotion? My heart goes out to these children -- I want something different for them. I want to help children be children again.. and I want us adults to give them a good example by not taking ourselves too seriously and by living with passion.

Maybe that's why I love African culture so much. Because when I see the people celebrating, they don't do it in tiny ways. They dance with their whole bodies and sing at the top of their lungs. It seems like they aren't concerned with guarding their reputations when they do it. I think that's why I never loved dance until I studied African dance. In fact, I used to hate dance because as a child when I took dance classes, I felt like I could never get it right. Try as I might I wasn't as coordinated, didn't have the rhythm and could only see myself doing it wrong in those big mirrors at the front of the classroom. But when I took African dance, the drums were pounding, there were no mirrors and my teacher never made it about the final performance so much as he made it about the celebration that dancing was to him. And for the first time I felt the exhiliration of dancing. I felt the music, the beat of the drum. I stopped worrying about looking good in front of everyone and instead enjoyed the jumping, leaping and movement. I felt free to dance!

And I think sometimes we have to free ourselves from the mirrors that are watching our every move and get down to the business of dancing! What do you say? Will you join me?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why Are Your Hands In the Air?

Today I read about how Moses displeased God and missed out on his chance to enter the Promised Land. It's found in Numbers 20. See, the Israelites were complaining once again -- (they complained a lot during their time in the wilderness) that they didn't have anything to drink. They were thirsty in the desert. So God commanded Moses to give them water in a miraculous way. Moses was supposed to gather the people and speak to the rock and the water was supposed to pour out. Instead, Moses and Aaron gathered all of the people and said, "Listen you rebels! Must we bring you water from the rock?" Then Moses struck the rock twice and water poured out. But God was unhappy with Moses, because he had taken credit for God's miracle. He gathered all of the people as instructed, but instead of getting out of the way so that the people could see God's power, he took credit for it. I can just see Moses raising his arms and saying, "Take a look at this everybody!" Because he knows God is going to show up.

Now, I've never brought water from a rock before, but like Moses, it can be so easy to take credit for what God is doing in my life. It can be so easy to raise my arms and say, "Hey everybody, take a look at what I've done," instead of recognizing that any good thing I have accomplished has only been done through God's power. Everything that is good within me is a product of His grace to me.

I guess we can raise our arms to draw people's attention to ourselves as if to say, "Look at me!" Or we can raise our arms to God in recognition and thanksgiving for what He has done in us and through us, and we can say, "Thank you, Lord," -- drawing people's attention to Him.

My prayer is that I would never get in the way of God receiving the glory. . .

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Well today was interesting. Another interesting day that started with a very interesting Bible study. I was doing my daily devotional reading. I use a Bible study method called the SOAP method where you choose one Scripture from your reading that stands out to you, you make an Observation about it, then Apply it to your life, and finally, say a Prayer over it. I was reading today and nothing was really standing out to me all that much, but I finally decided to choose Psalm 29:11 which says: "The Lord gives strength to His people. He blesses them with peace."

I began to journal about it and then I thought to myself -- I wonder what the Hebrew words for strength and peace are? I remembered hearing that the Hebrew word for peace is 'shalom." So I did an online search for the meaning of the word shalom and found that the general translation of peace is rather lacking. Shalom has a much wider meaning, including: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, prosperity, fullness, rest, harmony and tranquility. Try plugging that definition of peace into Psalm 29:11 and it's amazing to think of all the blessings that God bestows upon His people.

But even more fascinating for me than that was what I learned about the word strength. I never did find the Hebrew word that is being used in this verse. But I learned that the Hebrew word "El" which is often used for God was originally written with two pictographic letters in the Ancient Hebrew. The first pictographic letter depicted an ox head. The second depicted a shepherd's staff. The ox represented strength and the staff authority. Thus, God is the strong one of authority! Second, for Ancient Hebrews, a staff across the shoulders was understood to be a yoke. So they saw God as the ox in the yoke. When plowing, 2 oxen were yoked together. One was older and more experienced. The younger one would learn from the older ox. So the Ancient Hebrews saw God as the older, experienced ox and themselves as the younger ox. In other words, we yoke ourselves to God in order to learn from Him.

The funny thing is that one of my favorite Bible verses comes from Numbers 23:22. Not too many people have a favorite verse in Numbers, but when I first read this verse I just loved the imagery. It says, "God has brought them out of Egypt; he is like a strong ox for them." Other translations say a wild ox. The image of God as a wild ox really stuck with me. I loved thinking about my God as a wild ox -- powerful and unpredictable. And knowing that the Hebrew word for God was once depicted with an ox makes the imagery even more powerful!

Then I found this imagery repeated in Psalm 92:10 where the psalmist says, "But you have made me as strong as a wild ox. How refreshed I am by your power!" This related perfectly to my daily verse which said that God gives strength to His people. But it's not just any strength -- it's His own strength! And what does God use His strength to do? He uses it to bring His people out of slavery -- to draw them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. I have to believe that if God gives me strength it is for this same purpose -- not to bask in my own strength, but to use it to help others and to bring them out of slavery.

So many things are lost in translation. I've had so many interesting Bible studies of late based around the study of Hebrew words. If you're interested, another interesting word study is "disciple."

Until tomorrow, Shalom!