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?