Tuesday, August 31, 2010

All My Lies Are Always Wishes

The buzz word that's been going around church (and other places, it seems) for the last few years is "authenticity." Being real. Not putting on a fake smile for people. Not saying, "Fine!" when people ask you how you are but telling them how you really feel. Being honest and open and talking about your struggles and shortcomings instead of pretending everything in your life is perfect.

Sometimes we try to project who we wish we were instead of who we really are. I'd love for people to think I have a perfect life. I have a great life. I have a home, I have a family, I have friends, I have a wonderful church family, I get to stay home with my son. It's a great life.

My favorite part of my life is probably my husband. Honestly, I don't exaggerate about how wonderful my husband is. He's really incredible. He cooks (especially in the summer when we grill a lot, but he also cooks other times when I need his help), he cleans, he takes care of all the yardwork, he's an incredibly caring father who spends a lot of time with our son and a wonderful husband who loves spending time with me, and he provides for our family by working hard all week.

This, of course, has little to do with me.

I didn't make my husband wonderful; his mom and dad did. Thanks to them for that. I feel better when I'm around him, and I think he makes my life incredible. Him + Me = Perfect Match.

But this doesn't make me perfect. While he makes my life better, he doesn't make it perfect. So that begs the question:

What would make my life perfect?

More money? Money just seems to cause trouble in excess. I'd rather have just enough than too much.

Better skills? I don't mind some self-improvement. Besides, my housekeeping skills definitely leave something to be desired.

A bigger house? No, I'd just have to clean more. See above.

More kids? We're not sure what God wants our family to look like right now. We want to be good stewards of what we have, so how many kids would be financially responsible for us as a family? And while I adore my son and maybe wouldn't mind another just like him, would I be as happy with two as I am with one? Difficult to say. It's up for debate in our household right now.

More stuff? My recent garage sale points to a "no" in this category. I'm done with stuff. Besides, I don't want a bigger house, so I don't have a place to put more stuff!

There are a lot of things I could add. Maybe being prettier? Thinner? There's a lot in the personal appearance category that would maybe make my life closer to perfect. 

But it's all just a "maybe," isn't it?

There are people who have all those things who'll tell you their lives aren't perfect. They have family issues to deal with or personal struggles and addictions to contend with. Even people who really, truly seem to have it all together really, truly don't. I can guarantee, with 100% certainty, there is something they struggle with.

And that's OK.

The only place we're meant to find perfection is in Christ. We can never attain perfection. I mean, if we could ever be perfect, we wouldn't need him in the first place. We try so hard to act like we have our poop in a group sometimes, but the truth is that we're meant to find life difficult to a point. Helps us rely on God to get through, which is exactly what we're supposed to do.

Being authentic is more than being "real" with others. It's about being honest with yourself and telling yourself that it's OK to be imperfect. That act alone helps you to be honest with others. I know I can relate to someone with imperfections far more than someone with a shiny veneer.

It's a crazy concept, but—just for today—let's pretend that nobody on the planet is perfect. Not. A. Person. And don't just throw it off as a cliché—really believe it. How would that change your interactions with others? How would it change the way you feel about yourself? Would you have to try as hard to get through the day?

Relax. Nobody's perfect. And that's OK.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Still Life with Flowers

I don't think I like funerals. I don't know anyone who does, really. Just when you think you're out of tears from simply hearing about a death, you go to the calling hours and the funeral and see everyone and you cry all over again. Your eyes just hurt from being constantly on the verge of tears. And there's a lot of hugging and handshaking.

Some of it's awkward. I found myself having to introduce my husband to a lot of people, and it's pretty much the worst time to feel like you have to do that. These people can barely see through the tears and I have to say, "Oh, and this is my husband," knowing full well they're seeing so many people (through blurry, teary eyes) that they won't remember him or me or probably most of the day. I don't blame them. There's also the social grace of having to say, "Hey, how are you?" We're all at a funeral. Everyone's answer is going to be, "Well, not great, obviously," or, "As good as can be expected." If someone answers with something more jovial than one of those, they either didn't hear the question or they didn't know the honoree very well.

Actually, there is one thing I like about funerals: I like seeing my family. We don't all get together very often. Just for weddings and funerals, really, and there seem to have been more of the latter in recent years. I especially like seeing my cousins. We were raised like siblings for most of our lives, and now we're all spread out. Hanging out with them those couple of days kind of felt like old times. 'Cept sadder. Although there's some time after the calling hours and the funeral and everything where you can breathe again and talk about things that aren't sad. You can even smile and laugh and enjoy the company of the people around you for a little while.

I like reminiscing about the person who died and sharing good memories. My favorite one of my brother-in-law is Thanksgiving my junior year of college. I hadn't really been invited anywhere for Thanksgiving, and I was stuck in my residence hall feeling horribly lonely. My car was also a piece of junk and wasn't going anywhere in all the snow we were having (ah, Cleveland weather!). I called my sister and she said, "Of course you can come here for Thanksgiving, silly! We're not doing anything special, but you're always welcome!" The problem was getting there. My roommate offered to drive me about halfway, since she lived in their direction, and my brother-in-law said he'd come out and pick me up from there. In a near-blizzard. I remember thinking, "He's so nice, doing this for me. It's just like I'm his real sister." It was pretty great.

I guess the point of a funeral is to help begin the healing process. I've never been at a funeral and thought, "Oh, good. Now I feel like healing." I think it really starts the grieving process. If you have the benefit of a lot of notice before the death of a loved one, maybe you get to start grieving early and healing at the funeral. I don't know. It's probably different for everyone. I just know I find myself on crying jags about every other day. Sleeping is difficult. I feel like perhaps I'm not supposed to talk about anything else just yet—keep my Facebook status somber and prayerful and helpful and try not to be funny. What is the right amount of sad?

Maybe funerals aren't the problem. Maybe death is the problem. If we could only find a cure for that, right? We'd all feel a lot better.

Then again, if we all lived forever, where would we park?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Losing and Gaining

My family suffered a tragic loss yesterday. My brother-in-law was killed in an accident at work. He was really a good person and will be terribly missed by everyone who knew him. He and my sister have two gorgeous twin girls who are five years old.

Despite something that seems so unfair about all of this, I have to think there are still miracles in this world. I got proof not long after the news of my brother-in-law's death. Some friends of ours had a baby—well, not a baby. Two babies. Two beautiful twin girls.

There's some kind of harmony in this. In all the chaos of this untimely death, there's a birth. There's new life. Two new lives that echo the two beautiful lives of my twin nieces who have just lost their daddy.

There's not a lot of comfort to be found in my brother-in-law's death, but the news of these babies warms my heart just enough.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wishin' and Hopin' and Thinkin' and Prayin'

I have been really bad at praying. My husband and I pray together each day, but I don't always remember to pray outside of that. I mean, I say little prayers throughout the day, but there's not always one major Sit Down, Focus, and Talk to God prayer time.

There are some very human reasons for this. Sometimes I think I can do things on my own, so I don't think God needs to be bothered with my piddly little prayers. Why would the Creator of the Universe care whether or not I worked out this morning? Why would he care if I needed help writing a script or dealing with a cranky toddler? Clearly, he must have better things to do than worry about the minutiae of my day. He does have big things to worry about. He's got natural disasters, death, disease, famine. He's got a lot on his plate.

But that's the amazing thing about God. His plate is infinite. He can be everywhere all the time, dealing with an infinite number of things constantly.

That's what makes him God and me Rachel. My ability to multi-task is limited to playing solitaire while I watch a show on Hulu.

I've also spent time assuming God knows what I need or want, so why ask him for it? He can read my mind. That should be good, right?

Eh. He'd rather we tell him. He wants us to have a conversation with him. More importantly, he wants us to have a relationship with him. You can't build a relationship with someone if you never talk to him/her. God wants our time and attention, too.

Ah, time. The thing most of us appear to be short on. There's a book out there with a great title: Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels. When life overwhelms us, that's exactly when we need to engage in prayer. My problem is that when I'm in the midst of chaos and I stop to pray, my brain doesn't stop. In fact, my brain goes even faster, and I find it nearly impossible to focus on prayer.

The most useful tool to help curb this prayer ADD is a prayer journal. It's like writing a letter to God every day. The prayer journal is useful for several reasons:
  1. You get to keep track of what you've prayed about. That means you can look back and see how God answers prayers. I can attest to the awesomeness of that ability.
  2. There's something about putting pen to paper that helps keep you focused. Your thought is going from your brain to the pen, and there's very little room for you to stray from your prayer.
  3. Because you're focused, it's easy to hear God clearly. There are days where God's voice is so clear in my heart that I could write my prayers out like a script, with me questioning and God answering. The clarity is amazing.
  4. Most people don't fall asleep while they're writing, which cannot be said for praying. I've even been known to pray to help me fall asleep when I can't. Sad but true.
For about a year and a half now, on and off, I've been using this prayer journal: 


It's just a composition book with a cover made from an old silk tie. It's lovely in person—shiny and pretty and rainbow-like. I actually won it from a website called CleverNesting.com, and the directions to make this cover are here. Because it's attractive and brightly colored, I can't miss it if it's sitting out on my nightstand. It draws me to it, like a moth to a flame. 

A guilty moth who knows it should be praying. 

Some days I'll write and write and write—page after page of tearful prayers. But that doesn't happen very often. Writing makes my hand hurt. But you know what doesn't make my hand hurt?

Typing.

This week, I started my very first digital prayer journal! I say digital because that sounds high tech, but it's really just a Word document that I've gussied up with a nice background and a pretty border. I put a link to it on the desktop and put a password on it for prying eyes (although my husband hates to be on the computer at home, since he's on the computer at work all day, so it's probably an unnecessary step). 

What I'm discovering about this prayer journal is how much more I write. I type much faster than I write. I can easily do three pages typed, while three pages written feels like I'm copying the phone book or something. Plus I have really lousy handwriting, and I'm not sure God can read my hieroglyphics. 

The other great thing is that I'm reminded to pray every time I sit down at the computer. It's right there, staring at me from the desktop when I sit down to check e-mail or Facebook. But I don't even have to find a pen! I just double-click and type away! 

If you've never tried a prayer journal, I encourage you to do so. It's helped me connect to God in ways I didn't know were possible. Because, you know, it's hard to have a conversation when my end of the line keeps going dead. 

Zzzzzzz....

Monday, August 23, 2010

Confessions of a Control Freak

I’ll admit that I’m a present peeker.  I used to check my stocking so much before Christmas that my parents stopped putting anything in there until the last minute.  If I checked my stocking before Christmas morning, I’d find a huge rock in the bottom of it.  And for the first time anywhere, I’ll admit that I sometimes carefully opened packages and then taped them back up again.  Don’t tell my parents.  Please?

This hasn’t changed as I’ve gotten older. Just a few years ago, I was scolded for looking at the Christmas list my fiancé (now my husband) was making for me.  He was genuinely hurt that I tried to ruin his surprise, and I actually felt bad.  I’d never been caught before!  Oh…and I was sorry that I ruined his surprise, too.

I peek at my stuff because I don’t like surprises.  That apparently makes me a bit of a control freak, if you ask my friends.  I never thought of myself like that.  I don’t like surprises because I don’t like that little bit of time where I don’t know what’s going to happen.  I like to know everything about everything!  Does that make me a control freak?

It does, doesn’t it?

Okay, so I’m a control freak.  I need to know everything, I need to have the last word, and I have to be the one directing a conversation or a situation.  Me, me, me.  Give me the reins!  Let me manage the project!  If it’s not going my way, it’s probably going the wrong way!

This need to know actually led me to a psychic the summer before my senior year of high school.  I went with some friends, and we just went for fun.  I went in knowing I shouldn’t have been there.  I even went back to her once when I was in college, still knowing I shouldn’t.  Way back in elementary school, I learned that Saul went to a medium and that God wasn’t very happy with Saul for that.  I assumed God wasn’t very happy with me, either, although that didn’t keep me from wasting $30.  Twice.

The problem with needing to have control over what happens is that it’s really not my job.  Wanting to know what’s going to happen and trying to control what the outcome is—be it Christmas presents or my future—infringes on God’s territory.  What happens to me in the next moments or the next years should be His concern, not mine.

That’s something Christians struggle with—trusting God enough to give all that uncertainty and control over to him.  It doesn’t stop at wanting to know things.  It includes wanting to have things.

I’ve looked at the people around me at different stages in my life and said to myself, “Look at her.  She’s making all the wrong choices, but she’s got so many great things happening to her!  She’s got a boyfriend and a great job and she’s so happy—and I’m not.  Whyyyyy?”

Looking back at how upset I was that our lives were going so differently, it makes me mad…at myself.  Would I have wanted her boyfriend?  No way.  Would I have wanted her job?  Nope.  Would those things have made me happy?  Huh-uh.  So why did I care?

I cared because I was peeking.  Not even at my own stuff—I was peeking at someone else’s stuff.  I was trying to monitor how I was doing by looking at someone else’s life. 

This is ridiculous for a couple reasons.  It’s silly to assume that what happens to other people—even people who are making choices that are very similar to mine—is going to happen to me.  Secondly, I’ve been through times where everything is going great for a good long while and then everything falls to pieces without any notice.  So just because somebody seems to have a great life doesn’t mean it’s always going to stay like that. 

Have you ever watched a race on TV?  Like a 400 meter sprint where everyone has their own lane?  They all start in different places.  They stay in their assigned lanes, and they don’t even look at each other—they just look at the goal. 

That’s it.  That’s the model.  We all start in different places.  We all have our assigned lives for this short sprint, and we need to keep our eyes on God and not look around.  We don’t need to get discouraged or distracted by the progress others are making or think we’re better because it looks like we’re coming out ahead—that’s just as destructive as being upset because you’re behind.

Likewise, we don’t need to try to judge the outcome.  Things can happen in the last two seconds of a race—or a basketball game or even a movie—that change the whole ending.  Life is far more unpredictable than any of those, so it’s impossible to know how things will turn out based on what we currently know about our lives or the lives of those around us.

So, being the control freak that I am, this is a tough pill to swallow.  I need to constantly remind myself that I can’t know everything, and I just need to pay attention to the race I’m running.  My life is different from anyone else’s, and God’s got different things in store for me than He has for anyone else. 

But I still might shake my Christmas presents this year.

Friday, August 20, 2010

That Darn Boleslavsky!

I love books. I love holding books, I love reading books, I love the smell of books. As tempting as it is to want all of my books at the touch of a button, I probably won't be purchasing one of those book reader thingies. I just don't prefer it to an actual book.

Because I love books, I have lots of books. Shelves and shelves. My husband even made a set of lovely bookshelves to hold some of our books. I was perusing said bookshelves this afternoon in the hope of, well, "culling the herd," since we're having a garage sale tomorrow. What will I never read again? Will I ever finish Love in the Time of Cholera, or should I just admit defeat at 3/4 of the way through? (Seriously, who gets 3/4 of the way through a book and just goes, "Eh. I'm done.")

As I was plucking out my dual copies of The Inferno and The Purpose Driven Life (the latter hoping to save a person from the former, I suppose), I came across a copy of Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky. It was a gift from a dear friend in high school. It's a good book. Heck, it's got a blurb from Sir Alec Guiness! Is there a higher recommendation? I think not. If Obi-Wan Kenobi says you're good, you're good. There's only one problem with this Obi-Wanderful book:

The print on the spine faces the wrong way.

Everyone tilts his/her head to the right to read book spines. But Boleslavsky makes me tilt my head to the left. It's outrageous! It's absurd! Sir Alec Guiness would have retracted his blurb had he known, I'm sure! And now he's gone and it's too late. He's forever endorsed a head-tilting-left book. *sigh*

What actually bothers me about this? Is it that I actually have to tilt my head to the other side? No. Frankly, when I'm searching the aisles at the bookstore, my head actually gets tired from tilting to the right as I browse. That's not it.

I think the issue is perfection. I have this lovely bookshelf that my darling husband made with his bare hands (and, you know, power tools), and all the books are just so. Some are standing up, some are stacked, there are little trinkets here and there. It looks really nice. And then there's that one book facing the wrong way. I just want to take it out and put it back upside-down so it'll face the right way, but then I'll know it's upside-down, and that creates another set of problems.

But you know what? I bet no one else notices that book. No one else thinks, "Ooh, Rach has got to do something about that darn Boleslavsky. Ruins the whole aesthetic!" I'll bet my husband doesn't even know I have that book, nevermind the fact that it faces the wrong way.

Sometimes there are things about ourselves that we think stick out like a sore thumb. It may be things about our appearance, or maybe there are things we worry about not doing perfectly and we think everyone else will notice. Guess what? I'll bet no one notices that one thing.

I've often been in plays or scenes and lines get messed up. Either a line is forgotten or said out of place. I know that line is missing because I know the script. I was supposed to have memorized it. I get very concerned that everyone in the audience noticed that long pause or that I said that one word twice while I was trying to say the right line or find my place. Guess what? No one notices. No one else has seen the script or knows what the scene is supposed to look like. Unless I go sprawling, odds are no one will discover my error. As far as they know, I did exactly what I was supposed to do and it was great.

People see you that way, you know. Only you see the glaring imperfections and moments of weakness. Well, I guess that's not entirely true. God sees them. He knows you worry about them. He doesn't want you to worry about them. I know he doesn't want me to worry about them. If something's wrong (in a sinful kind of way), try to fix it. If it's not wrong—just imperfect—assume no one else notices and go on about your business.

I don't think that lesson is in Mr. Boleslavsky's book. I'll have to go back and read it again. At least that'll get it off my otherwise-perfect shelf for a while...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Dreamed a Dream

When I first contemplated writing my book, I asked a couple of my friends for prayer. They asked what I needed prayer for, specifically. I said just for inspiration and for some diligence—in writing the book and in following the book's advice in my own life. And then I made a half-joking comment about being prepared for the speaking engagements and such that would then be required of me because of the wild popularity of my incredible book.

They didn't laugh. In fact, one of them said, "OK, so that's one prayer for humility coming right up."

Really? 

I want my endeavor to do well. Why wouldn't I? If I'm going to put time and effort into it, I want it to be well received. Sure, maybe it's a bit much to anticipate speaking engagements, but what about (prepare for lots of random capitalization for emphasis) Dreaming Big? Isn't that a thing? Does God want me to Dream Big, or maybe just Dream Adequately? Dream Enough for Today and Don't Worry About Tomorrow? Maybe that's closer to God's idea of Dreaming.

The difference may lie in who The Dream is for. If The Dream is for me and me alone, then perhaps there's a problem in my motivation. Do I want to have speaking engagements to promote my book? Yes! Do I want to have speaking engagements so I can promote a book that helps people have a better relationship with God? Yes! So do I essentially want to have speaking engagements to promote God? Yes! 

And do I want to have speaking engagements because I want to be famous and popular and have some income?

Ehhhhh...maybe just a little.

I'm human. We all want to be liked. Some of us more than others. *ahem*

I think God does want us to Dream Big. We're going to have desires and things we want to accomplish. We just have to decide if our core motivation is to bring glory to God or to bring glory to ourselves. Pretty much everything we do can be turned around and handed over to God in praise and thanksgiving. I'd like to think that if my Dreams of Bigness come through, I'll say, "God did it! Look at him! He's the best!" I want that to be what happens. It's just that being human sometimes gets in the way of things like that.

One prayer for humility, coming right up.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Up and At 'Em!

I just want to get rid of stuff. All my stuff. OK, not all my stuff, but definitely the stuff that I don't need, which is probably a lot of stuff.

First, you have to understand that I don't do this. I don't voluntarily clean or purge or do anything of the sort. I'm usually forced into these things by a husband who hates clutter. But this time, it's of my own volition. I don't get it. It's like there's something wrong with me.

I've been thinking lately about how much I have. I often think, "I need a bigger house!" No, maybe I just need less stuff in the house I've got. I like my house. It's cozy and nicely decorated. Some people don't even have a house, so why would I complain about this perfectly fine house that I have? Boo to me for being wanty.

So that's it. Everything goes. Things I haven't looked at in at least two years will be out of here. Even the cookbooks, which is a sad, sad thing, but there are some I just don't use. Maybe someone else will get some use out of them. Toys that Reid doesn't play with. Toys that I don't play with.  All the magazines I've saved for no reason. Gone.

I think this means I need to have a garage sale. I've never had one before. Should be interesting. If I get right on it, perhaps even this Saturday! I'd better get a move on. I'm going. Right now. This minute. Here I go!

*sigh* Maybe just a little dawdling first...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Being Choosy about Love and Happiness

You’re reading this first sentence and wondering whether to move to a different blog or to actually read this one in its entirety. You’re about to make a choice. This is one choice out of the thousands of choices you make daily. What should you wear? To be or not to be? Paper or plastic? Would you like fries with that? We have a ridiculous amount of choices to make every single day.

The funny thing is that two of the most important things in every person’s life—Love and Happiness—are choices, but few people see them that way. You “fall in love”—you’re subject to the whims of your heart or cupid or God or whatever you think gives you those butterflies. Happiness is an elusive thing that only a handful of people get to experience.

Ah, incorrect.

Love. Love is thought of as a thing—something you fall into unexpectedly, like an open manhole or a large puddle or a…a…another thing you’d fall into unexpectedly. It’s true that you get butterflies when you’re around the person you like. That’s anxiety, not a symptom of love.

Love isn’t really a feeling. There are feelings that are associated with it, but it’s not the whole of love. Those feelings are just called caring. Love is the decision to act on those feelings. Love is a verb. It’s a series of actions to show a person that you care. Your heart may feel funny things, but your brain is saying, “Let’s show this person how much I care by doing things for them.”

If you look at the characteristics of Love—you know, love is patient, love is kind—you’ll find that those are all actions. They require effort and outward signs. Love never fails because you choose success or failure by how you show love. That’s when most people say they’ve “fallen out of love.” They’re tired of making the effort to show it—it’s become too difficult or too routine—or they didn’t really want to make such an effort in the first place.  A lot of people get hurt by this reckless loving.

Happiness. Happiness is a choice just as much as deciding what color socks you’re going to wear on any given day is a choice. True, deciding to be happy may be a little more difficult to hash out, but they’re both choices, nonetheless.

There's supposedly not much of a difference between happiness and contentment. People often use the terms interchangeably. However, contentment seems to have a negative connotation. People say, "I'm content, but I'm not necessarily happy." Which is the greater state?

Happiness is something people seem to strive for. It's a goal. Just one more thing and they could be happy. But then once they get that one more thing—money, a car, a boyfriend, a baby—there's usually a new one more thing that separates them from happiness. Happiness appears to be chasing wants rather than needs, which is why it never ends. There's only so much one needs, but one can always find new things to want.

On the other hand, contentment is choosing needs over wants. Those people who look for contentment are satisfied by far smaller achievements and gains. They live day to day knowing that they're just where they ought to be.  Should some small favor come their way, they're happy for it, but it doesn't define their happiness. 

Contentment is often viewed as "settling." That if we settle for less than what makes us happy, we can still be classified as content. But why can't being content make us happy? Why isn't contentment the end goal?

Perhaps it's because contentment requires a certain amount of humility that not everyone is willing to submit to. Contentment isn't having everything you want and more (which is what we prescribe to happiness); it's wanting everything you have and no more.  We'd enjoy our lives so much more if contentment were our goal. 

Admittedly, everyone falls victim to the want cycle at one time, myself included. But you can be happy right now. You can be content right now. Happiness isn't a goal—you can be happy at any point. Happiness should be a constant feeling based on your willingness to enjoy the world around you as it is. It's not always easy, of course, but it's a choice. You can choose to be unhappy because you don't have what you want, or you can choose to be happy because you have what you need. Knowing that it's a choice, who would choose to be unhappy?  Too many people, sadly.

If you know that love and happiness are choices, you can make better decisions related to both. They’re not easy choices all the time, but they are choices. It’s nice to know that you can save your heart some stress and anguish just by changing your mind.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gilmore Geek

I'm joining the D.A.R.

There it is. I've said it. I may be the youngest member in three states, but I'm joining. I like the patriotic vibe of the organization, and when I found out that I'm related to someone who participated in the Revolutionary War on some level (my fifth great-grandfather was a Hessian soldier and George Washington's personal bodyguard), the first thing I did was look up the local chapter of my D.A.R. Now I've collected all of my genealogy data, my application is being filled out by my chapter's registrar, and I'm on my way to a lifetime of fundraisers and tea parties. Woohoo!

I guess I didn't anticipate that my application to the D.A.R. would spark this comment: "Oh, the D.A.R.! You mean like on Gilmore Girls?"  What? Huh? What is this Gilmore Girls of which you speak?

Oddly enough, a fast-talking, literary gal like myself had never seen an episode of Gilmore Girls. I'd been told it was a show I'd like, but I never actually watched it.

Until now.

It's got the D.A.R. in it? Suddenly, I'm all about it! I've gotten the DVDs from the library and I am almost done with season two. I'd be done with it already if it had not been relegated to naptime-only watching. I'm sure my son would learn something from it, if only how to talk at light speed, but I've not let him get too interested in the television yet. That way he won't end up like his mother, rotting away in front of a flickering screen with the hopes of hearing the precious letters D...A...R...

But I digress.

The main thing I've taken away from my Gilmore Girls viewing is how much knowledge I lack in the area of modern American fiction. I was an English major in college, and I did a lot of reading, to be sure. Most of my reading was made up of early English fiction-type stuff. Gulliver's Travels. Moll Flanders. Pamela. The Monk. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. Maybe a little bit of Jane Austen and Aphra Behn thrown in for good measure. You know—that kind of stuff. I did take American lit, too, but the most recent pieces I read were Emerson and Thoreau. Nothing 20th century. Needless to say, there are major gaps in my understanding of American writing.

Since I've started watching Gilmore Girls, I've gotten the literary references they've made, but I've felt like a dummy because I haven't actually read them. Modern stuff just never really appealed to me, and then I got out of the phase where I engaged in meaningful debate over literature. I read simply for pleasure now, and sometimes that stuff just doesn't seem—pleasurable. I feel more comfortable with the older stuff. Mostly because I've just never tried anything else.

So here it is: The Gilmore Girls Reading List. I'm sure it's not complete, as they do talk really, really fast sometimes, but these are the ones I remembered to jot down in the hopes of reading. Soon. Some are classics, some are modern. There are some I've already read and might like to read again, so I've marked those with an asterisk. Likewise, the ones I'm dreading the most I've marked with two asterisks. Some people are referenced in the show with no particular work associated with the reference, so I just chose a popular one. This is not an exhaustive list—this is just through season two. If it keeps up at this rate, I'm going to have to read a book a day for the rest of my life to catch up. Here we go:

Madame Bovary* by Gustave Flaubert
Moby Dick** by Herman Melville
Howl by Allen Ginsberg
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Swann's Way** by Marcel Proust
The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Paker, et al.
Tales of Poe* by Edgar Allen Poe
Alice in Wonderland* by Lewis Carroll
Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen* by Hans Christian Andersen
The Inferno* by Dante Alighieri
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Iliad* and The Odyssey* by Homer
The Complete Tales of Washington Irving* by Washington Irving
To Kill a Mockingbird* by Harper Lee
A Chrestomathy by H.L. Mencken
Gone with the Wind* by Margaret Mitchell
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath by Sylvia Plath, et al.
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Candide* by Voltaire
Lots of Shakespeare
Lots of Jane Austen
Lots of Hemingway
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Jane Eyre* by Charlotte Brontë
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn* by Mark Twain

OK, I'm done. I'm just going to depress myself if I put any more here. Fortunately, I've read quite a few of them. If you want to let me borrow one of the others, that'd be swell!

Look out, world! I'm about to get smarter!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Husband of Your Youth

After reading this post from Melinda, I feel that I have something to add to her thoughts on dads by talking about husbands in general.

I love my husband. He is really the most incredible person I've ever known.  He is smart and talented and godly. Sometimes I wonder how I ended up with such an amazing guy, since my expectations in the husband department were pretty low, honestly. Then I remember that God picked him out just for me and we're perfect for each other in every way. We balance each other out, keep each other in line, and, with combined efforts, manage to keep a tidy and productive home running.

My husband is not a bumbling idiot.

I feel so, so bad for women who feel that way about their husbands. I've heard several women mention that lately. When I was pregnant with my son and I said my husband was going to give him all his baths, almost all the women I shared that with said, "Oh, please! At the first bath he'll say, 'Oh, I don't know where the towels are! I don't know where the soap is! Can't you just do it?' Mark my words."

My son is nearly two, and I've given him all of six baths. And those were either because we were traveling without my husband or there was a diaper blowout or other giant mess in the middle of the day that couldn't wait for my husband to come home. My husband gives the baths. Every. Single. Bath. So there!

It's one thing for me to have expectations for my husband—I'm his wife. But sometimes it seems that Women have expectations of Husbands in general. And, for the most part, they expect them to fail and act stupid. Even husbands they don't know personally are expected to screw up based on the mere fact that they're Husbands.

Now, few women would admit on an individual level that they expect their husbands to fail. I hope no one wants her husband to fail. But somehow, as a group, Women have succumbed to sitcom stereotypes of what Husbands are capable of doing. Sure, stereotypes come from somewhere and blah blah blah. I don't buy it. Most husbands are not sitcom husbands.

The fact of the matter is that your husband is unique. Just like all of us, he's got things he's good at and things he's not so good at. He needs your support and respect. I'm not saying my husband is absolutely perfect. He's not. He's very set in his routine, which can drive me crazy sometimes, and he stands his ground far too well when I want my own way. But I also wouldn't tell other women, "Oh, my husband is such a dummy!" It's just not true. And even if it were true, I wouldn't go around telling people that. There are a couple reasons:
  1. It's really disrespectful. Wives take liberties talking about their husbands because, for all intents and purposes, they're stuck with them. But would you go around telling people what a dummy your best friend was? No. She'd hear about it and you'd be short a best friend. Your bond with your hubby is a little stronger than that, but it won't be for long if you talk smack about him.
  2. If you have issues with your husband, talk to your husband about them. I understand seeking godly counsel, so if you need to go to your best friend and vent about what your husband just did, you should be doing it with the intent to ask her for guidance on resolving the issue with your husband. Still, the problem should quickly go back to your husband in the spirit of good communication.
  3. People will question your judgement. You married him. If he's such a dummy, what'd you go and do that for?
So any way you slice it, telling people what a dummy your husband is makes you look bad, saying nothing of what it does to your husband's reputation and ego.

Oh, I should probably mention ego. The one thing that is true about husbands is that they're men. Shocking, right? Men have delicate egos. They need to know their wives love them and support them and that they're doing a good job. It doesn't require skywriting and a marching band to tell your husband he did a good job at something. Your actions and your words tell the story. If you believe he's a bumbling idiot, you're going to notice him bumbling like an idiot. If you think he's a fairy tale prince, you're going to notice all the wonderful, princely things he does. Try to think of him as the latter and see what happens. A man who is secure in the love of his wife will do a lot of good.

I'm not going to pretend to be some expert on marriage. After all, I've only been married five years and we've not had all the ups and downs some marriages have. But I know the man I married—the man I chose. Proverbs 5:18 says, "May your fountain be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth." My husband often says, "I love you. You're the wife of my youth!" Not sure if he's being sweet or if he's just reminding himself that this newly-wrinkled, post-childbearing wife of his is still the girl he married...

I think the concept can apply to our husbands as well. He is the husband of your youth. Both of you will change and grow over the course of your marriage, but he's still the man you chose. Be nice to him, especially in front of other people.

And especially in front of me. I'll call you on it. Starting now.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hot Guys Reading Books

I found this site by way of another blogger, Daniella Indie. She blogs about everything--books, makeup, parenting, awesomeness. Nice!

So this Hot Guys Reading Books site looks like a lot of fun. No one's nekked or anything, and not all of them are, like, my husband hot. But somehow the idea of it is just–nice.

Brandon's a big reader. Perhaps I should snap a pic while he's not looking...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Perplexing Pugilistic Pontificating

Say that ten times fast. No, really. Go ahead. I'll wait.

The word "pugilism" has been coming up a lot lately for some reason. Once in Gilmore Girls today (I'm catching up on season two and someone said something about pugilism) and once in Cinderella Man (they said the word once, and the concept is, you know, there). Cinderella Man has taken--no joke--three nights for my husband and me to finish (tonight being night three). Every time we find a good stopping point, it's right after a fight, which causes me to have nose-socking dreams. Weird.

Pugilism. Latin, right? Pugnus, pugna. Fist, fight. Is that why pugs are named as such, since it looks like they got punched in the face? Poor dogs. If I believed in the theory of evolution, I might purport that a big monkey must have punched that dog in the face so hard it had face-punched babies or something. Poor, poor dogs.

It seems so strange to me that people would choose, as a profession, to get punched repeatedly. I mean, a day on the job might include a broken face, broken ribs, broken hands, internal bleeding. All sorts of nastiness! You couldn't pay me enough. Even if you're a really, really good boxer with the best training in the world, you're going to get hit. Why would you pursue that? I don't want to get hit. Ever. I don't think I've ever been in a fight. I mean, I've done my fair share of verbal sparring, but nothing that's resulted in fisticuffs.

I wish this was going to turn into some big analogy about spiritual warfare or something, but it's not. I was just thinking about people getting punched. Voluntarily. Voluntarily! I can't imagine. Why would one do that?

Any insight? Anyone? I'm so confused.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Role Call

What roles do you play? As an actor, I've played quite a few. Some I sought out, some I was offered because I happened to be available. Game show hostess, beauty pageant contestant, doting mother, dotty mother, druggie daughter, to name a few. Actually, after that last one, someone called out to me, "Hey, druggie!" as I was walking by afterward.

Really? We're in church, man. Be cool.

Sometimes people don't think to separate me from my roles. Yes, I played a girl who was on drugs. Am I into drugs? No. I know that guy was joking, but still. In theater, there's a thing called "suspension of disbelief." As an audience member, you know I'm not really the person I'm portraying, but you suspend your disbelief and go with it, knowing you're watching a performance.

In life, we have roles. I'm a woman. I'm a wife. I'm a mom. I'm a Christian. I'm a churchgoer. I'm a writer. I'm an actor. I'm a leader. I belong to a lot of groups and I do a lot of things. It's often hard to keep track of all the things I do. I haven't quite gotten the hang of the whole "calendar" thing yet.

Even more troublesome is separating what I do from who I am. I had a hard time with that when I stopped working. Here I am, this educated woman with a degree and a skill and a desire to contribute to my family's economy, and I'm staying at home. Granted, I'm contributing to my family's economy in some form (namely, raising a future Person of Quality and thereby saving the cost of outsourcing child care), but it doesn't always feel as productive as having a job did. Still feels that way on occasion. I'm not doing what I've always done, so am I still who I've always been?

Yes and no.

The things I do don't really determine who I am; the things I do are a reflection of who I am. They reflect my gifts and talents or my current place in life, like being a wife or mom. They influence who I am, but they're not the sum total of who I am.

I'm Rachel. God put a specific set of traits in me, good (Talented! Compassionate! Maybe a few more things!) and bad (Lazy! Never on time! Tends to put her foot in her mouth too frequently! The list goes on!). No matter how my life changes, there will always be Rachel at my core. For better or for worse.

That does not mean, however, that my core can't adjust. Do I always hope to be the least punctual person I know? Definitely not. Do I want to be treading water in my faith? No way! I've got goals. But do I always hope to have a good sense of humor and rapier wit? Of course! Now, whether or not other people agree that I have those things is another post altogether (although I'm sure they'd all agree on my lack of punctuality).

Now, here's the real question: As you take on your roles, do you have to activate your "suspension of disbelief?" Do you have to say, "Well, this isn't really me, but I'll go along with it."

Why? Some roles we don't get to choose, really. I didn't choose to be a daughter, but I am one. I did choose to get married and have kids, so those are mine (even on the days I don't want them to be). I choose to be on committees and teams and all that jazz.

Often, we take on roles because we think someone needs us. Especially in church. "Oh, they need people to serve, so I'm going to serve." OK. Cool. Serve. But serve where your gifts and talents put you. Serve where God needs you to be, not where you think church people need you to be.

There are two reasons for this logic:

  1. Sorry to say it, but you're going to do a lousy job if you're serving someplace you're not gifted. You could be doing an amazing job if you were serving where your talents lie.
  2. You're holding a spot that someone who is talented in that area would love to have.
Some churches have a whole ministry devoted to figuring out what your gifts are and where you'd best be used. Or there are spiritual gifts inventories that can give you an idea of what you'd do well. And you could always, you know, pray about it, but only as a last resort (she said, her statement dripping with sarcasm). 

You've got a lot of roles to play throughout your life. Some were meant for you, others you can live without. Reevaluate frequently. 

And if someone yells out, "Hey, druggie!" in the middle of a crowded church atrium, walk the other way. Quickly. I'm just sayin'...

Saturday, August 7, 2010

General Tso's Chicken

I had an interesting day today, in light of yesterday's post.

My family and I went to the Indiana State Fair. It was a lot of fun. We saw animals (and fed some of them). We tried ridiculous food, including deep fried butter and a "chocolate pig," which is a chocolate sundae with almonds and BACON (don't worry—none of us ate a whole serving of this stuff ourselves). We learned quite a bit about cockroaches and Japan (not in the same building, mind you), and got to see the "Candy Man," a Japanese street-style performer who made elaborate candies (blindfolded!) and liked to play tricks on his audience members. We saw so many amazing things, and it was a wonderful day.

My husband and I planned to have a date after the fair while my in-laws watched our son. We were going to see Inception, but the showtime was too far off, so we decided to see Dinner for Schmucks. It was my suggestion, since I'd heard it was funny.

Eh.

It had a few laughs, but was disappointing overall. Kind of a tired premise, except for the actual dinner. Neither of us were impressed, and we both walked out of the theater feeling bummed.

Boo.

We decided to pretend we hadn't even seen a movie. We'd just sat together in a theater for two hours. That made it a little better. We then opted for Chick-Fil-A for dinner, but when we got there, we realized the coupons we'd brought were for a CFA on the other side of town.

Boo again.

Not that we had to have coupons, but that was really the only reason we chose CFA. We then decided to try for some Chinese, but on our way out of the parking lot, we spotted a Sonic! The elusive Sonic, whose commercials we've seen on TV for years, yet there's never really been one around to go to! We chose Sonic.

We pulled in, and while I knew what I wanted immediately, my husband took a long time deciding. An absurdly long time. Think of the longest time you've ever spent choosing menu items at a fast food joint, and then multiply it by 10. It was that long. He just wanted to get the right things, since we don't hit Sonic very often! I finally pressed the "order" button, and the woman on the other end said, "Welcome to Sonic! Will you be paying by cash or credit card?"

"Umm, credit card?" I said.

"Sorry, but our credit card machine is down," she replied.

"Like...period?"

"Yes. Sorry. It's been down all afternoon."

Boo again.

So we pulled out of Sonic.

At this point, my mood could have really bottomed out. I mean, we saw a lousy movie, tried two different restaurants, and were generally having a lousy date. If there was a time to feel grumpy, this would have been it.

Instead, we both started laughing. Hysterically. I mean, I nearly had to stop the car, I was laughing so hard.

We spotted a little place called China Bistro across the street and made a beeline for it. We walked in, ordered, and sat down. We were still kind of laughing, so in my prayer, I made sure to ask God that this would be the best General Tso's chicken my husband had ever had (he's been searching for a good one ever since we moved to Indy).

Now, I understand God is not Santa Claus. I asked for the General Tso's chicken as a joke, and I'm pretty sure God knew to take it as such. But, wouldn't you know? That was the best General Tso's chicken my husband had ever had. And I agreed. It just topped off the date perfectly.

We laughed some more. My husband made a point of saying, "I love that we can have a date that bombs this badly and still laugh together about it."

What's funny is that, when we were at Sonic, I realized I had a choice. I could pout and get grumpy and throw a tantrum, but what good would that do? I chose to laugh. A lot. I chose to see the humor in the situation and laugh instead of taking it all too seriously. After yesterday's blog post about letting my day take a faceplant, I chose something else, and it made all the difference.

Lessons learned today:

  • Blogging can be therapeutic. Who knew?
  • Stress is a choice. (See this blog post from SimpleMom.)
  • Laughter is also a choice. (See this video from The Human Face.)
  • God doesn't mess around when it comes to General Tso's chicken.

Ta-da! 

P.S. - God knows that General Tso's thing is a joke, too. Just clarifying.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Faceplant

My day started off beautifully. I slept well, I woke up early, I prayed, and I felt compelled to work on my book proposal, which I've honestly been dreading. It's scary! But I prayed over it, and the right things to say just kinda happened. It was wonderful!

Then my son woke up, and he was in a great mood. We had some delicious toast and shared a banana, and we got dressed and started our errands for the day. Our first errand was my Weight Watchers meeting.

It felt like a swan dive into an empty pool.

I almost felt my face hit the dry pavement. My son was acting up, I gained 1.5 pounds (which was my just desserts for not writing my food down this week. Pun intended), and it was just a bad outing altogether.

Now, I don't typically feel that bad when I gain a little. It could be anything—water weight, heavier clothes, a big breakfast. One and a half pounds isn't shattering. The problem was that my morning had been going so well. The previous three hours were magnificent! It only took 10 measly minutes to change my entire outlook on the day.

Whyyyyyyyyy?

It's amazing how we can have so many positive experiences—so many wonderful things happen in the course of our lifetime—but, for many people, it's the negative experiences that stick with us.

I was a teacher for a short time. I didn't even make it through a single school year. Granted, there were a lot of bad circumstances in the school, and there were a lot of reasons I left, but my kids weren't really one of them. I loved the kids. Most of them loved me. They confided in me, they gave me hugs, and I feel like most of them learned something during class. I hope.

But there was this one day—I can't get it out of my head, and I still think about it every day. We were having a conversation about Jesse Owens and how he was treated because he was black, despite being a world-class athlete. We got into a big discussion about race, and I thought it went really, really well. The kids opened up to one another and to me, and it was incredible. One of my administrators came in at the end of the day, and I was still psyched about it. This class of kids who acted like they didn't like each other actually had a meaningful conversation! It was exciting!

My administrator said, "Yeah, about that. I got a phone call from a parent, and she didn't like something you said." I had used a phrase incorrectly in the discussion, and all the kids went home and told their parents. It was something we'd talked about in all our diversity training before the school year started, so I thought I was being revolutionary in discussing these things openly with my class. Yeah, well. I said something wrong. Despite what I thought was a great discussion, that's what they remembered and that's what they took home.

I was a white teacher in a predominately black classroom, which hadn't bothered me (or the kids, it seemed) to that point. But it sure bothered the parents after that. I felt so, so horrible about it. We had to have this big meeting with my class and the administrator to clear up what I had said and make sure the kids knew I'd used it incorrectly. I never intended to hurt anyone's feelings, especially these great kids who were being so open with me and with each other.

One conversation. Maybe 30 minutes. Only a fraction of my teaching career, but that is what I think about. Every. Single. Day. The kids forgave me. It was like nothing ever happened, and everything was normal afterward. But, still, I think of that massive failure and hope it hasn't had any lasting repercussions for my students. It feels like the biggest faceplant of my life, and I can't get it out of my head.

Did I learn from it? Of course. Will I ever forget it? Doubtful. Will there come a point where I don't think about it daily and feel my heart break along with it? I sure hope so. That was almost three years ago now. Whenever it pops into my head, I try to pray it away and ask that it stay down for a while. But it always comes back up. Always.

So what to do? Our lives are a series of good and bad experiences. Typically, the good far outweighs the bad, but sometimes it seems one bad experience can weigh as much as ten good experiences.

I think we have to just get rid of the weight. We have to hand it over to God and let him deal with these things that weigh us down. I know Jesus was talking about sin when he said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." But he's willing to carry any burden for us. He can bear it far better than we can. It requires a lot of prayer—perhaps a level of prayer that I haven't quite reached for yet. But it's possible. We just have to hand it over and be willing to live a lighter life.

So, my day is looking up. Now that I've blogged about it and prayed about it, I feel my load getting lighter (even if the scale didn't agree this morning).

What's weighing you down?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fear and Trembling (sans Kierkegaard)


Oh, no. I'm about to end a sentence with a preposition, which I hate to do, but it has to be done:

What are you afraid of?

Me, I seem to be afraid of a lot of things. Misplaced prepositions, for one. Kidding! I think the biggest problem with my fears is that I can't tell if they are irrational or not. I have a fear of wrongful imprisonment, which is a little irrational. I just think I watched The Hurricane one too many times in college. I have a fear of someone breaking into my house. That's probably not irrational. It's something that happens fairly frequently, and it may have been borne out of my desire to protect my family. In that vein, I also fear things happening to my husband and son which is—rational?

See, I have a hard time making the distinction. Part of me thinks that the quantity of worrying associated with a particular fear directly relates to how rational it is. The more I worry, the less rational the fear becomes. Does the likelihood of a fear materializing increase its rationality? 

These are the things I ponder.

I wonder how much of my brain power is sucked away by worrying and fear. Sometimes I lie awake thinking of all the horrible things that could happen at just that moment, and I desperately try to think of Buffy-esque moves to fend off burglars or would-be assassins. Really.

The only thing that can get me out of the worrying mode is Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Which follows my other favorite verse(s), Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Worrying and fear are not noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, or praiseworthy. Clearly, I should not be worrying or fearing. And the other verse tells me specifically not to be anxious about anything. Not. A. Single. Thing. 

So why do I have so many fears? Why do I worry?

Oh, this human brain! I really don't understand it. I think, "Surely, God will protect me from nasty things." But sometimes stuff happens. Christians get mugged or beaten or murdered or in car accidents just as much as other folks do. God lets those things happen sometimes. I can't understand it. I guess I don't really want to. I'll leave that to him.

What I do know is that a lot of God Stuff happens on the other side of that awful stuff. God can use those circumstances for good, even if they're horrible. He has an amazing talent for changing people for the better or making miracles happen just on the other shore of a sea of troubles. I know he does that. But how do I feel better on this shore? How do I put the fear aside now and not have to wait for hindsight to kick in?

Trust. Lots and lots of trust. I have to admit my humanness one more time and 'fess up that this little brain has control issues. I don't like surprises. I want to know what's around every bend. But the fact is, I'm not going to know. I have to trust that God knows and that he's taking care of things. My job is to live my little human life the best I can and let God be God. Really, he's the only thing we're supposed to fear. And it's a good fear. A healthy respect sort of fear. A think-about-more-than-this-life kind of fear. 

A rational fear.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Use It or Lose It

Ever wish you had a gift that you don't have? I do. Mine is singing. I mean, I'm an adequate singer. I can carry a tune and (usually) sing in the proper key. I've never been told I'm great (except by my husband, who is too kind to hurt my feelings), but I've never been told I'm the worst, either. Sometimes I just wish I could get up in front of a crowd of people and sing and be good at it. Without said crowd having to be drunk, à la karaoke night.

But that's not my gift.

Sure, I've tried to make it my gift. I've performed in musicals, and I was in show choir in high school. In a crowd, I'm a great singer.  Solo—not so much. I did get to sing on the radio once—just me and another girl singing an Andrew Sisters-type song—because of a show I was in at the time. That was pretty much the highlight of my singing career, though I actually think I sing better now than I did then. I've always wished that someone would stand next to me in church during worship and say, "You have a lovely singing voice! Come and join the cast of Glee!" Not actually going to happen, but a girl can dream.

Why do I want what I don't have? I have other gifts that I like and that other people would probably like to have. For one, I can act. And apart from the actual speaking-lines-in-character part, I can get up in front of a crowd of people and talk. That alone is a gift, considering the number one fear (ahead of death, even!) is public speaking. I really, really enjoy acting, I'm good at it, and I actually get to use that gift pretty frequently. My church's drama ministry is an awesome group of talented people who teach me new things every time I perform with them. I'm fortunate that I have an artistic gift like that and I get to use it.

I can also write. Yes, the art of writing complete sentences and using correct punctuation and all that jazz are skills that can be taught. But, while I have a natural aptitude for language and its rules, I can also think of something and put it into meaningful words. I've written poetry and songs and scripts and fiction and nonfiction. I'm able to communicate through writing in ways many people just can't. Again, it's a gift that I can use and enjoy constantly.

As Steve Martin said, "Some people have a way with words. Other people—not have way." Exactly.

Determining what gifts you have isn't difficult. For me, the lazy type, it's always been found through what comes easily to me. For the most part, I don't enjoy doing things that don't come easily to me. I don't like to fix things. I don't like to do math (past, like, middle school algebra). Trying to find a college level science class I could pass was nearly impossible. Turns out Geology, Oceanography, and The Ice Age in Ohio didn't like me, despite how interesting I thought they were. Astronomy finally felt sorry for me and gave me a B-.

Let's try the "Like Test" with singing. Do I like to sing? Yes. Is it easy for me? Eh. I don't really have a musical ear, and I have a hard time finding harmonies. Some people can just pick them out of thin air! Not me. My best shot at harmony is to have it taught to me, and even then I struggle to keep it against the melody. So, again, while I like singing, singing clearly does not like me. American Idol is not in my future.

Why is it important to figure out what your gifts are? Well, you have to use them. And when I say "have to," I really mean, "have to." We've all been given talents in different amounts, and they have a purpose. No, not so you can say, "Well, I can do that, but I don't." Lame. God didn't give it to you so you could sit on it. And he's actually going to check up on you and make sure you used it wisely while you were here. Ever read the Parable of the Talents? Here's the thing: all of those people were servants. That means the people we're talking about here—even the person who sat on the talents and did nothing and got yelled at for being wicked and lazy (and, in some translations, gets cast out)—are all believers.

Now, personally, I don't want God to yell at me for being wicked and lazy (although I'm aware of the irony in this lightning rod of a blog title). God has invested in us. He's given us these gifts to be used and multiplied to improve the world in his name. If you use them, he'll give you more. If you don't use them, he'll take away what you already have, no matter how small the portion. A use-it-or-lose-it kind of deal.

So—are you using your gifts, or are you sitting on them? If you're sitting on them, let me encourage you here to stop it. Go find some place in your church or in your community that can utilize your talents, whether you are a great planner and organizer, a compassionate, caring person, or someone who's good with numbers. There's a place for you to use those.

And, for Heaven's sake, if you can sing, sing. People would line up for that gift. I know I would. Don't waste it.