Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Lazy Christian's Guide to Gifts and Talents

It's not what the world holds for you; it's what you bring to it. 
- Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery -

So many times, I've looked at the world and wondered, "What opportunities are out there for me?" Seems pretty selfish. Rarely do I stop to think what my offering is to the world. But from a Christian perspective, that's what we should constantly ask ourselves:

How can I use my gifts to serve God and bring him glory?

That first requires figuring out what your gifts are. Here are a few suggestions:

Photo courtesy of 2355 Photography
What do you love to do?  Now, I'm not saying that what you love to do is automatically your gift. I mean, I love to sing, but that's not my gift. We've talked about that before. Several times. No matter how badly you want something to be your gift, it may not be. But look at what you love to do, and perhaps that's where your giftedness lies. This is true for both spiritual gifts and general talents. If you despise having people over to your house, hospitality is probably not your gift. Just sayin'.

What have others told you you're good at?    This is a key component that a lot of people forget. A short story: A friend of mine was feeling ill. I asked him if he was feeling OK, and I said he didn't look so hot. He replied, "Yes, I'm feeling terrible. No one else has asked me. But if I wear a green shirt, all of a sudden everyone's asking me if I feel well. I don't look good in green! I get it! But, Rachel, you're the only one who actually knows when something's not right with me. I've noticed that before. I think you have the gift of discernment."  

So. There you go. I didn't think of discernment as one of my gifts, but someone (and, actually, a few other people) noticed that about me and mentioned it to me. Who goes looking for the gift of discernment? Not me. But if other people mention that it's your strong suit, it probably is. This is a good rule of thumb for general talents, as well. And just because your mother thinks your're good at something doesn't make it true. Look for a third party. Please. Before you show up on American Idol.

Your gifts may change over time. That discernment thingy? Yeah, no one has pointed that out in several years now. I don't know if I've gotten other, stronger gifts that make that one sink to the bottom, or if I didn't really pursue it enough. Who knows? God may have needed me to be discerning then and not now. It's caution to the wind these days! Woohoo! 

Well, not really.

But there are other gifts I have the opportunity to use now that I didn't then. As a Christian, you may be capable of exhortation and hospitality, although you may not be great at them. But you may have been born completely tone deaf and will never be a worship leader. Talents are different. Sometimes our spiritual gifts shuffle because of the opportunities presented for us to use them, sometimes we just get out of practice, or sometimes life changes just give us different strengths than we've had before. Regardless of the reason, try to reassess your gifts and talents frequently so you can...

Get in where you fit in. Once you figure out what your gifts are, use them. Don't just sit on them. And, heavens to Betsy, if you're serving in a place where you're not gifted, GET OUT. Yes, that was capitalized and bold and italic. I hate doing that, but it's important. There are two reasons you need to move along:
  1. There could be a ministry that needs your gifts. If you're serving someplace that's a poor fit—even if you feel an obligation or you don't want to leave anyone high and dry—you're not using your gifts to the best of your abilities.
  2. You may be taking up a spot for someone else who is gifted in that area. Say you've been working in the nursery on Sunday mornings because you wanted a place to serve, but working with kids isn't really your gift. And, maybe, because you're volunteering, the nursery is flush with workers and doesn't need any more. They don't advertise for more volunteers, so someone who is actually gifted in working with children misses out on an opportunity because you're holding their spot. 
If that doesn't make you want to follow that advice, I don't know what will. Pray that God will open up the right opportunity for you to serve, not just any opportunity for you to serve. Which brings up my final point:

Talk to God about your gifts and talents. If you're having a hard time figuring out what the Dickens you're supposed to be doing, ask God. He's more than happy to tell you—or, more likely, show you. You may not like the answer; you may not want to follow through. But, you know, that's kind of what you get for asking. Ask and ye shall receive, right? Just be prepared for the answer and be prepared to respond appropriately.

So that's my basic advice for gifts and talents. What are your gifts and talents these days?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Wisdom of Adele

I love listening to Adele. Her voice is beautiful, and she lays her soul bare for her audience. Repeatedly. Her most recent release, 21, is heartbreaking and catchy at the same time. How does she do that? It's incredible. I can play that album on a loop. And sometimes I do.

Listening to her sing, I think, "She certainly doesn't sound 21. She sounds much older." And then I listen to the lyrics.

Yeah, she's definitely young.

The song that makes me think that is "Someone Like You." Take a listen:



It's a beautiful song. After a heartbreak (of which I've had one or two in my day), that's definitely something I'd think. This heartbreak won't get to me. I'll find someone like you and be happy. But as I got older, the sentiment changed. It became: Well, I don't want anyone like you. I want someone different, since this clearly didn't work.

I think listening to that song and thinking, "Boy, she's young," is the first time I've actually felt old. Jeepers.

Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old. - Job 12:12

"With age comes wisdom" and all that. I don't think I'm old enough to be considered wise, by any means. But I may be wise enough for somebody. Sometimes our experiences lend themselves to helping others along. A few of the paths I've chosen have made me able to say to someone else, "I see the path you're about to go down. I don't recommend it. I've been there." Whether or not he or she listens is something else entirely.

But because of the experience of sharing that with someone else, I actually look for that in times of trouble. I think, "Boy, I'll be able to warn someone else about this pitfall." If nothing else good comes of a situation, perhaps that is what will: wisdom you can impart to someone else about to make the same mistake.

So, Adele—I don't know you. I don't know this guy you're singing about. (But if it's the same guy who thinks he should have a cut of the money you've made off the songs about him, I'll bet I can make a few guesses as to his character.) But get someone the complete opposite of whoever broke your heart. You deserve better. Trust me; I've been there. I found someone who was the opposite of the other guys I've dated, and he's the love of my life.

Oh, and I have I mentioned that unsolicited advice is often unwelcome, regardless of the wisdom contained therein? But I figure Adele will never read this, anyway, so I'm safe.

What unique wisdom can you impart, based on situations you've been in? I can always use a good warning! In October, I'm going to have "Wise Wednesdays." If you have godly wisdom you can share with my readers, send me your post idea at TheLazyChristian at yahoo.com. Obviously, there aren't that many Wednesdays in October, but if you've got a good idea, I can always use it as a Friendly Friday post. Or if I get a lot, I may keep it going through November, too. So send me your wisdom, oh wise people!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Rejected!

I got my first official rejection letter from a publisher on Friday. I "do not meet their acquisition needs at this time."

Ah, well.

I thought it would sting more, really. I thought I'd be brokenhearted and downtrodden and all that polysyllabic stuff. But I'm not, really. I thought the meeting went poorly at the time; the lady was hard to read, so it felt like I rambled in an attempt to get her to react to something. Didn't work, and then I just ended up with logorrhea.

That's the technical term for "diarrhea of the mouth," if you want to add that to your vernacular. And, no, I didn't make it up.

What it really feels like is a funnel. I've been at the top of the funnel with a lot of choices (and a lot of worries to go with them). It feels like this is God pushing me down the funnel a little bit. Moving me toward where he wants me to be—where he wants me to focus. I'm OK with that. As long as I'm moving, right? Not knowing is pretty much the worst.

I've never done well with rejection, but a theater director I had in high school helped me with it. She pointed out that sometimes rejection doesn't mean you're not talented—it just means you're not what they're looking for. In theater, I'm a sidekick-type. I'm not an ingenue. Just because they don't need my type doesn't mean I wouldn't be useful elsewhere—in another show, at another theater. Or I may not fit with that director for any number of reasons. I once didn't make a show because I looked too young and they'd mostly had older people audition, so the cast was skewing older.

That's an awesome reason not to make a show.

I have to assume publishing is the same way. I just don't fit in at their publishing house, but that doesn't mean I won't be a fit elsewhere. Doesn't mean I'm lacking talent, and it doesn't mean I'll never be published. After all, I could just take matters into my own hands and make it an e-book, right? Right!

How do you deal with rejection? Assuming you've ever been rejected, that is (her voice dripping with sarcasm).




P.S. - Part of me really thinks the publishing house will just end up kicking themselves later for passing me up. Does that make me arrogant? Maybe it's just my ego trying to make me feel better.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friendly Friday: Modern Reject

One of my newly-discovered, newly-favorited blogs is Modern Reject. The author, Nicole Cottrell, makes me feel like we're two bloggy peas in a pod. She's sharp and witty, she has just the right amount of self-deprecating humor, she's got great insight on our culture, and she's got a heart for God.

Doesn't get any better than that. Oh, except her site is also gorgeous. Did I mention that? It is. I'm totally jealous.

When she agreed to write a Friendly Friday post for me, I felt like I was hosting a celebrity! So read this post from Nicole, go follow her on Twitter, and then go fall in love with her blog. Because I know you will.

*****************

Nicole Cottrell from Modern Reject

When Rachel asked if I'd be interested in writing a guest post for The Lazy Christian, I gave an enthusiastic "Yes!" As I considered what to write, I was realizing how much I admire Rachel and this blog for her willingness to be so candid and honest about her faith.

Sure, other bloggers do it, but who else calls themselves "lazy?" So I began to consider what adjective I would attach to myself and my own faith. One word popped in my mind.

It is something I have long struggled with. A word that encapsulates me. A word that perhaps you can relate to, as well. Mediocre. Hi. I'm Nicole, the Mediocre Christian (but not for long). Nice to meet you.

I have always been a bit mediocre. I have comfortably hovered just “above average” without ever excelling into the “excellent” range. I look good in practice and on paper but have always known in the back of my mind that I had more to offer.

Some people become frustrated knowing that they could accomplish more, or take on more. They are desperate for the chance or opportunity. But not me. I’m rather comfortable where I sit: the slightly above average girl. I’m not looked down upon for my under-achievements but not too much is expected of me for my previous over-achievements. There’s a saying: “Only the mediocre are always at their best.” That about sums it up.

I know now, however, that while I feel pretty cozy sitting in my lackluster lounge chair of a life, God has a whole lot more. Mediocrity, for all its pleasantries and comforts, is no longer to be my friend. We are breaking up. I am ready to trade the mediocre life for the abundant life Christ calls us to. Mediocrity is easy, and simple, and comfortable.  Yet, while nothing was glaringly "wrong" with my life, I had a slight twinge, knowing that God has more for me. He wants more for me and now so do I.

You see, when Christ said He came to give us life more abundantly, He prefaced with “may.” We may have it, if we seek it through Him. We may receive the abundant life if we follow His Word and His Spirit’s leading. There is a precondition to receiving the abundant life: loving and following Jesus.

We are called to be more than conquerors and that sounds like a lot of pressure to me. I feel like I’m barely a plain ‘ole conqueror let alone more than. But then I relax, take a deep breath, and remember that God does the conquering through me. He is responsible for the results. I’m responsible for showing up and obeying.

The abundant life looks quite different from the mediocre life. It is not about money or material success. It is not measured by your income or square footage. It does not care if you were promoted or laid-off. The abundant life is life with and in Christ, full of peace, joy, and love. It is the fruit of the Spirit being displayed in you—regularly. It is conforming daily to be more like our Lord.

I’m ready to say adios to my mediocre mentality. I’m not sure what lies on the other side but I feel pretty confident that this one time I can say: the grass really will be greener when I get there.


Do you struggle with mediocrity in any area? What one adjective would you attach to yourself and why? "Faithful", "Doubting," "Hopeful," "Struggling"?




© Nicole Cottrell, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Closed-Minded Christians

Sometimes I get mad at other Christians. I do. It's not nice, I know. But one thing that makes me mad every time is Christians who don't listen, either to other Christians or to non-Christians.

I believe there's a difference between being closed-minded and careful-minded. 

Closed-minded means assuming you know the answer as soon as someone opens their mouth. Before you even consider their point, before you even look at the evidence, you're done listening. You've made your decision, and you're sticking to it.

This is foolish for three reasons:
  1. You alienate the person talking to you.
  2. You may miss out on a good idea.
  3. You may miss out on a great conversation.
I think the key to being a Christian is to be careful-minded

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. - 2 Corinthians 10:5

Here's the thing about that verse: in order to demolish an argument against God, you need to take a thought captive. You need to hang on to it and inspect it, and then you need to test it against the Word. I know this verse is commonly used for whatever invades our thought life, but if you read the rest of the chapter, Paul talks about boasting Christians who think they're better than other Christians.

Which is often when we become closed-minded.

If nothing else, giving an idea the opportunity to be heard can deepen your friendship with someone or start an interesting dialogue. And with a non-Christian, that could mean all the difference in their salvation. One conversation could lead to many more.

And, mind you, I'm not asking you to forget what you believe, or to acquiesce just to be nice. That's not a good idea. But take ideas captive—even other people's—to inspect and consider prayerfully before you shoot them down. That's not too much to ask.

The next time someone brings up a point you think you disagree with, take time to investigate it. Compare it to the Bible and what God has to say on the topic. Then give a thoughtful, careful answer.

What do you think? Are you a careful-minded Christian?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Good Stewardship: Free $10 from Eversave

Alrighty. I've posted before about good stewardship. Now I'm going to help.

First, I want to say that you shouldn't buy deals—even really, really good ones—if it's not in the budget. It's all about the good stewardship, people. Spending money you don't have is the opposite of that. Just sayin'.

Eversave is a program that offers deals on local (and national!) products and services. I got an amazing hour-long hot stone massage (usually $95) and a shellac manicure (usually $60) before She Speaks for—

Wait for it—

$50. Total.

No joke.

And today happens to be your lucky day, as Eversave is giving away—you read that right, giving away!—$10 to each of its members as part of its Member Appreciation Event. Score! Whether you're new to Eversave or have been a member for a while, be sure to visit Eversave right now to claim your $10! You can sign up to get daily deals in your city, and you'll get to check out the national saves, too!


Your $10 is good for any Eversave deal. Find a deal that pampers you, or find a deal that's fun for the whole family! Claim it before midnight on the 25th or you're out of luck!

But make sure it's in the budget, or I'll be in big trouble.

Do you belong to any deal sites? What's the best deal you've gotten?

Monday, August 22, 2011

From Mother to Child

Since I was young, I do this weird thing: When I'm trying to fall asleep in bed, I put my arms up over my head and tuck my hands in between the mattress and the headboard. Or sometimes I just tuck my hands behind my back. Or under my pillow. My hands just need to be tucked!

It's a little weird, I know. But I have friends who need to keep one leg outside the covers, friends who can't sleep without all the blankets on, friends who can't sleep without pajamas, friends who can't sleep with pajamas. We all have our little quirks.

My son! Photo courtesy of 2355 Photography
What I find truly fascinating is that my son also has a bedtime quirk. Well, he has my quirk, actually. When he's falling asleep, he tucks his hands underneath his back. He's got his own additional quirk, too, as he sometimes likes to tuck one hand behind his back and use the other hand to twirl the front of his hair. It's ridiculously cute.

As cute as it is, it kind of weirds me out. I didn't teach him to tuck his hands. He didn't watch me sleep and say, "Oh, I'll tuck my hands because Mama tucks her hands." Unless he had X-ray vision in utero (which is creepy), he didn't pick it up from watching me; it's innate. Just passed down somehow.

So weird.

In the Bible, all sorts of things get passed down. Curses and the like. Sometimes I think, Boy, I hope I'm not somewhere at the top of that family tree! What other traits does my son have that he got from me? Besides his blonde hair and his cheeks, his knack for language and his love of reading?

Moreover, if he's got these traits from me that he didn't learn by my teaching him, how many other traits do I teach him on a daily basis without realizing it? I'm learning that the watchful eye of a toddler should not be underestimated. How is the language I use around him? What are my attitudes? How do I treat others when I'm around him? Do I glorify God in the presence of my son, or is it something I keep to myself?

He's learned so many things without me trying to teach him; I need to be careful with all of the other things I'm not trying to teach him.

What do you do to specifically teach your children good traits and habits, especially concerning your relationship with God? And how do you unteach traits they've picked up, from you or elsewhere?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friendly Friday: Tyler Rowan

Today's Friendly Friday post comes from Tyler Rowan, another victim of The Great Friendly Friday Botcharoo of 2011. And hopefully the last one, as I'm trying to improve my record-keeping.

I'm not called The Organized Christian for a reason, people. But I'm trying!

Tyler is a clever gal with a beautiful blog called Titus 2:3-5. If you'd like to know what those verses are, here you go: 

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

That's a lot to live up to. But if anyone can do it, it's Tyler. She's a writer, speaker, and women's ministry leader, and she still manages to raise five kids. I can't imagine how she does it—or that she could possibly have a lazy bone in her body! Read this awesome post, then be sure to go check out her blog and follow her on Twitter!

*****************
E. Tyler Rowan


Five Lazy Ways to Be an Encourager


Encouragement is not one of my spiritual gifts.

Cheering others on, making them feel good about themselves and their contribution, lifting peoples’ spirits—these things are not my forte. No surprise, really, because I’m not a “words of encouragement” girl. I’m more an “acts of service” kinda gal.*

For a long time I used this as an excuse to do nothing. I let many opportunities to encourage someone slip past unacknowledged. Unbeknownst to the younger me, encouraging others is an integral part of being a leader, and leadership is one of my spiritual gifts. (Oh, the irony!)

We all have people to lead in some capacity, therefore we all need to figure out how to be encouragers. So if encouraging others doesn't come naturally to you, try these pointers. I promise, they’re not hard work at all!

1. Be prepared.

Stock up on blank cards and keep them in several handy places (your office, your home, your purse or gym bag, your glove box). If someone crosses your mind, take two minutes right then and there to jot a quick note.

Don't forget to deliver it or drop it in the mail! The longer you put this step off, the more likely you are to forget. (Personal experience speaking here—Christmas cards mailed at Easter.)

2. Connect on social media.

Those of us who use Facebook or Twitter are on there virtually every day, and it takes no more than 30 seconds to leave a little note on someone’s wall or send a DM.

3. Take two minutes longer.

Make a habit of the "two minute longer" conversation. Too often we pass by one another and breeze through the standard chatter:

Hi, how are you?
Oh good! And you?
I'm good, too. Thanks.
See ya!
Bye!

This type of exchange is fine for casual acquaintances, but when it comes to people we spend time with regularly, small talk may across as unfeeling and uncaring. And your people want to be cared for! Instead, stop, look the person in the eyes, and genuinely ask a question that directly relates to his or her life. For example, if you know the family was away at a soccer tournament last weekend, ask how the team did.

4. Pray.

While others may never know you've been praying for them, the very act of lifting them and their needs up to God grows a heart connection between you. Praying for others helps you to be more concerned with their needs, keeps them in your mind, and causes you to feel a deeper love for them.

5. Watch your words.

When you speak of others, speak only good—it will get back to them. When you speak to others, express appreciation for who they are and what they do. Sometimes a simple, “Thanks for being you” is enough to change a person’s day.

Whether you’re the leader at work or in ministry, the leader of your home, your children, or within your group of friends and acquaintances, the people around you need to feel valued and appreciated. If you are a leader in any capacity, learning to encourage those you lead is key.

And, frankly, you can still be an encourager and be lazy (like me). All the better!



*From Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.


© Tyler Rowan 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I'm Over Here: Southern Writers Magazine

OK, so I don't live in the South. I'm in Indianapolis. But I used to spend all my summers in Virginia, and it's my favorite place on the planet, so I think that earns me an Honorary Southerner title. Right?

Today I'm guest posting over at Southern Writers Suite T. Shannon Milholland asked me to guest post about branding your blog, so I did. Go read it!



The Ferris Wheel

My husband doesn't like midway rides. I mean, he'll do rides at Cedar Point or King's Island, but no rides that are portable. I think he gets it from his mom—she's nervous about that stuff. I read somewhere that carnival rides are actually safer than amusement park rides because they're inspected more frequently. I don't know if that's true, but it sounds reasonable to me.

Despite my husband's disdain for carnival rides, I've talked him into riding just one ride with me each year at the Indiana State Fair: the Ferris Wheel.

Photo courtesy of 2355 Photography
I love the Ferris Wheel. I love the exhilaration of being on top of the world, whisked around and around in a colorful cup.

If you've ever read the book Devil in the White City (which I highly recommend you do), it explains the debut of the Ferris Wheel at the World's Fair of 1893.

The previous World's Fair in Paris in 1889 marked the debut of Eiffel's Tower. Gustave Eiffel designed the 1,063-foot tower to be the spectacle of the fair; it was the most marvelous structure in the world. When planning began for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, they knew they needed a structure that was truly incredible.

They considered many different structures: buildings, bridges, towers that were almost identical to Eiffel (but there already was an Eiffel Tower). Along came George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., with his idea for a rotating wheel that people could ride on—something to "out-Eiffel Eiffel." It seemed incredibly dangerous, but, if it worked, it really would be marvelous. They turned him down several times before they finally decided to take a chance on him.

He had $400,000 to build the wheel. Instead of the dainty cups our modern Ferris Wheels use, his wheel had the equivalent of train cars. Each car sat up to 60 people—and with 36 cars, the wheel had a maximum capacity of 2,160. Can you imagine that many people on today's wheels? It was incredible! It took a lot of work to build

What amazes me about the Ferris Wheel is, not only is the design still in use today all over the world, it's an idea that people are continually interested in. Someone is always trying to make a bigger, better wheel. It was a fascinating idea that people still find fascinating.

I'm grateful my husband is willing to ride the Ferris Wheel with me each year. It's an experience we look forward to—being on top of the world together, looking out over the Indiana State Fair and the surrounding city. And it's a shared experience with others on the Ferris Wheel, not just at the fair, but on Ferris Wheels all over the world. What an incredible feeling!

I hope you have the same feeling about being a Christian. Being assured a place in Heaven alongside other believers all over the world. It should be just as exhilarating as a ride on that famous wheel, and it's an experience that you want to share with others.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Adam Sandler vs. Johnny Depp

As an actor, I've played a lot of characters. Funny ones, sad ones. Ones that are very much like me, and some that are a stretch. Some are easy to play, and some are more difficult. That's kind of the fun of acting.

If you boil it down (way, way down) there are two ways to look at a character: you can find ways the character is like yourself and make it a part of you; or you can make yourself more like the character.



Examples:

Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler is the former. Every Adam Sandler character is pretty much like Adam Sandler. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. I mean, he's a funny guy. People like him. I like him. But he does what works. His characters are always, well, him. Or pretty close to it.


The latter is Johnny Depp. The man disappears into his roles; the only thing recognizable about him is his face (and sometimes not even that). He does a lot of research and throws himself into his characters. His mannerisms, his speech—everything changes to truly become the character.

Johnny Depp
So many people want Christ to conform to them. They ask questions like, "How can I fit him into my life without changing much about who I am?" They see the pieces of God they want to see; they see ones they like and feel like that's good enough. It's working; why change it?

They're Adam Sandler Christians.

(And I realize that's kind of a funny statement, since Adam Sandler's Jewish. But I'm sure he'd understand the point.)

We should strive to be Johnny Depp Christians. (Again, probably a funny statement without knowing him.) We should look at the character of Christ—who he is, what he did, how he behaved—and do our best to conform to him. We need to throw ourselves into the character of Christ and be like him in every way.

Although, you know, I'm not growing a beard or anything.

Christ wants us to get to the heart of who he is. We need to do a real character study—how he spoke, how he acted, his mannerisms—and transform ourselves into true Christians. We have to be willing to leave our old ways behind and embrace an entirely new character. We won't lose what was truly core to our spirit; God created each of us as a unique individual. But we will become holier by putting on the person of Christ.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  
1 Peter 1:14-16

So—are you an Adam Sandler or a Johnny Depp?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fairly Fearful

My family had a wonderful time at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday. We saw lots of animals, ate ridiculous food (like a deep-fried Klondike Bar), and I even introduced my son to the joys of the midway rides. He rode the caterpillar roller coaster like a champ. The kid is fearless!

But tragedy struck the fair Saturday night when a huge gust of wind caused the rigging of the outdoor stage to collapse after Sara Bareilles' performance and just before Sugarland's performance. Over 40 people were injured; five have died. I'm praying for the families of those killed and injured, and I hope you'll join me in continuing to pray for them.

Something interesting happens after events like this. You start to think, "What if I'd been there?" Would you have been helping to lift the scaffolding off of those trapped? Would you have run out as quickly as possible? Or would you have been frozen with fear and just sat crying?

I don't think any of these responses is better than another. It's hard to put ourselves in those shoes. If my son had been with me, you'd bet I'd have gotten him out of there as soon as possible. If it were just me and my husband, we'd have probably stayed to help. I'm not sure the crying would have happened until later. It all depends. And I wasn't there, so I'll never know.

Another question people ponder is, "Now what?" I really wanted to go to the Janet Jackson concert at the fair this coming Wednesday. I don't have tickets, but, provided it's not cancelled, would I still have gone? Will this event stick in my mind any time I go to a concert, ever? Odds are, it can't happen again, right?

This thinking is kind of lousy, actually. It's based in fear.

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. - Philippians 4:8

Fear, in any incarnation, isn't any of these things. As someone who struggles with fear and anxiety quite a bit, this verse helps me get fearful thinking out of my mind. If I thought of all the dangers our world presents, I may never leave the house. An alarmist attitude would keep me from living my life to the fullest, living to bring glory to God. No one who lives in light of the cross needs to live in fear; our fate is assured. My mind should be on higher things while I'm here, not fear.

So I'm sure I'll go to other concerts; I love music. I'm sure I'll be back at the fair again next year; it's the highlight of our summer. And I hope my son continues to be fearless, even if it means I have to ride the caterpillar roller coaster again and again. Despite his (typically) fearful mama, I want him to know that life is not about living in fear; it's about living in joy.

Again, I ask you to keep in prayer anyone associated with Saturday's tragedy. Pray for hope, pray for comfort, pray for healing, and pray for hearts free from fear.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friendly Friday: Leigh Kramer

Today's Friendly Friday post is from someone who has a special place in my heart: Leigh Kramer from HopefulLeigh. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Leigh at She Speaks last month, and she (along with Heatherly over at A Pink Daisy Life) accompanied me on a late-night Sonic run after Ann Voskamp's emotionally-charged talk.

Because after something like that, sometimes a girl just needs some ice cream. Can I get a witness?

Leigh is a sweet gal, a wonderful writer, and a snazzy dresser. I'm not kidding. She'll act like she's not, but she's the type of person who can go to a thrift store and put a trendy outfit together without even trying. I want to be that person!

Leigh, I want to be you!

So read her here, go over to her blog and read her there. Follow her on Twitter. But definitely get to know this woman—and, for Pete's sake, sit next to her in church!

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Leigh Kramer

I've had an uneasy relationship with church the last decade or so. I was raised to go to church each week and definitely benefited from this upbringing. Once in college, however, church did not fit into my “find myself” equation. Without my parents around, I didn't have to go. And so I didn't.

By senior year, I'd wrestled with the intersection of faith and politics. I was comfortable referring to myself as a Christian again but didn't believe church attendance was necessary. It took another year before I risked entering the hallowed doors, certain I would not fit in, then pleasantly surprised that it didn't matter.

It should have been smooth sailing after that. Unfortunately, I've had a hard time settling in, at times because of my own issues but sometimes because of the churches' issues. While fellowship and worship are an important part of faith, every few Sundays come and go without me setting foot in a proper church.

In fact, it happens more often than I'd like to admit.

In a day and age of ready access to sermons online, we can easily rationalize our lack of attendance. God and I are cool, I say. I don't need to go to church. Except I know that I do.

There are plenty of reasons and excuses. I'm still single and it's not fun to sit by myself week after week. If I go to the early service, I can sit with my best friend and her family. Otherwise, I'm on my own in a big church. I prefer big churches but I've had a hard time finding community at the one I've chosen.

When a friend of mine moved to Nashville, I took the opportunity to go church shopping with her since I'd settled in at my church right away after moving here a little over a year ago. Yet nothing else has approached the level of teaching and worship at my church.

I recognize churches aren't perfect and maybe community will come in time. I realize church is not about me; it's about honoring God and refocusing our priorities.

But come Sunday morning, it's hard to motivate myself.

I never regret going to church. Perhaps this Sunday I'll find myself back in a pew.

If you happen to notice me sitting by myself, might you join me? A little company is always welcome in a house of worship.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

This Is How We Do It

So my daily Bible reading of late has been in Leviticus. It's riveting!

Well, no. No, it's not.

So far, it's mostly been about sacrificing animals. When to cut the head off a bird, when to light the entrails of a goat on fire. It's pretty disgusting, actually. But one of the things that's cool about the Bible is that it applies to believers anytime, anywhere.

Except this. I'm not gutting a goat, Leviticus.

When I'm reading a passage of Scripture like this—one that, seemingly, doesn't apply to me—I need to look past the content and into the application. What can I learn from this that may not be obvious in the instructions on how to arrange body parts on an altar? If the Bible can apply to me in an Anno Domini world where animals don't have to die daily for my sins, what can I get out of these passages?

I think the key to this portion of Scripture is in the execution. (No pun intended. OK, a little pun intended.) Sometimes how we do things is just as important as what we do. I mean, I can do a lot of good in the world, but if the means are dishonest, how much good have I actually done? If I take shortcuts or have a bad attitude while doing the work, is it still giving God glory?

Eh.

The Israelites had to follow God's very specific instructions in order to bring him glory and to make their work count. God made the rules; he could have very easily said, "Aw, just throw the goat anywhere and squirt some lighter fluid on it. We're solid." But he didn't. He made these people go through a lot to pay for their sins. They had to work hard and do it right to show God their hearts were in it.

We have it easier now that Christ has died for our sins, but we can't rest on our laurels. We need to make sure that whatever we do is done with the same diligence the Israelites showed. That requires—well, that requires hard work and intentionality.

Which are two things I often lack.

I like to get things done quickly, and sometimes quality suffers for it. Depends on how important the task is to me, personally. I'm willing to take shortcuts when I'm not the one reaping the benefits. Horrible, isn't it?

But you read my blog, The Lazy Christian, which means this can't come as a total surprise to you.

Are you intentional about every task? Do you put effort and heart into the process?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Silence and Solitude and Teeth

A few months ago, I posted about a silence and solitude exercise we did at church. We had to go off by ourselves and be silent and alone for an hour. We had a choice of exercises: visualizations, Lectio Devina, intercessional prayer. Because I'm a visual person, I chose the visualization exercise. It was something like this:


Hold your hands out in front of you and close your eyes. Ask God to put a physical representation (object) of yourself into your hands.


Easy enough, right? So I sat down crosslegged in the silent, solitudinous area I'd chosen. I put my hands out in front of me, and I silently asked God for an object. I waited. And waited. I focused my thinking; I shut out the world around me. I focused on what that object was going to be. I set my mind's eye on my hands and waited. And after about ten minutes, God gave me an object:
A set of chattering teeth.

I was shocked. I was hurt. What? I thought. This is what represents me? You have to be kidding! A set of teeth that just jabber and don't say anything? That's horrible! Tell me what this means!

And the reply was, This isn't what I think of you, Rachel. This is how you think I see you. This is how you think others see you. But this isn't really you.

Oh. OK. Then how do you see me?

I put my little hands out again, and I closed my eyes and waited for another object to appear. And in no time at all, he sent me this:


Well, not this one exactly, but it was a delicate glass heart that filled my hands. A blue one with a swirly pattern in it. And I heard, This, Rachel. This is you. 

Wow.

God saw right to the heart of me. Literally. He recognizes how delicate I am—how fragile my heart is. I never think anyone notices that about me. But God does. And the heart was big; it filled my hands. I'm glad God sees that I have a big heart. Again, something I assume others don't notice. 

We had a moment that day, God and me. He showed me who I was in his eyes, and that means the world to me.

When was the last time you had a moment with God? 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Indiana State Fair!

I'm sorry I didn't post yesterday. I was having a great day at the Indiana State Fair with my family! The weekday trip came courtesy of Indiana's Family of Farmers, who were kind enough to invite us.

A 4-H cow and her keepers. You know, a while ago.
One of my favorite things to do at the state fair is to sit in the (air-conditioned) Pepsi Coliseum, have lunch, and watch some of the 4-H animal competitions. I think it's hilarious the way they talk about these animals. Yesterday, it was cows. You wouldn't think there's a lot to say about a cow. She's big. She's [insert color here]. She gives milk.

But you'd be wrong.

These judges have a lot to say about cows. They know every aspect of these animals—how their coat is supposed to look, how their muscles should look, how they're supposed to stand. There's a real art to looking at these animals, apparently. I always try to figure out who's going to win, but it's clear that I'm not trained properly; I'm seldom right. So I mostly pick the pretty one.

Now, after last week's facepunch post, I figure I should make a spiritual parallel here.

Sometimes it's easy to look at someone and assume we know all about them. After one conversation, we can determine if someone is kind or not, sincere or not, weird or not. And we may be right, we may be wrong. The tough one is whether they're a good Christian or not. You can't tell that just by looking at someone.

But you can tell. You need to look for the fruit.

Matthew 7:10-15 says you can tell a Christian by the fruit that they bear. Not just who is a Christian, but who's a good Christian as opposed to a bad Christian. And by "bad" I don't mean simply "imperfect." None of us is perfect. But good as opposed to someone who is leading others astray.

If you need a refresher, the fruits of the spirit include, but are not limited to: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.

Now, I'm not saying to go out and have a state fair-type Christian competition. Line people up like cattle and describe their spiritual fruit. Because there's a catch: You need to have a trained eye. And to know what these things look like, you have to have experienced them yourself.

Tricky!

The judges at the fair have a keen eye because they know what they're looking for. They've been around animals with good traits, so they know when good traits are lacking. So, as a Christian, you either have to have the good traits or be around people who have the good traits. This includes studying Jesus, who has all the good traits. And, hopefully, being around those with the good traits (including some quality time with Christ!) will rub off on you so you can eventually attain them.

Poor cows. If only they had that choice. They're kind of stuck with their DNA.

So watch your company. We all have fruits we need to improve, and we have others who can benefit from being around our fruit. Train your eye to spot good Christians, and then make sure you've got some of them in your life. Be aware of what fruit you're putting out there, too, in case there's someone trying to learn from you. Then when we get in front of the Judge, we can make a good showing; we'll know just what he was looking for.

I wonder if God gives out blue ribbons...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friendly Friday: Teri Johnson

Today's Friendly Friday post is from Teri Johnson over at Keeping it Personal. She's writer, speaker, and life coach. I had the opportunity to meet Teri at She Speaks, and she is just a warm, wonderful person. She's also going to be a published author, with her book Overcoming the Nevers on shelves by the end of the year! Woohoo!

I'm so grateful for her post today. Be sure to check out her web sites and follow her on Twitter!

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BE Where You Are

Have you ever wanted to BE somewhere else? Do you right now? Look at each area of your life, your 6 areas of personal perspective: Emotional. Spiritual. Health and Wellness. Financial. Relationships. Professional.

Which area would you like to change, modify, or be somewhere different than where you are today?

When we long to be somewhere we are not, {make more money, have a different job, have a bigger house, be skinnier, have different friends, be married to a more perfect husband…the list is limitless} when we wish to be “more like” another person, we get restless and discontent. When we continue to look ahead longing for things to be different, or look back with regret because things manifested in our lives opposite of what we had hoped for, we develop an attitude of ungratefulness.

Unfortunately, with discontentment and ungratefulness, we miss the blessings of what the present has to offer.

Of course it’s wise to plan and set goals

Of course it’s fun to dream

Of course it’s exciting to have a vision, and to be passionate

…all of these things are good -- they drive us to grow, experience, and keep on living.

But, the journey to these places can at times be taxing, full of obstacles, and hard work. The “how to get there” may look different than what we anticipate or expect. And, “the when we get there” may take more time that we anticipated.

So what do we do? How can we keep the goal, dream, vision, and passion alive – when we experience set-packs and negativity? How can we live a life of contentment and gratefulness on our winding journey?

FIRST we must understand that it starts with ME – I mean YOU – I mean it starts with ourselves, each individually. We are responsible only for ourselves. Period.

When we feel restless, discontent, or if we find ourselves having too many pity parties alone – LOOK in the mirror - examine your lift today – REFLECT on these 5 “P” words:

1. PATIENCE = Things happen on God’s timetable, not our timetable. We do not want to get ahead of His perfect plan. “Stand firm, and you will win life.” Luke 21:19
2. PERSPECTIVE = Take a step back and look at the big picture. Ask yourself, how important is it really? “You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
3. PERSEVERANCE = Press on - If you are confident you are going where God wants you to go, living in His will, don’t give up. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
4. PURPOSE = Why are you where you are; today? Look for ways to be a light in your world, everyday, in every relationship, in every situation, in your current place – regardless if it’s where you want to be. “Many plans are in a man's mind, but it is the Lord's purpose for him that will stand.” Proverbs 19: 21
5. PRAYER = Whisper this simple prayer, “Father, open my eyes to see, open my ears to hear, open my heart to know, what You want for my life. Amen” Expect God to reveal Himself to you daily. Look for Him. “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” Colossians 4:2

Nothing in Gods world happens by mistake. Pursue acceptance in your life just as it is, at this very moment. Remember the 5 “P” words when restless cravings start to set in. Focus on lighting your world –right where you are – Live. Shine. Connect.

BE WHERE YOU ARE.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Making Your Story More Interesting

Note: This post is completely random. It may be my crazy, Sicky McGee brain. Apologies.

A long time ago (in college), while I was living in a city far, far away (Akron), I went to visit my pal Missy in New York City. I tried to go a couple times a year, actually, since airfare from Akron to LaGuardia was crazy cheap. She was going to college there, and she had (well, still has) this super great group of friends. Funny, interesting, New-Yorky people who always had funny, interesting, New-Yorky stories.

One night, we were sitting in a cafe, and her friend Nick was telling a story. I couldn't tell you what the story was about; for once, it wasn't a very memorable one. And about halfway through the story, he could tell we didn't think it was memorable. The next line of his story was:

"And then I punched him in the face."

We all were suddenly alert. 

What? What was that? You punched who in the face? You punched someone in the face?!

"No," he said, "but I could tell the story wasn't interesting anymore. But punching someone in the face is."

Fascinating. Truly.

So, if you're ever telling a story and the eyes of your audience begin to glaze over, simply utter the words, "And then I punched him in the face." It'll rouse them from their stupor. You can then share that you were joking and change the topic to something of greater interest.

Unless, of course, you weren't joking. Then we may need to have a different conversation altogether, mister.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sicky McGee Guest Post: Lauren Hale

So I know I don't typically have guest posts on days other than Fridays. And, no, I'm not on vacation again; I'm feeling a little under the weather. When I tweeted that, my friend Lauren Hale, who tweets as @unxpctdblessing, offered a guest post to my sicky self and became just that: an unexpected blessing! Hopefully, I'll be back in shape for Thursday's post. Unless this is that summer flu thing people have been talking about.

Either way, pray for Mrs. Sickypants over here.

Anyway, Lauren has a wonderful blog over at My Postpartum Voice. It is a blog full of hope and encouragement, not only about postpartum depression, but about motherhood in general. As @unxpctdblessing, she hosts #PPDChat on Twitter every Monday at 1 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. EST. Please check out her blog, and then go follow her on Twitter!



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On God and Grief

We can plan all we want for how we want our lives to go. But then life happens and our plans fly out the window. We are left to improvise. Sometimes improvising hurts. Figuring out which way to go when a sudden change of plans strikes can be hard. But when we learn to lean on God no matter what, those sudden changes soften a little bit even if they seem harsh at first.

This morning I woke to the news of my Great Aunt’s passing. No one plans for phone calls like this.

My phone and I went into the front yard. I sat down, in between two humongous pine trees, sun shining down on my back, and cried. I sat there for nearly two hours. Wailing at first, then every so often my tears would just well up with tears until they couldn’t hold them back and tears would slowly slide down my face as I sat there, listening to the birds, watching the squirrels scamper, avoiding falling caterpillars, and chasing away tiny spiders from my feet. The wind softly played with my hair as well as with the trees. I sat there…. breathing. Taking in the sharp green of the surrounding trees, the echoes of life, breathing. For two hours, I got to just be.

My husband brought me a blanket and a cup of coffee. Apparently I sat in the sunshine for almost an hour despite the 50 degree weather.

Grief makes you do strange things.

In those moments outside, as I sat there, a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I felt so alone and abandoned.

Thing is, I was not alone.

God sat there with me.

He held me, comforted me, and provided a warm, safe place in which I could mourn.

Friends offered condolences.

My children offered hugs and giggles when I got inside.

I’m still struggling to accept that she is gone.

I know right now we are working on the Shelter of God’s Promises but instead of writing from the book today, I needed to share this.

Today, I tried to live in the Shelter of God’s Promise. It was not perfect. But it worked. Not all day, but it worked.

And that, my dear readers, is progress toward learning to live in the Shelter of God’s Promises.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Free $25 on Kiva!

One of my favorite sites is Kiva.org. You can loan money to small business owners around the world. Then when they repay the money, you can loan it right out again to someone else! You get to choose what projects you fund—by gender, by country, by what type of business they're running. They also have loans for people who need housing or computers. It's a way to give people living in poor areas some help—and since it's a loan, you're giving a hand up, not a handout.

Until August 14, Kiva is giving away a limited number of free trials! Use this link to get your free $25 to start lending. Hurry! Someone needs your help!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Coexisting with Bono

I saw this bumper sticker today:

You've probably seen it. It's been around for a few years. I went to a U2 concert in 2005 and Bono did a whole thing about it. Even had it on a headband or something. A blindfold? I don't know. He could wear it as a diaper and he'd still be cool. He is Bono, after all.

But I digress.

The thing about bumper stickers is that, as my husband says, it's like starting a one-sided argument. You can put anything on a bumper sticker and the people who see it will probably never get to say anything to you about it. Perfect for being non-confrontational. So, of course, people respond in kind with other bumper stickers. Like this one:


Seriously? *sigh* I don't know what the deal is. I could go into a thing about how not all Muslims are suicide bombers. Not even most of them are suicide bombers. But I'm pretty sure most of the people reading this blog know better.

I hope so, anyway.

Personally, I love the "Coexist" idea. It doesn't say, "You all have to believe each other's stuff!" It doesn't say, "Everyone's right!" It doesn't even say, "I condone the beliefs of these other religions!"

Essentially, it says, "Don't kill each other." I find that to be pretty reasonable.

And just as you start to think to yourself, "Well, I clearly haven't killed any Jews or Muslims in recent memory," start to think about what's really lodged in your brain about those two faiths. What stereotypes are in your head? When you think of Muslims, is your reaction, "Well, they hate us! How am I supposed to like them?" And some Christians—honest to goodness—have a thing against Jews because "they" killed Jesus.

Whaaaaaaat?

First, Jesus was a Jew. He wasn't a Christian. That wasn't a thing. Secondly, Jesus had to die. The whole thing had to go down just like it did in order for us to have eternal life. To put it bluntly, I killed Jesus. You killed Jesus. So—don't be a hater.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34

No exceptions. No substitutions. Love. And even if you think you have some sort of reason for holding a grudge, Jesus has that covered, too:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27-28

Either way, you're commanded to do the same thing: Love. Without hesitation, without reservation, without conditions.

It's a command, yo. And it requires even more on our part than simply coexisting. Don't worry about what the other religions do or don't do, or what they think of us. Do what you know you have been told to do and love.

Are you being obedient?