Friday, October 26, 2012

Moses and Me

My life has had some major upheaval lately. I mean apart from the baby and all of that. For the past seven years, I've been a part of the drama ministry at my church. I write scripts, I act, I direct. It's always been a lot of fun, and I'm good at it.

But.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
I think God saw me getting too comfortable. I got the feeling that he wanted me to leave the safety of my church walls and participate in the local theater scene. Salt and light and all that. I prayed and prayed about it, and the answer became clearer and clearer. So, with great peace, I resigned from the drama ministry.

But.

God still wanted me serving inside the church walls. And I felt that he was pushing me toward the kids' ministry. Elementary school kids. My kids are four and under. I've taught junior high and high school kids. Why on earth would elementary school be the place for me?




A Short Play by Rachel
"Buts and Nopes"

Scene: RACHEL is in her bedroom, praying.

RACHEL:     So, I think I'm supposed to go help out in the kids' ministry.

GOD:            Yep.

RACHEL:     No, like the elementary kids' ministry.

GOD:            Yep.

RACHEL:     But—I don't wanna.

GOD:            Well, you should. I need you there.

RACHEL:     Naw, not me. I don't have anything to offer!

GOD:            Sure you do. Don't I know you better than anyone? It'll work.

RACHEL:     But maybe you forgot that I don't really work with kids this age. 

GOD:            Maybe you forgot that I'm God. If The Almighty is asking you to do something, maybe you should—I don't know—stop arguing? Just do it.

RACHEL:     Ha! God knows what Nike is!

GOD:            I love your sense of humor, Rachel! Your obstinance is something else, though...

RACHEL:     I'm made in your image, you know.

GOD:            And I'm a great listener. You, not so much.

RACHEL:     Ha! But I can't...

GOD:            Rachel. Stop making excuses. Just go.

RACHEL:     Fine. But if I crash and burn, I'm holding you responsible!

GOD:            Fine! But you won't. Trust me.


END SCENE.


I felt a little like Moses. Not the parting-of-the-Red-Sea, confident Moses. The I-don't-wanna Moses. When God first asked him to go back to Egypt, Moses came up with every excuse in the book. 

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” - Genesis 3: 10-13

Moses made no less than five arguments against doing what God asked of him. I'm pretty sure I made at least that many. But I went. And you know what?

It was exactly where I needed to be.

Turns out that the director of the children's ministry had been praying for strong leaders last week, so my e-mail to him was an answer to his prayers. Isn't that cool? He got another e-mail last week, too, and when he introduced me to the other volunteer, it turned out to be a friend from my small group! Small world, huh? By the time I finished on Sunday, I knew it was the perfect place for me. Not only did I feel useful, but I really enjoyed the kids. So God was right. Chalk another one up for The Almighty!

It was really hard to step out in faith, especially somewhere I wasn't comfortable. But since these decisions were made, I've felt joy and peace like I've never had before. Obedience has its own rewards. I'll take 'em!

Do you find it difficult to be obedient and step out in faith? What are the rewards?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I Hate My Love Language

So there's this book by Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages. It's about the ways we prefer to give and receive love and how to give others love in the way they best receive it. The five love languages are Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts.

When my husband and I first got married, I thought my love language was Quality Time, and maybe Words of Affirmation was up there, too. You know what my language really is?

NOW I feel loved!
Receiving Gifts.

Yes, I'll admit to what feels like the most shallow of the love languages. I love getting gifts. And since Friday was my birthday, I knew my husband would get me a great gift! I thought it might be some earrings to match a garnet ring I got at an antique show in the spring—and it was!

And they were awful. Apart from them not matching the ring at all, they weren't even my style. Despite my reputation for being a good actress, I can't seem to mask disappointment in opening a gift. Curses!

Now, my husband is a very thoughtful gift-giver. He listens and tucks away in his brain things I've said or things he thinks I'll like. And that works at Christmas, but he's terrible with my birthday for some reason. Maybe he tries too hard at my birthday? I don't know. But I nearly let it ruin my day on Friday! Mostly out of guilt that I didn't like his present—yet again. He told me not to feel that way and that he'd rather know so we can get something I like and will actually use. Still. I felt terrible.

I spent the weekend thinking about why Receiving Gifts is my love language. When I was young, money was tight, but I always got at least one great gift at Christmas. Not necessarily the most expensive thing, but something I really wanted. I also loved it when my dad surprised me on Sweetest Day with a rose or something. When I got to high school, I dated my best friend for ten seconds, and we broke up right before Christmas. He got me a bath set in some nasty scent—freesia, I think. Really? My best friend can't think of something more unique to me than a bath set? I really don't like getting bath things. It's like, "Oh, you're a girl. You must like to bathe and smell clean. Here you go!" Blecch.

So maybe I just want the thoughtfulness required in gift-giving. Or because we didn't have tons of money growing up, maybe someone splurging on a gift for me is just exciting. Whatever the reason, that's my love language.

And I hate it.

I don't like feeling disappointed when I get what I perceive to be a sub-par gift. I don't like that my husband also has to feel disappointed when he gets me a gift he's excited to give me and it's not what I wanted. I don't like feeling materialistic!

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. - Ephesians 2:8

But you know what? I'm made in God's image. God loves gifts—giving them and receiving them. He's given us spiritual gifts to develop and use. He gives us blessings, both tangible and intangible. He's given us grace, which is pretty much the best gift he could give us. Our praise and worship are our gifts to him because we love him so much. We also give him our lives and our obedience.

And, being made in his image, I give at least as many gifts as I receive—probably more. Just like God. And is God disappointed in our gifts sometimes? Probably. When we don't put time or effort into them and simply give him our leftovers, I'm sure he's a bit disappointed. He wants our best gifts, just like I want someone's best effort. We all have something different to offer, but we can all offer our best. And then God will give us his best in return. And that's pretty awesome.

Hmm. Maybe I can live with this love language after all.

What's your love language? How is that language a reflection of God?

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Birthday Girl

Today is my birthday. I generally enjoy my birthday. I wake up feeling excited about the day ahead and the surprises in store for me. I know I get to spend the evening with my husband and our friends at one of my favorite places (although I'm not permitted to know all the details), so I'm looking forward to that.

But today I woke up feeling profoundly grateful. As I look back over the past 33 years (yep, I'm solidly in my 30s now!), I can see God's hand moving in my life at every point along the way. I'm incredibly blessed. My little family is beyond anything I could have imagined. Makes me glad that God is more creative than I am!

At this moment, I am more than content—I'm happy. I know happy doesn't always last—and that's OK—but I'm going to enjoy it in this moment.

I couldn't help but spend my waking moments praising God and thanking him for my life. Even though there's been plenty of good and plenty of bad, I know he was there all along. I love that he's so caring and interested in our lives. He loves us so much, and I woke up feeling just how much he loves me. It was kind of like a big hug from God.

And that's an amazing birthday gift.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Little Miss Can't Be Wrong

Yesterday, my son said to me, "Mama, you are silly all the day long." I replied, "Is that OK? Do you not want me to be silly?" "Of course you can be silly," he said.

Well, I was probably going to stay silly whether he gave me permission or not. Silliness is a trait of mine that is quite essential to my personality, I think.

But what traits are not essential to my personality? Quite a few, surprisingly. Like sarcasm. I find that, while funny sometimes, sarcasm is really unnecessary. It's mostly used to make people feel bad, or it's used to make myself feel smart at someone else's expense. I've tried to cut down on the amount of sarcasm I use in the past few years, but it's hard. I mean, in fifth grade, my teacher called me the Queen of Sarcasm. Fifth grade. That's a lot of unlearning to do.

Sometimes it's hard to weed out which aspects of our personalities need to change and which ones are central to our being. Traits are formed over a lifetime. Some we begin when we're young, some we begin when we get older and life gets busy or complicated.

Don't I look smug? This picture says,
"I dare you to play Jeopardy with me."
One trait that I wish, wish, wish I could get under control is my know-it-all-ness. I am an insufferable know-it-all sometimes. While growing up, I was mainly noticed for my intellect. I was a very early reader, great in school. I was nothing if not smart. I wasn't pretty, I wasn't talented. I was smart. That seemed to be all I had, according to most of the adults in my life. I know I'm more than that now, but I still cling to that label. I want to be the first to answer, have the best answer, and prove all others wrong. And really rub it in. I even had an advice column in college called "Miss Know-it-All." The worst part is that I can hear myself acting this way, and it's like a freight train. I can't stop it. I'm already in the middle of an obnoxious sentence, and I clearly can't stop mid-sentence and say, "Pardon me. I must stop this sentence before I reveal that I'm an insufferable know-it-all." Ugh. I feel that would only make things worse.

I know this behavior is annoying. It doesn't make any friends, it doesn't improve my life in any tangible way. Sometimes it makes me feel self-conscious or hesitant to participate in discussions. Besides, I know the truth: there is more to me than my intellect. I'm funny, I'm talented, I'm not Quasimodo. I have more to offer than gray matter. And God knows that. If my life is supposed to point to Him in all I do, how does a trait like that point to him?

It doesn't. It points to me.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. - Romans 12:2


Sarcasm points to me. Being a know-it-all points to me. Pride, laziness, low self-esteem. Those traits all point to me, not to God. That's an easy way to decide whether a trait should be deleted. And I seem to need a lot of revisions, so that calls for a ton of prayer. Some of these are so embedded in me, there's no way I can get rid of them on my own. It also requires a great deal of humility on my part, as it appears I am not perfect.

I know. I'm just as shocked as you are.

But I know that when these traits are transformed into something God can use, he'll use me. Like crazy, he'll use me. I'm much more useful to him when I become who he made me to be. And that requires giving up the traits that only point to me and replace them with traits that point to him.

What traits point to you, and what steps are you taking to make them point to God? 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Ugly Pumpkin

Last year, my family went to a pumpkin patch at an orchard near our home to pick out our jack-o-lantern pumpkins. It was 80 degrees that day—far too hot for a trip to the pumpkin patch—but we endured.

Now, when I pick out a pumpkin, I like a perfectly round, slightly squatty pumpkin. Not the tall ones, not the ones with interesting shapes. My pumpkin needs to be perfect in every way. Kind of like this:


And the stem on that one is even a little too big for my liking. And I like it just a bit taller. See how picky I am? I want a perfectly-shaped pumpkin without a blemish! Surprisingly (or not, considering you read my blog), I'm not a perfectionist in most areas of my life. But in the area of pumpkins, I have very strict guidelines.

My darling son, however, is the patron saint of ugly pumpkins. He wants a little one—never a big one—and he gravitates toward the lopsided pumpkins with hardly any stem. He went to a farm stand with his grandparents the other day, and they let him pick out a little white gourd. Even that thing was pockmarked and lopsided. It's four inches across! How could it be lopsided? But it was. So, when we went to the pumpkin patch last year, this is the pumpkin my son chose:




I tried to talk him out of it. I brought him pumpkins that had a better shape, that had a longer stem, that were just prettier. No matter what I did, I couldn't talk him out of this lopsided little pumpkin. He loved it. I'm pretty sure he asked if it could sleep in his bed with him. And when we carved it, he wanted it to frown:


Can you imagine? His sad little pumpkin was even sadder by the time we were done with it. All the time I spent trying to pick out a perfect pumpkin (isn't my pumpkin just so perfectly round?), and he settled for that pathetic little thing? Clearly, he needs better instruction on how to pick out a pumpkin!

Or does he?

My son's penchant for ugly gourds has made me think about why I'm so set on having a "perfect" pumpkin. All I'm going to do is change it, anyway! Why do I want it to be perfectly round? Why does it matter so much to me?

And then it made me think about God. He wants the ugly pumpkins, too. He wants people with blemishes and imperfections. He wants to love them and transform them. My son was not embarrassed of his pumpkin like I was. He wasn't upset that his pumpkin wasn't perfect. My darling son loves his ugly little pumpkins the way God loves his imperfect people: wholly and unabashedly. 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:37-39

We are so embarrassed by the imperfections in our lives. Why? Nobody's perfect; that's why we need God. He expects improvement, but perfection only comes with Christ. The transforming power of grace is enough to overcome our blemishes. We just need to let God pick us up and love us. Whatever changes need to be made, he'll make them, but know that he loves you regardless.

Maybe this year I'll follow in the footsteps of my loving son and choose an imperfect pumpkin. Maybe. I can at least opt for a tall, skinny one. Baby steps, right?

Do you have a hard time embracing imperfections—or letting God embrace yours?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Chez Francois

When I was young, I spent my summers in northern Virginia with my grandparents and my aunt. Every so often, they would go to a magical, mysterious place called Chez Francois. It was (is) a restaurant on the outskirts of D.C., but it was so much more than that.

It was a place I was not allowed to visit.

Per my family, of course. They said I wouldn't appreciate it. From the way they described how fancy it was, I pictured a very modern dining room with giant glass window overlooking the mountains. (Note: There are zero mountains in the suburbs of D.C.) People ate fancy things like snails and caviar and drank wine. I can't picture my grandparents drinking wine, but it may have happened. I don't know! I wasn't allowed to go!

After my husband and I were married, we went to visit my aunt and my grandfather for Thanksgiving (my grandmother had passed away a few years earlier). They suggested we have our Thanksgiving dinner at Chez Francois.

What? Me? Go to Chez Francois? But I'm just a kid! I won't appreciate it!

Oh—wait. I was 26 by then. So we went!

L'Auberge Chez Francois
Turns out that L'Auberge Chez Francois is a little restaurant that looks like an inn, and it's nestled in the woods along a winding road. The entrees are very expensive, but they are very delicious. I ordered a dish with pork and apples (which seems to be my standard whenever I eat at a pricey restaurant. Pork and apples are fancy to me? I don't know). My husband and I ordered hot mulled wine. And Francois himself was eating dinner with his family a few tables over! He ordered champagne for the whole room and did a Thanksgiving toast. It was a wonderful experience.

And you know what? My family was right: I would not have appreciated a place like Chez Francois when I was younger. I wouldn't have appreciated the ambiance or the food—or the price tag. They were right to make me wait until I was old enough to appreciate it.

There are lots of Bible verses that talk about God's timing. He doesn't do anything, reveal anything, until the time is right in his eyes. And that could depend on many things, especially when it comes to us. When we ask God to do things for us or show us something, he can say yes, he can say no, or sometimes he says, "Grow." We need a little more time to mature, to understand and prepare our hearts for that stage in our life. If God revealed something before we were ready, we may not understand it or appreciate it.

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. - Psalm 33:20-22

God's love is unfailing whether we're waiting for him to answer us or not. We have to trust that he has our best interests at heart, even if that means not getting the answer we want exactly when we want it. And that's so hard. It's so hard to wait. Especially when what's waiting for us is so amazing! But, sometimes, we need more time to appreciate it. Like Chez Francois.

Have you had a "Chez Francois" moment with God? What did he reveal that was worth the wait?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Victim or Victor?

Today, I've got a guest post over at my friend Angela Mackey's blog, Rethinking My Thinking. Go check it out!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

American Idol Culture

I like reality shows, but minimally. My husband and I are half-watching The Voice this season. We catch American Idol every, oh, five seasons or so. I'll watch Dancing with the Stars if there's a celebrity I like. (My husband refuses to watch that one because of the half-naked women. Good man, that one.) We're not super attached to these types of shows, but we find them interesting if they're on.

The one thing I don't like about these shows is the viewer voting element. Suddenly, everything is about what the public thinks. Not just reality shows, either. If you want to win an online contest—everything from grants for charities to cutest baby—you have to have people vote for your entry. It's a popularity contest, but worse. If I can get people to vote because they know me, then they may not even care about my cause or know if it's worthy; they'll just click the button because I asked.

Vote for us! We need to know we're cute, officially,
since Mom is obviously biased.
The problem I see with this is that there are causes that are more worthwhile than others, people who are more talented than others, babies who are cuter than others. Yes, I'm a mom, so clearly my kids are the cutest in the world (even when my daughter's not wearing a hair bow and therefore looks a little like a boy), but I can at least admit that I'm biased.

Back in the day, these things were decided by experts. Or, at least, a panel of qualified people who had the opportunity to look at every entry and were encouraged to be as objective as possible in choosing a winner. Essay contests were judged by English teachers and authors. Dance competitions were judged by dancers and dance teachers. Someone who had experience in the event being judged. It wasn't all chosen by strangers on the Interweb.

I'm so glad God doesn't run things like a reality show. I'm going to be judged one day. What if God said, "OK, everybody call or text 'GO' to 1-800-555-HEVN to send Rachel up, or 1-800-555-HELL to send Rachel down. Voting ends at 10pm, so get your votes in now!"

Yikes.

My friends would get all of their friends to call the first number. People I may have wronged along the way would get all of their friends to choose the latter. And they would still only get the people who had the time on their hands to make the call. It would all be up in the air based on what the world thought of me. It would be terrifying.

Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure—you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts. My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart. - Psalm 7:9-10

I'm so grateful that my Judge is an expert on the heart. He knows the real Rachel, knows my love for Christ, knows exactly who I am and who I'm trying to be. Everything is settled. I can have peace about it. It doesn't matter what the world thinks as long as I'm trying to live up to God's expectations and do my best.

If only it were that easy.

Even though it doesn't matter what the world thinks in the long run, I still seem to care about it. It's the worst.  It affects how I act and who I am. It affects my confidence. Some days I'm not even sure I would vote for me. It's such a hard thing to overcome.

If this is something you struggle with, too, head over to my friend Carey Scott's blog.Yes, I know I'm redirecting you instead of giving you answers right here, but it's a really good one. It's about taking every thought captive. We need to do that if we're going to stop doubting and fearing and all that rot. We have to remember that we always have God's vote—and his love.

Do you struggle with the American Idol mentality of caring what the world thinks?