Monday, January 14, 2013

Faith Like a Wrestling Match

Most days the life of faith feels like a wrestling match. Not the physical sort that Jacob experienced as he wrestled with God in the desert, but an equally exhausting mental-sort. In this match, I step into the ring clothed in my selfish desires masked by noble intentions; armed with my own set of assumptions and ideas about who God is. But I'm not fighting for the blessing so much as for the answers. 

“Come on, God. Make it all clear to me. Make it cut and dried. Make it simple. Take me down quick and easy. Overcome all of my delusions by a mighty display of your power.” This is my prayer, my cry, throughout the match. 

But instead of going straight for the pin, which he could easily do, my opponent dances around the ring. He makes me pursue him. At times he allows me to get a grip on him, to think I'm winning, to believe I have it all under control – only to throw in a surprise move, catching me off-guard and knocking me to my knees. Now would be the obvious time to take me down. Now that my foundation has been rocked.

Now would also be his chance to gloat. To stand over me and say, with relish, “What did you think of that?” But instead, he eases up. He draws me back to my feet. He asks me to fight some more. And though I don't want to, though I still desire the easy take-down, I acquiesce. 

But maybe I'm starting to understand. Maybe a victory has nothing to do with winning or losing and everything to do with staying in the ring and learning how to fight. As maddening as it is, I am afraid that my opponent likes wrestling matches and that this one will not be quickly over.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chapter 2: The Parable of the Blood Brothers

 Let's start at the beginning. Or at least the beginning of me 
starting to figure out who I was. Who I am. Let's start with where my story first collided with His.
I was eight years old. That's when I officially remember choosing to have a relationship with Jesus. Now I'm not one of those people who can remember the exact date, time and place where I turned my life over to Him. Instead, for as long as I can remember, it seems like I knew He was there, and I never doubted it. But eight was the turning point -- when I went from knowing He was there to realizing that I needed him. Desperately. 
It's only looking back now that I realize what a selfish decision it was to start our friendship. I'd moved around year after year, being uprooted from people and places, and I wanted a friend. A friend I could count on. I was sick of being the new kid, either constantly trying to fit in or else forced to elbow my way into already existing friend groups where I wasn't wanted. Yes, I wanted a friend. Painfully. 
I'll never forget first grade when my teacher, Miss Smith, designed a class activity for us to become blood brothers. She gave us each a small piece of red construction paper and instructed us to tie it around our wrist. Then she told us to pick one classmate with whom we wanted to become blood brothers by rubbing our red papers together in front of the class. 
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're wondering what kind of activity this is for a first grader, right? And I wholeheartedly agree with you, but at the time, I was six. What did I know? It sounded like fun, and I couldn't wait to start. Miss Smith gave the go ahead and soon her room was abuzz with first graders running across the room to lock elbows with their future blood sibling in anticipation of the big ritual. 
I made a beeline for Amy; but I was too late. Jennifer had beat me. I took a step back and anxiously surveyed the classroom only to discover that I was the only kid without a partner. I stood there looking at all of my classmates smiling contentedly in their little pairs, each one oblivious to my situation, and I felt like the biggest failure in the world. I was looking for someone to take me in, anyone, but there was no one left. It was a crushing blow to my child psyche. I know this to be true because other than being chased around the playground by my male classmates and taking a Rorschach test, it's the only memory I have of first grade. 
Sensing my desperation at that moment, Miss Smith convinced Amy that it was acceptable to have three people in her group. With forced smiles, she and Jessica took me in. But I knew the truth. I was second best. 
When I rubbed my red paper with Amy's, I didn't experience the same twinge of satisfaction that the other kids did. Instead, I felt a deep loneliness. I was the blood sister that nobody wanted. But even that blood friendship didn't last long. By second grade I was on my way to another school, and then another, to do it all over again.

So at eight years old (after having made my fourth move in three years), when I kept hearing that Jesus was a forever friend who'd always be with me, never leave me or forsake me, and would love me just the way I was, well, it seemed like a no-brainer. Who wouldn't want that? Just say a little prayer, and he'd come into my heart and the friendship would start instantaneously. What wasn't to like?

And so while I'm pretty sure that my eight year old brain believed all the other stuff about Jesus –- that he was the Son of God, had died on the cross for my sins, and had risen again to be my Savior -- it was the fact that I'd have a forever friend that really sold me on him. He was the forever friend who loved me so much that he was willing to do more than rub a piece of red construction paper against my wrist. He was willing to seal our friendship with real blood, his blood. That was a bargain my eight year old brain couldn't pass up. And so my relationship with Jesus began.
* * *
Of course, when you're eight, nobody reads you Luke 14:25-33(NLT):
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison — your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’
Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”

No! Instead, they tell you about God parting the seas, and Jesus walking on water, and Noah building an ark big enough to cram in two of every kind of animal. They give you fun crafts to make, prizes for the Bible verses you memorize, and a sticker if you have perfect attendance, but somewhere in all of that, they conveniently leave out that as wonderful as your friendship with Christ is, that it's going to cost you something. No, not just something, everything
Maybe that's too much for a child to swallow at such a young age, but even as an adult, I can't think of too many churches I've been to where the pastor has been up front about the whole thing. Where he's gotten down to business and said, more or less, “Okay, you want to be a Christian and join our church? Great! But here's a list of what it might cost you – father, mother, spouse, children, friends, wealth, property, all of your possessions, popularity, worldly success. Am I forgetting anything? If I am, you may have to part with that too. Still interested?” 
It would almost be refreshing to hear someone say that instead of finding ways to explain away what Jesus actually said and call it “interpretation.” But many of us, myself included, have become adept at finding a way to make the Bible say what we want it to so that we can feel good about doing exactly what Jesus told us not to. In other words, so we can live for ourselves.

At any rate, somewhere along the way I blinked and went from being a little girl who selfishly wanted a best friend and was told I could have him for nothing more than a prayer to a young woman who realized that that wasn't the whole truth. That somebody had been holding back on me. Because the more I read and studied the Bible, the more I realized that that little prayer wasn't enough. It was enough to begin the friendship, but it wasn't enough to keep it going. This was a friendship that was going to require more of me than I'd ever realized. Much more than a red piece of construction paper that's for sure.
* * *
    Has an experience of loneliness ever led you to a place of intersection? If so, what did you learn there?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Chapter 1: The Parable of the Thirty-Something

 What happens when you're fast approaching your thirtieth birthday and you realize that all of your friends' Facebook statuses are much more interesting than yours? When you feel like your life has all the excitement of an infomercial? When despite what people tell you about how important and meaningful your work is, it still doesn't feel like enough? 
I guess you have a couple of options available to you. You could sell all of your possessions and go trekking around the world, unhindered, free as a bird, in search of the meaning and adventure you crave. Believe me, I've thought of that. And it wouldn't be too hard to do seeing that at the moment all of my earthly possessions are packed neatly into my parent's garage. But I suppose that would be considered “irrational” since my husband and I are days away from closing on our first home. Bummer! (I wonder if he knows that a part of me is secretly hoping it won't go through!)

Then there's option two. Try to make sense of this crazy life and how I made it through these first thirty years and wound up where I am right now – with my uninteresting facebook statuses and enough wanderlust to fill hundreds of garages. Well, the only way I know to even attempt to make sense of anything is by writing it. By taking enough time to put it down on paper so that I can see my life or problem or writing subject as concretely as I can see the words on the page. Writing is how I process things, and I think it's always been that way, even though I didn't figure it out until I was twenty five. 
See, I never woke up one day and said, “I want to be a writer.” Instead, writing found me. In elementary school I wrote love stories with my Golden Retriever and Irish Wolfhound as the protagonists. In high school, I penned poetic verse about faith and friendship. In college, I mostly poured out papers about theatre history and religious thought. However, on more than one occasion a short story came to me, seemingly out of the blue, and it was all I could do to get the words down fast enough. And yet, if you would have asked me if I considered myself a writer, I would have emphatically told you no. 
It wasn't until the excruciatingly hot, exhaustingly long, exceedingly boring days of my summer in Madrid, that I would have told you yes. It was then that I really started trying to make sense of my life. I was twenty-five and living in a foreign land – far from home, far from family, far from my regular summer world of barbecues, swimming pools and Fourth of July parties.
My life up to this point had been a whirlwind of activity. In fact, in the months prior I could barely keep up with my teaching schedule. Hustling around by bus and metro, covering nearly every inch of Madrid as I visited companies, schools and homes, teaching English to children and business execs alike. Between travel, lesson planning, teaching, and mapping out my day, I kept myself busy from early morning until night. Then suddenly, summer arrived, and it all stopped. There was literally nothing to do.
The madrileƱos and anyone else with sense or money or both had packed up and escaped to the seaside. But I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no reason to leave the confines of my roasting apartment to brave the even hotter streets. I was alone with myself. Alone with my thoughts. And if you've never been there, it's a scary place to be.
Every hope, insecurity, dream, frustration, confusion and doubt that I had came to the surface. And for the first time in my young life, I had no activity, no work, no television or internet connection to distract myself. And with nothing to hide behind, I suddenly found myself trying to make meaning out of the last twenty five years of my life. So I pulled out my outdated laptop, and I started to write.

What appeared on the screen were short essay-type pieces and bits of flash fiction that spoke to everything I was learning or trying to figure out about myself and the unfamiliar world in which I lived. I spent hours a day wrestling with the words, giving form to my thoughts. In the process I realized that I had forgotten how much I loved to write. I remembered back to grade school when my two-page creative writing assignments easily turned into twelve or thirteen. (Back then I thought that my teacher's wide-eyed response to my stapled masterpieces reflected her joy at having such a prolific writer in her midst. Now I know it was much more likely a look of dread as she saw her grading time increase exponentially!) At any rate, coming back to writing was like re-discovering a lost friend.
I shared my works with close friends and family members, but that was as far as it got. My writing was more about helping me to process things than it was about getting my ideas out to a large audience. It wasn't until a few years later that I decided I wanted to take my writing to the next level. I was reading a magazine produced by my church when I saw a small advertisement seeking writers. I answered the call, and to my surprise, my first article was accepted. Over the course of that year and the next, I submitted articles by the dozens.
In the process, I learned the styles and niches of the publications I was writing for. I also learned that some of what I wanted to say could never be boiled down to a thousand word limit, much less fit any particular “niche.” But still, I needed to say it. And that's where this book came from.
Let me be clear that I never set out to write a book. Instead, this book started writing me. It began as a bunch of jumbled thoughts arising from past memories, present realizations and preoccupations with the future. There were notes jotted in the margins of church programs. Documents saved on my computer with nothing more than a sentence across the top. But all of it was about experience and identity; love and pain; and how despite our best efforts, we all too often get things messed up.
Yes, this book is about life. Life – which is so vivid, so multidimensional, so meaningful and insightful that I couldn't contain it all. That's what led me to write in the first place, (well, that and my unexciting Facebook statuses), and that's what makes me continue writing.
So what is this that I've written exactly? To be honest, I don't know. Maybe it's not even a book. It's part memoir, part living-breathing journal, part creative brainstorm, part I don't know what. Simply put, it's an adventure – and I hope you'll take it with me. I also hope it will mean something to you. I know it has to me.
You may find what I have to say imperfect, incomplete or incongruous with your experience; in fact, I expect that that will be the case or you'd have written this book instead of me. Please understand that this is merely my best attempt to make some sense of this amazing gift of life that God has given us. If nothing else, I hope this book will be an invitation for you to do the same.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Introduction to "Intersection"

Okay, so here we go! This is the Introduction to my work-in-progress manuscript which is currently titled, Intersection: Where Two Stories Meet.  
   Stay tuned -- more chapters to follow!



   When I first started writing this book three years ago, I titled it, Confessions of a Scatterbrained Christian (who's just trying to make a difference in the world). In many ways, that still describes me. I am still all over the place – and with the rise of such technological advancements as smart phones, Facebook and Twitter, perhaps even more so than I was back then. 


I am also preoccupied with making a difference. Making my life count. As you will see through the course of these pages, that desire has been transformed and shaped over the years. And thankfully, it is still being re-shaped (less of me, more of Him!); however, it's still very much present. My husband can attest to this. He is the one who must deal with my monthly, sometimes weekly, rants as I wonder aloud if I'm doing what I'm supposed to, how I'm supposed to, where I'm supposed to and why I'm supposed to. Or if there's something more for me to do out there that I haven't quite put my finger on. Yet. 
The “confessions” part of the original title conveyed my desire to be as open and honest as I can be, not holding back or sugar-coating things. That includes sharing ideas and thoughts that you may not like. Heck, that I may not even like. Why? Because honesty with ourselves and others is the only path to true relationship. And true transformation. 
I started writing this book at a difficult time in my life, a time of indecision and uncertainty. Much of that stemmed from wondering if the vision I had for my storytelling company would ever come to fruition or if all of my time, energy and passion were wasted. There was so much of myself wrapped up in that endeavor, that to not see it thriving made me feel like a failure as a person. It was a time when I realized how much I relied upon accomplishments to measure my self-worth, even though I knew this defied every tenet of my faith, which teaches that my worth comes from Who loves me, not what I do. It was a time in my life when I had every reason to be happy, but for some reason, couldn't will myself to be so. 
However, shortly after completing the first draft of this book, my life and professional endeavors seemed to find wings and soar. In fact, the rest of that year would read like a laundry-list of major professional accomplishments for me. And the following years just added to it. I didn't have time to think about editing Confessions of a Scatterbrained Christian. I was too busy. 
And then one day recently, I came across the half-forgotten manuscript while searching my computer for another document. Out of curiosity, I clicked on it, and to my surprise, 259 pages popped up to greet me! As I read through them, I could still see myself in the collection of stories and vignettes. But even in the simplest of stories, there was a much more central character. Someone who has been a part of every one of my high and lows, ups and downs, experiences and undertakings, thoughts and feelings. Someone who gets me even when I don't get myself (which is most of the time!) That someone is Jesus Christ. 
Jesus and his story are constantly intersecting my own. Sometimes, this occurs in tiny, seemingly insignificant, ways. Other times it's so monumental that I expect to feel the earth shaking below my feet.
The word 'intersect' is defined as:
  • to cut across or through
  • to cut across or overlap
  • to have one or more points in common

As a storyteller, one of my favorite stories is that of the birth of Jesus. If this does not describe an awesome intersection then I don't know what does! Jesus cut across the division of heaven and earth. In himself, he made the human and divine overlap. He became like his creation, having much in common with them, and in doing so, showed his creation how they could be more like him. 
And I don't believe he's done doing that. I believe that he's still intersecting the world every chance he gets. And if that is true, then my story and God's story are not two distinct tales. Instead, his great epic collides with my simple story and creates an intersection – a place where amazing things can happen, both big and small. 

And so I invite you through the pages of this book and my experiences shared here to reflect upon the thousands of little ways that God's story is intersecting your own on a daily basis. This may require slowing down. It may require keeping a journal. It may mean learning to pay attention or to watch and wait with expectancy. It may mean something entirely different at different seasons of your life. But my prayer is that you won't miss it. Because an intersection is the place of greatest possibility.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Blogging My Book: A New Venture in 2013!

Well, it's been over a year since I posted something to this blog. But my goal is to change that this year and also to try something different in the process. In the latter part of 2012, I happened across the idea of blogging a book. Basically this means posting sections of a book you are working on at regular intervals. The advantage is that you can get feedback right away from readers. This feedback can be used to gauge how best to improve upon the work, and I love the idea.

Recently I came across a manuscript that I wrote a few years ago. It was gathering dust in the recesses of my computer files, and after reading a few pages, I decided that I would like to bring it into the light once again. But I'm not sure that I have it in me right now to do all of the editing necessary to make it a complete manuscript.

My life has taken on a super-busy speed with tons of worthwhile projects competing for my attention, and frankly, the thought of spending lots of hours editing this manuscript never knowing if it will go to print is daunting and overwhelming and not that attractive to me. UNLESS I can share it as I go. UNLESS I can get feedback (both good and bad!) from people willing to take the journey with me. UNLESS I can discover through the process if it's resonating with others. And if it is how. And if it's not, why it isn't.

And so, I invite you on this journey into blogging my book. I need your comments, thoughts and feedback. I need your constructive criticism and your accountability (if I don't post when I'm supposed to, please call me on it!). I need you to share this with others who could join and contribute to the conversation, creating a community of diverse readers whose viewpoints will be invaluable to me.

Okay, so here's the plan:

* I will post at least once per week.
* I will try to eventually find a consistency with posting dates (ie; always posting on Fridays) so you know when to expect new content. But if possible I do encourage you to subscribe so that you'll receive a notification when a new post is added.
* I will do my best to engage as many reader comments as I can, and I encourage readers to engage with other reader's comments as well.

To all of you joining me on the journey, thank you so much! My next post will be the introduction of my work-in-progress which is currently titled Intersection. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ode to My Church

The very reasons that I love my church are probably the same ones that would make others go running for the hills. You see, we are a rowdy bunch. We are a motley crew. If you happened to stumble in our doors on a Sunday morning (or any other day of the week for that matter), you might think you had walked into a football game instead of a worship service.

At times we hoot and holler and cheer. Children run through the hallways and bounce off the pews. We have literally had fist-fights in the parking lot. (That last part is not something to be proud of, but it's the truth.) It's not to say we don't worship when we get together, but it may look somewhat different than the traditional puritanical version of church you might have in mind.

We are addicts at all stages of recovery. We are the fatherless, motherless, orphans. We are homeless, destitute. We are single mothers, single fathers. We are the guilty, the imprisoned. We are the unwanted, the forgotten, the misunderstood. We are the poor, the jobless, the helpless. We are the mentally, physically, spiritually challenged. I say 'we' because we are a body. We are one.

We are the humble, whose acknowledgement of the fact that we deserve nothing only helps us bask in the glow of God's grace, mercy and blessings all the more.
We are the broken who have learned that there's not enough glue in the whole world to put us back to together and no matter how much mending we do there are still plenty of rough edges.
We are the down and out who've hit rock bottom and understand that the only place left for us is in the Father's arms.

We have hurt each other and been hurt, but we don't walk away. We have poured ourselves out and been re-paid with evil, but we don't give up. We have turned our backs on those who have done good to us, betrayed them, but they still wait for us. Why? Because we are a body.

We are different, diverse, disparate. We do not hide behind a shiny veneer of smiles and perfect lives, and I'm glad. Because when we come together it all makes sense. God feels real and He is close. And I see Him all around, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places. The longer I stick around, the more I see Him, popping up to surprise me where I didn't think He could be found.

On a typical Sunday morning I could find myself surrounded by four or five children that are not my own, each trying to talk to me, sit in my lap, or otherwise disrupt the service. They are not 'distractions.' They are God's messengers to me of a world in need of love, attention, affection.

That is my church. That is the body. You are invited into it as well. By all means, come as you are, but by God's grace, don't stay that way.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas: The Season of My Discontent?

I love Christmas. It's probably my favorite time of year. It inspires me like almost nothing else (I've already written two published children's books on the subject and have two others at varying stages.) And yet, as much as I love it, it is also one of the seasons of my greatest discontent. Not discontent over the things I don't have or the gifts I won't get, but discontent with myself.

Every year when Christmas comes I find myself thinking about all the things I'd like to do differently or better. All the moments that slipped away. All the ways I'd like to be more faithful, more trusting, more given over to love my Savior with reckless abandon. Somehow I become focused on all the ways that I have fallen short. All the selfishness that still fills my heart. Often, I become plagued by guilt.

But I suppose that's exactly why Jesus was born. To save sinners like me. Christmas is all about the fact that man's attempts to make himself right with God, to clear his conscience, would never be enough. That only God's plan would be effective.

So as I think about the baby boy born in a manger, I can't help but praise God and be filled with hope. Like the shepherds and wise men, I want to bow down in worship and adoration of the One who came because He understood I'd never be good enough in my own merits. No matter how hard I tried.

On Christmas I celebrate that all of my failures, mistakes, messes and moments of missing the mark, have been swallowed up by the greatest LOVE the world has ever known.
Every other gift I could ever receive pales in comparison.

And so like Zechariah, I rejoice, saying:
Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people and redeemed them.
(Luke 1:68)

Along with Mary, I proclaim:
Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation will call me blessed. For he, the Mighty One, is holy, and he has done great things for me. (Luke 1:46-49)

I celebrate the fact that "because of God's tender mercy, the light from heaven has broken upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace." (Luke 1:78-79)

Light for my darkness, life where there was once death, and peace for my troubled heart and mind. These are the precious gifts of Christmas that fill me with JOY!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sneaking in the Blessing

Advent is a time of year of big miracles wrapped in tiny packages. It is a time of finding the blessing in the least expected of places. It is a time for practicing what Mother Teresa said -- "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

Today it seems like everyone is only interested in the next big thing. Our houses get bigger. Our cars get bigger (please tell me why someone other than a soldier needs to drive a Hummer?) Our plans, hopes and goals get bigger and bigger.

And while my God is a BIG God, it never ceases to amaze me how He works in small ways. Seemingly insignificant ways. The kind of ways that if you blink, it's quite likely you will miss them. It's not to say that He doesn't work in the big ways too, for He certainly does, but I think some of His best gifts are the small ones.

Look at God's gift of the Messiah to the world. He could have made that quite the show. Lit up the skies with fireworks, scores of angels singing, trumpets blaring, clouds parting as Christ strode onto the scene blazing like fire, so radiant people would have had to shield their eyes.

Instead He sent a tiny baby. Born to two insignificant teenagers. In a lowly village that nobody thought much of. That was how God announced His greatest gift to mankind. Quietly. Humbly. Without fanfare. Without panache.

In fact, it's almost as though God tried to sneak him into the world. Undetected. I suppose that's the only way Christ could have ever understood what it means to truly be human. Despite his proclamations that he was the son of God, nobody believed him, I mean, really believed him. Even those closest to him showed by their actions after his death that they thought he was gone forever. Had he come with fanfare right from the beginning, the story would have been quite different, and Christ would never had the chance to experience what it means to take on human flesh, with all of its struggles, temptations, doubts and worry.

I like the idea of God sneaking His greatest gift into the world, initially revealing His intentions only to the lowly shepherds and an obscure group of foreigners from the east. I think it's this same thing that I love about my job as a storyteller -- the ability to sneak meaning into someone's life. Each story contains its own kernel of truth, and I don't have to say, "And the moral of the story is. . ." for each person to discover it. Somehow the story sneaks it's way in to the listener's heart, meeting them right where they are.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say that God is sneaky or deceptive. He's not. His intention for all mankind to know Christ is clear. Only He didn't go about it in the most obvious of manners. He started small. Very small. You couldn't have gone much smaller if you'd tried.

Today I see so many people, myself including, waiting for the big things or else thinking that what I do needs to have a big impact. And yet, big things always start small. And if we are so busy waiting on big, we miss out on seeing all the good small things we can do. All the small ways we can experience God. And when we make room for the small things, somehow it's as if our hearts grow bigger.

It reminds me of the Grinch and his heart that was "two sizes too small." Until he met little Cindy Lou Who. And almost against his will he opened his heart to this one little child, not to all of Whoville but just to her. And once he let her in, it was almost as if a snowball effect occurred, and he couldn't help but let in the others, and all of a sudden his heart grew three sizes that day.

Our God is a God of the big things, but He is also a God of the small things. If He knows every hair on our head, every tear that we cry, how could He not be? When I get bogged down by the "big picture," the best thing I can do is stop and look at the small picture. See the smile of one of the children at my church and hold their small hand. Admire and laugh at the way my dog's ears stand on end. Lay my head on my husband's chest at night and hear his heart beating and feel the rhythm of his breath.

God has blessed me with many small things, tucking meaning into each and every one. But how easily I miss the majesty and marvel of it, consumed as I am by the big things. He is also given me many small things to do. And if I could get my mind off of the big things I want to do and just start doing the small ones He wants me to do, maybe He could accomplish infinitely more than all I could ask for or imagine. And maybe, just maybe He would sneak so much joy into my life that my heart would grow three sizes.

"But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you. . ." (Micah 5:2)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Easy Yokes and Light Burdens

It's another one of those days where the best laid plans of mice and men don't seem the best after all. And thus, it's another one of those days where I need to learn to trust. Not to panic, but to trust. Sometimes it seems that there is a fine line between trusting God and doing my part. We talk about waiting on God, but sometimes what we are really doing is just waiting when we should be putting our faith into action while we wait.

Well, that point aside, as I've been learning about trust over the last few weeks, these verses from Matthew 11:28-30 came to my mind. The verses say:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I remember thinking to myself before, "What is Jesus talking about here? How can He call His yoke easy and His burden light? His yoke took Him to the cross. Where's the lightness in that? And yet, I have quoted this verse often enough with the understanding that when we are weary, stressed, down-trodden, frustrated, incapable, over-worked, etc, etc, that we can bring all of that to Jesus, and He will help us through, and yet the idea of His yoke being easy and His burden light didn't totally click for me.

And then I began to see it in a new light -- in light of His trust in God. I believe that what Jesus was trying to say was that His yoke was easy and His burden light because He trusted completely in the Father. Even though unimaginable suffering stood before Him -- in the form of betrayal, rejection and physical pain -- His faith in the Father remained unshakable. He could face each day in peace and rest because He had turned everything over to God. He wasn't holding onto any part of His life. No longer trying to do things His way. Just walking in faithful obedience -- and trusting God for the rest, come what may.

I am most often weary and burdened when I try to do things in my own strength. When Jesus puts His yoke upon me, it's as if He's saying, "Trust in the Father as much as I do, and together we will pull this load."

But in our way of doing things, we tend to yoke ourselves to the world instead of to Christ. We turn to the things of this world to give us peace and rest, and instead of helping us, they end up pulling us in the opposition direction, making us more weary and heavy-laden.

It is humility that allows us to trust in God, and Jesus was the ultimate example of humility. As long as we remain of the mind that we can do it all on our own, we will never have the rest for our souls that Jesus speaks of. Jesus also describes himself as gentle. Some translations say "meek." When I looked up the definition for meek in the dictionary, I found this.

Meek = Quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive.

A quiet spirit is one that is capable of listening to another. Submission has garnered a negative connotation in many people's books, but there is a difference between forced submission and submission that is freely given. And when we serve others with an attitude of submission, we will discover that it can be one of the greatest sources of joy in this life. Christ had submitted himself to God the Father. He understood that this was the only way to have rest and peace.

Trusting in God is the only path to finding rest for our souls. In the midst of all of his difficulties, Jesus had peace because He knew He trusted everything to the Father. He had put aside worry and doubt and a path based on our own efforts and was trying to point us to a much simpler path of trust.

What if every time something happened that rocked our world or pulled the chair out from under us or just really bugged us or that made us say, "This is not how I planned it," . . . what if at that moment we just whispered, "I trust you God. I trust YOU."

And what if we really did trust Him? Maybe then we could understand what He meant by finding rest for our souls. Maybe then we could have peace.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Trust Fall of Faith

Have you ever done one of those trust falls before? The kind where you stand with your body as stiff and straight as a board then fall backwards while hoping that the people behind you will catch you? I've been doing them since I was about 9 years old in my early acting classes.

We started easy with trust circles. Standing in the center of a tight circle of fellow actors, I'd fall forward or backward and get pushed gently around the circle. Once I'd gone around once, the circle would take a step backwards. This would be repeated until the falling was a little further each time. Trust was built up gradually.

But the scariest trust fall I ever did was while leading a mission team in Appalachia. We were staying at a camp that had a low ropes course for team building. One of the stations was a trust fall where you stood on a platform which had to have been at least 15 feet tall and fell backwards into the awaiting arms of your teammates. Quite a rush! (But maybe more so when I was standing at the bottom, hoping and praying that I and my team -- mostly made up of scrawny middle-schoolers -- would be able to catch some of the other members who weighed 250+ pounds.)

At any rate, this week it occurred to me that my faith in God should be like that trust fall. I should trust God so much that wherever I go, whatever I do, I have full confidence that His arms will be ready for me. Unfortunately, my trust is not always so complete. I want to sneak a peek behind me as if to say, "Are you really there God? Do you really plan to catch me?" Chalk this up to my limited ability to trust in God's promises.

On other occasions, I want to throw an arm back and catch myself. Chalk this up to my sense of self-sufficiency and my need to be in control. I'm only willing to fall a little ways, only willing to feel slightly uncomfortable, before I think I need to take over again. Essentially, I'm telling God, "I trust you only so far." When things start to get unpredictable, that's when my ability to fall back with reckless abandon seems to be disturbed. And yet, that is when I most need to do it.

For awhile now I have found myself confused and overwhelmed. Unduly stressed by a particular situation in my life and understanding that much of the stress has been self-imposed, due to my lack of trust in God and my tendency to try to micro-manage things instead of allowing them to happen. This epiphany was confirmed this week when I opened my Bible and randomly landed on Psalm 125 which begins with these words --

1 Those who trust in the Lord are as secure as Mount Zion;
they will not be defeated but will endure forever.
2 Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever.

Secure. That comes from trusting God. Trusting in myself only leaves me assailed by doubts and speculations.

Surrounded. By God. Both now and forever. That reminded me of those trust circles from my early days. No matter which way I fall, God will be there. He surrounds me on all sides. There is no-where that I can fall that He won't catch me.

The trick is not to fear. Not to doubt. Not to give in to the temptation that I need to control things. Not to try to take over. Not to consider the circumstances as greater than Him. God is in control and His loving arms will not let me fall. And there is a great peace and sense of release in that.

So, Lord, no matter what happens, give me the grace to TRUST in YOU!

The Busy Excuse

If I had to choose the one Bible story that resonates most with me it would have to be the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42. Martha is the dutiful older sister, hurriedly trying to make the preparations necessary to have Jesus in her home. I imagine she was cooking, cleaning, setting the table, etc, all while her younger sister, Mary, sat at the feet of Jesus, refusing to give her a hand.

I am Martha in the story. I am a busy-body. I am always doing something. And when I'm not, I'm probably thinking about what needs to be done. And like Martha, there have certainly been times in my life when I have 'rebuked' the Marys of the world -- wondering how they can just sit there watching while I (and the other Marthas) do all the work.

We live in a society that elevates the Marthas of the world. A world that ascribes value to busyness in all its forms and which measures our worth based upon it. The busier you are, the more important you are, or so it would seem. Those of us who are the Marthas of this world often think that we need to be doing everything. In our homes, workplaces, communities, the world. We may be bent on making a difference in every possible way, and thus, consider our busyness synonymous with our service to God.

However, what if we've only convinced ourselves of this? What if, in fact, our busyness is nothing but an attempt to keep ourselves from the feet of God? To avoid going into His presence? What if we create more and more work for ourselves because we don't know how to be still, we don't know how to listen, and we are afraid to try? What if we only theoretically believe that our value as people comes to us from what Christ has done for us, and instead practice a way of life that makes it dependent on all that we are able to accomplish?

My pastor has a quote which he often shares that goes a little something like this.
A man with an excuse to God will never have an experience of God."

What if Martha's busyness was an excuse? What if her to-do list was nothing more than an attempt to stay out of Jesus' presence? What if all of her noble attempts at "service" were merely evasion tactics? What if I am guilty of the same?

When Martha rebukes her sister, she is actually rebuking Jesus and His values. She says, in essence, "Hello! Jesus! Aren't you paying attention? Don't you see how I'm working my butt of while my lazy sister is just sitting here? Why don't you tell her to get up and do something?!"

But Jesus responds with an answer that reveals to Martha the condition of her own heart. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

What happens when all that you have to "do" is taken from you? What happens when all of your accomplishments or your ability to accomplish things slip away? What then? Who will you be and where will your value come from?

Mary knew how to rest in the Lord. She knew how to draw all of her peace, joy, strength and worth from being still in His presence. She did not need a long to-do list or a string of tasks completed to feel accomplished. She did not have an excuse to God, and therefore, she had an experience of Him.

Marthas of the world, let's take note. And by God's grace, let's sit down and choose what is better. Let's rest at the feet of the One whose love and grace cannot be taken away from us.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The More We Get Together -- Thanksgiving 2011

Today is a day for celebration. A day to reflect on our blessings and enjoy them. A long-awaited day for many as they look forward to turkey, stuffing, and food galore. As a vegetarian, turkey hasn't been my thing for quite some time now. I do enjoy some good stuffing, but actually, less than I used to. What I most look forward to today is a chance to stop and be with family and loved ones. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the delicious food, but honestly I could be eating mac and cheese from a box if I'm with the people I care about.

This summer before one of my performances the librarian led the children in a song. It's a song that I remember from my childhood but that I hadn't heard in quite some time. This time I heard it with fresh ears and increased perspective on life, and the simple truth it espouses is something that should not be forgotten, especially on a day like today. It goes a little something like this:

The more we get together, together, together,
the more we get together, the happier we'll be.
For my friends are your friends,
and your friends are my friends,
the more we get together, the happier we'll be.

There is a certain kind of happiness that only comes from community. And no amount of material wealth or gourmet food can ever replace that. The holidays are a good time for remembering this simple truth.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Free as the Fall Leaves

A week or so ago I sat near my front window praying, and I couldn't help but listen to the rustling of the leaves as they danced across the ground, propelled forward by the cool fall breeze. It was one of those days where the sun was shining, the sky couldn't have been bluer, and the leaves were painted in hues of indescribable beauty. But what really captivated me was the dead leaves scurrying along the ground. I noticed how free they were. Free to move, free to fly, free to go wherever the wind would blow them. Free as can be. It reminded me of how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit like the wind, saying that it blows wherever it wills and no one can see where it comes from or where it's going and so it is with people of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

I imagine that people of the Spirit are a lot like those leaves. They are free to go wherever the Spirit moves them. Why? Because they are not attached to anything in this world. I noticed the leaves that remained on the tree. With each gust of wind, they would ripple and flutter, but they never broke free. I found it interesting how they were only holding onto the branch by a very thin, seemingly fragile, stem, and yet no matter how fiercely the wind blew, they could not break free. So it is with us. We may only be holding onto the things of this world by a very thin stem, but even so, we are still attached. And if we remain attached, we will never know the freedom of being able to go wherever the Spirit leads.

I want to be like one of those free-wheeling, spinning, rustling, flying, dancing leaves. Unattached. Free to go wherever the Spirit wants to take me. Of course, the parable does not end here. To be like one of those leaves - only one condition is necessary. You have to die. I speak here of death to self. It is our own selfishness that keeps us holding fast to the branch, unwilling to let go. We are afraid to let go because we think if we do we will lose our very self. What we don't understand is that it is only through dying to ourselves that we can become our fullest, most fulfilled and best self. Only through dying to ourselves can we dance the dance of freedom and become people of the Spirit.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Flight to India" Film Premiere Recap

This post is long overdue, but to all of my friends in the blogger world, I thought I'd still better share.

My new film "Flight to India" premiered two weeks ago in Akron, Ohio with over 100 people in attendance. It was wonderful seeing some of the child actors from the film whom I hadn't seen in about a year and a half since we filmed it. Let's just say some of them had grown so much I could barely recognize them! It was also wonderful to have so many people from many different areas of my life in the audience -- family, friends of my family, church family, people I've gone to school with, etc. There was even a family that drove all the way from Warren to be there. This is an hour drive. I know because I've performed in Warren for the past three summers. That's how I'd met the family that came. The mother has brought her daughter to my shows the past two years, and she has participated both times. It was overwhelming to think of them driving over an hour to see a 35 minute film, but it really blessed me.

For me, the greatest part was being able to sit in the back and experience the crowd reactions. We had a very diverse crowd, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. As my sister pointed out, there were moments when the kids laughed, moments when the adults laughed, and moments when everyone laughed together. I got to see some of the children sitting on the edges of their seats, big smiles on their faces, and I couldn't help but smile myself!

When the film ended we had a reception afterward where people could purchase the film, meet some of the actors or just have some cookies and punch. Some of the greatest feedback came during this time.

One little girl whom I know quite well since I'm good friends with her parents said,"Could you be my babysitter?? My babysitters never do fun things like that."
(I was told by a few in the crowd that I could now probably command $50/hr. as a babysitter! haha!) Another little girl whose parents bought her a copy of the film was eager to get home so she could watch it again. A young boy whose grandmother goes to my church called it "hilarious." Those were just a few of the post-show comments from kids.

Unfortunately, the film's director, Peter Fields, couldn't be there that night, but it was with good reason. "Flight to India"(along with his other film "Turning Point" in which I play the role of Carla) had been selected to be part of the Colony Film Festival in Marietta! So he went to Marietta for that. We certainly missed him, but it was also quite exciting to have the film premiering in two locations on one night.

Now we are going to continue sending it out to other film festivals and see what happens. I'll also be taking it along with me when I go to performances and making it available that way. I would love to make a whole series of films around the same concept. It's just a matter of finding the time, and of course, resources! But with time and patience and the grace of God, I know it can come to fruition! :)

If you missed the premiere and would still like to see the film, it is now available on Amazon and can be purchased for $9.95. And while I think children will enjoy watching the film, my hope is that they will take it to the next level and allow it to be a springboard for their imaginations, acting out their own stories and adventures!

As I sign off on this post, I can't help but thank all of the people who were involved in the film. They made it such a joy to work on! From the actors, to their parents, to the entire crew. I can only hope that people will enjoy watching the film as much as I enjoyed being a part of it!

Lastly, as I said on the evening of the premiere, I'm also thankful for all the support I've received in all of my artistic pursuits. My husband and my mom especially refused to let me give up when things weren't easy and when it seemed like it would have been easier to have a "regular" job. I couldn't have done it without their faith and constant nudging. I've heard plenty of people say that you can't make a living as an artist. Some of these people have been close to me. But they are wrong. With perseverance and a love for the art form, you can do it. It's not always the easiest path, but in the end, it's been worth it. I've learned a lot about myself along the way, and I'm still learning. I'm grateful to see that there are other young actors today with parents and others surrounding them who support them and affirm that their dreams can become a reality.

At one point the thought of having a movie based on one of my shows seemed like a far-fetched dream. But God put all of the pieces together, and now it's a reality.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Third Children's Book Nears Completion!

Well, I promised I'd share as soon as I had some illustrations from my upcoming book, "O Christmas Tree!" and today illustrator Jack Foster was kind enough to send me a full-color illustration as well as a coloring book page for any little ones who might be interested. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce Treena the Christmas Tree as well as Mr. Marshall (aka Dad), Mrs. Marshall (aka Mom), and little Vicky, their daughter (in the coloring page)!

I am thrilled with Jack's vibrant portrayal of them, and I cannot wait to see the rest! If all goes well, "O Christmas Tree!" will be available before the year's end. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Only Way I Can Listen

I feel compelled to follow up my last post with a few brief thoughts brought upon by a facebook conversation I had yesterday with my friend Auburn. We've been trying to set up a time to get together for literally months. When my schedule is open, hers is booked and vice versa. The last I'd heard from her was a weeks ago and her schedule was crazy so it looked like it was going to be another few months before we could make it work. But I happened to see her on facebook so I sent her a message to ask if things had slowed down at all. She said that, yes, indeed they had, and that she'd been saying no to more things -- doing less and yet being given bigger and better opportunities by God. Then out of nowhere she said, "Resting isn't bad. God wants us to rest. That's the only way we can hear His voice."

I'm quite sure she hadn't seen my blog post and didn't know that this is exactly the area I struggle with, but I know that she understands because we have a very similar wiring. Her words resonated so deeply within me because they are so true for my own life. Oftentimes, it's hard for me to be open to what God would say to me. Why? Because I have so many deadlines to meet that I already know what the next move has to be. I'm not in a place where I can ask, "Lord, is this what you have for me? Or is it something else?" because for the next six months to a year I already have a slew of commitments and lists of expectations and projects I must complete for each month of the year, both work and ministry-related. So much for taking it one day at a time.

Sometimes I feel so busy that it seems hard to have meaningful relationships. I mean, it's hard to sit down and really be with people when my mind is racing with everything that has to be accomplished. But life should be about relationship, not activity. I know that sometimes activity can lead to relationship, and many wonderful ministry opportunities are even built around this concept, but for someone like myself, more often than not, the activity or my need to carry it on to completion, detracts from it.

I feel like over the next year or so I'm going to be going through a stripping and narrowing process where I limit some of my areas of involvement. I think I need this so that I can give my best effort and energy to what I'm doing, but more so, so that I can hear God telling me what He wants me to be doing. I also hope this means that I'll have more time for relationship. To sit down and be with people. To invite my neighbor across the street over for coffee more (okay, for the first time). To play board games with my 93 year old grandma. To bake cookies for the single mom next door. To do this freely with the assurance that it's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing and not something that's keeping me from my "real" work.

That's what I'm hoping for. I don't know if that makes sense or if you can understand or relate, but I'm learning that just because you can manage a lot of activity, doesn't mean you should.

I like the way the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 46:10 -- "Be still and know I am God."
Yeah. Good idea. I'm working on it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Sacrifice of Rest

I read a friend's blog this past week, and it made me stop and think. He was writing about the challenges of being a new adoptive parent, and how it has meant giving up some of his other activities. Activities that he loves and that are important parts of his ministry. He also wrote about sacrifice. Self-sacrifice. And the idea of death to self.

He mentioned that many times the things that we do that we think are "sacrifices," are actually things that we enjoy doing. And while they may require sacrifices of time and talent, they rarely require death to self, which is what Jesus desires of us. Like me, he is a writer, and in these first months of his son being home, he has needed to set aside his writing to care for the needs of his son. There is a death to self involved in this, because he admits that often he'd rather be writing than doing some of the other tasks that his current role as Dad necessitates.

His words made me think of all of the "sacrifices" that I make. How many are truly the kind that require me to die to self and how many play right into the things that I enjoy doing? "Doing" is an important word for me here, because I am a do-er. I thrive on being busy. On having things to DO. I always have. But lately all that I'm doing has started to feel like too much. Sometimes I feel like there isn't even time for me to catch my breath and rest my mind before diving into the next activity/responsibility. Most of the time, I have little idea what true rest, true Sabbath, looks like.

And then something occurred to me. What if for a person like me, a real sacrifice would be ceasing activity, not taking on more and more. This is hard for me. Because even now with all I have going on, I can still think of other ways I could, would and should be serving. The thought of giving up some of what I already do in order to rest, well, it almost makes me feel guilty. Like, "How can you think of doing less when there is so much more to be done?"

And yet, I think what I'm learning now is that life is seasonal. For the past few years I have been in a season of intense activity, so perhaps it's time for a season of rest. In the Bible the land was to be cultivated for six years, then in the seventh year, God wanted it to lay fallow so that it could be renewed.

As I wrestle with these ideas and what they mean for my own life, I am reminded of the fact that in a world that values constant activity and busyness, we often need the reminder that not only is it okay to rest, it is commanded of us. And just because I put something down for a season, it doesn't mean I can't come back to it later, at a different season. Maybe you are like me - a person who is constantly awash in activity. And although you are a good planner, who knows how to manage time well -- you realize that it has become too much because you have forgotten what it means to rest. Maybe for you, like me, self-sacrifice has less to do with how much you are doing and everything to do with how much you are willing to rest in the Lord. Personally, I'm rather stubborn, because the Lord has to continue teaching me this lesson, season after season. Now I pray for the strength not just to learn the lesson, but to be willing to live it out, even when it goes against my very nature.

(P.S. If you're wondering about the picture of the sleeping koalas, koalas are one of the animals that have no problem resting. They can sleep for hours on end!)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Thank You, Borders!

Yesterday Borders Books and Music introduced me to an old, but dear, friend, and I'm very grateful. As most of you already know, Borders is in the process of closing all of its stores, which means that major discounts of 60-80% can be found throughout the whole store. Well, I happened to be in Cuyahoga Falls yesterday meeting someone for lunch and decided to stop in Borders to see if I couldn't find any deals on folktale books and the like. I happened to pass by the music department (which now consists of only one or two shelves) and saw some of the Putumayo World Music CDs looking back at me. But I didn't really need any CDs, so I continued around the store. However, I happened to circle back around and one of the CDs in particular called my attention since it was a kids collection of world music. I turned it over to read the back and couldn't have been more surprised to see the title of the first song, Fatou Yo, a song from Senegal. I was overjoyed!

This is a song that I learned during an African dance class that I took while living in Madrid. My teachers had been from Senegal, and they made us repeat the words like a call and response. They would never write down the words of the song for us because they said that that wasn't how they learned in their culture. "Just listen!" I can remember them telling us, and I can remember how frustrated I became at not being able to see the printed words on a page. This is when I realized how the methods of learning here are more visual than oral as in other parts of the world.

At any rate, we continued to sing this song throughout my two week dance class, and I wrote the words, no, the sounds, down as best as I could so I wouldn't forget them after the class was over. However I never really knew what the song meant. Despite that fact, I would go around singing it all the time. My husband even knows the song and has been made to join along.

At any rate, when I got into my car and popped it in the CD player, it was like a homecoming of sorts. Or like meeting a good friend that you'd only vaguely known before but who would now be living next door! And on top of that, the lyrics and their translation were included in the CD booklet!

There are no coincidences. I'm just thankful that something made me look at the back of that CD! Now, I can jam to Fatou Yo, and teach it to future generations, maybe even through World of Difference!

Check out this link if you'd like to hear it for yourself!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Can You Play the Background?

I could play the background.
I could play the background.
Cause I know sometimes I get in the way.
So won't You take the lead, lead, lead, lead, lead.
So won't You take the lead, lead, lead, lead, lead.
And I can play the background, the background. And You can take the lead.

A few weeks ago my sister introduced me to the song "Background" by Lecrae, and it has quickly become my new favorite song. I often listen to it on a daily basis. (Lecrae, if you're reading this, many of the hits on your YouTube video are mine!) The lyrics to the song describe the battle of every Christian artist -- how to attempt to do great things with the talent God has given you while being sure that the glory goes to His name and not your own. He calls it playing the background while allowing God to take lead.

If you're not careful being a performer/artist can easily become something that is all about self-gratification and self-glorification. Ask a lot of kids today what they want to be when they grow up and they'll say "famous" as if its a career path, not an adjective. They don't know what they want to be famous for, just that they want the attention and admiration of millions. Now, I'm not the sort of artist who steps onto a stage with thousands of crazy fans chanting my name often (okay, who am I kidding? I never do!), but that's a good thing, because if I did, the lines might get blurred. It's hard enough some days to remember the greater purpose in what I do, which is why I have to get back to basics sometimes.

I desire to be a Christian artist who points to God, not to myself. "A trail of stardust leading to the Superstar," is Lecrae's description. And I can't think of any way more beautiful to describe it. Sometimes, I know, I'm not that good at it. If I'm honest with myself, there are times when I get caught up in ambition and the desire for accolades as easily as the rest, which is why I have to stop and check myself. To come back to what God desires of me and pray for a clean heart and pure motivations.

I'm thankful to Lecrae for the lyrics of this song which serve as a check for my spirit and a prayer of my heart.

So, just let me shadow You, and just let me trace Your lines.
Matter of fact just take my pen. Here, You create my rhymes.
Cause if I do this by myself I'm scared that I'll succeed.
And no longer trust in You, cause I only trust in me.
And see, that's how you end up headed to destruction.
Paving a road to nowhere. Pour your life out for nothing.

If you haven't heard the song, it's definitely worth a listen. Even if you're not an artist, the words will have meaning for you if you are attempting to live a life that points to the Superstar!

Here's to hoping we will all have the grace and humility to play the background!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fifth Book Contract!

I got the exciting news this week that I've had a fifth book accepted for publication! The announcement really took me by surprise because I'd lost track of when I'd submitted this manuscript and upon following up with the publisher wasn't even sure that they'd received it. I was about to re-send it when I got the email that a contract for it would be forthcoming!

The title of this book is Jimmy Jolly and the Joy of Juggling. (Nothing like a little alliteration!) Like my first book, Lily and the City of Light, it was written during my senior year at Northwestern. When I wrote it, I never imagined it as a children's book. It was more me working out some of my own thoughts about my life and my priorities, and I often do this best through narratives. I think that's why I love C.S. Lewis' writing so much -- he uses metaphor and story to communicate and illustrate truth in a way that makes sense to me.

The story of Jimmy Jolly is one of finding joy in simplicity. In a world where children and adults alike are pulled into constant activity and the never-ending search for attention and accomplishments, Jimmy's story is one of finding joy in the little things. Jimmy starts out as a little boy who loves playing with his one, brightly-colored ball. But soon he learns that he can juggle two balls, later three, and so on and so on. After getting wrapped up in the need for attention that his juggling abilities have created, Jimmy is brought back to what is truly important by the wisdom of a child.

I hope that Jimmy's story will cause readers to think about what is truly important in their lives and that it will remind them, as it continues to remind me, that quite often, less is more.

I will definitely keep everyone posted on when this story will be available.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

True Strength

This has been a trying season of late. Not for me, but for so many of my friends and family members. Everywhere I turn I find people that are precious to me struggling financially, emotionally, with their own health and the health of their loved ones, with their careers and even in matters of faith. Some people reach out in desperation, with weeping and tears of grief. Others seem to be holding up under the pressure, maybe because they have too many other responsibilities to allow themselves to cave or maybe because they have such a strong support system that they don't have to. Others seem to approach their pain by closing themselves off, becoming bitter, sarcastic and pushing others away.

I have never walked a mile in any of my friends shoes, but I know I've been through pain before, and I know that I've approached it in a variety of ways. All I know is that we are not meant to carry our burdens alone. The Bible is clear that we are to cast our cares upon the Lord, and as if that weren't enough, we are also called to carry one another's burdens. Unfortunately, our culture is one that prides itself on self-sufficiency. Asking for help is considered a sign of weakness. I don't think anything could be further from the truth. To me, not asking for help when you need it is the greatest sign of weakness.

While I was running yesterday, I had my ipod on the shuffle setting. As I arrived at my front door, a gospel song came on and the lyrics said this:

I need you,
You need me,
We're all a part of God's body.
You are important to me,
I need you to survive.

When we learn to depend on others and allow them to depend on us, this is when true relationship, true community occurs. This is the body of Christ that is described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. I wish more people, especially Americans, understood this truth and lived by it instead of stigmatizing those who reach out for help and admit their weaknesses.

Perhaps my favorite Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 12:9, in which the Lord says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Later Paul says, "When I am weak, then I am strong." When I come to the end of my own strength, (which is an illusion any way), when I come to the end of myself, then I can understand what true strength and power looks and feels like.

Illustrator Assigned to Latest Children Book!

I wanted to share the good news that my latest children's book, O Christmas Tree!, has been assigned an illustrator -- the talented, Jack Foster. He has a fun and colorful style, and I am really excited about working with him.

If you'd like to check out his work, you can visit his blog at

If I get any preliminary drawings from him, I'll be sure to share them here as well.

Also, here's a little teaser on the story itself.
O Christmas Tree! is the story of the Marshalls, a family completely wrapped up in their holiday traditions. Dad loves whipping up the perfect cup of eggnog; Mom knits Christmas sweaters for the whole family; and little Vicky can't get enough of singing Christmas carols. But what they all share is a special love for decorating the Christmas tree! But when their tree, Treena, throws them for a loop by unexpectedly coming to life, she teaches them a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas that they will never forget.

In addition to the book, which I hope will be released by the end of this year, I am also working on an interactive performance of this story in which yours truly will play Treena, complete with a full-body tree costume, and where members of the audience will be called upon to play the Marshalls. But as with all of my performances, the whole audience will be involved in one way or another! I'm hoping to have this performance ready for the holiday season and will keep you posted. If your church, school or other group is interested, please let me know!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Creating Summer Memories Storyteller Style

I have been having such an amazing summer thus far. It has been incredibly busy, with lots of travel and more shows in a week than I've ever done before, and yet there have been so many beautiful moments that have caused me to stop and say, "Wow! How lucky am I? Is it really possible that I'm earning a living at something that I love so much?"

How can I describe how great it is to see a parent pull out their camera with a huge smile on their face as they try to capture the special moment when their child is standing next to me, dressed as a parrot or ram or some other crazy character from one of my stories, and to know that I am helping to create a memory for this family? Something that they will smile or laugh about or share with others. . .

What words can I find to express how much it means to me, at the end of a long day of three shows, to have a parent come up to me and say that her and her daughter were at last year's show and that when they saw that I was returning to their library system, they made a point of finding a show they could attend before their summer trip to India? And not only that, but inviting the daughter's friend to come with them -- an outgoing friend who ended up playing an important part in the show when I had a very shy audience.

Speaking of shy audiences, in the last week, I had quite a few of those, more than usual. These are the audiences who are interested in the story but aren't much interested in getting involved and playing the parts. This is in contrast to the audiences I get where every hand is raised and I wish I had more parts to go around. The shy audiences can pose a challenge, especially when it's a small crowd and everyone is shy. That was the case at one of my shows on Saturday. But imagine my delight when the parents of one of the young children quickly jumped at my request for volunteers and dove into their characters with reckless abandon! The father even had to be called upon to play two different parts. In all of it, the look of delight on their daughter's face as she watched her parents pretend to be dogs, roosters and rams, was priceless.

I am a storyteller. A maker of memories. A bringer-together of families and peoples. A humorist. An improv artist. A bridge builder. A storyteller.

Lewis Carroll described stories as "love gifts." I could not agree more. Every time I tell a story I am grateful for the relationship it creates between me and the audience. Sometimes it's a relationship that lasts beyond those 30-45 minutes and extends to a year or two years from now when the same people come back to see me tell again. Or maybe it extends in other ways through a ripple effect that I know nothing about but that is very real all the same. I certainly hope so. Nonetheless, I am mindful of and thankful for the opportunities to meet wonderful people whom I would never have the chance to meet if it were not for my vocation as a storyteller.

It's funny because when I started World of Difference Ltd three years ago, I never intended to do it on my own. I enjoy working with people and feeding off the synergy that collaborative energies bring. And so that has been one of the biggest challenges for me in working solo. However, now, as the Lord has opened so many doors for me to perform, I realize that He has given me the desire of my heart by bringing wonderful people into my life at each place I go with World of Difference. Some of these people are now my biggest encouragers -- and their support has meant the world to me!

I can't even tell you how many times I wanted to give up when times got tough or things moved slower than I thought they should. How many times it seemed that something else, anything else, would be a better, wiser idea for a job. But somehow (with lots of support) I stuck it out, and that makes the many beautiful memories I'm creating this summer all the sweeter.