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!