Monday, October 29, 2012

Never too Small

One of the greatest things about babysitting for families that go to my church is that when the kids see me on Sunday morning, it’s like I’m a celebrity.  Sometimes the kids run up and hug me, which is awesome.  It’s also awesome when they see me and hide behind their parents, saying in an awe-struck voice, “Look, Mommy!  It’s Miss Ruth.”  Then they smile shyly and wave at me, as if I’m just too amazing for them to approach.  Sometimes kids I watch see and hear me sing in the church choir or on praise team, and sometimes that really makes me seem like a celebrity to them.  But I’m not up there to be seen or heard.  In fact, up until these past few months, I’ve really had some mixed feelings about singing in front of people.
I know my voice is pretty good.  I also know that I can’t take any credit for that.  My voice isn’t something I created within myself.  And even though I’ve been blessed to be a part some pretty amazing choirs over the years, I can’t even claim that I’ve studied voice or music all that intensively.  So I know very well that my voice is another gift for which I can’t take credit.  But for several years, I feared that I would become vain or egotistical or self-conscious, etc., if I showed anyone that I had any real vocal talent.  I love to sing and to praise God through music, but I didn’t want worship to become tainted in any way.  And so I sang in choir and did what I was told—if I knew there was really a need for me to help out on a vocal team or if someone asked me to sing a solo, I’d do it.  The principle behind that was that I was serving by doing something that was needed and not just singing because I thought I had something worth sharing.

I really believe that’s what God wanted for me then.  I don’t think there was anything sinful with me taking care to ensure that my worship was as pure as possible.  But in the past several months, there’s been a shift in my attitude towards worship—and not just singing or music.  God’s been showing me that if He’s given me gifts, He’s given them to me for a reason.  I don’t have to be afraid to share those gifts because they don’t really belong to me. I still want to be careful that the focus of worship is always on God, but it’s time that I use the gifts He’s given—not so I’ll shine, but so that I’ll reflect His light.
So lately, I’ve been singing in public a lot—and the kids I watch have taken notice.

The other day in church, I saw one of the girls I had watched during the week.  Her face lit up when she saw me, and she exclaimed, “MISS RUTH!” I told her how pretty her dress was, and she smiled.  Then she asked in an awe-struck voice, “Are you going to sing again this morning?”
I knew what she meant.  She was asking if I was going to be up on the stage with a microphone in my hand.  As a matter of fact, I was on praise team that morning, but my reply to her would have been the same even if I were just sitting on a chair in the congregation.  “Oh, yes!  I’m going to sing! I love to sing!” I said.  Then I asked her, “Are you going to sing?”
She shook her head as if I’d said something ridiculous.  “NOO!  I’m too little to sing!”

I said, “Girl, you can never be too little to sing!”
And after the service I saw her and asked her if she had sung.  She said, “I only knew one of the songs, but I sang it!”  That made my heart smile.

Later on that same afternoon, I decided to watch “The Nativity Story.”  I had ordered it in the mail for cheap and it had just arrived a few days earlier, so naturally, because it was new, I wanted to open it up and watch it immediately.  That’s how I roll. 
I was watching the movie, the retelling of Christ’s birth and the surrounding circumstances, marveling once more in how the God of the universe came down in the form of a human—and not just any human.  He was a weak and needy baby, born not of a wealthy queen, but a lowly carpenter’s wife.  God chose for His fleshly introduction to take place in a stable, with shepherds as His first visitors. 

As I was watching the dramatized events unfold, I kept thinking about what the angels told the shepherds.  “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men on whom His favor rests.”  A repeated theme in the movie was that Jesus came for the wise ruler and the poor slave.  And it occurred to me, again, that all of humanity is in the same state.  We’re all wretches.  We’re all slaves.  We’re all in need of God’s salvation.  And none of us can claim any talent or worth of our own.
None of us can claim glory—even though we try.  None of us are worthy of it.  Yet God desires us, from the richest to the poorest, to give Him glory.

If you know me well or if you’ve been reading my blog since last Christmas, you might remember that every Christmas season, I choose a word to describe the focus I wish to have for the upcoming year.  And if you know me well or if you’ve been reading my blog since last autumn, you might remember that my Christmas season begins somewhere around September.  As soon as I start seeing pumpkins and falling leaves, I start thinking about Christmas.  So even if everyone else is still in Halloween mode, I’m already thinking about Christmas and for my focus for the upcoming year.
In the past, the words I focused on were Joy, Peace, and Hope.  I thought about how these elements played into the Christmas story—about how the Magi saw the Star, the sign of the fulfilled promise, and rejoiced with exceeding joy.  I thought about how God had come down to us in order to make peace with us—to us who had rebelled against Him.  I thought about Hope, about how depraved and dark and worthless we all would be if God had not provided Himself to be our salvation.  I thought about how amazing and hopeful life is with Christ and with all His glorious promises. 

This is the year of Hope.  I’ve had some pretty cool victories this year.  I’ve had some failures.  Many things have changed.  Some things haven’t.  Some things have been hard.  Some things have hurt.  And yet, even in the midst of the seasonal depression that attacks me every fall, I can’t help but look around me and think, “God is working in me and through me and He is about to do something amazing in my life that is beyond my wildest dreams.”  Hope.  It’s not just a feeling or a wish.  It’s something tangible.  And this has truly been my year of Hope.  I’ve learned to Hope in Christ and not in myself.  Yes, that’s going to continue to be a lesson.  It’s a lifelong lesson.  But in the past few months, God’s changed my way of thinking, and I finally GET IT that it’s not me, but Him working through me.  And I’m so excited about what He’s going to do with me and the talents He’s given me.  One thing is for sure, I can’t keep them to myself anymore.  It wasn’t a sin to hide them then, but it would be now.  It’s not time to shine—it’s time to reflect the One who shines.
Which (finally) brings me to my point.  It’s close enough to Christmas that I feel as though I can announce my word for 2013.  I’ve actually known it since Christmas last year, but I wanted to be sure.  And, well, I am sure.  I don’t think I could really understand Hope until I could understand Peace.  And I don’t think I could really understand Peace until I could understand Joy (as much as I can really understand any of those things).  And this next Christmas season, this next year (my years run from Christmas to Christmas—I’m only a week off from the rest of the world, so back off!  :-P), my word, my focus is going to be something I couldn’t understand until I had a general grasp of Hope, Peace, and Joy.

To be honest, I really don’t know what this word means.  I’m not sure that I ever will.  I plan on learning a little more about it—maybe reading some books, such as The Weight of Glory by C. S. Lewis.  I have done some minimal research just by looking the word up in some basic reference materials.  The dictionary wasn’t really helpful.  The idea of Glory is too weighty to be encompassed in a few words on a page.  I also looked in the thesaurus.  At first, this didn’t seem very helpful, either.  It seemed that every synonym the thesaurus provided only scratched the surface of what Glory really means.  But when I read the antonyms, I realized something.

Baseness.  Meanness.  These are antonyms to the word “glory.”  When I see these words, I don’t just think about lowly things, I think about the lowest possible things.  Base.  Mean.  Small.  Insignificant.  Worthless.  Depraved.  And if the lowest possible things are referred to by a word that means the opposite of Glory, then Glory must refer to the highest possible thing.  Something complete.  Something big.  Something so beyond comprehension by someone base like me.
This past year, God has taught me much.  I’ve had a lot of remarkable opportunities to share my talents with others, and I believe there are going to be more opportunities to come.  I believe God is doing something with me that I can’t possibly imagine, something wonderful, something good.  Whether it's big or small, it's going to be His work, and I'm blessed to be part of it.  I believe He’s doing this in me now because I’ve finally learned the things He’s been teaching me, which will provide the basis for things He wants to teach me in the future.  And I’m ready to learn.  I’m ready to give, knowing that nothing I has is mine to give anyway.  It’s His.  He’s just given it to me for me to use for His Glory. 

The thing is, we’re all really little.  We’re all base.  But God came down to us as a weak, lowly infant.  He knew we could never come to Him, so He came to us.  He knew we could never be like Him, and so He became like us.  He came to make Peace with us.  He came to bring us Hope.  He came so that we could have Joy.  And He deserves the Glory, and He desires us to give Glory to Him, and He enables us to give Glory to Him.

Because it doesn’t matter how small we are. 

            We’re never too small to sing. 



Friday, October 12, 2012

Stinkin Thinkin Starts Young

There's child  I know that really is a happy child.  He knows how to play with toys and have fun with friends.  He has smiled and laughed in my presence.  He has danced to music and has played outside on the slide.  These wonderful moments have to be caught here and there, because while this child has moments of being happy, most of the time he cries.

Even though this child is really young, I've been able to see what's going on inside his head.  The child will start to allow himself to play and have fun, but then will remind himself that he doesn't want to be there.  He will remind himself that he would rather be with Mommy.  He will remind himself that he doesn't feel comfortable.  He might even be feeling guilty that he's enjoying things away from home.

And as a childcare provider, I have to keep gently reminding him that he's safe, that he's in a place where he's loved, that his friends are all having fun and that he can have fun, too.  I have to try to communicate to him that his neagtive thoughts aren't reasonable.

But as a human, I realize that I'm too much like that child.  I'll allow little things to gnaw at me, bringing on guilt and shame that really isn't at all reasonable.  I'll allow myself to get overwhelmed by things that aren't really that big of a deal.  I'll start looking around at what others have, and I'll start wondering what must be wrong with me if I don't also have those things.  And like that child I know, I'll rob myself of joy by letting myself get into the "stinkin thinkin" mindset.

I'm not sure who originally coined the phrase "stinkin thinkin," but I'll always remember it as being a trademark statement from one of my college professors, who was also my work study boss.  This man was one-of-a-kind.  He would come in from teaching, and I'd be grading papers.  He'd be singing some song about his sweetheart and put my name into it, then he'd look at me and say, "How are you today, love?  You aren't doing any of that stinkin thinkin, are you?"

And I'd say no, but in college, I figure "stinkin thinkin" was about all I did.  I'm probably going to always struggle with anxiety on some level, but in college it was pretty bad.  So I got a bunch of magic markers (I've said it before and I'll say it again, what's so magical about them?) and some cardstock, and I wrote Philippians 4:6-7 on it.  Then I hung it over my bed as a reminder to not be so anxious.  That's a pretty popular passage, but I'll post it here, along with the surrounding verses:

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

This is a great passage, but lately I've found myself drawn less to verses 6-7, and more towards verse 8. 

There are so many things in this world that call for our attention and our thoughts.  And if I let myself believe all the lies of Satan--that I have to be perfect, that mistakes aren't tolerable, that people don't really know or love me, that I have to create my own worth apart from Christ...then I'll let myself get stuck in the trap of believing I'll never be good enough, and that there's no hope.

Satan is clever in that he gives us half-truths.  The thing is, I really never will be good enough.  But...there is SO much hope.  I don't have to be good enough.  My worth is in Christ.  And if I daily renew my mind, thinking, dwelling on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, the things that are excellent and worthy of praise--then I'm not going to have room for Satan's lies.  Not even his half-truths.

If I'm honest with myself, the times when I allow myself to get the most depressed are the times when I'm most focused on myself.  There's not too much about  me that's excellent or praise-worthy.  It's when I dwell on serving others, on worshipping God, that I am most honoring to His Kingdom. 

The child in my class is learning that it's okay to think about good things.  I, too, am learning to remind myself of the truth, so I can leave that stinkin thinkin behind.