• Posted on June 29, 2011

about false positives

 

In elementary school, I was cool. Okay, it was a small, private Catholic school, and my fifth grade class had nine students, including something like four or five girls, so it wasn’t hard to be cool. But I was, just for the record.

We had uniforms. White button-up shirts, navy slacks or shorts, sometimes plaid jumpers or, for the really unique, navy culottes. I typically sported the slacks or shorts (much more comfy than the itchy jumpers), a ponytail for my unbrushed hair, and some thick, Urkel-like glasses. You can picture it, right? I was the fifth grade equivalent of Heidi Klum. I oozed sexy, even from a young age.

Then I stepped into a public school for sixth grade. Culture shock. I vividly remember my First Day of Middle School Outfit. I even have a picture floating around online somewhere. But you don’t need to see it. I’ve mourned it enough for the both of us. Let’s just say: floral print shorts, white loafers, Dallas Cowboy t-shirt. That’s all you have to know.

In high school I started regularly brushing my hair and, when feeling extra trendy, even curling it. I started wearing makeup, very uneven Cover Girl foundation and badly applied mascara with occasionally too much blush (it’s easy to overdo it, you know). My standard dress was a white wife beater (or similar, light-colored tank) under an unbuttoned plaid flannel shirt with Arizona jeans. Again, super sexy, right here.

I jest, but here’s the truth: the whole time, all along the way, I wore what I thought looked good. I can mock it now or look back in horror, but I honest-to-God thought I looked good in those things. More importantly, I wanted more than anything to be cool and fit in. I thought my choice of clothing would allow me to fit in, but it had the completely opposite effect. I was mocked. A lot.

I can still tell you the names of the girls on the playground in middle school who made fun of my Hanes tennis shoes I’d begged Mom for, solely because I thought they resembled the Nikes everyone else was wearing and hoped people would think I had Nike shoes too. These girls followed me around singing the Hanes commercial jingle. (One of those girls is now a Facebook friend. I wonder if she has any idea how much that crushed me.)

I remember girls–one evil girl in particular–who mocked what I wore in high school. I remember proudly picking out my own outfit for a Valentine’s banquet at our church and, upon arriving, realizing I was dramatically underdressed in my polo shirt and new Levis, sitting next to girls in gorgeous dresses. I could tell story after story of how completely and utterly rejected and inadequate I felt as a result of my clothing. But that’s enough.

My senior year I worked at Wal-Mart and manned the fitting room. Capris had just revealed themselves as the hip, retro clothing of cool people. A little girl, rounder than was probably healthy, came into the fitting room with her mom to try on a pair of capris. From outside her room, I heard her exclaim to her mom, “Now I can be popular!”

My heart broke.

The thought of her imminent teasing and humiliation was almost unbearable, but I knew exactly how she felt.

These days, you wouldn’t know it to look at me and my typical outfit of jeans and a t-shirt, but I am incredibly neurotic about clothes. Uh, “obsessed” is a better word. I’ve sat in tears before, afraid to leave the house, because of feeling I’d be horrifyingly ugly if I wore anything in my closet. My husband asks me why on earth I think anyone would notice or care that much. Because I do, that’s the simple answer. Because I can’t walk in a freakin’ Stripes or a church service without critiquing everything every woman (and some men) is wearing.

I keep thinking, if only I had enough money to buy an all-new wardrobe, something á la Katherine Heigl in Life As We Know It, I’d finally be okay. Even if no one else thought I looked great, I would feel great with new clothes.

And now: I’m regularly meeting with a great group of girls to work through our insecurities along with Beth Moore in her book, “So Long, Insecurity.” We’re only at week two, and already it’s enlightening. The big lesson for me this week is what Beth calls a “false positive.” It’s the one thing about which we’re most insecure that we think, if fulfilled, we’d be entirely secure. For me, that’s clothes.

And you know, it’s a false positive because it’s a lie. Even if I had Kat Heigl’s movie wardrobe, I’d be insecure about my hair. Or my weight. Or my eyes (one is bigger than the other, true story). Or my credibility. Or my posture. There’s a million things for me to be insecure about and only one where I can find security. You know what I’m going to say here. It’s God. More specifically, it’s my faith in Jesus as my Savior, and my place in God’s Book of Life.

All of this is a work in progress, you know. We’ve only reached chapter four of the book, and by the time I’m finished I’ll be the most secure person in the world. Or maybe I’ll just read through it again until I get it right. Regardless, I’m grateful to Beth’s wisdom in this book (we’re on a first name basis because I follow her on Twitter). Until last night, I knew I was neurotic about clothing but didn’t know why. So there’s progress in that, and the hope and promise of more progress to come.

Your turn. What are some of your false positives? Can you see the roots of those false positives in your life? How has God taught you to find security in him?

  • Posted on June 27, 2011

about being a bad steward

 

It was Omaha, 2007, my first time to attend a church service in many years, and my friend walked in, glanced at the bulletin, saw the sermon topic was stewardship, and instantly commented, “Oh, this service is about money.”

I didn’t get the connection. I would have interpreted stewardship to be equated more with servitude, neither of which, I confess, I had any real understanding of at the time. But turns out, he was right. I don’t think I paid too much attention to the sermon because it was freezing in the auditorium and because I was otherwise overwhelmed with the change I’d already experienced. Regardless, you can make a blanket statement here: “stewardship” is most often a church-term for “you people aren’t tithing the way you should be, and we’ve noticed because offering count is way down.”

Real stewardship, though, encompasses everything. And it’s not a new lesson. It’s the first lesson. It’s our first responsibility as humans, way back in Genesis 1–to reign over the earth and care for it. That is, to be a good steward of that which God has entrusted to us.

Yes, that includes money. At the very minimum, 10% of everything we bring in should go right back out to God, specifically to our local church. And, as control freak as I am about money, I understand that. It’s Scriptural and it makes sense. What I haven’t truly understood until just the past few weeks is that stewardship involves way more than money.

Specifically, God’s conviction fell on me with regards to stepparenting. I’ll be honest, the role is a little overwhelming. I usually feel like I’ve just arrived at a party in full-swing, and I’m not only the last to arrive but am also trying to plan the party after it’s already started. I won’t go into too much detail on this for various reasons, but I will say God clearly showed me how badly my perspective was off. I was merely trying to get through each day instead of being a good steward of what he’s entrusted to me. I spend a lot of time with my stepson and, as a result, have a million daily opportunities to live out the Gospel and show Christlike love and grace to him. Instead I spent each day writing a book about the Gospel, glorifying God with my writing, but not living it out in my own household. Eek.

Stewardship is about money and parenting. It’s also about our marriage and our job and our talents. It’s about taking care of our bodies, another area where I usually fall short. It’s about caring for everything and anything God has given us.

And that’s the key to it all–it’s everything God has given us. We have to recognize everything we have has been given to us by God. That part’s not easy. I busted my butt for years at degrading jobs to pay for the things I now have, but I have to realize none of that is really a credit to me. My pride would argue, “Where was God when I was working overnight shifts in customer service, getting cussed out and my life threatened while dealing with an excruciating headache so bad I was throwing up?” Or, “Where was God when I was repeatedly sexually harassed to the point of tears while bartending and tons of people saw it but no one offered to help?” It’s very, very easy for me to think, “I’ve earned this marriage and this car and this computer and the dental work and my college degree and my joy and my wisdom and all these things are mine, mine, mine, through blood and sweat and tears.” Which, by the way, would mean I have the freedom to choose how and when and if I take care of anything I own. And in actuality, that’s just not the case.

So I’m still learning. The past few weeks was how to be a better steward as a parent. Before that was how to be a better steward of my body and my health. And almost constantly there’s a lesson or two a week on how to be a better steward of my marriage. Luckily, God is such a good steward of his people that he hasn’t given up on me yet or quit teaching me all about stewardship.

What are some things you’ve learned about being a good steward? Is it hard to overcome the thought that everything you have you earned on your own? How has good stewardship in your own life encouraged others to seek after Christ?

  • Posted on June 24, 2011

about boring conversion stories

 

I always felt like my conversion story was boring. I was 25. I’d been raised with plenty of information about God and Jesus and heaven and hell. After a few major steps of disobedience, my guilt overwhelmed me and I ran from God for about seven years. Then, standing in a church in Omaha, God suddenly tapped me on the shoulder and showed me a slideshow in my mind of everything I was and everything I would ever be if I kept on the same path.

I wasn’t literally blinded by the light of Jesus. I heard no audible voice from heaven. I didn’t fall on my face and weep. It wasn’t dramatic, I hadn’t hit rock bottom, I wasn’t on the edge of disaster. I was merely a sinner–the worst of them all–headed down a path of miserable disobedience and an ending of eternal death. Yawn. Boring. It doesn’t seem worth telling, really.

But it is. You know how I know? Because it’s Hagar’s story too. And God thought it was worth telling.

Genesis 16. Sarai’s decided to take it upon herself to fulfill God’s promise. She has Hagar sleep with Abraham and, as these things tend to go, Hagar gets pregnant with Ishmael. Then there’s all sorts of girl issues going on, where Hagar resents Sarai and Sarai mistreats Hagar and it’s drama. Hagar runs away.

Then an angel suddenly appears to Hagar and says, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

Now, every time I read that I get at least two songs stuck in my head and remember a short story from my entry-level creative writing class. But this here, this one sentence, is what God asks all of us. He reminds us who we are (Hagar), he reminds us of our position in this world (Sarai’s servant), he reminds us where we’ve come from and where we’re going. He did the exact same thing to me.

He showed me where I’ve come from, all those false beliefs and bad decisions. He showed me where I was going if I kept ignoring him and heading down the same path.

Hagar listened. She received a blessing and returned to Sarai as instructed. Her story is worth telling. And my story, boring as it may seem, is worth telling.

What’s your story? Do you ever feel like your story isn’t worth telling? Where have you come from? And, perhaps most importantly, where are you going?

 

  • Posted on June 22, 2011

about those cussing christian musicians

 

I was listening to some song from some sample of some magazine. I’d never heard the artist or the song before, but suddenly recognized part of his lyrics. I guess maybe he sampled them from another band. I don’t know how that works. In the writing world, we call it “plagiarism.” (Like when Jesus Culture’s song suddenly sampled a pre-chorus from David Gray. The song? Babylon. Feels strangely like a conflict of interest.) But I digress.

So, in searching, I recognize the lyrics from Mumford & Sons Sigh No More. Funny thing, though, I came across all these blogs proclaiming Mumford as this incredible “Christian band.” Wait a sec, record scratch, back up a bit. Mumford’s first single from their debut album is Little Lion Man, which, in case you’re not aware, drops the F-bomb every chorus.

Now, maybe I’m not the only Christian who cusses or maybe Mumford is a Christian band or maybe they sing Christian music or maybe they just like the rhythm of the lyrics or, hell, maybe it really doesn’t matter one way or the other.

About a day later I was talking with my BFF about my momentary music obsession, Elenowen. She asked, “They’re a Christian band, right? I mean, that’s a Christian song.” I said, “No–I don’t know. Maybe. I mean, I guess it could be, but I don’t think so.”

Then all these quotes are popping up on the internet by the insightful Matt Chandler, who apparently at some point said something like, “There is no such thing as Christian music because music can’t accept Christ.” I have no idea the context of his statement but it’s been looping through my head for a while.

And then I enter into this self-righteous state of, “Ol’ Matt C is right. I just like music and won’t feel the need to classify something as Christian or secular.”

Enter Josh Garrels. I downloaded his free album (which, if you’re around me on Twitter or Facebook, you already know I’ve been plugging it nonstop for several days). Three songs in, I realize his album is completely and totally badass. Not only that, he was singing about Jesus. And not some abstract faux-religious concept of Jesus. He was singing about the Jesus I know. I literally stopped in my tracks and stared at the speakers and said, “Wow, this is Christian music.”

Ha. Back to square one.

My previous gauge of “Christian music” was solely dependent on whether or not Air1 has ever played it or if it was recorded by the worship band at a church. Now I’m wondering why we seem to have an overwhelming need to classify music and musicians as “Christian” or “non-Christian.” Some people say Lifehouse is a Christian band. Some people think they aren’t. Does it really matter? If I look at a car wash and see a symbol of how Christ’s sacrifice washed me clean, does that make it a Christian car wash?

Fact is, God uses all things for his glory, and we know that. Sure, not everything I say throughout my day is all about Christ, but that doesn’t make me any less of a Christian. So if Mumford has some members that love Christ and passionately seek him, good for them. I’d love to be hanging with them in heaven while they sing praises to God, because I imagine it’d sound pretty fantastic.

All I know is, if God wants to speak to me through a “non-Christian” song by a “non-Christian” band, he’s going to do it.

What are your thoughts? Is there any significance in recognizing a band or song as Christian or non-Christian? Or should we ignore that label altogether? Does it limit us at all to classify music in such a way?

  • Posted on June 17, 2011

about acting ungracefully about grace

 

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I’m pretty sure Romans 5:8 was one of my memory verses in Sunday School when I was a little girl. Now it’s part of what people call the Roman Road. I’m not wholly sure what that means, but it has something to do with the book of Romans and also Jesus and salvation and roads. I think.

Like much of the Bible, Romans 5:8 is a verse I heard as a young child and am just now beginning to understand. And I begin to understand it over and over again. I haven’t really “got it” just yet. I probably never will.

I often think about grace, the type of grace Romans 5:8 talks about. The grace that acknowledges how, while we had absolutely nothing good or redeemable or righteous in ourselves but were complete sinners, Jesus died for us, to make us good and redeemed and righteous. We didn’t deserve it, we didn’t want it, and we can’t fully appreciate the power of that sacrifice.

At times, I notice some Christians who show a definite lack of grace. They easily write off those they consider unworthy of grace or love or mercy and instead focus solely on the people who are a little more deserving of their love and attention. They forget, of course, that if Jesus had acted the same way they act, none of us would have any hope of salvation. We’d all be doomed.

And, as there’s always irony in my judgment, I get irrationally angry at those Christians. I write them off, considering them unworthy of grace or love or mercy. I’d rather give my love and encouragement and attention to the more loving Christians. I forget how, if Jesus had acted the same way I act, none of us would have any hope.

At least once or twice a week God speaks to me with the same type of “Ouch!”-inducing lesson. This week he showed me how I don’t want to show grace to people who don’t show grace. As if real grace could somehow discriminate. Grace is not dependent on any circumstances. Grace is all-encompassing, all-forgiving, no matter the recipient, no matter the sin.

I’m very quick to look at other Christians and think, “Ugh, if they’d only stop and realize the amount of grace they’d been shown, they’d start showing grace and mercy to someone else now and then.” God’s lesson this week was, “Pot, meet kettle.”

That’s it. I’ll stop here.

What have you learned about grace recently? How has God shown you grace? How have you shown grace to others?