Coloring Books

My first (and only) piano recital was a nerve-wracking affair.  I had been taking piano lessons for a while when my teacher told me that the recital was coming up.  I was to pick two songs and perform them in front of a small audience largely consisting, I’m assuming, of people who were really only there to hear their child perform.

I picked out “The Piano Playin’ Chocolate Eater’s Blues” (It was a jazzy tune from my piano book about a piano player who ate too much chocolate and had sticky fingers when they tried to play the piano, something that I could potentially identify with.  Don’t make fun!) and “Pachelbel’s Canon in C.”  I also picked out a nice outfit.

I fidgeted and tried not to hyperventilate until it was finally my turn to approach the stage, which I did with some level of dread.  I remember setting my music up on the stand and thinking to myself, “Why did I pick these songs?!  ‘Chocolate Eater’s Blues’ has some really random note combinations and the canon I know mostly from memory.  So if I get lost, that’s the end!”  Also not helping was the fact that Pachelbel’s Canon played an important role in my parents’ wedding, so they were rather familiar with how the number was supposed to sound.

There is a point to this little tale.  Do you know why I got so nervous about playing this one time and not every time I played it at home?  It wasn’t because of the audience- I typically get really nervous before performances in front of audiences and then am completely fine once I step on the stage.  I think the reason I was so worked up was because I only had one shot.

I really don’t like having only one chance to do something.  One chance to play those songs up on the gorgeous piano on the stage, one chance to make a first impression, to do the right thing in a certain situation…

Unfortunately for my dislikes and I, life is one of those one-shot type of things.  And I’m messing it up dreadfully.

I can’t redo the few months after Prince Caspian came out and be less annoying.  I can’t go back and do better in friendships that I’m sad to have lost.  I can’t be cooler or dress better in high school.

But somehow, this isn’t about regrets and fear of messing things up.

Here’s one way of thinking about it: Life is like a coloring book.

I know, I know.  Just stay with me.  It won’t turn into me singing songs from preschool shows- hopefully.

When you’re little, you really can’t color nicely.  You scribble, actually.  Your color scheme makes no sense.  But when you brought that mess home to your parents, they probably didn’t tell you it was disgusting, and that you failed, and that they were throwing it out.  I did a very poor coloring job on a Christmas ornament sometime in preschool, and though my mother usually refuses to let me put it on the tree (it’s rather large), we still have it.  And I’m pretty sure my dad calls me a “little cutie” every time I take it out of the ornament box.

Would I make the same ornament today?  No.  If you look at the coloring that I did this summer (coloring is very therapeutic, but in this case I was actually doing it because I was working at a kids’ camp), you’ll notice some big differences.  The colors are actually inside the lines.  In fact, I probably traced the outline of the figure and then colored it in with precise diagonal strokes.  I added other colors to create texture.

Now let’s suppose I put all of those coloring pages into one book.  It’s just one coloring book.  Some of it is a mess.  There are times when, even though I’d grown, I was coloring out of the lines again.  A few times when I crumpled the page and messed it up altogether.

We get just one life. Some of it is a mess.  There are many times when, even though I was more mature in my faith, I was sinning again.  A few times when I completely messed up and doubted God altogether.

But when He looks at my life, He sees Jesus in His perfection.  And even when He sees that I’m coloring outside the lines, He’s calling me back.  He’s forgiving me and rejoicing when I grow closer to Him.  I haven’t obtained all this.  I haven’t already been made perfect, but I’m pressing on. (See Philippians 3.)  It’s okay that I only get one chance, because every step of it will be used for God’s glory, which is the whole point of my life in the first place.  And it’s not the end of the world if I mess it up now and then.  Through Christ, we have forgiveness and hope.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Be very careful, then, how you live- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil,” says Ephesians 5.

It’s my prayer that God will guide us to truly make the most of each opportunity and to imitate and radiate His love.  And thank you, Lord, for Your love and second chances!!

p.s.  I was going to try not to do yet another p.s. with a song, but this is a good one! =)

Writing this post reminded me of  a scene from “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie,” which is actually in its entirety on YouTube!  Here’s the link.  The part I’m referencing starts at 46:40, ends around the commercial break, and kind of goes perfectly with this post.

Snippets

Two Notes:
1.) This is going to be a shorter post than usual.
2.) For those of you who like the musical posts, today is your day. =)

I want to share some snippets with you. Snippets of what? Songs, of course!

Now don’t get me wrong. Each of the songs that I’m about to recommend is one that I thoroughly enjoy listening to in its entirety. But each of them also has one particular line or a few lines that just really jump out at me and that I sing wholeheartedly every time I listen to the song.

This post is largely about music, but it’s also about links!  I’ve tried to link to a site where you can legally listen to every song (though I wasn’t able to find them all) and I also linked to other blog posts that are somehow related to the lyrics that I pinpointed.  So take your time and take a look! =)

~

“In Such a State” by Edison Glass
Check it out: I couldn’t find a legal link for this one, but you should look it up!  It’s on their album titled “A Burn or a Shiver.”
Favorite line(s): “Burn the exits; there’s no escaping from love eternal, limitless. I’m in such a state; I need You here, I need You near me.”

“Meteor Shower” by Owl City
Favorite line(s): “I am not my own, for I have been made new. Please don’t let me go; I desperately need You.”

“Merry Christmas, Here’s to Many More” by Relient K
Favorite line(s): “Jesus Christ, it’s blessed my life to know just who You are. You are my hope.”

“No Regrets” by John Reuben
Favorite line(s): “To the future, in the palm of God’s hand. To the past as of now, that I can’t understand. To the future, uncertain, unclear; to the past I left to bring me here.”

“Redemption” by Switchfoot
Favorite line(s): “My fears have worn me out… I’ve got my hands at Redemption’s side, whose scars are bigger than these doubts of mine. I’ll fit all of these monstrosities inside, and then I’ll come alive.

“Savior, Please” by Josh Wilson
Favorite line(s): “I try to be so tough, but I’m just not strong enough. I can’t do this alone, God I need You to hold on to me. I try to be good enough, but I’m nothing without Your love.”

~

Even if you don’t enjoy these musical posts, or don’t want to listen to the songs, you can think about the lines that I pointed out. Do they hold any value for you? What songs or lyrics do move you? Give them a listen. I hope whatever song you decide to tune in to brightens your day and encourages you in your faith!

Fixing the Problem

As you’ve probably figured out, I’m very reflective and self-aware. And I’m pretty sure it’s because of that that I love to hear about myself. Now, I realize this sounds terribly vain, but I’m just interested to hear things from other people’s point of view. Perspective fascinates me.

Anyway, I of course asked my mother about myself while we were chatting recently. I have cystic acne, and I was curious about what it was like for her raising a daughter in a very image-conscious world when that daughter might not fit the description of what the world considered beautiful.

Her interesting response was that she felt bad for me. I had felt bad for me too*, for a long time, but I wondered if her reason was different from mine. She explained, I knew that people weren’t going to understand and that it was going to be frustrating.

Not a lot of people know what cystic acne is or can identify it. Basically, it looks like I just have really bad acne and haven’t done anything about it for the past eight years. You certainly wouldn’t guess all of the different medicines and prescriptions I’ve tried.

I know this, because some people want to try to help. A woman once gave me a cream that she thought was a heavier dosage that I would need. I looked at the bottle, thanked her, and almost laughed to myself- my dermatologist had suggested a stronger version of the same medicine years ago. Another woman suggested that I stop eating brownies (one of my favorite foods!). “The chocolate is not good for you- it causes all of the darkness on your face,” she told me (I still have a lot of scars). Cystic acne actually isn’t caused by what you eat, but I stopped buying brownies for a while anyway.

It basically comes down to the fact that people see the symptoms, but they don’t know the cause. They guess, and they try to fix it, but they don’t know the cause. And you can’t fix a problem when you don’t know what the problem is.

The same is true of sin. We see the natural disasters, the pain, the betrayal and injustice, and we want to fix it. So we try positive thinking, partying, hard work, rallies, and more. And it seems sometimes like we make a difference, and sometimes we do, but we haven’t eliminated the entire program. We cry again. We hurt again. And we wonder again- why?

I went on a missions trip to Mexico this past spring, and I got to meet some wonderful people and have some really good conversations. One of our translators and fellow workers was an international relations major at the University in Mexico City. She told me how a lot of her friends view America negatively because they believe our government is corrupt. The idea, then, is that fixing any political corruption would remove a lot of the troubles that they were facing.

Her response to this really stuck with me: The problem isn’t the government, or the people under the government- the true problem is sin. So while we can be angry with certain people, or talk politics, the issue that we truly need to address is the sin within us, and that’s something that Christ has already done.

I completely agree. Here’s one way to think about it:
1.) God’s will is perfect. (Romans 12:2)
2.) Sin is anything that goes against God’s will/law. (1 John 3:4)
3.) We have all sinned, so there is sin in the world. (Romans 3:23)
4.) Sin affects the world negatively. (Romans 1:18-32)

So there’s the real problem. Sin. And we’re not strong enough to address it.

Here’s where things get exciting. While we were mucking around in the symptoms of our sin, and even producing the muck we were wallowing in, Christ loved us. He jumped right in there among the nastiness, though producing beauty rather than muck, and loved us.

I’m moved just thinking about how wonderful my friends were in high school. They encouraged me, told me I was pretty, and held me close even when I know my face was looking disgusting, or weird at the very least. How much more incredible is it that God, whose very essence opposes every hint of sin, was willing to not only walk among us, but to love us? And to die for us?

Christ did address the true problem when He died on the cross- He removed the heavy, heavy curtain between us and God and gave us hope. He is the ultimate remedy for the problem we can’t solve on our own, just as even though I know what causes my acne, I can’t make it go away by myself.

But God has placed us here to shine His light and radiate His love, which can make a difference, until He returns and makes all things new. We have a responsibility- we’re not to be lazy or to worsen the problem because we know Christ has it covered.

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” asked Paul in Romans 6. “By no means! … thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

Instead, we’re told to be good stewards of the earth, to love our neighbor, and ultimately, to be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Paul continued in Romans 6, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

* p.s. I don’t really feel bad for me anymore. Self-pity isn’t very beneficial, and there are so many worse misunderstood complications that I don’t have (Take muscular dystrophy for instance. People sometimes don’t recognize that people with muscular dystrophy aren’t just moving slowly because it’s hard to- they’re often in pain every single time they move.). And I’ve learned some good lessons that I don’t think I would have learned as quickly in a different situation. God sometimes works in ways that we wouldn’t have chosen. Perhaps that will be a blog post someday.

Waiting. Antsily Waiting.

Do you ever get antsy?  I think that in some ways, antsiness is the opposite of fear.  Both are a reaction to something that’s coming, but fear is more dreadful (in the most literal sense) and being antsy is more about excitement.

Every year, I have the wonderful opportunity to work at a week-long Christian camp.  I love this place, and it’s one of the first things people learn about me.  My roommate can actually look at a picture and identify fellow staff members from this camp without having met the majority of them.  (Each year she is subjected to a multimedia presentation of my camp experience accompanied by a LOT of stories.)

So I talk about this place all the time, cherish the memories and lessons of years past, and wait very patiently, and then the opportunity rolls around again.  There’s two stages of antsiness.  The first is finding out whether or not I’ll be able to go.  The second, assuming the first is satisfied, is going.

I realized that this experience is actually a lot like my spiritual life, with the difference being that my eagerly awaited destination isn’t a cabin by a lake of sometimes questionable content for a week of no air-conditioning in the gnat-infested summertime; it’s heaven.  And if I find those conditions heartwarming and worth eagerly waiting for, imagine what it’ll be like getting to heaven in its perfection and in the presence of God!

Jesus has promised us that He is coming back!

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man… They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” – Matthew 24:27, 30b-31.

And He is coming back for His people- I know that He is coming back for me!

The first stage of antsiness has passed for me.  I know I’ll be able to go.  I know that I can only get to heaven through the sacrifice that Jesus made for me when He died on the cross; I know that I am forgiven since He took the punishment for my sins.  I know that I have eternal life waiting for me.  And I am excited!

And now, I productively wait.

One of my good friends (who also works at this camp) and I can’t stand to just hang around until it’s camp time.  We diligently research skits for talent night, ponder new games, make packing lists, and hold countdowns until it is finally the night before.  I can remember sitting in Sunday School on the day that we were leaving for camp one year and literally not being able to sit still.  My friend was rocking back and forth holding her knees, smiling a truly joyful smile, and going “Eeeep!  Eeep!”

I’m fully aware that we sound crazy.  But we were ready and we had been waiting.  Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t know what day camp was?  We’d just have to be prepared all the time.  And in fact, that’s how it works on the spiritual side of things.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father… Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come,” Matthew 24 says.  But there’s more to waiting than keeping watch.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?  It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.  I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of,” the chapter continues.

The “faithful and wise servant” wasn’t just chilling until the master came home, or partying it up until he got in trouble.  He had a job, much like we have been given the job of representing Christ to the world and being imitators of God, and he did it!  So there was nothing but rejoicing when the master came back.

It’s important to note that Jesus’s return isn’t going to only be a wonderful, wonderful reunion.  It’s a brand new beginning.

Remember my friend’s favorite verse that I mentioned last week?  It’s Revelation 21:3-4, and I’m going to add verse 5 onto this reference as well.  It reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

And remember my favorite verse?  It ends with, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

It seems so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives.  That impending test takes precedence over our devotional time.  Catching up on Glee seems more important than taking the time to develop the relationships that might help lead someone else to Christ.

But this life we’re living now is just a teeny part of the bigger picture.  The world does not center around us, and thankfully, it is not centered around our pain and our fears and our doubts.  The One who can and will erase it all is still very much part of the picture, perhaps in the sense that He is its artist.

“Mercy and grace He gave us at the cross.  I hope that we have not too quickly forgotten that our God is an awesome God,” one popular Christian song says.  Our awesome God is coming.  He’s coming!!!  And it’s not some elusive philosophy, it’s happening.  He could be here any day.  In the next second Jesus could show up.  And that’s something we should keep in mind every day.  He is our greatest hope.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon,” the end of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, says.  “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.  Amen.

 

P.S. Want to sing about it? Me too.

The song is Days of Elijah, by Twila Paris.  Just click on the link above and sing along!  If the link only connects to the 30-second version, you should definitely look her up on iTunes or YouTube. =)