A dream, dropped into the middle of a normal night, distinct enough to interrupt my thoughts, odd enough to wake me up, interesting enough to make me lie there in the middle of the night thinking, “That needs to be a blog post.”
So here it is…
I became aware of being somewhere I didn’t recognize, surrounded by people I didn’t know, with a responsibility in my lap I neither wanted nor remembered consenting to.
I was, for reasons that may never be revealed, in an all-female production of Hamlet. I was cast as Polonius. And it was two hours before our opening performance. Odd enough, yes. But far worse: I didn’t know my lines. In this dream I had never attended a single rehearsal. I hadn’t read Hamlet for more than 27 years (true fact). This is NOT something you can bluff your way through, Hamlet. Not even as a side character. My dream self didn’t even own a copy of the play, and despite searching, couldn’t find one anywhere. This is some of the meatiest, most challenging writing and acting in the English language. And I was going to blow it on an epic scale. Unprepared, uninstructed, and people waiting to see my performance. I was no less that a colossal disappointment; I had let down my cast-mates and disappointed my director.
Someone else would have to take my role and people would never see my unique interpretation of Polonius. In an all-female production of Hamlet. Honestly, I don’t know how many people in the real world would be disappointed to miss this opportunity, by any stretch of the imagination, but as I lay awake in my dark bedroom, heart pounding, my dream resonated in many ways.
You see, I can’t stand the idea of being unprepared. For anything. Ever. This is a central characteristic of my nature. Hard wired into me. From birth. If anything, I over-prepare.
So being caught on my back foot in this dream situation was way beyond uncomfortable, all the way past disconcerting, disorienting. I’ve learned to roll with unfamiliar places and new people, even new roles, but the piece of this where I don’t do my part threw me for a loop. It stuck with me as I went back to sleep, and as I woke up knowing I needed to dig into this wacky night-time drama in my brain.
As I pondered over coffee, a few things fell into sharper focus for me. Walking out my faith, parallels to my dream emerge. Bear with me, maybe there are some nuggets for you in the midst of all my crazy. Here are the lessons I’ve extracted:
· Being prepared isn’t just a broad concept, it’s a way of life. As a Jesus-girl on a journey, I may not be Polonius, but I have my role to fill and I need to be ready to do it.
· I need to know the play. I need to dig into the Word every day, understanding not only my role, but what the Bible says about it, how I need to walk out my faith.
· I need to know my lines. Not just mirroring what I read in the Word, but speaking life into the people around me. Seeking the Director’s guidance when I need to have a challenging conversation, or when I need to reach out and bless my cast-mates.
· I need to listen to the Director. I have to make sure I’m sitting with the Lord consistently to hear His direction, His next step, what I need to change and how He can help me improve in my performance of my role.
· I need to show up to rehearsal. I need to be an active part of my spiritual family, which takes many forms: my church home, my online community, my small groups, my mentees.
· I need to support and be supported by my fellow cast-mates, reminding them of what the director wants, what their lines are, and having them remind me.
· I need to do the behind the scenes work (that is absolutely not glamorous) in order to be ready for my moment onstage. I need to make sure I have my copy of the script close at hand for me to read, to study, to understand not only my lines but the way they fit with the rest of the characters and the overall plot and theme.
· I need to understand my role and my character, to do that I need to not only read the script and the stage directions, but also need to consult the Director, getting his vision of not only the play’s interpretation, but my character’s contribution, the timing of the action, the pace of the scenes, and where I need to walk, stand, sit, pause, or rush offstage.
My role in God’s play is of eternal importance, much more so than any production of Hamlet (I played Ophelia once in a college production), and the lines are far more important to get right. I don’t have to be perfect, but I do need to listen to the correction and direction of the Director. His instructions will keep me in sync with the tone and feel of the play. Imagine how weird it would be if Polonius busted in during Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be speech with a jaunty show tune.
I need the Director to keep me in my role and the rest of the cast fill their roles. Trust the casting, people. My role won’t look like yours, yours won’t look like mine. We bring different skills to the table, but the play isn’t complete and doesn’t work without all the roles filled with the right actors. the whole production suffers without the right cast.
If I don’t show up, prepared by my knowledge of my lines from the script, prepared by the instruction and correction of my Director, ready to support and learn from the rest of the cast, then the world misses out on my unique piece and the whole production suffers. Not because I’m awesome, but because the Director has set it up to be that way.
I want to be prepared, ready for the moment I walk onstage. I want my Director to be proud, I want my fellow actors to feel supported, and I want the audience to receive what they need from me and my small part of the drama. All that preparation needs to take place beforehand, some of it so very solitary, reading memorizing, running lines, digging into deeper subtext. some one-on-one with the Director, listening, asking questions, course correcting as needed, fixing what’s wrong with what I’m doing, sometimes taking this in a direction I would never expect my role would take me.
I want to do this, to prepare, to listen, to support, not to disappoint. I must make it a priority, scheduling this preparation into my time and my life, even before I know what the specific role will look like. I have the script. I know the director. I will excitedly wait to meet my castmates.
After a full morning of errand-running and busyness, the resulting bags and boxes hauled inside from the trunk of my car, I plop my purse down on the kitchen table, push aside this morning’s cold half-cup of coffee, and ease myself down into a chair. Taking a deep breath, I relish a much-needed reprieve from the rush. I retrieve my cell phone from my open purse, meaning to text my daughter. Said purse, tips over, resulting in a cascade of receipts that falls to the table: artifacts of where I’ve been for the morning, what I’ve spent my resources on.
What a lineup, these papers. My receipts that show the path I’ve traveled, the places I’ve stopped, the usefulness of my outing. One of my receipts shows I’ve bought food for my family, one shows a trip to Target. Maybe a few not-totally necessary purchases there. I browse through the pile. Hmmm. Practical stops are more prevalent that Starbucks breaks, so that’s good. This crumpled collection of paper outlines my spending: what’s of value and what isn’t, what will benefit my home, myself, my family, vs. the frivolous things I could be spending money on. It’s a paper trail, quite literally.
What if life was like that? What if each activity I did during the course of my morning, my day, my week, my life came with a receipt? Something concrete I could look at to gauge how productive I’d been, what impact I had on my family and loved ones, how I used my words, how I reached out to people around me in Kroger. For me, I must admit that some day’s receipts would show the life-equivalent of hours spent buying and consuming cotton candy. Ugh. Scrolling through social media as my default time filler, bingeing on Netflix on a day I am perfectly capable of working in the house, writing, or having coffee with a friend: fluff. Spinning my wheels on a project, procrastinating when I should just get it done: empty. I cringe to think of the pile of receipts that I could be amassing, and what they would show about my life.
Here’s the thing. I get one shot at this life. So do you. And we get to choose how we spend ourselves, how we spend our time, our energy, our resources. Yes, many of us work full time, many have young families at home, many have both. I realize (as a gal who was in that boat not so long ago) that not all of our time is your own, but think about the time you DO have. God has made you steward of many things in this world. Time is a big one. God calls us to enact wisdom as we choose how to use our time.
Think about the receipts that would be generated by how you spend yourself. A tangible reminder like that would definitely make me pause and think about the more God-honoring use of my most precious resource.
Take inventory of your hours. Where are your spending yourself? Your time? Your resources? What will be on the pile of receipts that cascade out of your purse at the end of the day? Make sure it’s worthwhile.
What would my receipts show? What would yours show? Are we redeeming our time? Are we using it the best way?
So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Colossians 4:5
“Dost thou love life? Then to not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” -Benjamin Franklin
In last week’s blog, I opened the topic of our adoption into God’s family by sharing a bit of my own adoption story. Please take a moment to read the post if you haven’t already.
As I continue a study of Ephesians with some friends, the Word continues to speak to me, resonating in new ways. How I love this passage:
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. -Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT
As these words sink in I am reminded of my role, my participation, in becoming part of my family.
When I was adopted, I didn’t choose my family. They chose me.
I didn’t pay for the adoption, my parents did.
I didn’t hire the lawyer, sign the paperwork, schedule the court date, and take my three older brothers out of school for the day to be part of this milestone event in their family. My parents did.
I couldn’t do any of these things, being a helpless newborn. My parents chose me and wanted me, went to great lengths to make sure I was part of their family forever, always carrying the name they gave me.
I couldn’t take credit for any part of my adoption. I didn’t earn my way into their family by being awesome, by doing everything I should do, by impressing them, but I became part of the family only because I was the daughter they chose, the daughter they took home, the daughter to whom they gave their name and shared their lives.
God went to far greater lengths to make us part of His family forever. He chose us. He paid for us with His precious blood, before we could grasp any part of it, before we even knew Him. He arranged all the details when we couldn’t because we were helpless in our sin. We don’t earn our way into His family by impressing Him, by getting it all right.
He loves us, His children, wayward, wandering, willful hearts and all, because we are His.
Let that sink in.
We are, in so many ways, addicted to achievement, thinking, perhaps subconsciously, that we can do enough, be enough, to earn our way into God’s good graces. But it’s a gift. He’s the Achiever, not us. He’s made the way, scheduled the court date, signed the paperwork, and gave us His name.
Accept the gift.
Please feel free to comment below! I am so grateful for your feedback.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. -Ephesians 1:5 NLT
I’m walking through the book of Ephesians in a Bible study with some friends, and I came across this passage a few days ago. Paul’s sweet words washed over me like a waterfall.
What a life-altering thought. My God chose me, decided in advance. And He adopted me, brought me fully into his family. Incredible.
I was not just invited in as a dinner guest, not just an acquaintance to say hi to, not even just a good friend to have coffee with, but enfolded as his daughter. Closely and authentically connected to a generous and ready-to-help Father, who wants nothing but love for me, wants only the best for me. In accordance with His pleasure. What a beautiful picture.
As one who was adopted into my earthly family, this resonates to my core. Maybe my story will shed some new light on this topic.
I am the youngest of four in my family: the only daughter, the only one adopted. The judge had some wise words for my family at the final hearing for my adoption: “She’s all yours and you’re all hers. Now and when she’s about 13.” Gazing hopefully into my 7-month-old face, these optimistic people had no way of knowing what lay ahead for them (both good and bad), but they knew they wanted me enough to give me their family name.
When I was a toddler, launching into truly monumental tantrums, my parents didn’t revoke my name. They lovingly disciplined me, taught me, let me know I wasn’t the center of the universe, and helped me grow.
When I was an all-out rebellious teenager, my folks didn’t take my name and tell me I was no longer theirs. They loved me, prayed for me, didn’t freak out when I shaved half my head, reminded me again that I wasn’t the center of the universe, and trusted I would come out the other side as they had, a bit older and wiser and (slightly) more fit to live with.
When I was in my early 20’s, struggling to figure out my path, making choices mom and dad might not have made for me, they didn’t disinherit me, cut me off, and decide they didn’t love me anymore. I was still their girl, still carrying the name they had given me. And they loved me through it.
Never once, no matter how hard things were or how rebellious I was, did my parents un-adopt me. Let that sink in for a minute.
I have now walked the path of the parent, loving my own two incredible and very normal kids through their challenging times. Even in the times that crushed my heart and wrung tears from my eyes, I never imagined, not for a second, that I would walk away and love them no more. It’s not in a parent’s heart.
And if we- imperfect parent that I am, that you are, that my imperfect-but-wonderful parents who adopted me into their family are- could still love, still hope for our children, and still call our kids by the names we have given them, how is it possible that a perfect and perfectly-loving father would turn away from his wayward child? Simple answer. It’s not. He doesn’t un-adopt us.
He still calls me by the name He gave me, calls me His daughter, even when I mess up. Because I am His. Not because I’m doing everything right, not because I have it all together (because I SO don’t), but I’m His child. What amazing love.
Hold fast to this today, my friends. We will stumble, but He is there to love us through it. We will choose rebellion, but He will choose grace. He will not un-adopt us. We carry His name.
Next week I want to unpack another related passage in Ephesians, so please check out next week’s post! \
Please comment below; I do read them and respond as soon as I can. How does this resonate with you? Do you ever feel insecure in your adoption into God’s family?
My sweet friend and neighbor, Donna, is a wonderful decorative painter. She’s passionate about her craft and eager to share it with others; she even got me to (try to) paint! Donna shared a recent experience and I couldn’t wait to commit it to words and share with you.
She was admiring an art exhibit that hung in a local gallery, and one piece stood out from the rest, beckoning her in for a better look. Up close the painting looked like a total mess. She, a very accomplished painter, was baffled with creating this way. Donna’s work reflects her love of clean lines, direction, and order. But the painting that so intrigued her was chaotic, very free-form in its style; it looked like a sloppy, disorganized disaster at close range. From a distance, however, it was a beautiful piece- a stately lion rather than a tangle of splotches and smears of paint placed with no apparent rhyme or reason.
She was mystified how an artist could do that: stand a few inches away from a canvas, creating a beautiful mess, somehow knowing the beauty that will emerge when the painting is complete. How does this messy, chaotic creativity work? It clearly makes sense to the artist and the final product works out to be what they intended all along: beautiful.
In life, we like to think we are the artists creating our own paintings, when we aren’t in control. We can’t choose the canvas, colors, or the direction of the strokes. We have the urge to suggest a color, give helpful advice, perhaps weigh in on the size and shape of the canvas. But we are NOT the artist. We are beautiful messes, works in progress, every one of us. I see my own chaos, my own mistakes, my own missteps, my own glaring faults, a sloppy, disorganized disaster close-up. But they’re part of the texture and melange of brush strokes that God is using to create something unlike any other piece he’s painted in the past. His masterpiece of me.
So often we fret, worry, and shed oceans of tears about those in our lives who are wandering. We pray, we struggle with their path, wondering at the splotches and smears in their life, things seemingly without rhyme or reason. But in the midst of that, God whispers, “Listen. Back up. It’s an unfinished mess of a painting when you look close up, but I’m not done. They’re mine and I’m still working on them. You’ve been trying to direct the Artist, choose the color, hold the paint brush. Step back so you can see more than the mess in this person’s life. Can’t you see the beauty I’m creating? This life, my masterpiece, isn’t finished yet.”
Trust the Master Artist as He paints your canvas and the canvases of those you love. He sees the big picture. He has the plan. He knows the end result. He gives perspective. Seek His will for your life, His design, His pattern. Trust that His process is creating beauty in the midst of the mess.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10, NLT
We often gaze far into the distance when wondering about God’s direction for us, seeking what the big-picture future will hold. I do this. So much. But if you read last week’s post, you know God has been redirecting my gaze and refocusing my path. If you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes to settle in there before you continue here.
When living a life of “what’s right in front of you,” focus rather than near-sightedness is the key. It’s not that I ignore the bigger picture, but I am learning to trust what that big picture looks like to God and focus on making the next brush stroke, then the next. Let’s spend a few minutes unpacking the “what’s right in front of you” message by looking at some practical applications you can set in motion TODAY.
- Do what’s in front of you
- As God places opportunities in your path, look at them with a heart of “yes.” Have an open heart and build some open space in your schedule that allows for divine appointments and assignments. Please hear me: not every opportunity is from God and not every request is your assignment. This takes some discernment, but YOUR opportunities will be clear to you as you listen more to what God wants and less to the expectations of the world. Listen to those promptings and whispers that bless another, not just say yes to every person who asks you to do something. This really isn’t easy. I’ve struggled with this for years, but as I walk further down the path God has for me, it becomes clearer to me which are His assignments for me and which are just another thing to do. In all practicality, I’m learning to use the direction of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Ask God if an opportunity is for you. Seek His direction and timing. Knock on that door and see if it opens. But don’t try to bust through a locked door. Never works out well.
- Use what’s right in front of you
- Look around your home. I’m guessing, like mine, it’s full of stuff. Full of books, clothes, home decorations, food. Things I still go to the store to purchase more of. Use what you have. Figure out creative ways to restyle an outfit with things you already have or a room with decorative accessories from another place in your home. Use the food in the freezer and pantry- again get creative! Read all those books already on the shelf (or on your Kindle) before you buy more. We are blessed beyond belief in this country. We don’t necessarily need more stuff, we just need to use and enjoy what we have more.
- Use the resources, the connections, the gifts and talents that are right in front of you. Not just the stuff. You were uniquely gifted and you have a sphere of influence that NO ONE ELSE has in this world. Make good use of it.
- Write what’s in front of you
- For me that means I need to listen to what God is impressing on my heart, what He is teaching me through my studies, my prayer time, my small groups, messages at church on Sundays, and my life experiences. Then I need to write what He’s showing me rather than worrying about writing what will sell. Life is full of rich material. It just takes time to put it all down in words. Take the time. Even if you’re not a writer. Share your stories and live out loud. You never know what God will use to make all the difference for someone else.
- Love what’s in front of you
- This calls me first and foremost to love my family well, those who live with me and those who don’t. I alone can fill the spot in their lives God has blessed me with. I need to be diligent in that role before I spend myself anywhere else. I need to love the people God has put in my life in my new Texas hometown, listening for how to know them better and serve them better. I continue to love the dear ones we love in California by reaching out to them and letting them know I am still here, still praying, still cheering them on from afar. I am called to love the people on social media with whom I regularly interact by praying for them and encouraging them. I am called to love the person in line with me at Starbucks, or the person sitting by the roadside asking for help, or the person packing my groceries at Kroger. Love the ones right in front of you. God put them there for a reason, and He put you there for a reason.
- Love the circumstances, home, and blessing that are right in front of you. Be grateful. Appreciate the good. Be aware of blessings and look for ways to share them. This can be challenging if you’re in the middle of circumstances or places that are hard, painful, and possibly in no way of your own making or choosing. But you can find blessings in all of these hard things. I’ve struggled oh-so-much here as I’ve learned to walk with chronic illness, move far from all those I knew, and lose a career. You find what you look for; seek with eyes that long to find the good.
- Serve what’s in front of you
- Keep your eyes open for opportunities to serve, even in a small way, the people who surround you. This lines up closely with loving what’s in front of you, but takes it to the next level. You may not be able to serve someone in poverty or illness on the other side of the world, but you aren’t accountable for them. You’re accountable for the person God has placed right in front of you.
- Walk the path that’s right in front of you
- Okay, this one is hard. For years I thought my career in education was the path for me. And it was for a season. Then I thought my career path in a major finance corporation was the path for me. And it was for a season. It’s been a challenge for me to accept this very different, very hard path of chronic illness, but there are a million blessings on this path, just as there were on the others. I trust the One constructing the road. Find contentment in your path even if you seem to be off-roading for a while.
- Take the next step that’s right in front of you
- Just take the next step. Then the next one. And the next one. I spend a lot of time worrying about where the path is taking me, but I need to spend a lot MORE time trusting God’s path and being obedient to His timing His purpose, and His plan. No need to rush ahead of Him. One step at a time is enough.
Choose to be present. Choose to keep focus on the God-given sphere of influence and life you have at your elbow every day. Choose to trust God and focus on what’s right in front of you. Choose to live alert and see what’s there, what you can do, how you can make a difference. And then choose to act.