Monday, February 20, 2012

The power of choice

An important friend of mine came to visit last night.  It was a wonderful, refreshing visit.  We had good conversations, and I was blessed by her honesty and vulnerability.

And we sharpened each other.

As I was walking back from taking her to the train station, I was thinking back on our conversations, and all the things I had realized about myself.  Yes, I have a gift for speaking clear, sharp Truth.  But sometimes (make that oftentimes) I just have a sharp tongue that I have been waving around carelessly and pridefully.  I have injured people very dear to me many times by the sharpness of a tongue that is not discerning.

I realized the self-righteous pride that fills me.  I react to people in irritation or disdain instead of love and mercy.  And I learned what it feels like to be on the opposite end of that, and still love and reach out to the person who very clearly disdains you.

A few years ago, at a gathering of our "sisterhood in arms" forged in Japan were we asked the question "What do you want to get out of this time together."  (We are very intentional in our time together.)  My answer was, "I want to see myself reflected in your eyes."  I had been away from these women for so long, I longed to see who I was in relation to them.  I guess what I really wanted to see was the affirmation of love from them, that I was a person who was chosen and loved by these women I respected and loved.  Only, you really do have to be careful what you wish for.  Because I was shown myself reflected in their eyes.  And it almost shattered me at the time, the shock was so great.  Because true reflections of ourselves are often ugly and deformed.  We find our sin staring back at us.  At least that is the reflections we will find on earth. 

I realized later that what I should have desired was to see myself reflected in God's eyes.  God's eyes, while truthful and showing us the severity of our sin, are also merciful and hopeful, showing us the beauty that is still within, and the beauty that should be.  They are overlapping.  Because God loves us for who we are now, sin and deformity and all.  And God loves us, and longs for us, for the people we will become or were intended to become.

So the last time I was confronted with my reflection in the eyes of those close to me, it nearly tore me apart, because I wasn't expecting it.  Or rather, I was expecting something totally opposite.  I shut down and couldn't bear the truth of my sins.

It was a painful time for us all.

This time was different.   So while I was walking home and reflecting on all that was said, I thanked God that he was rebuking me so gently this time.  There were no deep gaping wounds, no tears, no pain.  Just acceptance.  So I joking commented to God that He must be babying me lately.

And the reply I heard was:
"It's not babying.  This is what happens when you choose to have a teachable spirit."


I thought about that, and it makes a lot of sense.  I mean, imagine trying to teach a young child to do something correctly.  Rebuking toddlers can be challenging.  Many hate being told no, or being told how to do something only one way.  They want to do it their way.  And if you interfere, there will be screaming and throwing of feet.  (much akin to weeping and gnashing of teeth.)  The child hates it, you hate it, the people around you hate it.  It's miserable.  Because the child refuses correction.  But some children have teachable spirits.  You correct them once, and they accept it.  You smile, the child does not feel condemned or unloved, and you praise the child for correcting their behavior so quickly.  Simple, painless, joyful.  It's wonderful to teach children with teachable spirits.

And it reminds me that it all comes down to how we choose to accept rebuke and correction.  We can scream and gnash our teeth, and it will be painful, and not just to us.  Or we can calmly and quickly accept our correction, and it is simple and joyful even.

And I promise, it is a choice.  It is a choice I did not make cognitively, but for me it was a process of events that helped me mature to a point where I could allow my spirit to be teachable.  But now that I know that's what it is, I can choose it on purpose in the future.  When faced with rebuke, I can choose to accept it calmly and with grace.  It's my choice.

Choice is a powerful thing, is it not?

But I still think that God is "babying" me lately.  ;-)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cliche, but true

"Tis better to give than to receive."

Yep, it's an instant eye roller. Anytime someone quotes it, you feel like you've been there, done that, rolled around in it's hollow hypocrisy and then crumpled it up and threw it away.

Well, maybe that's just me.

I tend to dislike the commonly quoted "feel better" quips. They feel so hollow and dishonest.

But they are quoted for good reason. Many of them are true. I just hate hearing them in most situations. But of course, it's perfectly fine for ME to quote them when they suit my purpose. (yep, no trace of a double standard here.)

In any case, this is the "new" revelation of the weekend.

This week we had a Valentine's chocolate making event at church. Little kids decorated chocolate filled cups, and older kids and adults learned how to make an AWESOME truffle recipe. (And when I mean awesome, I mean insane-blow -your -socks- away,- can't -stop- eating -til -they're- gone awesome. And I'm not that huge of a chocolate fan. Huge yes, chocolate fan, no.) We had an insane number of participants. (someone commented that we had more people come for the chocolate than came for church...) But it all went rather smoothly. (Thankfully I become "Super-Event-Coordinator-Amber" when there are tons of people and little details to cover. Also thankfully I had a small army of volunteers who had no idea what was going on, but did their best to follow my spastic direction giving.)

So this had me thinking about Valentine's Day. (well, I had to give a message, so I have to think about it. ;-) )

I remember in America, I hated Valentine's Day. I'm not sure hate is a strong enough word. Loathed, dreaded, hoped, cursed... (descriptive verbs are fun.) Why would I do such a thing? What did the poor innocent holiday do to deserve such wrath?

Oh so glad you asked.

You see... I of course had no boyfriend. (I'm sure you are shocked. I was also shocked at each passing year of singleness.)

Recently, it feels like America is a culture of entitlement and receiving. I am a woman. Therefore I deserved to be romanced. I want to receive someone's love and attention (preferably tall and handsome with a great smile and good sense of humor). Oh and don't forget the presents. Presents are good. I'll even take a box of chocolates, even though I don't really like them all that much. (It's the thought that counts you know. ;-) Or maybe just the act of getting a present.) Oh yes. Gimme gimme gimme.

(Hmmm, when kids do this to me, I have the greatest urge to not give them whatever it is they are so strongly demanding. And then tease them with it. .... hmmm.... maybe I shouldn't be teaching kids...)

I hated Valentine's Day because I was so caught up in myself (and what I wasn't getting) that I couldn't see anything else.

Then I moved to Japan.

In Japan the tradition is for women to give men chocolates. (and there is a whole system of obligation in place to re-enforce it. Japan is a marketers dreamland.) This of course was shocking, because of course women are supposed to GET chocolate. Right?

Second shock was the discovery that women often HANDMADE chocolate to give to special people. Heck I didn't even know you could make chocolate at home. (Actually at the time I was confused, because I thought they were making chocolate from complete scratch, you know from the cocoa bean stage. I was really impressed that people went that far. Then I found out it was just using chocolate to make chocolate desserts.)

So for several years I was happy to be a foreigner outside this insane system of obligation, and outside of America where I wasn't bombarded with the need to "get."

Then I started making friends and building relationships. And suddenly for the first time, I WANTED to make a whole bunch of chocolate to give to people important to me. This was a huge revelation for me.

Fast forward a couple of years and lets do a quick topic change.

Fall and winter is Birthday season in the Band. First we have October, followed by December and then February comes too soon after. Since the band members are all important to me, I spend lots of time and energy thinking about what to give them. And after the first few years of being asked hopefully "Is this homemade?" I got the hint that homemade gifts are treasured, and started hand making gifts every year. (good thing I like crafts)

Every birthday we also have a party with all the fans. There's a cake that we all eat together, we sing and then give presents to the birthday boy. Everyone really gets into it. Usually the cakes were bought, but this year, both the October birthday and the December birthday got homemade cakes. Wow.

There is one Birthday left, so it would be sad if he didn't get a homemade cake for his birthday. So I decided that I would make one for him. (It's not obvious at all who my favorite is... nope, not at all.)

So I asked my mom to send me a couple of boxes of my favorite cake mix and some frosting. The Birthday boy in question likes "American taste" so I figured this would be a fun treat for everyone. (My favorite mix is Spice Cake by Duncan Hines I believe.) This is my first time baking a cake in Japan, so I was a little worried if I would be able to get it right. So I wanted to practice a bit before hand. Then I was worried I wouldn't have enough cake to practice with, so I asked my roommate to get a couple more boxes when she went back to America. She also got me a stash of pecans (hard to find here!).

So I started my baking adventure. (enjoyed by my students and my roommate, who got to help me eat the end results.) After two practice cakes (spread out over several weeks) I finally figured out how the cake was supposed to be done. And yesterday was the big day. I woke up, baked all day, decorated and went to the live concert where we could celebrate.

And I have to say. Giving that cake, having the person in question enjoy the cake, and having people I care about sharing the cake together... Yeah. That's when it sinks in. It really is better to give than to receive.

I have more fun every year on his birthday, when I am working hard to make a special day for someone, than on my own birthday, when I want the day to be special for me. (I want others to make it special for me.)

Today our Bible verse for our event was the famous "Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength." And "Love your neighbor as yourself."

You think it's about obligation, or that it's difficult to do. And sometimes it is. But sometimes, it's the best thing in the world to be able to love your neighbors, and putting all of your effort into it.

And so today, I was still basking in the warm fuzzy feelings from yesterday. But then during worship it struck me. I worked so hard to make that cake (and present) for someone special to me. But that is a person. When was the last time I worked that hard to do something for God???

That was a question that stopped me in my tracks. And suddenly I really wanted to bake a cake for God. Well, when I think about that, I'm not sure how that would work. What would I do with it? Giving it to someone else seems wrong, and just throwing it away seems wasteful. So maybe a cake is not the way to go. But. I really would like to be able to love God so much to devote that much time and energy into making something just to give to God.

I'll be thinking on this.

For now, I'm enjoying the afterglow of giving. :-D
(Here is the cake made of awesomeness. I was told it looked very American. I was also told it looked very "Amber-like." I guess everything I do comes out looking "Amber-ish")

And the birthday boy while we sing "Happy Birthday" to him.