The Victory of Overcoming

This is not what I had imagined.

How do you do a musical if you can’t sing? It was the final performance of my local stage debut. The musical I love. The part I love. And, of the twenty fantastic actors out there, I get the privilege of singing the solo in the finale’. But I can’t sing. There is simply no flexibility left in my vocal chords. I simply can’t sing.

And the victory goes to the poorest-timed virus of my life!… or does it?

Because the other thing I hadn’t imagined was the peace I felt in that moment. In all fairness I was a wreck thirty minutes earlier. I sobbed in the bathroom, frustrated, scared and uncertain how I was supposed to do anything if it hurt to talk. There was no technique to help this. My voice was spent. It was spent the night before and it was doubly spent now. Sometimes you storm your way into the arms of Peace. Powerless I had cried. Then someone looked me in the face and said “I don’t think you can sing either… but tell the story.” In that moment I found some footing and decided even if I couldn’t sing a note I was going to pour myself out on that stage.

Standing behind that blue fabric, looking up at the lights and waiting for those last few words before the finale’ a joy and a peace washed over me. I lifted my hands and felt it from my gut- a voiceless thank you. Nothing that weekend went as I would have liked- would have thought. It was eight shades of ugly. But after the curtain call I exited up-center stage for the last time proud, content and grateful.

Our world places a high prize on success. It loves a good performance. It loves results. A man can work an honest job for years and never be hailed as a success story. Someone else can start reselling golf clubs off of Craiglists and happen to break a million annually to the praise of all. In scanning the scriptures it becomes apparent that our Father does not share that value system. He commands us- not to success but to victory. You can have success without opposition but not victory. To be victorious you must overcome.

When I started this play a friend “randomly” sent me a message that she was praying and felt God say He was going to “release my voice”. This came five minutes after I had prayed that the lumps on my vocal chords would be healed. I assumed it was an answer to that prayer. Not so much. In retrospect, I don’t believe this was every really about my physical talent. Not the lumps on my chords, not my skill as an actor, or even my ability to read music. I suspect those things were not nearly as relevant as I thought.

No, my voice, it seems, runs right down past my larynx and into my heart. This was about faith. This was about confidence in the calling. This was about overcoming. My voice was found in the willingness to believe that if I had been chosen to do something then there was a way to do it. Maybe not without a struggle… but a way. And the cold, the lumps- they were never as big of a hindrance as my own doubt.

And God was faithful to bring me through that process. I find it deliciously ironic that I completed my first show with ten times the voice I had at finale’ and was so dismayed by my performance that I nearly threw up (see previous blog post). I was so scared. If you would have told me that three weeks later I was going to end up speaking one of the biggest solos in the entire show and feel good about it I would have laughed in your face. But my Father, He knows me well and He cares about my heart- our hearts. He knows what we need to be healthy and grow.

As children of God we face all sort of trials. We are unqualified, we are beset, we are pregnant with promises, and we are, in the midst of it all, commissioned. We’ve been selected to play a role. To tell a story. And though we often find ourselves nearly rendered mute in this fallen state we look up, and find a way. With broken voice- even broken faith- we breath into it. We believe. We overcome the trial. We overcome the fear. And no matter how hindered that voice is on the way out, we throw our cape, we flash our eyes, and we leave the message on the stage- victorious.

1 John 5:4 “…This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”

The Price of A Pedicure

The pedicure had ceased to be relaxing. The assault on my ease-of-life endeavor had started nearly the moment the young woman sat down at my feet. I don’t like making people feel bad so I didn’t say anything when she used to much force with the cuticle pusher. I simply turned my head to the side and tried to re-start the conversation with my dear friend. Since I was on voice rest it had stalled out a little bit though she made a gallant effort to carry both parts. Then the girl cut into my toe I involuntarily let out an “ouch” but still tried not to make a scene, purposed to work on breathing and, for the most part, ignored her.

But then came the foot file.

I have horrible callouses on my feet and I am perfectly used to the foot file but this was something else. It was as if she had purposed to take my foot down a size. When the first two, reflexive withdraws didn’t give her the hint that perhaps less force was desirable I finally opened my mouth and said… “that hurts!” to which she replies “okay, I’ll let it soak a little longer first.” Oh dear God! After a second round of near-torture I told her it was okay just to leave the callous and go on. But there was no return to relaxation. I was frustrated, hungry and in pain. We were over-due to bring lunch back to the house for the kids and I couldn’t even talk to my oldest friend who I only get to see once a year. And now, I needed to supervise this, clearly inept, attendant sitting at my feet.

That was the point.

I started to look at her. Round face, tattoo, different dialect than the other girls, more tattoos… burn marks. Up and down both wrists. The clear sign of cigarette burns, the most recent still scabbing. I started listening to the broken babble between her and the other girls. The story came in fractured pieces. “How long have you been in the states?” I inquire. “Five months.” She’s from Vietnam. She might as well have been from a different world. Iowa is no Vietnam.

I didn’t try to force conversation. The salon was clearing out now and I knew exactly why I was there and exactly what needed to be said. Just twelve hours before I had read some stirring blog post about “seeing people” or something like that. You know, the ones that go viral and make us feel good about ourselves when we re-post them. Even if we don’t actually do what they talk about. I had been asking God, to help me see people. To walk around and see what He saw. To treat people how He treated them. Now here she was.

She finished and stood. I reached out for her and puzzled she reached back. I took both her hands and flipped them over.

“Did you do this to yourself?” I ask tracing the marks on her caramel skin.

“Yes” she says without pulling away.

“Why?”

She tries to sigh, tries to smile. “Because I was sad.”

So I looked her straight in the face and told her she was special. I repeated it. People don’t burn themselves because they are sad. They don’t kill themselves because they are sad. They don’t drink to oblivion because they are sad. They do these things because they don’t have value. Everyone gets sad sometimes. But when you feel like everything that’s ever gone wrong is intrinsically your fault… that is another matter entirely. She doesn’t know she’s His precious child. She doesn’t know she’s precious at all. We exchanged names and hugs and with tears in my eyes I implored her to stop. She smiled and kept nodding. Then I left. I don’t really know that I did enough. I’ll never know.

I got on stage for the that night. It may sound narcissistic but I not-so-subconsciously dedicated my performance to her. Why? Because it took nearly every ounce of courage I had to get back on that stage and I knew she was going to need courage. Courage to see herself differently. Courage to make different choices. Courage to let herself hope for something more.  In the grand scheme of things a play doesn’t matter much but it was the one thing that was personal to me that evening. The one part of my heart I could send to her with a prayer. Dear God, give her the love and courage to believe. To make whatever brave decisions she needs to make to get to a better place.

We don’t do brave things when we don’t know who we are. We stay in bad relationships. We continue in destructive patterns. We avoid responsibility and excellence. We medicate ourselves into mediocrity and passivity and never venture beyond the stagnant numb. Maybe you’re there. Maybe you don’t know you’re loved. That you’re valuable. That you are specifically created for something unique, purposeful and beautiful. That you have value in the eyes of God as you are right this very minute. Such value! Oh, it’s so trite, here written out. Blah! Blah! Blah! God loves us… Oh, Holy Spirit, give my words power. GOD LOVES YOU SO MUCH! You are not alone. You don’t ever have to be alone again. He understands your pain. He really does! I wish I could hold your face in my hands right now. I wish I could look into your eyes so you would believe me and say with the same conviction I told that little one at my feet “You are special.”

If you are a believer- if you already know these things please find the one this week. That one person who is hurting and unseen. Ask God for His eyes this week and let’s start giving people back the hope of God’s love. Just show kindness. True, unadulterated kindness. Speak to the heart. You don’t have to have a sermon, or a poem, or any number of words at all. Just look for the pain. Look for the need. Look for the gap and move towards it. God himself will speak into it. That’s what He desires to do. Just be willing to be there.

Father, I am not always so open and so willing. Truly, I would have missed your precious daughter for the price of a good pedicure. Thank you that you know even that and are mindful of my weakness. But help me, and anyone else who so desires to walk more like you each day. To find the leper, the prostitute, the weary, the fearful and not shrink back from their pain. Help us to move confidently towards each other knowing that the healing God of all mercy, wisdom and power is waiting to flood us with His wondrous, loving presence. Thank you for all that you are doing. Please help us to continually look to you and not to our own methods, wisdom or willpower. Ever leaning on Your steadfast character and sovereign guidance. To you be all glory, sweet Jesus. Amen.