Monday, August 29, 2011

Packaging & Labels

I'm a sucker for packaging. Just ask any of my sisters. If it's in a cute box or interesting bottle or has neat paper or a unique design, I'll probably want to buy it - regardless of what "it" is. If it catches my eye or piques my interest in some way that draws me, and I have enough money, I'll get it. Sometimes it's a bar of soap, other times it's a handmade card. It could be lip gloss, soda pop, shoes or a scarf.

Have you ever gone into some restaurant with amazing-looking desserts - piled high with whipped cream and berries or mounds of chocolate gooey-ness? Your mouth waters in anticipation of the delightful deliciousness melting in your mouth. How often does it taste as wonderful as it looks? Personally, I'm often disappointed.

I've had lots jobs, lived in lots of places and met lots of interesting people. I'm learning to not be so taken by someone's "packaging" or their "labels". One job I've had was as a driver for a company that transported "special needs" students, some elderly individuals and various others who needed transportation. Two of my regular riders were labeled as "special needs" and I would transport them to and from school. One was clearly on the autistic spectrum (but really, who among us isn't). I was told he was non-verbal, severely autistic and rarely responded without being talked to like one would command a dog. The other seemed as "normal" as any junior in high school. I was honestly confused by how the latter earned the label. Each of them taught me not to judge anyone by their labels or their packages. My non-verbal, severely autistic rider actually spoke to me on several occasions. We'd sing songs and joke and laugh - and I never had to speak to him like I would command a dog. My other regular rider missed a lot of school. He was very articulate and thoughtful and sweet.

They made me think about how I label others and how I, myself, have been labeled. They made me think about what I say about others and myself - which made me remember Proverbs 18:20 & 21, "A man's [moral] self shall be filled with the fruit of his mouth; and with the consequence of his words he must be satisfied [whether good or evil]. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it [for death or life]."

Do we simply accept and live up to (or down to) the labels we've been given (or given ourselves)? Do we put on a good front (does our packaging genuinely reflect our true selves)? Have we been told we're not enough or too much or not qualified or too qualified so often and for so long that we begin to believe it - and not only believe it, but confess it, accept it, and allow it to be a creative, prophetic force in our lives?

Psalm 139 tells us that God intricately formed each one of us in our mothers' womb. He knit us together "as if embroidered with various colors". (Amplified) He took time to design and craft each of us with specific attention to detail. Each one of us is a masterpiece reflecting His image. He does not label us by our hair color, race, nation of origin, denominational affiliation, political party, vocation, income or education. He only labels us as His - if we choose to be His.

Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised by the simplest packaging. A box with plain, brown-bag looking paper and a simple twine bow may hold the most astounding contents. And a non-verbal, severely autistic young man may just blurt out "E-I-E-I-O" from the back of the van as you're driving him home.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Shine The Way He Tweaked You!

Admittedly, I am different. The way I think, process and react is different than others. My actions are sheer genius or undeniably abysmal but mostly, somewhere in between. I have often attributed my "different-ness" to being left-handed. Right-handed people seem content to accept that as a reason for pretty-much anything.

Math was never my strongest subject in school. Geometry was a nightmare! My brain seemed incapable of comprehending the concepts and I struggled to maintain grades that were take-home-able. Mr. Head, my Geometry teacher, was a kind man and helped me before and after class but I never "got it".

Algebra was a little better, but, try as Ms. Poole & I did, FOIL is about the only thing I really conquered.

Chemistry was about as bad as Geometry. Mr. Hole - yes, that was his real name - was quite a character. He reminded me of Gene Wilder in "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" and certainly fit the "mad scientist" stereotype. He recognized my struggle and gave me extra credit points for nearly everything he could think of: name on paper = 1 point, date on paper = 1 point, etc. Again, it never "clicked". One day, I stayed after class to go over a pop quiz I had failed miserably. Mr. Hole graciously and slowly explained the chemical formulas step by step and how to arrive at their correct calculations. To my blank, glazed stare he responded, "This isn't your strong suit. You're probably really good in English." He meant well and he was right. English was a whole different story...

Needless to say, I was not looking forward to Algebra II - in fact, I was dreading it. I had heard all about Mrs. Longnecker - again, real name. She was a tough, no nonsense teacher who didn't allow any foolishness in her classroom. Was I intimidated? Yes. Had I already failed in my mind? Yes. But the first day of class I realized something as she wrote her name on the board...she was LEFT-HANDED! Finally, I had a math teacher who was able to explain things in a way my brain could understand. She even had two ways to explain each problem. If you understood the first way, she told you not to listen to the second way. I didn't become some Algebraic genus or anything, but I made As & Bs. She was brilliant!

As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a large family with four sisters. To make things more interesting, all our names start with "J". People would always get us confused and often compared us to one another. Though we are all very obviously sisters, we all have quite distinct personalities.

Once, I was at a church gathering. A man with a prophetic gift, who had never met me before, asked if he could share a word he felt he had from the Lord for me. Of course, I said he could (knowing that prophetic words must line up with the Bible, should be confirmed by other, trusted, Godly people and normally support things you already know). He said, "You stand out as one who is different. I've made you different. When lined up with the others in your family, you're different. But it's okay. You shine. Not above the others - but differently than the others. Don't compare yourself to your sisters. Shine the way I tweaked you."

I think that's a word for all of us. God created each of us differently than anyone and everyone else. Things that may be simple for one may be simply impossible for another. I may never completely understand Geometry or Chemistry - and don't even get me stared on the Trigonometry debacle of 1989 - but I can successfully balance my check book and even earned a Business degree, making it through Accounting classes.

I Timothy 4:14 reminds us not to neglect the special inward endowment that the Holy Spirit put within each one of us. Verses 15 & 16 tell us to "Practice and cultivate and meditate upon these duties; throw yourself wholly into them [as your ministry], so that your progress may be evident to everybody. Look well to yourself [to your own personality] and to [your] teaching; persevere in these things [hold to them], for by so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you." (Amplified)

Thankfully, Mrs. Longnecker allowed her unique personality to come through in her teaching enabling even a math moron to successfully calculate quadratic equations.

Be encouraged today. Practice and cultivate those unique gifts and appreciate the different gifts God's given others. Allow your individual personality to flow through all you do and shine the way He tweaked you!