The Cool Factor (The Hobbit: Part 3)

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“And not according to selfish ambition (the desire to put yourself forward, and not according to conceit, but in humility esteeming one another more than yourselves, not caring only for your own things but even each other’s things.” Philippians 2:3-4 One New Man Bible  

This blog post has been on my heart for a week, and throughout this week, my heart and attitude have been like a roller coaster – up and down, up and down. I think currently I’m at a higher point so this is probably a safe place to write this post.

About a month ago, I wrote a blog about what my mother understood spiritually from the first Hobbit movie. Last week, I discussed what my best friend heard the Lord say about it. This week, the subject heavy on my heart is exactly what I stuck out to me in the movie. Perfect timing. It’s all about belonging.

Right before Bilbo reunites with the dwarves, he hears them arguing, debating whether or not he has abandoned them. Of course, he reappears and tells Thorin that he came back because he wants to help the dwarves reclaim their own home, a place where they can belong.

I think I’ve spent the majority of my life looking for somewhere to belong, somewhere I can call home. Even in elementary school (a private school), there was a distinct difference between those who went to church and school there and those who just went to school. When I was younger, I made my best friend in kindergarten, and that was pretty much the only friend I needed. I didn’t care at the time who else liked me or didn’t like me as long as I had her. Looking back, I realize how unhealthily dependant I was on her, especially since she clearly didn’t feel the same way.

In fifth grade, I was suddenly very uncool, and she suddenly needed to be very cool. Maybe she had always needed that, and I just didn’t see it. I don’t really know what was going on in her heart. I’ve never really had access to it.

She found other friends that offered her that “cool’ opportunity and grew a slight obsession with boys that I, frankly, didn’t really care about as much. I tried to care. I pretended to care. I tried to be everything that I thought she wanted, that I thought I was supposed to be, but I wasn’t enough for her.

I pretended in my head that we continued to be best friends until high school. She even wrote me a very sweet note in seventh or eighth grade that states something like, “I know I haven’t been a very good friend to you, but I promise I’m going to get better. We’re going to be best friends until we’re old and gray.” I naively believed her. What does that one verse say? “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). I was very sick.

Really though, our friendship ended in fifth grade because how can you have relationship with anyone when you don’t know who you are anymore. I lost myself that year. I lost myself in trying to be someone I wasn’t, I lost myself in the divorce and general upheaval that was going on in my home. I came out broken and alone, and for ten years, I’ve been searching for somewhere to belong.

Throughout junior high, high school, and college, I’ve run into plenty of “cool” people. My current, awesome, and beautiful aforementioned best friend lovingly calls it “the cool factor.” You know what I’m talking about. You probably have some people pop into your mind. And if you don’t, then you’re probably the one with the biggest cool factor in your group of acquaintances. I say that with love intended.

I came to despise these “cool’ people, stare at them in bitter jealousy, resentment, judgment, ect, In the last couple months, I’ve learned the cool factor doesn’t go away after college. There are still fully grown adults who carry themselves with the cool factor. They remind me of high school all over again. They set themselves above others, limit their friendships to only the most beautiful, most confident, most socially acceptable, or whatever it is that matches their criteria. I’ve still struggled with bitterness towards them.

But then last week, the Lord showed me something I didn’t expect, something I didn’t want to admit – I’ve been exactly like them. Ever heard the phrase “hurt people hurt people?” When I was first hurt, I bought into the whole social class lie and placed myself at a certain level near the bottom. I wanted to get to the top because clearly getting the people at the top to accept me would bring value and worth I can’t get anywhere else… Another lie we so readily accept.

In order to get to the top, I couldn’t associate myself with those “lower” than me. I know. It’s disgusting. However, as more and more cool people rejected me, I both needed and hated the people at the top. Now I didn’t want to associate myself with anybody.

In the last few years, I’ve been somewhat of a hermit. Partially trying to deal with and heal from my past, but also because I’ve simply not wanted to hang out with people. I stopped seeing what people were worth in themselves and started looking for what they were worth to me. And it seemed nobody had anything good to offer me. In my broken mind, they offered me either a lower status or an arrogant, self-centered rejection. So I cut myself off, and I have felt homeless, wandering for a place to belong. Much like those dwarves.

But God has been teaching me in the last week, showing me what my attitude and thoughts should really be like. The truth is there are those people who walk in the cool factor much more than others. They all seem to gravitate towards one another and form exclusive and private cliques. I’ve been hurt multiple times by them throughout my teenage years, and I will still run into them in the entertainment industry, at the grocery store, and, yes, even at church. In fact, much more at church than you would think. But now my response has to be different.

I will still meet those people who believe they’re lower than everybody else and want to hide in the corner out of fear and anxiety. I’ve both been people like that and hurt people like that, but now my response has to be different.

Because God has healed my heart and broken the trauma and the lies I’ve been operating under, I don’t have to buy into that social class system bull crap anymore. I hate it. I hate it with a passion. Even when people try to place me lower or higher than them, I don’t have to accept it anymore. My job is to be outside of that system and love them through their dysfunctions in whatever way the Lord shows me. I want to Bring truth to them in whatever way their social status allows me to because that system is a mirage, and it will one day disappear, leaving all the people on it to crash and burn.

We don’t belong on a social ladder, and we, especially the church, need to seriously look at our attitudes towards those around us. Not just those close to us, but to everyone around us. Even those we dismiss or overlook because they’re either too self-absorbed or too uncool for us. How many opportunities are we cutting off because of our own junior-high-mindedness? We need to find those places in our attitudes and ask the Lord to reveal to us where those are coming from so we can be set free.

My best friend and I always talk about how we would never have been friends if we had met in high school. She would have overlooked me, thinking I wasn’t cool enough for her, and I would have judged and resented her, never able to be myself around her. But, by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, we are best friends and sisters and ministry partners in whatever way the Lord plans for us.

I sometimes wonder how many other friendships I’ve missed out on, but healing has had to come first. Acceptance and wholeness from Jesus Christ has had to come first. Building back my confidence is where I am now to get me to the point where I can step outside this system we buy into. My horizon of friendships is widening even now.

So from Jesus’ heart to my heart to yours: “You belong. You are accepted. You don’t have to try so hard. You are loved and seen and wanted. Your home is here, wherever you are, because His love can find you anywhere.”

The cool factor is lame. Let’s not just grow out of it, but eliminate it completely, and love the way our hearts were created to love.

My Unexpected Journey (The Hobbit Musings: Part 2)

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“I’m not where I wanna be, but I’m not where I used to be.”           Brand New Day recorded by KJ-52

In this week’s multifunctional blog, I want to pick up with The Hobbit and its spiritual implications, tying it into my continued post-SHINE journey. If you haven’t seen the first Hobbit movie or haven’t read my previous blogs concerning these two subjects, now would be a good time to do so.

The complete title of the movie is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Everything about my SHINE and post-SHINE journey has been unexpected. Nothing has gone like I thought it would or wanted it to. And for someone like me, that’s not a comfortable thing.

I’ve always had my schedule and plan of how my life should go. I’m going to be an actress and a writer, as well as a speaker who holds conferences with her best friend musicians. I’m going to marry a beautiful, musician husband, and we’re going to change the world for Jesus.

Now, I still fully believe all these things are going to happen. These are the desires and goals that God has shaped my heart for (including the beautiful musician husband part, wink wink). However, the “how” and “when” have still completely been in my hands. Or at least I try to hang onto them.

Keeping that in mind, let’s jump over to the movie. Near the end, the dwarves and Bilbo battle the disgusting orcs amid flames, fire, and hatred. Even after Bilbo’s courageous act, their situation looks pretty desperate. Then, of course, they get rescued by the eagles, because these gargantuan birds always come in at the last minute, and are swiftly deposited on a rock far enough away from the orcs that they are not in any immediate danger, yet far enough away from the mountain that there can be another movie.

I looked at the distance between them and the mountain, and I looked at the eagles that were now flying away. I looked at my best friend and said, “Why in the heck don’t those birds just take them to the mountain?”

Almost immediately, she heard the Lord answer my question. He said, “If they didn’t go on the journey to get to the mountain, they wouldn’t be prepared and equipped for the battle at the mountain.”

Enter me, post-SHINE, with my expectations and plans crumbling in my hand as I still scramble desperately to hold them together. But it’s only my expectations and plans, not my dreams and desires, that are crumbling. Not the “what.” Just the “when” and “how.” I’ve already given Him the “what,” allowed Him to call forth the true desires of my heart, but He wants it all because, honestly, He will probably do better with “when” and “how” than I would.

I know I’m going to make it in this industry. I just do. (Although I did have a small crying session last night doubting that exact thing, but I’m back on stable ground today.) I’ve just learned there’s a lot of work in between where I am and where I want to be. I already want to be at that mountain with the hills of gold. But am I ready to face the dragon and the battles that await me there? Am I ready to have that amount of gold in my possession?

Am I ready to move out to LA or New York right now and start work? Honestly, no. But am I ready to visit Nashville or Dallas, be an extra in a movie, and soak in every opportunity I can? Just tell me when and where, and I will be there!

I really want to enjoy this process, because I know it’s not here to torture me. It’s not like God said, “Oh, Sarah thinks she’s gonna do this and this and this. Haha, let’s change it up just to mess with her.” As much as I used to think He was like that, I praise the Lord that He has shown me His true nature in that aspect.

I walk on this path that I walk because my Father knows this is where I need to be. This is where He teaches me how to not only hold a sword but wield it with deft and deadly accuracy. This is the path where He teaches me to shoot a bow that hits its mark every time. Think Legolas.

And in real life terms, this is where I learn to walk into an interview or audition with all the confidence and purpose the Lord breathes into every stillness of my soul. This is where I submit myself to a hundred auditions, hear back from one, and still praise Him, knowing He has destined me for great things. This is where I attend acting classes and work to hone the talent He has given me so it becomes my craft.

This is where that confidence that was so lacking at SHINE builds into a beautiful monument that points to my Saviour. He’s what I want all this to be about anyway. When I was in Orlando for the conference, I reached this place where the only thing I wanted was to be in the Lord’s presence. I told Him, “God, I want to be in Your will, in the intimacy of walking side by side with You, more than I want any role. Nothing is worth losing this closeness I have with You.”

And so, for me, right now, God is not in LA. He’s not in New York. At this exact moment in time, He’s not even in Nashville. He’s right here next to me, in a city I don’t really want to be in with a job I’m not even close to passionate about and my best friends scattered across the country.

Have I been having a good attitude about all this? Unfortunately, no, but I want that to change, starting even right now. Easier said than done, am I right? And maybe that’s part of why I’m here. Because God is enough. No matter where I am or what I’m doing. He will always be enough. He needs to be enough for my joy and for my contentment, and that’s part of why I’m still here.

Maybe I won’t be confusing trolls or running from goblins or fighting orcs, but I’m battling my own bad attitude and building up a foundation on the One True Cornerstone. That’s where I am on my journey right now. Unexpected as it may be.

How to SHINE

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“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.”                                                    Isaiah 60:1-2 NIV

As I write this, I’m leaving the most amazing, weirdest week of my life. Like most life-changing events, I feel a million different emotions. A million different thoughts fill my head because I learned something at SHINE that I didn’t expect to learn.

For those of you who don’t know, SHINE is a bi-annual conference with 70 to 100 talent agencies, casting directors, and managers (called VIPs) from across the country. Actors, models, singers and dancers train with AMTC for this event where they are showcased in front of the VIPs through different events. Throughout the week, different VIPs give extremely informative seminars about entering and navigating the industry, and on the last day, performers participate in flash interviews and callbacks. All in the hopes of changing the entertainment industry by shining for Jesus.

As I prepared and fundraised for this opportunity, I had different people, people who didn’t even know the name of the event, tell me I was going to shine. I took it as confirmation that in every event I would perform outstandingly, that everyone would see my talent and just fall in love with me. A little melodramatic maybe, but that’s just me. Despite my coaches’ encouraging yet realistic talks about the hard work and time it takes to get into the industry, I think some subconscious part of me really believed this was my “big break.”

I arrived for the two day Pre-SHINE rehearsals and completely nailed all my practices. Seriously though. I’m a strong believer of knowing and accepting what you’re good at and knowing and accepting when you don’t do so well at something. And I did well those first two days. It was fun, it was practice, and it was pressure free.

Then the first official day came. I didn’t even have a showcase that day, but I could already feel a shift in my focus. So that morning I asked the Lord to, at some point during the day, just speak to me clearly. I wanted to feel His presence.

It happened at lunch. I ended up eating lunch alone that day, a design by my Father, I’m sure after I asked Him to speak to me. Sometimes He needs to isolate us so that we’ll finally come to Him and listen.

I asked Him where He wanted me to read in His word. Philippians popped in my head, so I turned to the first chapter, but I promise you the AC kept flipping to the next page where chapter two began. So I started there. From the very first verse, talking about being like-minded and having one purpose, I knew this passage was important for all Christian performers. Then verses three and four convicted me.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” NIV

The entertainment industry is extremely competitive, and so many people only look out for self. When we walk around with a competitive spirit and a competitive mindset, we turn nasty. Competition cannot exist with what Paul just wrote in those two chapters. In fact, he literally says the exact opposite of what competition is. Not that we can’t work to be the best us, to be better than we were yesterday, to compete with ourselves. But I never want to look at God’s precious daughter sitting next to me in an audition and be more concerned with being “better” than her instead of asking the Lord to show me how to speak to her in that moment. That’s not what shining is about.

So Paul continues, giving the perfect example of non-competition – Jesus. Obviously. He says that even though Jesus actually was God, he didn’t even consider Himself to be equal to God when He was on earth as a human. He lowered himself, as a man, as a servant, and by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (verse eight). Jesus, who has more right than anybody to parade Himself around in perfection, gave Himself to one of the most humiliating, painful types of death.

Then, in verse nine, Paul points out that because Jesus did that, His Father “exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.”

Jesus made Himself low, and His Father made His name the most powerful name on the earth. Hmm that sounds like a biblical principle heard elsewhere in Scripture (James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6). And it sounds completely contrary to everything the entertainment industry and the world say.

The next section continues with the word “therefore” meaning everything that Paul has said before that word leads up to this next, very important point.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life.”

Okay, I know that’s a lot of bolded words, but please, read them all. This passage of Scripture is brilliant. He gives us exact instructions on how to shine. Do nothing out of selfish ambition of vain conceit. Obey the Lord. Work out our salvation. Do not grumble or argue. Consider others better (And this is not a “I’m worthless, and you’re so much cooler than me” attitude. It’s more of a “I’m here to serve and help you because I love you like God loves you” attitude). Do all this, and then shine like a star. Like I said, brilliant. Yet I still didn’t quite get it all the way.

The week continued, and I didn’t do as well as I wanted or knew I could do. I was disappointed in myself and discouraged by the lack of confidence that came the moment SHINE officially began, and I now saw my events as competition instead of something fun and exciting. It became all about me. I wasn’t shining onstage, and I was frustrated.

The night before callbacks I started freaking out a little so I asked the Lord what to read. Psalm 37. Ok. I turned there and stopped at verses 5 and 6.

“Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.”

There was that shine word again, but it wasn’t my talent that would shine. Nor my destiny, my presence, or my calling. It wasn’t really anything of mine that was going to shine because my righteousness isn’t really mine. It’s Jesus’. And that righteousness would SHINE by allowing Him to guide my every step.

I want to bed still trying to understand the weight of what I just read.

Fast forward to the next evening, after the flash interviews and callbacks, to the awards banquet. Based on the events I was in, I was eligible for Best Overall Adult Female Actor and Best Overall Adult Lifestyle Model. I didn’t win either. I didn’t even place second or third.

But I did win one award. An award that each Hub city voted for within their own group. An award that I truly didn’t think I would get at all because I didn’t think that many people knew who I was.

I won the Dallas Hub’s Prayer Warrior Award. My own peers voted for me. And when they announced my name, people cheered for me. Not just the polite, expected clap, but a cheer of people who loved and supported me. I honestly didn’t even think that that many people saw me. Of course that probably has something to do with the confidence stuff I know the Lord will be working on with me.

And when I received that award, I realized what SHINE really means. This was what God had been teaching my head all week, and now He brought me to a situation that taught my heart.

I didn’t do amazingly well in my performances because it’s still about me at this point in my heart.

I won the Prayer Warrior Award and people cheered for me because it wasn’t me. I wasn’t doing it for me. I saw people hurting, fearful, struggling, and I wanted to help. I want to set the captives free, and I want to be used to help heal hearts. It was all about the Lord and His love for His people.

Shining isn’t about shining onstage, whatever your onstage may be. It’s about shining offstage, in every moment of your day.

And that’s not to say that I’m not going to continue becoming the amazing actress that I know I was created to be. I’m going to work hard and be excellent and act in movies that change hearts and lives across the nation.

But I don’t want that spotlight to be my goal anymore. I want a spotlight of a different caliber. A heavenly and everlasting spotlight. That’s the spotlight in which I want to SHINE.