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Service with a Smile

20130610-155623It’s no secret to those who know me well that I like to be in the spotlight. As a young girl, I would practice gymnastic routines in my backyard, imagining the roar of the crowd as I won Olympic gold for my country. Or I would pirouette in front of my parents’ floor-length mirror, pointing my toes just so, trying to hold my head erect with that graceful look of the ballerinas I saw on TV. And my performances in school plays, to small audiences of proud parents and squirming siblings, seemed to be just stepping-stones to my glittering future career as an actress on Broadway.

But the spotlight’s not on me tonight. As I slip in and out among tables of happily chatting guests in the candle-lit reception hall, scooping up dirty plates and refilling water glasses, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. The black dress shirt, black pants, and long black bistro apron of my uniform are intended to help me blend in rather than stand out. As a server for a local catering company, my goal is to be unnoticed, so that all eyes can be focused on the star of the show – the bride.

As I scrape leftover food off salad plates and lug bags of trash outside to the dumpster, navigating the hot kitchen with bustling cooks and scurrying servers, I have to smile to myself. God certainly has a sense of humor. For a girl who loves to be admired and appreciated, it’s challenging to be in a job with very little recognition or appreciation.

A verse suddenly pops in to my head – “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” It’s from Luke 17, and Jesus is making the point that when you’re working as a servant, you don’t expect thanks or reward for your efforts. Jesus Himself was our ultimate example of this attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. The Bible says that He came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

What would make the omnipotent God of all Creation take on fragile, weak human form, and put up with the pettiness and potential pain of life on planet Earth? What made Him confident enough to kneel in the dirt to wipe the grime off Peter’s and John’s and even Judas’ feet? Jesus knew that His identity didn’t come from others’ praise or recognition. One week the crowds were ready to crown Him as the conquering hero, the next week they screamed for His death. But Jesus knew that “the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3). His identity was secure in WHO He was and WHOSE He was.

“Thank you, Smiley.” My internal reverie is broken by the kind voice of a gray-haired gentleman in a meticulous black suit.

Concentrating on trying not to spill as I pour water into his glass, I’m momentarily taken aback. I didn’t realize I was smiling. But his comment makes my night. “You’re welcome!” And I can’t help grinning even wider. Though it’s certainly nice to be appreciated, tonight has been a good reminder that my value doesn’t come from the recognition of others. My value comes from my identity as the beloved daughter of my Heavenly Father. And that is definitely something to smile about.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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The Price of Fame

20121119-224400When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a famous actress, singer, ballerina, gymnast, writer, or painter. I longed to be on the stage, performing before adoring crowds. More than anything, I wanted to be a star.

I got a taste of fame when I moved to a small town in East Asia. In a city with just a handful of foreigners, a white girl standing in line at the post office was equivalent to a celebrity appearance. Strangers in the park asked to take pictures with me. A grandmother sitting next to me on the bus wanted to know if I had a boyfriend, then tried to set me up with her grandson. Giggling high school girls shyly asked, “What’s your name?” then ran away, embarrassed, before I could answer. And many people just stared, whispering, “wai guo ren! wai guo ren!” (foreigner! foreigner!) to each other as I walked past.

Reveling in the attention, I would play it up to the crowds, waving and smiling to the gawking old ladies, patiently talking to the students whose parents wanted them to practice their English. It was humorous to watch the double-takes that resulted from seeing a blue-eyed, curly-haired, freckled American among the massive crowds of Asian faces. Once a teenage boy plowed his bicycle into a tree because he was craning his neck for another look at the local sensation! (He wasn’t hurt, apparently, and his buddies thought it was hilarious.)

And then one of my life-long dreams became a reality – I got to be on TV! They needed some foreigners to be part of a New Year’s special program and I jumped at the chance. The makeup, the costumes, the live audience, the applause… I soaked it all in. I was finally a star.

But after months and years of having my every move scrutinized, I started to long for a day when I could just blend into the crowd. The whispers and comments and questions started to irritate me. I began to avoid anyone who approached me with requests for photos. The only escape into anonymity was on the coldest days of the harsh northeast winters. With a hat pulled low on my head, a scarf wrapped around my nose and mouth, and my head bent down into the wind – no one could tell that I was a foreigner!

Fame. It’s what I thought I wanted. But now that I had a taste of it, I discovered it wasn’t all that I thought it would be.

Why wasn’t I satisfied? Though I thought fame was what I wanted, I was really seeking the attention and admiration that went with it. But getting stared at in the street or being photographed by strangers didn’t satisfy my need for significance.

Fame won’t fill that void. Admiration and attention from others won’t fill it. But if I am secure in knowing WHO I am and WHOSE I am – a beloved daughter of the King, free and forgiven, destined for great things that He has prepared in advance for me to do – then it doesn’t matter if the crowds adore me or not!

What do you want? And will you be satisfied when you get it? Take an honest look at the motivation behind what you’re seeking. And ask the Lord to fill those needs with His perfection. Because nothing else will satisfy the way His love satisfies.

Going Vertical!
MJ

Psalm 90:14 says, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”