My stomach started twisting in knots as soon as I saw the name come up on my cell phone.

Do I have to answer it? I could just let it go to voicemail, I reasoned with myself. But I had already ignored one phone call from Julia earlier today. I better answer this one. I inhaled deeply and forced myself to speak cheerfully.

“Hello, Julia! How are you?”

“Fine, thanks. Did you get the message I left this morning?” Her tone was brisk, almost accusatory. The implied question hung sharply in the air – “Why didn’t you respond immediately?” I immediately felt defensive. Why does this woman intimidate me so? 

Everything about Julia, from her perfectly styled hair to her shiny high heels, added to her image of perfect control.  At our first meeting several weeks ago to discuss my transition into her current position, I found myself intimidated by her. Though I had a master’s degree and much more experience in the field than she did, Julia’s patronizing and critical tone made me feel inadequate and unqualified. I kept telling myself that THIS time I was going to stand up to her attacks and not let her walk all over me. Yet time after time I caved in to her demands, meekly nodding my head in agreement, just to avoid a confrontation.

A Perspective Change

When I asked a trusted godly woman for counsel and prayer regarding the situation, her response was immediate and unequivocal. “It sounds like she’s intimidated of you.”

“ME? She’s intimidated of ME?” The thought had never occurred to me. “But I’m intimidated of HER!”

“She knows you have more training and background in this area than she does, and that you’re fully capable of this job,” my friend said gently. “She feels threatened by you.”

Suddenly my whole perspective changed. It’s true – Julia WAS feeling threatened, and this was her way of showing that she was in control. I asked the Father to give me His eyes to see Julia with compassion.

“Her opinion doesn’t define me,” I reminded myself as I drove to my meeting with Julia that afternoon. “My heavenly Father defines me.” And as I walked into her office, rather than the usual feeling of dread, I felt surrounded by a strange sense of quiet peace.

Julia still tried to make me feel like I was five years old and incompetent, but this time it didn’t bother me as much as before. For the first time I had the boldness to gently express my opinions and defend myself in the face of her criticism. Once I stopped letting Julia define me and looked to Jesus to define me, I was filled with a new confidence. I know who I am in Him, and others won’t intimidate me anymore!

Going Vertical!

MJ

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16 (NRSV)

Wrapped in crumpled newspaper and stuffed in an old box, the tarnished trays and pitchers looked like they should be dumped in the trash.  A friend who was moving discovered the items, abandoned by a former roommate.  It didn’t look like there was anything of much value.

Yet beneath the grime and dark gray-green stains was a glimmer of former beauty.  With a damp cloth, a tub of silver polish, and fierce determination, I tackled the first item, a small sugar bowl.  As I painstakingly rubbed the polish onto the surface, years of tarnish disappeared, bit by bit.  Encouraged by the first hint of shine, I continued my efforts. Finally, the polishing revealed the beautiful craftsmanship of an elegant piece of fine silver. It gleamed in the afternoon sun.

As I polished piece after piece that day, I wondered – how many times do I write off someone who is a little rough around the edges? Just like I was ready to chuck the whole box of tarnished silver into the trash?

Karl was an imposing character. He was tall and broad, with bushy gray eyebrows that were locked in a permanent scowl.  A regular at our German Bible school’s free neighborhood café, Karl’s favorite topic of conversation was his latest foot surgery. He would corner some sympathetic listener for hours with his tales of woe.  Though I always smiled and said hello, he had no patience for me once he discovered I didn’t speak German.

So I was shocked one afternoon when Karl hobbled up to help as I struggled with bulging bags of groceries outside the local supermarket.  Barking instructions at me in German, he took over the situation, insisting on walking with me the two blocks back to the house in his slow limping gait.  He wouldn’t leave until we had carried all the bags up the steps and into the hall.  When I thanked him, he brushed it off gruffly and shuffled away.  Though he never smiled, I felt like I’d seen a faint glimmer of shine that day.

Hard Work

Polishing silver takes a lot of patience and hard work.  The hours of listening to Karl’s complaints and the countless prayers for him were like the gentle rubbing of the polish, slowly removing years of built-up bitterness.  Yes, it’s hard work, and the results aren’t instant.  But in time, the beauty of God’s perfect design is revealed, as we persevere in the process. The Holy Spirit is the polish that makes us shine!

“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.  To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.” Colossians 1:28-29 NIV

Going vertical!

MJ

My cousin says if she wrote a book about my life, she would call it God’s Pawn.  “God just picks you up and puts you where He wants you to be,” she told me.  It sounds very spiritual.  But sometimes it’s not so much fun to be a pawn, moved around on a giant chessboard.  My life often seems random.  I never know where He’s going to send me next.

When God plopped me down in Germany these last three months to teach at a Bible school, it seemed like a random move.  “Why Germany, Lord?  I’ve spent the last several years in China, studying Mandarin and the Chinese culture.  Why send me to Europe now?”  I certainly felt like a pawn.

One cold Saturday a few weeks after I arrived in Germany, I was giving away free waffles and hot coffee in the neighborhood with the Bible school students.  My German was limited to “Guten tag” and “Danke schön,” so all I could offer was a waffle and a smile to those who came by.  Then two Asian ladies approached our table.  Tentatively I asked them in Mandarin, “Ni men shi zhong guo ren?”  Breaking into big smiles, they nodded.  Yes, they were Chinese!  The next time someone said something to me in German, I asked my new Chinese friends to translate for me – from German into Mandarin!  I was amazed to see God’s hand at work.

Trusting God

I wonder if the disciple Philip felt like God’s pawn.  An angel of the Lord told him, “Get up and go toward the south.” Philip didn’t know why he was going there or what would happen next.  But he went out of obedience, and came upon an Ethiopian official, who was reading the book of Isaiah.  God used Philip to explain that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies, and the Ethiopian believed and was baptized.  Immediately after they came up out of the water, the Bible tells us, “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,” dropping him down in another city, where he continued to preach the good news (Acts 8:26-40).

God’s a master chess player, and each move is carefully planned.  Even when my life seems random, I can trust that He knows what he’s doing.  I just need to be available and ready to go where He asks me to – as God’s pawn.

Going vertical!

MJ