Stealing the Spotlight: Step Aside and Point to Jesus
Everybody loves the limelight, except spiritual grownups that have learned to shine the spotlight on Jesus Christ. Hairy John the Baptist may have reeked of sweat and barbecued grasshoppers, but Jesus said nobody was greater than he. Why? The dusty prophet spent his life pointing people to Christ. Stepping back and giving Jesus center stage was hard for me. As a pastor’s wife and musician, both careers pointed to extended time in the limelight. How do any of us learn humility and meekness? God spent years working on my ego. My penchant for attention started early in life.
My stunning showbiz career began at age five. I stormed the stage with a convincing depiction of a broccoli stalk. The play was “Tummy Ticklers” and each bunny class member was heroic or villainous according to FDA approval ratings. Only the skinny girls could play carrots and corn. Since I had a fluffy posterior, my premed green hair added symmetry to my somewhat “pudgy” stalk. The roughage got to cut a rug because we were nutritious, so the carrots, corn, squash and broccoli leaped around the stage captivating crowds before “Veggie Tales” was ever invented. Hamburgers, cheese fries and donuts lay motionless on a heap of yellow beanbag fat cells. The audience was instructed to cheer for the veggies and boo for the junk food. This moralistic tale of nutrition gone awry didn’t have much impact on us as kindergartners. As soon as we finished the show, we high-tailed it to the lunch room to down our Oscar Mayer wieners, Cheetos and Twinkies. I paid a high price for my veggie debut, however. I tried to wash the green “broccoli” jello out of my hair for a week, but the green powder simply faded my dishwater blond locks to the color of snot.
My next bid for stardom came in December at the Sunday School Christmas pageant. Randy Phelps was a shoe-in for Joseph because he was the tallest kid in the class. Unfortunately, Randy had a short attention span, so he spent more time horsing around with the donkeys than paying fatherly attention to Mary and Baby Jesus. Ellen Stuffle was the obvious choice for Mary because she still had all her baby teeth. She should have been replaced by her understudy because Ellen couldn’t say her lines and rock her little offspring at the same time. Nine times out of ten, Baby Jesus ended up somewhere on the linoleum under the straw. Always the prima donna, Ellen monopolized the kindergarten toilet, constantly glopping on grown-up blush and lip gloss, and demanded a fresh towel headdress at every rehearsal.
Once again, my stocky shape made me a natural pick for livestock. Manger mammals were selected according to size: boys were camels and donkeys, girls were sheep and goats. Eddie, the class clown, was thrilled with his donkey role. He “hee-hawed” his way through recess, telling “jackass” jokes in his most convincing Eeyore voice. My “baas” were better than my “bleats” so I became a barnyard sheep. I didn’t realize at the time that this was the worst possible role to play. Our furry sheep costumes were hot and itchy. After three sweaty rehearsals, my wet hair was plastered to my head and I reeked like a cow patty. Tilly Savage clawed her way to the top to assume the starring role of the Christmas angel. Angel auditions were cut-throat, so Tilly brown-nosed the teacher by clapping erasers and bribing Mrs. Lucas with Christmas saltwater taffy. All of her efforts paid off. In the end, Tilly floated atop her cotton-ball cloud and warbled “Silent Night.” Stars like Ellen and Tilly had their own paparazzi. I was only allowed to “baa” in the background and blend into the sea of preschool wannabees. Rats.
My sister Kathy was destined for stardom. She was a full-blown scene stealer. At three, Kathy demanded a captive audience, forcing extended family members to offer undivided attention and applause while she clogged endlessly on the bathroom tile with Mom’s stilettos. If parents and grandparents weren’t around to watch her warble and hoof, Kathy would pull nearby neighbor kids away from Mickey Mouse to play her adoring fans.
Nicknamed “Tiger Lil” by my father, Sissy roped me into working full-time as her manager and wardrobe designer. Before breakfast every morning, Kathy plopped on my peacefully slumbering body and demand that I style her curly blonde locks into a “Cinderella bun” as soon as we downed our Cocoa Puffs. I painstakingly pinned her ponytail into a yellow lump and spray it with Aqua Net until it remained stiff and motionless the rest of the day. Bows and barrettes were added according to her fancy. After hair and makeup were complete, we hit the closet to pull out the old lace bedroom sheers Grandma Moy willed to us when they were too shabby to remain on her windows. We’d use rubber bands, safety pins and an oversized rhinestone brooch to create magical wedding dresses and ball gowns.
Kathy was determined to be a headliner on the Ed Sullivan show along with Mr. Ed and Ringo. Mom and I rolled the grocery cart around K-Mart and Kathy practiced her act by standing up in the shopping cart seat, throwing her arms out and crooning “Moon River” in front of the Frosted Flakes. If other shoppers failed to pay attention, she just modulated to a higher key and used the English pea can as a microphone. By the time we hit the cash register, she was signing autographs. Once Kathy could finally stuff her little round shape into a sequined leotard, she was unstoppable. She tap-danced, tip-toed, cart-wheeled and belly danced for anyone who looked her way.
Tiger Lil’s first taste of stardom came when she nabbed the famous “mirror ball” trophy at the John W. Carpenter talent show. She warbled a compelling rendition of “Big Bad Bill is Sweet William Now.” (I’m quite serious-that was the name of the song!) I believe she had absolutely no idea what those lusty lyrics meant, but the grownups sniggered and awarded her first place for her gumption. Most of the time I accompanied Kathy, but our dynamic duet her second grade year was a show-stopper. We pulled on fish-net tights, furry tails and kitten ears. We shimmied and shook our way through Billboard’s number one pop hit “Alley Cat.” We still perform encores upon request.
Kathy and I held onto the center-stage spotlight as long as we could. We performed a litany of recitals, concerts and musicals, and begat offspring every bit as splashy and uninhibited as we. Our sequins, gowns and feather headdresses are tucked away in plastic bubble wrap and cotton balls. But every now and then, when we’re feeling low, out come the tutus, tiaras and tap shoes.
All of us have a bent towards “scene-stealing.” Our diva tendencies can get us into trouble. John the Baptist had no desire to upstage his Messiah. His whole life was consumed with taking a backseat and serving the Savior.
God continues to teach me humility by placing me in circumstances where I must depend upon Him. The challenges and failures I have faced in my life have taught me much about humility. If I surrender my life to God each day, I have no choice but to be dependent upon Him and shine the spotlight where it should be: upon the Son of God.
James writes in James 4:6-10: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Brokenness and obedience make us meek, joyfully giving the honor to Jesus, who deserves all of the glory.