Category Archives: Authenticity

It’s Okay to Choose Starburst in a Hershey’s World – A letter to my daughter

Dear C,

So you don’t like chocolate. Big deal, right? You’ve been a pretty good sport when faced with a lot of light-hearted teasing about this; and true, some of it has come from your own mother.

– I mean, how is it that we share DNA?

But seriously, honey, I really am sorry. For a long time, I thought that you didn’t like chocolate the same way that people refuse Brussels sprouts (having never actually tasted Brussels sprouts). And I thought when you eventually realized the error of your ways that, along with chocolate, a whole new world of green beans, spinach, and cauliflower would open up to you.

Yeah. Right.

But as you’re growing up, I’m starting to realize that your dislike of chocolate has become something that makes you, you. Perhaps, you’re learning, in a small way, that your choices become a part of who you are, and it’s okay to own your differences. Sometimes your choices are based on your preferences (like Starburst instead of Hershey’s kisses), and that’s fine, but as you grow up, you’ll find that the most important choices are based upon your convictions and your standards. In a world that follows the masses, these choices might be the ones that single you out.

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It’s one thing to know what you like in a dessert and another thing to know what you like in a friend.

Choose well, honey.

There are few decisions in life that will influence you as much as your choice of friends. The preteen years, especially for girls, are known for all sorts of relational drama, and you can choose to play the parts or not.

As you’re growing up, you’re making more of your own choices, and that’s the way it should be. But for now, your Dad and I are going to keep a close watch on your choice of friends. It’s our God-given authority and responsibility as your parents to steer you in the direction of positive peer pressure.

So you’re probably wondering what’s positive about peer pressure. Am I right? It’s okay, if I am :)

Peer pressure is basically the desire to fit in with others, which is not necessarily a bad thing. God designed us to be in relationships and community with people. Kids, teens, and adults learn interpersonal skills in order to navigate the world of relationships. We learn how and why to be polite and conform to basic societal norms; for example, people wear regular clothes (not pajamas) and cover up their underwear when they go to the store. Because we are living in an anything-goes culture, however, such societal norms are breaking down as people communicate a lack of respect for community in general. (Oh, pardon me – I’ve stumbled upon a soapbox, haven’t I?)

Anyway, Daddy and I want you to be a friend and to have friends who positively influence one another. Healthy peer pressure motivates a person to engage other people in respectful and meaningful ways. It can bring out the best in yourself and your friends. Positive friendships are established through authenticity, acceptance, and intention.

What does this mean? It means that you be yourself and spend enough face-to-face time with your friends to know and value them for who they truly are. Face-to-face time means looking at each other instead of just being together and looking at your tech gadgets. In positive friendships, you commit to also looking out for one another. You actively look for ways to support and cheer for each other. There’s no competition or jealousy or pressure to conform to any behavior or standard that goes against the truths and values that each of you stand for.

Your relationships are going to change during these years as you seek out the girls with whom you want to identify. During this time, you need to remember your identity. You are a child of God, set apart, completely loved, and chosen by Him for a beautiful purpose. Daddy and I pray that you will identify with other girls who are grounded in the same identity and that together you will love Jesus and determine to honor Him in every way. Does this sound too spiritual for a group of preteen girls? Not at all! I trust that my Starburst-loving girl has the character and courage to be different and live out the pure and purposeful calling that God has placed on your life.

The enemy wants to distract you from this high calling; he wants you to conform to anything apart from Christ, and one of his favorite strategies is to preoccupy girls with their outward appearance.  It’s becoming increasingly true in our culture that image is everything and integrity is nothing. But remember that God’s purpose in conformity is that you will become (and you will influence others to become) who you are truly created to be – an image bearer of God. His is the only image that truly matters. It is purity and goodness, grace and truth, joy and gentleness, justice and mercy, strength and patience. When girls help one another bind these traits upon the heart, their bonds of friendship don’t break.

And yes, we do want you to have relationships with people aren’t Christ-followers. That’s how you learn to be salt and light in your world. Forming those relationships is the first step to making disciples. But your closest friends will be those girls who share your values, goals, and principles, who sharpen you, who speak truth into your life, and who walk closely alongside in life’s milestones, deepest joys, and darkest moments.

I don’t mean to say that your friends should be exactly like you. Remember that the Bible tells us that differences are good – especially because God has fashioned each one of us uniquely. Our Creator could have made us exactly the same. But a world filled with only Starburst would be too tart and totally boring!

You know that Priscilla Shirer is one of my favorite teachers, so let me share with you some of her wisdom:
Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.

My dream for you, sweet one, is that you will choose friends who are one with you in purpose. Friends who help you grow up to be like Jesus.

It’s cool if they like chocolate. It’s all right if their clothing style is different (as long as it’s modest). It’s okay if they have a different skin color or body type. Maybe you have friends who are on the honor roll and friends who can’t deal with geometry. Or friends who attend a different church. It’s cool to have friends who are into sports and friends who can’t stand P.E. class. It’s good to have friends who have way bigger or way smaller houses. That’s all okay.

What matters, remember, is that your choice of friends is based not on sameness but on godly standards.

If you choose friends based on sameness, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to get caught up in a clique. A clique is a distortion of community; it’s an exclusive place where girls (and guys, but mostly girls) jockey for position and power. This means that there will be gossip, jealousy, competition, and teasing. But – whether in a family, church, or a group of friends – communities as God intends are places of mutual respect, acceptance, humility, honorable accountability, and love. This seems like a really big goal, but sweetheart, you and your friends can live up to it.

And in the inevitable times when you are hurting or lonely, remember that Jesus is truly your best friend. I really mean it – He will never fail you. Your Mom and Dad can’t love you as perfectly as He does, but we will do our best to fill our home with love, support, guidance, discipline (yes), and encouragement.

We are so proud of the lovely young woman that you are becoming. Keep choosing well, honey.

Love,
Mom

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 2

“The Weight of  My Worth” – The title, in these five words, captured the previous five years of my life. I had the opportunity to share my story with a women’s magazine, and “the weight of my worth” summarized my journey into perfectionism, brokenness, and finally healing.

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After years of taking baby steps forward and giant steps backward in my recovery from an eating disorder, a Christian counselor introduced me to a book that opened a door into freedom. Having absolutely nothing to do with nutritional guidelines or eating habits, it was unlike any book I had been advised to read.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

Anytime we think we can find salvation in our hard work, we are in grave danger. If our hard work fails or (worse yet) if it succeeds, we are stuck with ourselves for a god. That means we have destined ourselves to journeying through life’s wilderness assuming that the solution to every problem is to try harder.” *

If you haven’t struggled with an eating disorder, you may wonder how this statement relates. But I can tell you that it does.  The sense of control, accomplishment, failure, or success is measured by the number on the scale.  That number says:

“Yes – you’ve been good!”

“Uh oh, you haven’t been good.”

When something other than God becomes a gauge for your goodness, it becomes a god.

Besides a set of scales, our culture is filled with other measuring sticks:

  • the number of your social media friends & followers
  • your grade point average
  • your salary
  • a sticker on your car that reads 13.1 or 26.2 (or 0.0, in my case)

And some measuring sticks aren’t attached to numbers, yet they remind you that you’ve come up short (again). The job went to someone else or you missed the cut or the invitation never arrived.

Yet if we will accept by faith that we are loved immeasurably by a limitless God, all the other measures that say “you’ve arrived”/”you’re accepted” or “you’ve not arrived”/”you’re not accepted” are limited in their power to define or dishearten us.

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis – “ … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

While we are preoccupied with making ourselves worthy of love, God has loved us all along.

Are you weary, friend, of trying so hard? The weight of your own worth will exhaust you of any enthusiasm and joy in life. Are you discouraged because you can’t fit your own definition of goodness?

The truth is that God loved you before you could move the scales of goodness or worthiness one single ounce.  Knowing that we can’t do it on our own, He placed the burden of measuring up to His holiness upon His Son.

A gauge that becomes a god says “try harder,” but grace that comes from THE God says “Trust Me.”

The original meaning of the word “glory” is “to be heavy” or “to weigh upon.”  God’s glory is weightier – or more momentous, more powerful, and more significant than any created thing. We see in Scripture that God’s glory knocks people right off of their feet.

The weight of God’s worth knocks away all the props that once held us up.  And when we find ourselves on our faces, we come to realize that trying harder is like putting a band aid on major cracks in the foundation. As one who has been face down in the debris of a broken life, I want my story to remind us that God’s love cannot be achieved.

God’s love is meant to be received.

In return for this priceless gift, God doesn’t ask us to prove that we are worth it. He desires us to worship. And in doing so – in ascribing the highest honor and worth to Him and not ourselves – we are freed to let go of our controlling and striving and let God be God.

When we live as if we truly believe that God delights in us, our load lightens. Instead of grasping for another rung on the status ladder, our hands become offerings of grateful worship and service.

The apostle Paul, who had once been laden with self-righteousness, was transformed – literally knocked off his feet (Acts 9:4) – by the weight of not his own glory but the glory of Christ:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4: 5 – 7).

Paul describes us as jars of clay, and the treasure inside is the precious message of the Gospel. Our credentials, abilities, and winsome personalities are dim flames compared to Jesus’ glorious, dark-dispelling light.

Through the fragility of a clay jar, with its flaws and cracks, the glory of God shines. If we can’t trust that we are accepted, we can’t be authentic. But if we will forget that gauges that once measured us and if we will receive grace, we will be vessels for God’s glory – flawed, perhaps, and fragile, but genuine.  I truly believe that God is glorified when we are genuine – when we authentically share our lives and our struggles and our weaknesses – and allow people to see that we can only press on because inside of us lies a hope and a strength that is not our own.

In the words of Saint Augustine: “When God is our strength, it is strength indeed. When our strength is our own, it is only weakness.”

So when the weight of my worth is based upon what I do, it is weak and unable to withstand the pressure of failure, doubt, and criticism.

But when the weight of my worth is based upon who I am – a jar of clay that contains the light of Christ, it is strong and reinforced by His acceptance.  It doesn’t crumble under the strain of self-reliance but relies on the Light within to radiate God’s glory. It doesn’t need to try harder. It trusts.

So today, remember with me that the weight of our worth is a load we are not meant to bear. That burden was pounded into the ground with the Cross.  Join me there as we exchange this weight for worship.

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(Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 4 to speak of suffering in comparison to God’s “eternal weight of glory.” In Part 3, I’ll share why this gives me hope).

“The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is My hand.” ~ Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young (entry for February 5).

Resources:

* When God Interrupts by M. Craig Barnes, pages 157 – 158

C.S Lewis, “Weight of Glory” sermon published in Theology, November 1941. http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf

T.M. Moore – “The Weight of Glory,”  http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/viewpoint/20387-threads-in-the-tapestry-of-truth-2

“Leave Something on Someone’s Heart”

While going through Daddy’s things, we’ve discovered some gems of family & social history. Daddy was adventurous and nostalgic, and his possessions speak of his glory days in drag racing, travels around the world, and his heritage. We’ve stumbled upon some photographs of our ancestors, and this family looks like a real lively bunch. In comparison with today’s photography norms, one might guess that this crew is highly bored, maybe even irritated.

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You’ve probably seen older photographs like this, and have you ever wondered why everyone’s so formal and somber? Were those days that dull and bothersome? Perhaps in some cases, but a little research into these expressionless faces offered a few explanations:

Early film required long exposure times to capture an image (perhaps several minutes). It was difficult to hold a smile for this length of time, so people avoided smiling all together.

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Having a photograph taken was unusual and special, so people who might be remembered by only one picture took the occasion very seriously. When cameras became more portable, amateur photographers increased in number and captured more casual, animated images.

A broad smile captured in a photo was often thought to be unwise and reckless. A closed smile was acceptable, but showing teeth? Definitely not. Consider the opinion of funny guy Mark Twain who wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more (unfavorable) to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”

(What would he think now?? Yikes. Perhaps such photographic prudence should be a lesson we take to heart.)

Apparently image was important then too, but in terms of visible representation, it was much simpler to handle. Image management, once an industry primarily for famous people, is now relevant to anyone with a social media account.

Lately I think a lot about teaching my 12 year old daughter the differences between image, identity, and influence. She’s discovering who she is while learning to navigate an increasingly ‘image is everything’ world, and that’s complicated.

Image management can be enhanced or comprised by media but it isn’t limited to media. As a confessed people-pleaser, I’ve been overly concerned with what others think of me, long before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, or Snapchat. My hope for my daughter is that she will find security and affirmation in the eyes of Jesus rather the eyes of people.

I googled “image management,” and learned that, yes, it is truly serious business. Take into account this definition:

“Image Management is the ongoing, pro-active process of evaluating and controlling the impact of your appearance on you, on others, and the achievement of your goals. It is a science and an art that provides a framework, addressing all the elements – clothing, grooming practices, body language and etiquette and vocal communication – that help create the right image for each role that a person undertakes at different occasions. Given that each person is unique, image management takes into account the person’s personal style, enhances strengths and downplays weaknesses while making optimal use of resources.”

Does anyone else think this sounds exhausting??

Yet we do this every day. It’s how we learn to navigate multiple roles and cultural norms. It’s okay to be concerned with how we present ourselves at job interviews. It’s okay to present ourselves differently at football games (while keeping some common sense, of course!)

Perhaps it’s because I recently lost my father that I think more these days about influence and less about image. In our digital world, image has a fleeting quality, because unlike our ancestors who may have had one literal shot to capture their likeness, we can present ourselves in hundreds of ways. When you lose someone you love, the pictures are precious, but it’s their character and lasting influence that stays with you.

Image management gets thorny, I think, where it is used to promote oneself above respect and relationships. We live in a world of entitlement and self-promotion. Discerning the motives behind our manner of presentation is more important than ever. It’s okay to encourage my daughter to dress nicely and speak politely at a future job interview in order to demonstrate that she respects the organization, the opportunity, and the person who is considering her. I want her to intentionally look people in the eyes because face-to-face connection is becoming a lost skill. And politeness still communicates respect for others.

It says more about a person when her first concern, above promoting her own image, is to honor the image of God in other people.

Everyone presents an image. Everyone makes impressions. I want my daughter to be an influencer. I pray that she will value respect and honor relationships; and that instead of promoting herself, she will demonstrate a preference for others (Philippians 2: 3 – 4).

When I asked Caroline what it means to be an influence, she replied, “Well, a person can be a good influence or a bad influence.” True. So assuming that I mean good influence, what does that look like?

“I think it means to leave something on someone’s heart.”

I couldn’t say it any better.

So, how do we do this? Here are some things that I want my daughter (and myself) to think about …

* God created us with needs for affirmation and acceptance. So often we look to the world to meet these needs, but the world is fickle, especially with failures. It’s inevitable – we’re going to mess up, fall, and fail. Only God can love us perfectly and unconditionally. It’s an amazing mystery that we are so human and yet we bear the image of God. We must learn to define and ground ourselves in this truth. Finding our worth in the eyes of Jesus and securing our identity in His image frees us from the futility of promoting and managing our image in the world’s eyes.

* Along with respect and relationships, integrity is a key that opens the opportunity for influence. When our church was getting to know our new pastor, someone said of him: “He is the same person on stage as he is in ordinary moments.” I consider that to be a very high compliment.

Think about this: “Integrity not only calls us to live inside-out, it keeps the outside from coming in. Consistency in our walk and in our talk becomes a transportable cloak of protection around us, going anywhere we go. Life becomes so much simpler when there aren’t so many costume changes” (Beth Moore, Daniel Bible study).

* Understand that everyone is wired differently. For me, finally understanding and owning the qualities of an introvert helped me to accept that I will never be the life of the party. And it’s okay. We don’t need to try so hard. God has given you and me unique ways to be an influence. Be true to the personality that God has given you.

* Don’t find it so important to capture memories with a device. Sure, it provides a visual reminder of the moment, but can you capture it with your other senses (while zooming and focusing?) If there’s always a phone in the middle of memory-making moments, consider the impact upon your relationships.

In an increasingly visual world, appreciate all of your senses when it comes to making and persevering memories. While I enjoy looking at pictures of Daddy, it’s the recordings of his voice and the clothing with his smell that bring his memory to life. While your loved ones are still with you, notice and appreciate those qualities.

So, be present. Technology is meant to make life easier, but if we allow it, it can make life more shallow. Our communication devices often interrupt the natural flow of conversation.  “The cognitive challenge children and youth will face (as we are beginning to face now) is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives.” *

* Find out who your true friends are. When I was my daughter’s age, I found friends who are still among the closest people in my life. I was painfully shy and awkward, and in those crucial middle-school days my image couldn’t possibly enhance theirs. They didn’t care about that. They took time to get to know me. Their investment in and their influence upon my life are priceless. True connectedness is an intentional choice to remove our masks, look up from our screens, and engage people authentically.

* Forget comparison. Remember this quote: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” (Pastor Steven Furtick).

* Release your expectations of people who, for whatever reason – perhaps it’s simply something about the way that they are wired – don’t pat you on the back. Find your satisfaction in a job done well and faithfully, working as for God, not the praises of people (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes while we are busy trying to look important in front of important people, we bypass opportunities to serve the least of these – the very work that is most important in the eyes of God.

* Embrace your weaknesses. The professional definition of image management would disagree, of course, because our world would rather “downplay” weaknesses. Unflattering pictures should be deleted. Life is not a snapshot, however; it’s a full album of the good, the bad, and the ugly. My moments of greatest failure have taught me that life is meant to be received rather than achieved. It’s all about a gift of grace. I don’t have to be a “good girl” in the world’s eyes. I can’t be, not all the time.

Trying to achieve that image is inauthentic. But Jesus has taken this heart and made it good.

Sweet daughter, what He has done is your heart is the most important, influential thing about you. If you share anything with this world, share that and leave it on someone else’s heart.

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“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will.” ~ John D. McDonald

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Resources:

Michael Zhang – http://petapixel.com/2013/09/23/didnt-people-smile-old-photos/

Robinson Meyer – http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/why-didnt-people-smile-in-old-portraits/279880/

Nicholas Jeeves – http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/#sthash.87vIitKw.dpuf

Ohio Historical Society – http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/why-dont-people-smile-in-old-photographs/

Image Consulting Institute – http://www.imageconsultinginstitute.com/image-management/

* Quote by Barry Chudakov from the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/02/doomed-or-lucky-predicting-the-future-of-the-internet-generation/