Dear Authenticity

Watches. Jerseys. Jeans. Car parts. Autographs. Mexican Food.

What do these things have in common?

This assortment of ideas all appeared when I typed the word ‘authentic’ into Google this week.

I didn’t know what was in store when I started looking for a definition of the word. Authenticity is a bit of a buzzword these days. We want our jobs, our writing, our websites and our social media feeds to feel “authentic” to who we are. Maybe, we mean that we want to be genuine, or transparent, or whole in the way we present ourselves to the world.

After more Googling, I found a more satisfying definition.

The word authentic literally means to be made in a way that faithfully resembles the original.

I love that.

To be made in a way that faithfully resembles the original.

What does it mean for us to resemble the original, whole, genuine selves we were each made to be?

As a recovering perfectionist, I often struggle to believe that my authentic self is worth bringing to the world. I struggle to believe that my ideas are worth sharing, that my voice is worth hearing, that my heart has something to offer to those around me just as it is.

I have often felt God inviting me to contribute or speak up or lead but then I battle the belief that I have to address my bad habits and get more sleep and look nicer and altogether clean up my act before I can be effective.

Being authentic is harder for me than I’d like to admit. 

What might it look like for me — for us —to fight the temptation to manage our appearance and practice true authenticity? To explore the beautiful mystery of being made in God’s love and image, and thereby share our true selves? To faithfully resemble the original?

A couple weekends ago, I was in a room of young professionals, and we were studying the concept of calling – what it looks like when God gives a person a specific calling to do something for his people at an exact time in history. Together we read the story of David’s call in 1 Samuel.

At this time, Saul had been ruling the nation of Israel, and the Lord told Samuel that a new king was going to take his place.  In 1 Samuel 16 the Lord talks to Samuel about who will lead, and he says, “Go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.”

Samuel arrives in Bethlehem. He finds Jesse. And they look at the lineup of future kings Jesse’s oldest sons.

These are men of stature, you might say. Tall, experienced, accomplished.

But they are not the ones chosen to lead. David the youngest, skinniest, lowliest by all accounts is the chosen leader.

And in 1 Samuel 16:7 we are given one explanation: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Let us take clues from David’s calling. Following God faithfully isn’t about appearance, but about heart. It isn’t about showing off our best self but slowly having the bravery to share our one, true, authentic self.

God calls not the likely leader, but the authentic leader.

In that same group of young professionals, last weekend, our leader gave us this analogy.

When it comes to leading, we all want to be Jesse’s older sons. The ones that look the part, that have the stature and the accolades. The ones with the right timing, the right outfit, and the right social media campaign. We all want to be the story’s superheroes.

But what if what we actually need are more leaders that resemble the men and women behind the masks?

The everyday Bruce Waynes and Clark Kents, not the batmen or the super women.

What if we believe that change comes not from the superhero, but from the everyday hero.

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

To practice authenticity, and fight the temptation to clean up our appearance first, I’ve written down these reminders to take with us :

  • Look at the heart. I know how tempting it is to focus on cleaning up your appearance, or waiting for the right timing, or having the right experience to lead well. But the truth is that we already serve and lead other people today in our homes, communities, schools and jobs. Look at your own honest heart. Look at the hearts of others. Who is someone that you already interact with who could use a friend this week? How could sharing a piece of your imperfect story give someone else permission to be imperfect, too?
  • Offer grace to ourselves. I told you I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I struggle with this. But we must remove the masks of perfection, busyness, speed or cleverness. God does not expect perfection from us; we don’t need to demand it of ourselves. In giving ourselves grace, we are better equipped to extend that grace to others. And we allow God to be our sufficiency in weakness.
  • Celebrate our roles as the the everyday superheroes of the world. Whatever your sphere of influence, steward it well. Commit to your daily tasks and close relationships. Believe that your everyday faithfulness will powerfully and beautifully affect those around you.

God calls us to be authentic  as leaders, friends, supporters. Why?

Because authenticity  is a practice in faithfully resembling the original. Discovering and sharing our most essential selves, made beautiful and complete in God’s image.

Dear Margins, Thanks for How You Show Us Hope

I love it when snow falls outside my office window. The flakes flirt with the wind currents between skyscrapers, sometimes drifting both up and down as the breeze catches them.

What might be tumultuous at street-level looks graceful and peaceful from 27 stories high.

And that’s a good metaphor for how 2016 was for me – sometimes challenging in the grit and grind of the everyday, yet so eternally beautiful and good when seen in rearview.

When I walked to work this past week – with flakes stinging my cheeks – I was reminded of how wearying life’s sting can be. But protected by panes of glass, the snow falls silently and without harm. It dances – it shifts.

When I walked through some really hard choices and faced ugly, jealous, insecure feelings this year, I felt despair starting to sting me. Why do I always come back to the same, tired issues? Why does that old, hurtful memory keep crippling me? Why haven’t I learned better by now?

And yet. When time passed and I looked back, things shifted in my view. What felt tough and tired in the moment was – when viewed from a distance – revealed to be eternal, good work that God was doing in and around me.

When 2016 was just beginning, I wrote about hope. It was my word for this past year.

As 2016 closed, I wrote down what happened over the course of the year. I listed the gifts and the milestones in my journal in black pen, and then I went back with a red pen. I read over my handwriting and I scrawled the word HOPE in the margins each time I saw it reflected back at me.

I went to new many cities, and returned to small towns that hold big places in my story. I saw more of the world out the windows of cars and trains and planes, feeling adventure unfold in both new and familiar ways. That was hopeful for me.

I practiced living in messy, beautiful relationships, and saw a little more about what relational wholeness looks like – from my friends and my family, from my small group and my fellowship program, from dating. Hope was there, too.

I learned a lot. I took a cooking class and I took personality tests. I toured the Art Institute to hear about their programs. I wandered libraries and museums. I read. I explored new neighborhoods of my own city, got to know parts of this place that I have overlooked before.

But the best part, I realized, is that hope became more than a perspective for me in 2016.

Hope became a practice – more than it ever has been in past years.

I practiced looking for hope right in the margins of life, where – of course – it is always waiting to be found.

This hope-seeking became crucial in times when things were not easy. In times of loss, in politics and worry. Somehow, by writing down the word, and by looking for it in the margins, God fostered hope in me, right in the messy middle of the everyday.

I saw hope in the midst of hard things sooner and more willingly than I have in past years. I didn’t have to wait to the end of the year to see it. God helped me practice hope and joy in the moment.

So. As one year of gifts turns into another year of opportunity, I’m thinking we all have the chance to see hope more readily in our everyday. Each new day this year is going to give us the gift of seeing, of learning, and of practicing hope.

Hope is always available because God is. His very character is one of hope, and His hopeful presence is always ours as his children.

We get to choose what goes with us into the new year. Let’s invite HOPE to make the list.

I’m praying that we’ll see it this year – together. Whether from across the table, from across the street, from 27 stories high.

Or, maybe, in the margins, where – of course – it is always waiting to be found.

Dear Bravery, Maybe You’re Not What We Think

You are doing the brave thing,” a doting friend says to the heroine of the movie, over cups of tea.

My friend and I watched the scene unfold over our own mugs of tea and pumpkin cookies.

“Oh, I know it doesn’t feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure now. But you’re not. You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.”

Scenes like these sometimes give words to the questions we wrestle with, don’t they? For the bright, creative heroine in this movie scene, her choice to close down her business felt like a massive failure. A heartbreak. The end of something that she never, ever wanted to end.

In the confusing aftermath of the closure, in true Hollywood fashion, her on-screen friend her tells her that shutting the doors was the brave thing to do. Not because it was glamorous or tidy or pleasant, but because it required her to be brave in the act. The brave thing was inside of her, not in the circumstance.

I interpreted these words through our tiny TV speakers and wondered: What does what ‘the brave thing‘ look like for me?

Does the brave thing sometimes look different than I allow?

I go back and forth daily – hourly, sometimes.

Do I stay content where I am, trusting that my everyday faithfulness is used by God? or Do I allow my lack of contentment spur me on to new challenges and dreams?

Today, I’m sitting right in the middle of these two questions.

Does bravery look like staying, or going?

Settling, or dreaming?

Sitting, or spurring on?

I think back to the days just after I finished college, when I was sitting with a similar set of questions. Just days after crossing the graduation stage, I flew to Europe with my family, hoping to leave the weight of the decision-making behind.

I can figure this out, I thought furiously to myself, as we flew over the slate-grey Atlantic Ocean. There is surely a right and wrong way to live my post-college life, and I am not going to be wrong. 

I weighed my options.

Was I supposed to take whatever job I could grasp, like my dad’s foreboding economist friends said? Or was I supposed to do something more ‘daring’ and ‘passion-driven’ with my new-found freedom, like the Millennials seemed to do?  And why wasn’t it all more clear?

I remember a deep weariness in my heart. I wanted God – or anybody, really – to tell me what the right thing was. But I was presented with only choice.

The choices didn’t let me rest – or maybe, I didn’t let them go. They followed me across Europe, on planes and trains, over dark cups of coffee and Nutella croissants.

What does the brave thing look like for me? 

I didn’t know. No one told me. (And this, I might add, is precisely why Nutella and croissants were created. For times like these.)

In the confusing aftermath of the closure of that chapter of life, I wish I could tell past Laura: There is more than one brave path.

As my favorite writing professor in college used to say, “There are many roads in life, and most are good.” 

There are many brave, right choices.

Your choice to take this or that job, to move to this or that city, to take the advice or take your own path. Your choices will not surprise God, nor toss him off his throne, nor incur his wrath upon you.

It is possible to be obedient to God and still choose from any number of good paths.

I can’t go back and tell past Laura, so instead I’ll tell my current self: brave is not a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of trust. Not a matter of what’s happening around you, but what’s happening within.

What if for us – like for the heroine in the movie scene – the brave thing isn’t the staying, or the closing, or the beginning again, or the dreaming. What if the brave thing is us? 

Friend, I think the brave thing is you. 

I believe that when faced with the job offer, the temptation, the crossroads, the creeping sense of despair…the brave thing is within. Within is where the Holy Spirit dwells, where your most essential, God-breathed self lives. No matter the decision or circumstance, bravery begins here.

Do you come to God with your choice, and listen for his still, small voice? Do you talk with a mentor about what the next right thing is for you? Do you weigh the options and seek the truth before you leap?

Then, you are a brave soul. You are daring to imagine that your life could look a little different tomorrow then it does today.

You can choose, and you can choose bravely.

You can trust the work of God in your mind and spirit. You can listen for where he calls you to obedience. And then you can choose with confidence.

Let’s live like this is true. Let’s trust that the bravery of the Holy Spirit is ours to own and claim and display to the world each day.

Let’s ask God for his help in navigating the hard choice, trusting that He goes with us and that He is for us, no matter the path.

And let the Father be glorified as we lean on him to help us live out of our brave, beautiful selves within.

The Healer & The Fixer

This weekend, I had the privilege of sitting down for breakfast with a dear friend of mine. After many weeks of travel and summer adventure, our schedules finally aligned over coffee and pancakes.

This friend has been through some storms in the last couple of months. We have shared sporadic, late-night text messages about work challenges, family health troubles, and consistent exhaustion.

When I saw her this weekend, I expected to see a girl that was knee-deep in the battle, maybe a little worn out from the brutality of the wind and waves of change and challenge.

But instead, the girl who sat across from me at breakfast was aglow with gentleness and grace.

She did not speak about her challenges with defeat. She was honest and transparent as she shared her recent experiences, but even as she talked about trials, she was filled with hope.

It is so sweet to remember how big our God is,” she said to me. “It’s so important to keep bringing it all back to the foot of the cross.”

As she spoke those hopeful words, I was gently convicted as I realized the worry that was festering in me. I realized that she was speaking comfort and truth over some of my own challenges.

Remember how big our God is,” she said.

Remember how big I AM,” the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent.”
– Psalm 104:1-3

Unknowingly, I have been letting stress get the best of my energy in the past few weeks. I worry about the health of my family, God’s hand and purpose in my work, my relationships, and the direction of our nation in this presidential election year.

I even worried as I watched a group of proud and brave refugees represent their own delegation at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games this week. I started to imagine what it would feel like to have no country claim you as their own, and I suddenly took on what I believed to be their anxiety.

Oh, what is the world coming to?

This statement seems to have become a mantra in my thought life.

Unknowingly, I have replaced our big God with my own strength when facing these worries. So it is no wonder that I sometimes feel powerless. No wonder I feel anxiety mounting as I try to fix and heal stressful conversations I face, and even the stress of what I see on TV. No wonder I feel powerless as I try to control these things into some sort of best case scenario.

I’ve tried to be the healer and the fixer that only God can be. 

My friend reminded me this week that God is sovereign. In her gentle way, she reminded me that God is BIG, and that my best efforts to control stress pale in comparison to His strong and unshakable and dependable grip.

Nothing that is happening in our world or in our lives in knocking Him off of His throne, nor is it even knocking his socks off. 

My friend’s demeanor reminded me of a passage in the book I’m currently reading:

“She keeps God on the throne as the ultimate healer & fixer of all things, so she is able to care for people without trying to carry their burdens for them.”
– from Wild & Free by Jess Connolly & Haley Morgan

Isn’t this cool?

A person that keeps God on His rightful throne as the ultimate healer and redeemer is able to live freely, without the need to control or hustle or fix. Because God is doing the fixing.

A person that trusts God as the ultimate healer is able to care for people well, listening to their deep need without feeling pressure to produce the perfect remedy. Because God is their remedy already.

A person that is rooted in The Lord can keep a well-watered hope, no matter what storms are happening on the surface, because their nourishment comes from below. Because their nourishment comes from their rooted foundation in Him.

I saw these truths in my sweet friend as she spoke with hope over her situation and over our stacks of pancakes.

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly.”- Psalm 104:16

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Let’s trust God at His Word when He says that we are “watered abundantly” when we are in His care. Let’s trust that He knows our deep need, our deep anxiety, and our deeply-wrought worry lines, and that He delights to take it all in his strong and capable hands.

As this new week begins, I’m reminded that my word of focus and reflection for 2016 is HOPE. I am thankful for the many reminders I received this weekend that hope is not ignorant, nor foolish, nor fruitless. Rather, hope is proof-positive of a belief in a big and powerful God of all.

I just love the way the words of Psalm 104 display God’s greatness. I love the illustration of God making his home in the sea, on the wind, and on the clouds, and then giving each of His created beings exactly what they need. It inspires grandeur in my small heart, and makes my worries feel small.

I hope that, on this Monday morning, you feel a little of that, too.

“O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.
…These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
…When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”
– Psalm 104:24-30