On our journey through life, like a hike in the wilderness, sometimes we may come across a path that someone else has already forged, making our trek much easier. Incredible strides are made as we step in the footsteps of others who have gone before us, but there are times when, by doing so, we actually lose our way.
It is easy to see someone else’s success and want to duplicate it, to look at what they have done to fulfill their goals, dreams, and calling on their life and use it as a guide to do the same for ourselves.
So, what is the difference between a pattern and a formula?
God asked me this question one night as I pondered how to artistically give Him credit for the stars. For most of my life, I considered myself an atheist. At one point, I had a scorpion tattoo placed on my right shoulder to give credit to a constellation for my personality, my identity. Then, years later after encountering Christ, I considered what to get as a cover-up tattoo. To my surprise, God asked me why I wasn’t asking Him what He desired. Although I thought that seemed incredibly ironic because of the stigma of tattoos in much of the Christian community, I went ahead and asked. While you may imagine His response was for me to remove my previous tattoo, it wasn’t.
Instead, He asked me, “What’s the difference between a pattern and a formula?” I wondered if this was a rhetorical question or if He actually wanted an answer. As the Final Jeopardy tune played through my head, I couldn’t figure it out and gave up, asking Him for the answer. That’s when He revealed that the difference between a pattern and a formula is who gets the credit. (And, regarding the cover-up tattoo, God then asked why I didn’t give Him credit instead.)
You see, for years I gave the stars credit for who I was and why I am the way I am. But God showed me that giving credit to the stars is a form of worshiping them. And, like so many other things, it’s simply worshiping the created instead of the Creator. It was then that He gave me an image of what the first day of creation could have looked like as light appeared shining through the darkness. The image incorporated the scorpion constellation into the darkness, giving Him credit for the creation of the stars that this constellation is comprised of. This new tattoo tells a story: I no longer believe that I am who I am because I was born at a specific time; I am who I AM says I am simply because He says.
At some point, almost all of us do the same thing I did for so long. We look to the created – others’ successes, others’ creations, the paths they have taken – and we start to worship them. It isn’t a bad thing to look for help, nor is it bad when we find patterns or pathways that can ease our burdens, lightening our load. But, it can become a problem when we look at the pattern and no longer give the credit to God for providing it, instead, we decide to take the concepts, rebrand them, and take the credit for it ourselves. It’s even worse when we abandon the path that God has planned for us for the plan of others. It is so critical that we seek His kingdom, His will, His desire, and His path for us. When we do, it may still be challenging, but it will be well worth it.
What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?
In a world where bills and diapers and to-do lists distract, how can we be sure our lives are making an impact? How can we make a lasting difference?
Have you ever had one of those bleh sort of days? When the mundane rules and the body moves slow and the cozy sounds delightful?
It’s a bleh sort of day over here. No downer moods. Simply a sense of a low-key day. My body doesn’t feel energized. I’m a bit lethargic. It’s okay – enter hormones, blood sugars, and chores to do.
But mid-morning on this bleh-sort-of-day, God whispered to me of beauty. On my way to the bathroom counter to grab a hair tie and stick this mess of curls up in a bun, He said to me, “Look up.” There, in the mirror, I caught a glimpse of my reflection, in all my free-flying, messy curl, mascara-free, blonde eyelashes, freckles beyond number glory, wearing jeans and a T with a tear near the hem. A bit sloppy. The comfy feeling of being relaxed in my space. But nothing glamorous, to be sure.
“Embrace the messy curls today,” He whispered to me. “See the blue in the iris. Don’t long for the black in the lash. There’s beauty here. Now.”
There’s beauty here. Now.
Usually I hide my curls with the flat iron. Hair is easier to deal with that way. Easier to control. Usually I apply mascara to point out that, yes, I do in fact have eyelashes. I know they’re virtually invisible. I know I look like every European Renaissance portrait ever painted with the people of the invisible lashes. (Yes, those are my people.)
Sometimes the struggle is simple practicality. Sometimes it’s about fitting in. Sometimes it’s about fulfilling a sense of a perceived standard of beauty. But the struggle is there.
What struggle do you face when you face the mirror? It’s so easy to gloss over our feelings there because it seems so vain, surely not nearly as important as the “spiritual” issues of life. But God created us in bodies, which are our vessels for living out these lives of ours.
Not only did He create these bodies, but He created us in His image, after His likeness (Genesis 1:26-27).
And, even more, He is the Author and Creator of this substance called beauty. Beyond all the flowers and trees and clouds and waves He created a beauty that is eternal – humanity. And there is a special sort of beauty in the broken, the raw, the unveiled, the vulnerable, the tender, the wrinkled.
Am I tossing out my flat iron or my mascara? Nope. I enjoy those. Maybe you enjoy your flair for fashion or your tattoo or your lip color. There are all kinds of creative expressions. And I am not here to demonize those. I, too, have fun getting creative with the clothes I have, glancing at my tattooed wrist, or trying on a new color. Yes, enjoy. Yes, create. But, may we not hide. May we not hide the beauty that has always been there.
May we embrace the beauty He has placed within us as well as on us as we live surrendered to Christ, reflecting God’s image to the world.
Here’s to the messy curls, the invisible lashes, the freckles in great supply. Here’s to the real.
In case you need to hear it today – You are beautiful. And you are beauty. All because He is Beauty.
We’ve forgotten who we are.
We’re facing an identity crisis. And the reason is very simple: We have forgotten that it’s the very Person of God which defines us. Who He is speaks who we are into being. So, when God is resisted, pushed away, ignored, considered to be imaginary…that’s when we’ll allow anything but Him to define our deepest selves.
Here, in this nation we like to call the “Land of the Free,” we’ve ousted God from the public square. Pushed Him to the periphery. Surrendered to relativity in the name of tolerance.
And many of us have forgotten that it’s the very Presence of God which defines us.
It’s not the opinions of others which define us.
…Or sexual preference.
…Or past performance or future plans.
…Or present situations or hopeless circumstances.
…Or careers or relationship statuses.
The very definition of identity is under scrutiny in our nation. What does it mean to be human? To be married? To be a parent? To be a man or a woman? To be a Christ-follower? To be free?
David had no qualms about who he was and how he was defined, whether in his lowest moments or in his highest peaks. “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.” (Psalm 18:20) I’ve struggled with these words – this declaration of right-standing before God – because I know I’m not innocent. I know the inner struggles of my heart, the many, daily failings I face.
Yet in my struggles, God has reminded me that my righteousness has nothing to do with my past. It has everything to do with the sacrifice made for me while I was still a sinner, the sacrifice God made for me. For me! For you!
I just can’t get over the fact that God loves me (and you!) unconditionally. In the middle of my mess, covered with the stench of my choices that are rooted in pride, all the times I’ve sought anything but Him to define me – He still loves fully! He embraces completely! Me…and you…right where we are in this moment.
But He won’t leave us there.
This God who loves us passionately created us for such a time as this. He conceived us in His mind before we were ever conceived in body. And He daily invites us to take steps towards becoming the people He designed us to be.
So, when we’re in the onslaught, facing another attack against the essence of who we are, stepping into His Presence is where we can find the truth that brings freedom.
When we look at what we do and we think it’s who we are, we’ve missed a critical reality! What we do stems from who we are – and who we are is defined by the One who dreamt of us, created us, and stands ready to partner with us in living this life authentically – with love, truth, abundance, and freedom.
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Somewhere over the past few months, I’ve internally shifted into having more of a performance mentality. I’ve tied my identity many times with how well I’m doing rather than simply with who I’m being. I felt myself failing far more often than flying.
As someone who is passionate about identity, this can be difficult to admit. But it just means that I’m still a work in progress, still learning to live out who God has designed me to be.
Have you struggled with a performance mentality?
God began to stir my heart months ago towards a fresh vision about who I am becoming and where I’ve strayed. I heard a singular word. Presence. My heart leapt. This word summed up everything I longed for, everything I’d neglected leading to those moments of feeling the failing. It brought me back to the Source of what matters.
Both the Presence of God and the presence of me. Recognizing His unfailing Presence in my life. Placing the fullness of my presence before Him and others I encounter each day. Present in this moment, neither living in the past nor dwelling on the future. Presence full in the here-and-now. Living with the longing to discover how each moment is pregnant with His Presence.
It’s always the Presence of God that creates transformative change, that creates life. In His Presence is safety and rest, guidance and strength, cleansing and restoration.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12
It’s always the fullness of my presence that reveals the love I have for God and others. How can I show love if I am not present?
On a practical note, I’ve wondered how this offering of my presence to those in my daily life works. As a homeschooling mom who also writes and speaks and plans – who is the wife and mom and friend – how do I handle the interruptions that inevitably enter my day, pulling my attentive presence from one thing to another? That’s what the past few months have brought me to ask as I’ve pondered this single word, Presence…single, yet not simple.
When the Israelites moved throughout the wilderness, they had only one indicator that it was time to move on: the movement of God’s Presence in the pillar of cloud or fire. They may have stayed one night or several months in one spot. But every morning they looked to the pillar of His Presence to follow His direction. When He moved, so did they. It was simple, though certainly not always easy. Attend to His Presence. Move when He does, but never before.
I’m not sure I have the precise answer yet to what this looks like practically. But, perhaps, here’s a place to start:
Holding so loosely to my agendas that they’re easy to set down, either for a moment’s interruption or for a complete redirection, attentive to the movement of God’s Presence.
Training my kiddos, and offering the example, of practiced patience. How to wait on someone else to complete their thought or task before pulling them off course.
Stripping away the things that weigh me down, making it easier to move when His Presence does.
Asking: What’s getting in the way of sensing His Presence? What’s keeping me from giving my presence?
Presence. Remembering that He’s here. Remembering to be here.
What do we do with the hard things of God?
Do we let doubts and unanswered prayers influence how we see God? Do we skim over scripture that we don’t think lines up with our concept of what a loving God should look like? How do we handle the death of a loved one or being passed over for a promotion at work?
If we aren’t careful, bitterness will creep in. The door will crack open and the enemy of our souls will have a field day planting doubt in our minds, “Did God really say…” We cannot allow our circumstances to shape our view of God.
We must allow God to shape our understanding of our circumstances.
In Genesis 32, Jacob found himself overwhelmed with fear of his brother, Esau. Years before, Jacob had deceitfully and manipulatively stolen the blessing intended for his brother. Now, he approached Esau’s land with the fruits of that blessing: a large family, many servants, immense wealth. Yet he feared his brother’s retaliation. He feared for his life…for the lives of his entire household.
After humbling himself in prayer, Jacob sent an extravagant gift ahead to Esau. Then, he sent his household ahead as well. Jacob was left completely alone when a man appeared and began to wrestle him. It’s always struck me as strange that this “man” just appears from nowhere at the exact moment Jacob is finally alone.
And just a few verses later, we discover that he’s been wrestling with God this whole night. Not a man…but God…the One who has the power to bless, to rename, to direct our paths. God is not having an identity crisis. He is secure in who He is and how He feels about us. He came to Jacob, He initiated – better yet, orchestrated – the whole event. God wanted to talk to him about identity.
“…Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And [the man] said to [Jacob], ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with me, and have prevailed.'” Genesis 32:26-28
At times when I haven’t heard an answer to prayer and I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, God has allowed me to realize that His thoughts are above my thoughts (meaning I wouldn’t understand even if He did tell me), but with that revelation peace is deposited and I know that everything will be all right.
I don’t have to worry about what is coming because God has told us we are entering His joy; we are going to a place where there is no more crying and no more death. Even when my feelings don’t line up, God is still faithful and He has always gone before me and made the crooked places straight.
I don’t like conflict. I would rather keep the peace than start conflict. And yet, God will allow me into situations where I must face conflict to show me that He is with me and that there are ways to handle conflict which are healthy and honoring to Him.
There are also times when I let myself get anxious about impending conflict and nothing ever comes of it. I’m sure a lot of that is me getting worked up in my mind. But I am convinced that, many times, God is diffusing situations and circumstances before I ever arrive.
And through the uncertainties, through the conflicts, God is standing ready to teach me more about who He is and who I am. He will not let an opportunity to reveal Himself to us pass Him by.
The book of James tells us that tests and trials come to perfect us. Jesus told us that in this world we will have trouble, not that we might. Our eternal God is bigger than circumstances, bigger than situations.
Just another note about Jacob, who was risking his life fighting for a blessing; he was already the carrier of blessing. God had promised him and his father (Isaac) and his grandfather (Abraham) that they would be blessed beyond comprehension.
When we are in tough places, if we will allow God to do His work, He will reveal more of our identity to us. We may not come out on the other side of trials with a physical limp, but if we let God do His work we should walk differently, with a better understanding of who we are in Him.
A friend of mine is mama to three wonderful sons. I’m sure they’re quite human, with flaws and weaknesses. But I only know that because they have pulses beating. From my friend’s mouth comes life spoken over these sons of hers. She may be younger than me, but she’s a mama-mentor to me especially on those difficult days when it’s hard to see the amazing in my children.
She has names for her sons that call them into their identity, like “The Strong One” and “Lil Warrior.” I’ve never heard her complain about her sons. I’ve only ever heard her speak of her prides and joys with genuine pride and joy. These names she calls them by not only lift them up, but they call out identity from within.
So, when God spoke to my heart last month, giving me new names for my family members, I was thrilled! I was at a women’s conference and it was during worship on Friday night when I heard Him speak. And He spoke newness and life and identity. He gave me new names that I was now tasked with speaking over my family members.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17
When bedtime comes for the little ones, I’m usually more than ready for it. But that night was different. I gathered my brood on the living room floor…me, with bubbling-over excitement and a sense of urgency…them with a look of confusion on their faces. And life tumbled from my lips.
My daughter, I declared, is called “The Worshiper.” It’s fitting for this little girl who can sing praises for hours with hands lifted. It’s a challenge, calling her to focus on the blessings all around, thanking the One responsible for giving.
My son, “Servant Leader”…in that order. He loves to serve and he loves to lead. This name puts in focus the reality that in order to be a leader worthy of being followed, he must first be a servant. Then, those he serves will know that he leads with their best in mind rather than according to his own agenda.
My husband received his name, “The Tackler,” which is hugely appropriate for this football fan. But, football aside, here stands a man of God who moves forward in fearless obedience to God, ready and willing to tackle any challenge before him. Here is a man who can be trusted with immense tasks because he first trusts God to equip him.
Then there was me: “Water Walker.” Of late, songs like Oceans and You Make Me Brave have spoken vibrantly to my soul, calling me out beyond the safety of the shore and into the unknown. Whether the waters are choppy due to storms or calm in the mundaneness, walking across them is miracle. God is calling me out to walk over the impossible situations, be they stormy or mundane…and to see the miraculous in every moment.
What about you? Do you have names for your children? Your husband? Yourself? Are they names full of life or are they, honestly, full of death?
In the recent weeks since being given these names, there have been some tough mommy moments, where my kids’ behavior hasn’t aligned with who they are. This reminder is where I go; what I speak over them again and again.
To the son demanding his own way, “Who are you, son?” “I’m the Servant Leader.” A shift occurs…
To the daughter beginning to whine…. “Who are you, daughter?” “The Worshiper.” A new perspective…
To my own soul, when I feel pulled down under the weight of impossible things, “Who am I?” Water Walker…taking miracle-steps through storms and mundane alike.
God has a new name for you too. One that speaks to who you are, how He sees you. Would you stop today and ask Him? What does He declare over your children? How does He see your husband? Who does He say you are? And…will you agree with Him?
[This post first appeared at Next Level Mama.]
Are you inTENtional in your relationships with your children? Beneath the weight of living and day-to-day responsibilities, it’s so easy to stay in survival mode. We think it’s too hard…we aren’t doing enough…WE aren’t enough. But God always is. When we partner with Him in raising these kiddos He’s entrusted to us, when we put aside time on purpose, we can live inTENtionally. Check out my latest ebook, The inTENtional Mama, a quick-read where the inspirational meets the practical day-to-day. You’ll be blessed, uplifted, inspired, and equipped to become an inTENtional Mama! [Available where ebooks are sold!]
Much of my life I’ve felt invisible. Believed the lie that I’m so insignificant, so unimportant to others that I might as well be thin air for them to peer through.
And all the while, I’ve longed to be peered into, to be seen.
That’s how I lived in elementary school, when I got picked last every. single. time. That’s how I existed in middle school, with frizzy hair and glasses, keeping my head down, my mouth shut. That’s how I functioned in high school, feeling forgotten anytime I found myself without a steady boyfriend. Forgotten. Invisible. Unimportant.
I didn’t feel seen. Have you ever felt like that? I was desperate to be seen, not for my appearance or my accomplishments, but seen for my inner being, for who I was beneath the veneer.
Several years ago, I found myself at an orientation weekend for new leaders preparing to lead mission trips for teenagers. I went primarily to support my husband’s dream, to understand what drove him to be interested in leading a mission trip. I went alone, leaving Steve and the kids at home for two whole days. And I knew no one. Not a soul.
I arrived early, because, well, that’s what I do. And, sitting in the cafeteria on a campus designed to raise up and train college-aged kids, I found myself surrounded by 18, 19, and 20-year-olds. I found a table and sat with my lunch and a book, totally content to be alone when a girl approached me. She was easily ten years younger than my 28-year-old self.
“Hi! How’re you doing?” she said. Caught off guard by being noticed, I replied and we chatted for a minute or two. Then she asked if she could pray for me. What? Ok, sure!
Then she smiled, wished me a great day and went on her way. I sat there smiling, uplifted, and a little dumbfounded that she’d seen me in the first place and had been so comfortable starting a conversation with me. This was only the first of many such interactions with the interns on campus that weekend.
But, when I arrived in the main building for orientation to begin, I started to look around with new eyes. Rather than being so focused on feeling alone and forgotten, I started to look around for other people who appeared to be alone or out of their element.
It wasn’t easy for me at all, but I forced myself to start conversations, approach these strangers. Very quickly, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt unseen. And even faster, I noticed how appreciated a kind word was. How impacting simple eye contact could be.
I may not have seen into their souls to know their deepest depths in that moment. But by simply looking in their eyes, reaching out for a handshake, and offering an invitation to come sit with me, I saw incredible change. Discomfort shifted to relaxation. Uncertainty was exchanged for comfort. It was a beautiful thing!
Over the years, I’ve continued, though it’s still not natural for me to reach out to strangers and say hi. But it’s getting easier every time. And nearly every time I do, I’m pleasantly surprised at what happens: a smile, a look of relief, perhaps a new friendship.
All those years I felt unseen because people ignored me…all that time I spent believing the lie that I ultimately didn’t matter…perhaps people didn’t truly see me. But God did.
He never forgot me. He saw me. He declared me priceless.
And as I believe with ever-deepening conviction that these things are true, that the lie is a lie, I can see with fresh eyes when I look at others. Growing more confident in who He declares me to be helps me reach beyond myself to see the beauty and value in others. God’s perspective becomes my own when I begin to look at others the way He sees them…precious, priceless, of inestimable value.
Where are you at today? Are you feeling unseen? He sees you. He does!
Can you see others today through His perspective? In trusting that you are seen, will you challenge yourself to see those around you with fresh eyes?
I sat restless, my certainties from just hours before upended. Surrounded by coffee house chatter, the smell of roasting beans, and a sense that life was about to shift in a dramatic way, I poured out my heart on paper. The years and my choices had taken me far from God. My dreams, ambitions, they had nothing to do with Him anymore. My world centered firmly on me. But my world was experiencing an axis-shift.
Just 19-years-old, my future before me, a longtime dream in my hands, I finally opened my ears to hear His opinion on my future, my identity, my purpose.
My dream: to become a recording artist and producer. My reasons: I loved music and I wanted the spotlight. Surely my career was supposed to be all about me. Right?
But as my world shifted and turned, poles realigning, and I heard His voice, suddenly what I wanted shifted too. In a matter of moments, I’d stepped out of the center of my own life and invited God in to be the new center. With fresh eyes, with a heart finally opened, I began to care more about what He wanted than what I’d had planned.
And He asked, “Will you give Me your dream?”
I paused…not quite resisting, just facing the depth of His question to me. Finally, my heart spoke, “Yes. Here’s my dream. Here are my plans, my hopes. I don’t know what You have in mind, but I’ll trust You.”
My hands unclenched, opening palms up.
He wanted to talk about who I was before He would let me in on what I was supposed to do. He wanted to focus on my being before my doing. We spent months chatting in journals and quiet moments, speaking of things like identity and being and His truth.
One day, sitting outside the student union building between classes, He was suddenly there, radiating light…sitting in the patio chair across the table from me.
And I asked, “Lord, since I’m a part of the Body of Christ, what part am I? What is my purpose?” I was ready to see a glimpse of what my being was designed to do.
“Be My hands. Be My voice.” Somehow, I knew this meant to write and speak, though both things were alien to me at that moment. “Be there, not to stand in the spotlight, but to reflect My light.” And He was gone. The patio chair empty once again.
Now, journals stacked two feet high show me more than a decade of conversation between us in the years to follow. A non-writer began writing. A blog began, space dedicated to continuing this conversation about Who He is and where He is to be found. A book written and published, all about identity. More writing projects stand on the horizon. A perspective shifted, a new dream discovered. Doors opened that I never could’ve imagined on my own.
It’s the most exciting journey of my life, following Him each step of the way, wondering what’s next, still dumbfounded that He would choose to work through me in any capacity. It began with a conversation. With unclenched hands, opened to new possibilities. With willingness to let go of what I thought was best. Given a new hope and a new future.
Have you ever felt insecure?
It’s something we all deal with and is often an ongoing battle we face as we attempt to live our lives with authenticity and courage.
But if we stay in this place of insecurity, it eats away at our emotional health and, in fact, our very sense of identity. Emotionally healthy people exhibit healthy boundaries with others, owning their own feelings without taking on responsibility for the feelings and choices of others. There will be an ease in forgiveness, a lack of bitterness. Gratitude, positivity and trust in God will also be manifest in the way they live each day.
But an insecure person has an unpredictable, shifting foundation underlying their core beliefs. (I’m over at Single Matters today. Continue reading HERE!)