The Perfection Antidote

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In last week’s blog post, I glanced back on my modeling career and, in doing so, recognized how many things have changed. I modeled during the pre-digital, pre-Photoshop era. I recall arriving on location for a particular photo shoot and the make-up artist and photographer were in a dither because I had a broken blood vessel on my cheek. 

Of course, they had reason to be ruffled since this made their job exponentially more difficult. To provide the client with the best possible image, glaring imperfections would have to be expertly covered up by the make-up artist, and the photo itself would require retouching by hand.

There wasn’t any fixing an out-of-place strand of hair after the fact, slimming a few extra pounds around the middle, or the addition of a filter for a wow-factor. Whatever was captured on film was what you got. So they took a lot of pictures and selected the best one from printed proof sheets. 

Even back in the 80s’, perfection permeated the business. Of course, we models weren’t perfect, but it helped to be as close as possible: no pimples, no scars, no visible cellulite. Young girls looking at magazines back then may have seen slightly retouched photographs but weren’t digesting expertly manipulated images. Perfection is so sought after that, these days, we don’t even know how much of what we’re seeing is real. 

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But we don’t need photoshop to serve up perfection. We regularly present a perfect facade in multiple forms. 

We exhibit Photoshop-like qualities whenever we choose to relate to others by presenting polished, untouchable forms of ourselves seemingly void of cares or troubles. Our Facebook and Instagram posts display the highlight reels of our lives, all imperfections blotted out. We present perfect when we strive to be flawless, Photoshopping away our limitations and imperfections and disregarding our human need to rest and refuel. We deny imperfection by refusing to peer honestly at our weaknesses and extending kindness or forgiveness to ourselves. 

We may even deliberately or subconsciously grasp for the retouching tool by expecting perfection from those around us. By placing unspoken or unattainable expectations on others, we withhold grace and forgiveness for others’ pimples and instead substitute distant, unloving shadows of our true selves in such relationships. 

What is the antidote for this perfection crisis? A reality tool that enables a reversal allowing us to see what is real and true.

Here are a few truths that can act to reverse our perfection problem:

  1. You are loved as you are this very moment. (Romans 5:8)
  2. You are so precious to God that he gave his Son for you. (John 3:16)
  3. You are imperfect but have been made perfect through Jesus. (Hebrews 10:14)
  4. You are forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7) 
  5. You are free. (John 8:36)
  6. You have all you need to live a Godly life. (2 Peter 1:3)

Jesus is our reality tool. In Christ, we can release our notion of perfection and receive his grace and love, extending the same to others. We can exchange our striving—and just surviving —for his gentle leading and perfect peace. We can draw on God’s power and strength to be transformed and to live the Godly life he purchased through his death and resurrection. Using cover-up to mask our imperfections loses its allure as we settle into God’s love.

I’ll leave you with The Message version of Romans 3:21-26 as a truth summary:

“The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.”

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  1. In what ways are you masking your true self in an attempt to present perfect?
  2. Do you think letting go of the cover-up would enhance your relationships?

 

Coming Nov 12th, 2019: SOUL FOCUS – Trials

New Release: One More Tomorrow

ISBN: 978-1-4866-1537-7

Print Availability: Chapters/Indigo, Amazon, Word Alive Press, and wherever fine Christian books are sold. eBook Availability: Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, and in Adobe PDF format for additional vendors.

A Roomful of Love

71051079_388729618467623_1034085484717932544_nThis past Tuesday, a life-long dream of mine came to fruition. My debut novel was released. The very same evening a supportive crowd of approximately eighty family and friends gathered to celebrate my book launch. 

The scene was surreal. The room was full of people from all different facets of my life all gathered in one place. I was flitting around the room working hard to bury my nervousness.

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It’s one thing to write a book, but quite another to release it to the world. All the while I was tapping out words on my laptop, editing streams of sentences, and pouring over various details, I was secure in my creative bubble. Now the book was launching and would be in the hands of readers, I felt a little exposed. 

The evening flowed beautifully and the enthusiasm of the gathered crowd encouraged me. I explained the book’s inception, my writing process, and offered details about the characters and themes. I enjoyed reading excerpts and left time for questions. 

My publicist had encouraged me to take a moment at the launch to look around the room, soak it all in, and ponder the gravity of what I had accomplished. I was attempting to do that between conversations, photo ops, and a trip to the bathroom to pray! I finally managed to take that moment just before I began to speak. I scanned the room, seeing the faces of the seated guests, and smiled. How is it that they all came here for me?

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What struck me the most wasn’t so much my accomplishment, but how blessed I am to have these dear souls in my life. When you really think about it, what would anything big in our lives be without others to celebrate with? To laugh with, cry with, to be silly with, or to accompany us through the hard bits of life? The people in the room represented love to me. A packed roomful of love. 

And there was something else. When I finished speaking, I exited the room to make my way to the signing table. Seated just outside the room was our pastor. Having had another engagement that night, he had come late to the launch and sat outside so as not to disturb the presentation. I can barely explain how much comfort and support his presence offered at that moment, but seeing him seated there was so beautiful. 

It struck me as a picture of Jesus. I envision him sitting nearby, his steady, comforting presence celebrating in our midsts and cheering me on. And truth be told, he was there. His presence among my friends, weaving through our conversation, amid my whispered bathroom prayers, and on the empty stool as I read from the book he helped me write. And like my gathered guests and their show of affection, my book would be nothing to celebrate without my Saviour. 

We can do a great many things in this life. We may write a book, receive a special award, earn multiple degrees, reach all our goals, but for me, it would be empty and futile if I didn’t know Jesus. His sacrificed life saved me. His offered love changed me. His spirit helps me. His presence comforts me. 

He gave everything and in doing so gave me life.

I’m thankful for God’s grace, and all the dear people he has seen fit to tuck into my life. Those I’m honoured to journey with and celebrate life’s events alongside, and with whom I’m privileged to help bear a burden or who help carry mine. As hard as this life can be, there’s much beauty in our midst. Sometimes we just need to take a moment, look around us, soak it all in, and ponder its gravity.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

 

Unfinished Works & Masterpieces

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A couple of weeks ago, I nearly finished a painting. I had challenged myself to begin an abstract piece without a sketch. I’ve never done that before, and it took giving up control and allowing it to go where it would. The only structure I put in place was a straight line drawn horizontally across the oversized canvas.

Like most art, it’s nearly impossible to say when it’s complete. The incomplete canvas leaned lonely against our kitchen table for several days while I reviewed the edits for my novel. Then we left for a week away. Upon returning, my husband promptly hung my almost finished piece on the living room wall to await its final touches. He and the kids said it looked complete already. All I could see stretched out before me were the other areas and hours I planned on tweaking it.

Aren’t we a bit like that painting?

We exist as unfinished masterpieces.

When others look at us, we look pretty good, maybe even complete. But our creator knows there’s more to be done. He’s the only one who can truly see when the work is finished. Because he loves us, he won’t lean us against a table, forget about us, or let go, until we are fully a masterpiece.

During the painting process, we look for a sketch to follow, but must instead keep striking out in faith. This takes trust and courage, especially when we feel unsure of our direction, completely lost, lonely, or are hurting. In such times, we think if we only had a sketch—some step-by-step plan—to guide us, then the canvas of our lives would turn out just right. But we aren’t the artist.

As I painted, I experimented with solid body paint, applying it thick to create texture. I waited for it to begin to dry and harden, then smeared it when it was just the right consistency creating a flattened texture. I loved the result and began to do likewise with the bottom half of the painting. Before it reached the perfect stage, I had to rush out. No worries, I told myself, it will give the paint time to dry, and when I return I’ll do the technique. Alas, I came home later than expected, and it was too dry to manipulate. Though I pressed and scraped, the paint would barely move. The rough texture looked completely different.

Interestingly enough, without my saying a word, everyone who looks at the painting likes those parts the best—the mistake. They think it’s bold and has the most character.

The same is true with our lives; beauty is forged from accidents and mistakes. Character is hewn out of hardship. When it seems circumstances can’t be budged or smoothed, and there’s no sketch to follow, the creator is fashioning our lives—and us—into a work of great beauty despite our mistakes and meddling.

Sometimes, we think our lives might be impossibly messed up, but God’s grace and love creates beauty from ashes. Our blunders and flaws, and various rough patches inflicted upon us, aren’t a surprise to him. If we let him, God even fashions them to form within us strength, boldness, and remarkable beauty. When he looks at us, he can already picture the finished piece.

Until then, we are unfinished works in progress awaiting the day we become masterpieces.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

~ Isaiah 61:1-3

 

The God We Didn’t Know

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Sketch of Napoleon crowing himself. ~ Drawing by David, kept at the Louvre.

I’ve noticed that a lot of animosity hurled toward God is misdirected.

God has become the cosmic scapegoat for many misdemeanors of mankind. He’s the fault of others’ failings. The illness for the ills injected by humans upon humans. The ugliness freely deposited by others. And this blame drags heavy, like the cross he staggered beneath and heaved up the hill to his death; unjustly accused even then.

Let’s be honest, humans are notorious for redirecting blame.

How could God allow children to starve? we exclaim as we dab our mouths, rub our bellies, and declare how stuffed we are. How could God allow women and children to be abused? while our insatiable appetite for pornography helps fuel the multi-billion dollar human trafficking industry. How can God allow mass genocide? as we welcome the supposed savior and then keep silent to save ourselves. How could God allow the homeless to freeze overnight? as we cross the street, lock our doors, and add an extra blanket to our beds.

Our hostility towards God can also be fueled by former hurt. We may have been wounded by those who should have known better; some who even claimed to know God. With that layer of proximity, there can be a propensity for the hurt to spill over and affect our perception of God. Sometimes we purposely distance ourselves from God in the aftermath of such disillusionment and disappointment, ascribing undo blame and fearing to love a God whose people behave so poorly.

But abuse and neglect, hatred and homicide, others’ judgment and exclusion, is not a reflection of God’s nature, but more accurately a picture of people who have forgotten who he is. Perhaps they never really knew him in the first place, or what they do know of him, they dislike or disregard. Possibly they prefer to pick and choose the parts they can accept and reject the rest. In all truth, often we’re so caught up being the ruler of our own little kingdoms that we sacrifice others in our self-coronation. So caught up, in fact, that we don’t really understand who God is, and often could care less.

And like any relationship, fraught with misunderstanding and confusion, fault lines and frayed edges, unscalable distance and disappointment, so too is our relationship with God. It’s difficult to know someone we’ve never really encountered or regularly spend time with.

This world, and all that’s in it, is a gift. As with all gifts, after they’ve been given, it becomes up to the receiver how they’re treated and maintained. God generously gave and let us be the caretakers. He offers help if we make room, but so often it’s too crowed in the kingdom of one. That’s when things tend to get ugly.

But every now and then, we make room and let Him in, and we begin to see beauty, and truth, and love.

We begin to realize that:

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”  ~ Psalm 145:8-9

We learn that:

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  ~Lamentations 3:22-23

We hear that:

“The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”.  ~Deuteronomy 31:6b

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

~Psalm 68:5

When we encounter and accept the truth of God’s surprising love, both our heart and outlook is altered. We are sorry for our failings. We understand how we’ve misplaced blame, and learn to face our faults. Our relationships begin to shift, and instead of exploiting, we look at all the things he entrusted us with a little differently. Some of the things that formerly preoccupied us fade in significance. God’s gentle, patient, kind, healing, and unconditional love propels us, and as we grow stronger, we in turn help strengthen. Beauty ensues and love stands a fighting chance.

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1. In what ways have you blamed God for the failings of others?

2. In what ways have you contributed to another’s pain or misfortune? Ask God for forgiveness, for the strength to change, and, if possible, make restitution.

3. If you sense you’ve never really known God, He is just a prayer away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Mom Who Isn’t Enough

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

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By eighteen years of age, I had a parenting file. In it I kept all the Dr. Dobson tips inserted into our church bulletins, along with any other scraps of wisdom I stumbled across. I even read parenting books with all sorts of helpful advice. I was going to be an amazing mom – practically perfect, I thought.

But the books didn’t account for a few things.

There was never a mention of those days when you’re beyond tired and patience prematurely packs its bags. When circumstances shift so fast and hard that life takes a disorienting sharp turn for the worse. When you’re sick so long it starts to look like you’ll never get better. When all your “yes’s'” catch up with you and you’re running ragged, or just barely hanging on emotionally, physically or financially. No, there were no chapters dedicated to how to be an outstanding parent when the bottom drops right out from under you.

No book noted how to respond when a little voice calling mommy interrupts mid-sob, and you make tidy work of wiping tears gushing from a soul rubbed raw by the events you protected them from and some you couldn’t. When everything you did was motivated by love and most of the time that love was far too much or not nearly enough. Mostly, parenting felt like you were feeling in the dark with the occasional scrap of light.

But somewhere between the tickle fights and hair tangles, missing socks and math problems, untold bedtime stories and late night pacing, you managed to be a mom who, despite all her flaws, flips outs and failings was real and kind and good. And all you ever wanted was to raise kids that were too. And that had to be enough because though you didn’t feel nearly enough, you were the one God assigned for the task. And you look at these human beings God gave you to raise and think: they are kind and good and miraculously more than enough. More than you could have dared to dream.

Fast forward twenty years. The parenting books are now untouched. I still lament that I wasn’t a good enough mom, think of the ways I could have, should have, done it differently. I drag my failed self-wisdom and aching heart to the One who is good enough. And in those quiet moments – the moments in between the dinner making and the driving – I thank Him for trusting me with a job that was far too big for my credentials and self-education. Far too big for me alone.

And I realize, it was all because of GRACE.

Heaps and heaps of it. It filled in the cracks I missed, saturated the gaping wounds life inflicted that I couldn’t have hoped to patch, it spilled over the top in healing brimming over beyond measuring.

Grace. The free gift the books missed mentioning. The part where peace takes over and you rest knowing God knew all this and it’s still okay, because He loved so completely He died and made a way to eternity for the likes of those who feel undeserving and not nearly enough. And in His arms you understand that He never asked for perfection anyway – just like you never asked for it from your kids. And you, like they, feel loved…and that covers a multitude.

And this amazing Grace, like a love-blanket, wraps itself around us, pulls us close and declares:

You are enough. You are loved. 

And you realize, it was enough, because He is enough.

He is the One who saw all the not-quite-enoughs, the beautiful sacrifices made when you were on empty, the way you looked into your child’s eyes when you could barely keep your own open, the way you laughed when you could have cried. He knew the mountains you were scaling. And with Him, it is all more than enough. Because somehow, together you were making beauty far beyond anything you could have learned from a book.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

May you receive God’s grace and love freely today. 

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  1. How do you feel unworthy? Tell God about it and let Him heal those areas.
  2. In what ways have you controlled the parenting process? Chose to let go and let God do the heavy lifting.

Build Bridges, Not Barriers.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:1-3

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How difficult it is not to judge! I was reminded of this recently when two of my children pointed out this propensity in me. Though not nice to hear, I’m glad they did or I, once again, may not have even noticed that particular plank.

Speck finding is easy. Locating planks…not so much.

In thinking about it, when playing judge, we take on a role we were never offered. Worse, whatever measure we use to judge, the same is piled back on us. This self-proclaimed loftiness reeks of self-righteous pride and turns the gospel upside down. Sitting in the judgment seat leaves little room for the miracle of mercy and the gift of grace. It’s like lowering a partition to make grace unreachable for those who are in desperate need. I hazard a guess that many more people would desire kingdom living if its citizens reeked more of love.

Jesus loved the ones the Pharisees judged to have missed the mark. He had a beautiful way of loving people in spite of their ‘junk’ and in the midst of their sin. He didn’t embrace the sin, but instead the person. With Jesus there was no shaming or making people feel they were unfit to be in His company. Amid His loving actions, a gently deposited word – or no words at all – there remained no condemnation. Instead there were changed lives.

Matthew gives this account: “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’? On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)

When we spend time with Jesus, being renewed and reminded of who we are, our inclination to judge others recedes. After all, we are among those He reached out a mercy-filled touch to heal while we were still sinning. Just being with Jesus softens our critical, hard hearts. We don’t have to agree with the choices or behaviour of others in order to love them. A person is not the sin; the sin is not the person. We can love the person in the midst of their junk. Jesus did – and does – on a daily basis for us.

Won’t you join me in using those extracted planks for bridge building?

P.S. I love the story recorded in John about the adulterous woman. If you want a smile or need words of forgiveness, take a moment to read it now. (John 8:3-12)

I bless you that you would find your strength to love others unconditionally in the One who loves you that very same way!

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Take a moment to think of a person(s) you may have judged. Ask God for forgiveness and instead pray for that person.

 

Great Things

He does great things past finding out. ~ Job 9:10

This past weekend, a home school group I work with put on a production of Robin Hood. Like all plays, there are people who work tirelessly in the background to make the magic of theatre happen. I think especially of the stagehands dressed in black, who move silently between the stage and backstage to make sure everything makes it to where it needs to be. If they are good at what they do, no one ever sees them, they merely see the results of what they’ve done: a chair moved onstage here, a tree shifted there.

 

The above verse reminds me that God is always working behind-the-scenes in our lives, whether we notice it or not. It is amazing to think that God is doing “great things” beyond our wisdom and understanding, and sometimes even beyond our ever knowing. Incredibly, He doesn’t do this because of anything we’ve done, He does it because He loves us – a dear Father ensuring all the pieces of our lives are moved appropriately in and out at just the right moment; a loving Dad performing innumerable kindnesses for us, many of which we will never be aware of this side of heaven.

 

If we do happen to recognize His grace, this verse notes we may not be privy to just how He accomplished it. We may never see how He stirred a heart, calmed a storm, thwarted a calamity, or allowed so many other seemingly coincidental events. But, if we do, we are ever grateful.

 

Yet there are times the “great things” He does don’t appear all that great, and it’s challenging to be thankful for what He allowed. But with a smidgen of faith and a mite of courage, we can believe for what we cannot see and know that God is good, even when the shifting and shuffling around of things in our lives may not feel good.

 

Be encouraged. You are intimately loved and cared for by the God of the universe. He doesn’t miss the smallest detail, He is never surprised, never forgets, and there is nothing beyond His understanding and wisdom. Look for the “great things”, the “grace things” He has positioned in your life – even the challenges are disguised blessings – and thank Him for all He has done.

 

Be blessed to see the great things God has done, and is doing, in your life.