Story Tellers

Everyone has a story.

Each story is sacred and beautiful and composed of both broken and glorious moments. We carry these stories like artwork scrawled into our souls: a vast array of imprints and scars, beauty and brokenness. Like fingerprints—like us—no two stories are the same.

Stories are made to be told. To be heard. To be understood.

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Yesterday, I had a book signing in our local mall. My favourite part about book signings is the people and the stories they share. At signings, or other times when I explain the theme of my devotional (Soul Focus: Trials), I’ve had the privilege of hearing various stories from other’s lives—precious and profound stories. Continue reading “Story Tellers”

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.

Why Are We Still Starving Ourselves?

modeling picIn the mid-’80s, when I was fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to become a model. A Toronto agent agreed to represent me but explained that I needed to lose weight. I had been a cross-country runner for five years and never in my life had I given a second thought to the scale. This particular year, I had discontinued running and had stopped growing. I was 5’7” tall and weighed 127 pounds. Now, for the first time in my life, someone was telling me I needed to consider what I ate.

I hadn’t a clue how to diet so I went to my family doctor for advice. He gave me a pamphlet that explained how to count calories, and so I began to figure out how to limit my food intake. Each Friday, I had to call into the agency to let them know how much weight I had lost. They wanted me to lose a pound per week. It was no small thing to change my eating habits since spending time with friends usually included things like ice-cream, candy, chips, pop, and McDonald’s visits. 

After managing to drop fifteen pounds, I was booked for a fashion show at Harbourfront in Toronto. I had been hard at work figuring out how much food I could eat and still lose weight. My agent had come to watch and afterward commended me on how well I had done in the show but told me I still needed to lose more weight. So I ate even less and landed at 108 pounds. For me, that meant virtually starving myself. 

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Penny Noble Model Management – the agency I modeled under for 8 years.

I’m not sure how, but my sixteen-year-old brain realized that this wasn’t going to work. That not only did I dislike such a restrictive eating behavior, but that this lifestyle wasn’t realistic for me. I met with my agent and told her that I didn’t want to diet anymore or be a part of her agency. She told me that was a shame, but that if I could ever keep the weight off she’d be happy to have me back. After months of sometimes eating as little as 200-400 calories per day, it took nearly two years for my metabolism to return to normal. I’m thankful I chose to put a stop to the strict dieting before developing anorexia.

Two years later, and twelve pounds heavier, I decided to give modeling another try. I met with two agents who both extended invitations to join their agencies. Neither one mentioned my weight. I continued to model for several years after that in Toronto, Montreal, and on contract overseas. I realized that the problem with the first agent was that she was trying to make me something I wasn’t. She wanted me to be a thin, high-fashion model when I had a more girl-next-door commercial look. 

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Don’t misunderstand me, I endorse exercise, healthy eating, and self-care, but just like my initial modeling experience, when we attempt to become something we aren’t—when we go to extreme lengths to be accepted but deny our true selves—we run into trouble. We become trapped on a treadmill of never-enough’s, people-pleasing while attempting to fill a soul-hole that can never be satisfied with the things of this world. 

Because here’s the thing, there will never be enough weight to lose, enough money to gain, enough compliments to receive to make us feel full. We’re starving and seeking to fill the emptiness with junk food. The lack of nutrients leaves us feeling even more depleted, but thankfully there is a remedy.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) When we seek God, we are satisfied. When we desire God, the other fixes fade in importance. Our taste buds change, and we see the former things for the empty calories they were. No longer trying to be something we were never made to be, our identity grows secure in Christ and his love, and we partake of his rich blessings.  

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

We find that all we ever needed and wanted—all that satisfies—is found at the feet of Christ. There we discover security, acceptance, healing, love, forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy—all the things we searched for but couldn’t find. In Christ, our true identity surfaces and an internal work of growth and transformation begins that no amount of earthly accoutrements could foster. From here on in, we are fueled by faith and nourished by the word of God secure in his promises.

I’ll leave you with this verse to ponder:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
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  1. In what ways are you starving yourself trying to fill the soul-hole that only Jesus can fill?
  2. You can gain the whole world and lose your soul, or you can find Jesus, save your soul, and gain eternity.

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)

 

Shielding Ourselves From Hurt

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The bad news is that we’re not going to be able to protect ourselves from getting hurt in this life (but you already know that). But boy, do we try! 

We dislike pain and avoid it at all costs. We don’t care to repeat it—ever. Though we may not articulate it, in order to protect ourselves from getting hurt again, we often manufacture a protective piece of armor. We use these shields in an attempt to keep others out, or at least keep them from getting too close.

Our shields take different forms. We might assume an arms-length shield where we keep people at a safe distance. There’s the tough-guy shield nothing can penetrate, or its close model, the overconfident shield that exudes control. Some hide behind a porcupine shield, ready to expel missives at the slightest hint of hurt. While others hide inside a box shield becoming disengaged, closed-off forms of a former self. Others assume the surface shield emitting an everything’s-perfect false facade.

Each shield is a fearful and futile attempt to protect ourselves from facing the uncertainty and vulnerability needed for authentic relationships. No matter which model of shield we assume, it blocks us from the exact thing we most need. Love and intimacy. 

The hurts we experience rip us wide open. Like a sucker punch in the gut, they rock us to our core and bring us to our knees. We think we won’t manage the next breath, let alone the next step. But our shields don’t help us. They hinder and hurt us even more. Not only do they steal from the fulness of relationships they also keep us from finding healing.

A shield is a lie that prevents us from the freedom to be found on the other side of our pain.

When we are torn open, light can pour in. And though perhaps not the reason you ended up on your knees, it is a pretty decent posture for prayer. The tears washing over your cheeks could be the start of a soul-cleansing you would have never thought possible.

But not if you refuse comfort. Not if you shield yourself from love.

Because no matter what has happened. No matter how horribly you’ve been hurt. Despite how used or abused or rejected you’ve been, or how much you’ve inflicted harm on others as a result of your own hurt, there’s a place for all of that pain.

It’s found at the foot of the cross.

It’s found at the feet of the one who loved you so entirely that he died for you. The one who loves you more than anyone ever could. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

All the pain you’ve ever experienced as a result of the thoughtless or intentional actions of others can be brought to Jesus. He won’t undermine the pain or treat it carelessly. He understands it intimately because he died for all of it—all the sins of humankind—past, present, and future. 

In dying for this sin, he defeated it and offers each of us freedom from not only the harmful sins of others but from our own sin. God’s love is pure and trustworthy. When you give him your heart he will not damage it, he will renew it. He is both able and faithful to heal the broken bits of our lives. His miraculous love soaks into the deepest places and reaches our deepest needs. Nothing to compare to the limitless love of Jesus.

Deuteronomy 31:6 also tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them.” It seems we have a part to play. And so we take courage. We set down our shields. We turn our backs on our fearful hiding.

Ironically, the lowering of our shields ushers in the kind of love we desperately long for—complete, unconditional, unearned love—the kind of love only God provides. When we drop our protective measures, admit defeat and our desperate need for this soul-saving love, God meets us in our pain, he joins us in our wrecked and ruined circumstances. We no longer have to suffer or survive alone.

Since God has promised to go with us and never leave us, we can take his outstretched hand and move forward into the hope, healing, and wholeness Jesus died for. We only look back to see how far we’ve come. Instead of our fearful shields, we’re engulfed and secured in God’s healing love and protective peace.

Now, when we’re mistreated and rush to raise our shields, the balm of his heavenly love soothes us and reminds us to be courageous and keep our guard down. We feel the hurt, but we also understand how it feels to be forgiven, and so we forgive others just as he forgave us. God’s remarkable love gives us the courage and strength to love others more fully and unconditionally, and to be loved more fully ourselves. 

Little by little, and sometimes all at once, our pain dissipates. And somehow, God miraculously takes all that was broken and makes beauty.

In the end, we don’t need the shield. We need the Saviour.

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  1. What sort of shield are you using to protect yourself from getting hurt? Is it working?

 

 

 

 

This Is Not Heaven

61555202_676562199467770_2025329413687607296_nThis time of year is spectacular in Southern Ontario with its breathtaking array of flowering trees. There’s magnolias in all their splendor, the heavenly scent of lilacs, and cherry blossoms that take your breath away. The birds join in nature’s show adding songs that span daytime and reach into dusk.

Yet however fragrant the blooms, however sweet the birds’ chorus, all of this is just a mere scent of heaven. Anything of any beauty we experience here is only a small taste of things to come.

Amid these fleeting pockets of beauty and moments that take our breath away, we’re aware that the here and now is not heaven. Alongside the beauty, there’s heartache and hate, pain and poverty, tears and turmoil. There’s darkness that displaces light and depravity that dipells hope. Sometimes, despite the fragrance of heaven, the next breath is difficult and painful.

The world aches and our hearts throb, yet we try to replicate heaven on earth. We seek comfort, perfection, and beauty while desperately avoiding pain. We numb ourselves to distract the discomforting soul sores or the courage that it would take to face them. As a result we’re addicts clinging to cheap imitations of heaven while trying to break free of our various pacifiers. We reach for anything that will displace the pain for a while, silence the desperate cry of our hearts, or fill our empty places while running from the very thing that offers us the heaven we seek.

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No matter how beautiful the flowers, how idyllic a moment, how much a vacation feels like paradise, or a person like perfection, all pales in comparison to the real deal: knowing Jesus. It’s that friendship that fills the heart holes, heals the hurt, wipes away the wounding, and purchases the paradise you’re longing for. But to find it we need to release our misguided grip on the here and now, stop trying to fabricate heaven on earth, and reach for the promise—the person—of Jesus.

When we do, all that once seemed so important will lose its shine. All that we use to deal instead of heal will lose its lustre. This is how the apostle Paul put it: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

Strangely enough, heaven comes down—bursts right into the imperfection, heartache, futility, and falsehood, answering the groans of humanity with a healing love. A kind of love that makes room for the mess of this place, while cleaning up the garbage in our lives. In Jesus, we find the answer to our deepest needs, peace in the imperfection, deep joy despite circumstances, and the promise of a heavenly home.

What would it take for us to loosen our grip on the things of this world, to trade in the comforts we’ve tucked around our lives attempting to buffer the blows and ease the pain? In an act of faith we can reach for—or return to—Jesus and let him be the peacemaker and joy-giver of our lives.

This week’s song: “What a Beautiful Name”

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  1. What are you doing to numb the pain, fill the void, or find happiness? Is it working?
  2. If not, try Jesus. He’s been the answer to my deepest needs.

 

 

 

 

Enough

shutterstock_107062958.jpgI was addicted to chocolate. By mid-morning, I’d be rummaging through the cupboard for any available morsel. One was never enough. A handful failed to quench my desire. Why on earth would anyone choose apple pie over chocolate mousse? I wasn’t one to put on weight easily, so my addiction remained hidden.

What is it about our human condition that makes it shockingly easy to over-indulge? Why such insatiable appetites? And it’s not just food. It can be anything. Too much TV, shopping, work, or working out. Too much wine, whining, or finding fault. Too much of anything unmanaged can easily become destructive.

Enough is enough. Only it isn’t. What propels us to keep filling up? We only need more when we’re empty. There’s not enough chocolate in the world to fill what was never meant to be replaced by cocoa or caffeine—or anything else for that matter. No amount of promotions or Pinterest, Doritos or dopamine, nicotine or numbing drugs, gambling or gaming, shopping or shows, food or fashion, sex or social media will ever manufacture the real hit you desire.

But all of these fillers feel good—for a time. Until they don’t.

Because here’s the thing: there’s a God-sized hole in our souls meant only to be filled by God. But we stuff the space full and sell ourselves short with cheap imitations. We run and hide. We misunderstand what it means to know God and the true peace and joy that accompanies this relationship. We wonder if trading in our habits and addictions for friendship with God will be boring. We may even believe our sins are too great for us to be accepted by God.

The truth is God made you and delights in you. You aren’t a random hunk of matter going through the motions until you die. You MATTER to him. He lived to die for you so all the filth in your life can be wiped clean. The cross bought your second chance. Jesus died to not only assure you eternity but to offer you a more abundant life today.

If you think you’re too messed-up to be eligible, you’re wrong. In his own words, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) All your mess-ups are erased the moment you accept Jesus. You begin again—a glorious part two—but now you have his Holy Spirit to help and guide you. You’re no longer alone. He fills the empty hole with his love, joy, and peace with enough to share with others. No matter how deep the hole, how old you are, how messy you feel, it’s not too late.

Are you content with the life you’re living today? Is there an emptiness you’ve never managed to fill? Have the quick fixes provided long-term satisfaction? Do you wonder if there’s something more, or a better way to live? Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). And in John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

One simple prayer to God, asking him to forgive your sins and be the true God of your life, can alter your every tomorrow. I know because it has mine, and I’ve never looked back.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” ~ 1 John 1:9

More next time on how my chocolate addiction was resolved…

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  1. What are you using to fill the God-sized hole in your life?
  2. If you confess your sins and receive him, he will make you new.