Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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“Tell” {Five Minute Friday}

How can we regard our neighbors’ chains and cage our words?

The world groans weary. Brilliant genius succumbs to darkness. Cities rage against restraint.  Little ones wander from their homelands in search of welfare. Missiles launch, piercing sky and sanity. The spilling of believers’ blood shocks our souls.

Fears run rampant like viruses, fastening our neighbors with ropes of addiction, depression, hopelessness.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58: 6 – 7)

For such a time as this: the set-free must say something.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

Spend our words on freedom for the voiceless.

Advocate for the sanctity of life at every stage of the spectrum.

Give a reason for our hope.

Proclaim a Day when tears will end.

No, we don’t have it all together. But we have Him who holds all things together.

If not me and you, possessors of Peace, then who?

“…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday … You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:10 – 11)

Let us tell a thirsty world.

Jesus, He is Living Water.

Let us tell a dreary world.

Jesus, He is Light of Life.

Let us tell a hungry world.

Jesus, He is Living Bread.

Let us tell a browbeaten world.

Jesus, He is Overcomer.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so … (Psalm 107:2)

It’s time to tell. “… tell how much God has done for you.”  (Luke 8:39).

How can we regard our neighbors’ chains and cage our words?

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Five Minute Friday is a weekly gathering of “tellers” hosted by Kate Motaung. We write for 5 minutes to express our thoughts on the same word prompt. Find words of hope here.

Related: What Does It Mean to Speak Life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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A Letter to my 6th Grade Daughter

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Dear C,

I recognized something in your eyes yesterday as you watched the other girls decorate their lockers. Over the summer we had fun finding girly stuff for your locker – a mirror, dry-erase board, pencil cups, and picture frame magnets. And of course, a miniature chandelier.

But we didn’t purchase wallpaper or carpet. And I studied you as you watched the girls and moms cutting and fitting their wallpaper.  We didn’t have anything to measure. You stuck the mirror on this side, the dry-erase board on that side, the cups underneath. Done.

“They have wallpaper,” you said. It wasn’t a whine – just an observation.  And part of me wanted to drive you straight to Target for wallpaper. But, as you know, I didn’t offer.

Another, perhaps wiser, part of me wants you to understand as you begin middle school that other kids will have other things.

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Pretty, expensive, and desirable things.  Relatively speaking, you have an abundance of those things yourself.  But I understand that middle school students look around to see who has what.

Adults do it too. I do. That’s why I saw myself in your eyes.
And because I’ve compared myself to other people and their other things since middle school, my soul has learned this to be true: “Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt).

Comparison steals our joy. If President Theodore Roosevelt, one of most powerful and legendary men of his time, made such an observation, this must mean that people in all positions and stages of life struggle with comparison. It’s an equal-opportunity thief.

Even if you have everything in the world, comparison will convince you that what you have isn’t enough. It’s literally the oldest lie on earth.

As you begin middle school, sure – I want you to have nice things. But most of all, I want you to have a perspective that’s grounded in the truth.

Truth strips away all the layers of what we have or don’t have and it tells us who we are.

My girl, you are your own beautiful; you are valued beyond price. Of course Daddy and I think so, but you know what’s even better?

God says so.

He says that you are wonderfully made.

He says that you are HIS workmanship.

He says that He chooses you.

He says that He has plans specifically for you.

As God handpicked your gifts, interests, and personality, He set your life into motion in this place for this time. God will bring family, friends, classmates, and neighbors into your path for you to influence as no one else can.

There will be things that you do well and things that you can’t do so well. Some skills will come naturally to you but others will require extra practice or effort. These years of middle school are all about discovering these things.

As you and your classmates are making these discoveries, you’ll look at them, and they’ll look at you. People say it’s part of finding your place in this world.

But you know what? As we follow Jesus Christ, we come to realize that our place is not really in THIS world.

God has created us for eternity, sweetheart. He has made us to enjoy and worship Him. Jesus told His disciples that they could gain the whole world (meaning fame, power, riches) but all these things count as nothing apart from a relationship with Him.

My prayer for you, honey, is that you’ll understand that your satisfaction in things and your status among people are temporary but your soul is eternal.

The world gives and takes away but your worth in Christ remains forever.

Because Jesus is in your heart, you can have true joy, even if (when) you find yourself in a less-than popular, pretty, or powerful place in life.

It’s important for you to know that joy and happiness are not the same. True joy doesn’t depend on what you possess or what you can do or whether you’re chosen by a friend, coach, club, or boy. There will be times when you won’t be happy.

But you can have joy knowing that, no matter what, Jesus loves you and chooses you and keeps you. There is no thing, no person, no pain, no mistake, no rejection, and no failure that can steal Jesus’ joy from you.

But comparison – that age-old thief – can rob you of a joyful perspective.

When we measure ourselves against other people and their other things, we shift our focus from what matters most. But choosing an eternal perspective redirects our hearts to gratitude for our God-given treasures that will never fade or perish.

Wallpaper doesn’t matter. Your measureless worth in Christ matters.

We are really rich, you know? In Jesus. Joy. Love. Family. Laughter.

By the way, my heart did a little cheer when you noticed the locker carpet and you said, “Why do I need a rug in my locker? My books don’t need sleep!”

That, sweetheart, is perspective!

I’m proud of you. I love you. ~ Mom

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More letters to my daughter:

You Belong – A Letter to my Daughter

You Are Important – a Letter to my Daughter

It’s Okay to Choose Starburst in a Hershey’s Word – a Letter to my Daughter

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What I’m Learning about Authenticity

A saleslady followed me as I hurried around the tiny shop in the Albanian airport. With a few English words and a heavy accent, she attempted to peak my interest in a few trinkets. I had explained to my daughter that I wouldn’t be able to shop during the mission trip, but I wanted to bring her something anyway. With a ticket to home in hand, this shop presented the last opportunity to find something original from a faraway land.

But I couldn’t find anything that appeared authentically eastern European. My eyes landed on something purple, my daughter’s favorite color, so I picked up the little jewelry box.  Pleased by my attention to something, finally, the saleslady leaned in and whispered a special secret:

It’s handmade in Korea.”

Ah, the pursuit of authenticity.

What does it look like? Will I know it when I see it?

You and I live in a media-driven world that allows us to express ourselves on a larger scale than ever before while enhancing and lessening the likelihood of true authenticity. Our modes of expression range from superficial – like Snapchat photos – to sincere – as in honest reflections posted on a blog. There can be a place for both, I think. Some days I just want to post something trivial like a picture of my dog enjoying a summertime car ride. Other times I share thoughtful words. But lately, more often than ever before, I ask myself why I share at all, especially as a blog writer.

Parenting a preteen daughter prompts me to think about these things. Her generation is all about presenting the right image, generated through snapshots that capture them with the hip clothes, popular friends, and coolest experiences.

Our culture encourages an image-is-everything mindset while also promoting authenticity as one of the most desirable character traits. “Authenticity” is one of the trendiest topics online (especially for bloggers), and everyone’s interested in “keeping it real.” It’s intriguing to me how the timing of the authenticity conversation has, for the most part, coincided with the upsurge in technology.

Is it even possible for a person to possess both an image-generated identity and authenticity?

According to the dictionary, something is authentic if its origin is supported by undisputed evidence. In a culture where trends, values, and standards are constantly in flux, images are fleeting. When everything is relative or virtual, undisputed evidence is disregarded. In cultural discourse, anything is fair game for dispute, even our Creator and the Truth that He embodies.

And so, our culture has no choice but to proliferate a watered-down version of authenticity as “being true” not to one’s origin but to one’s self.

It’s a really important distinction.

As a Christian who has social media connections and a blog, I often wrestle with having a public image and being real. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gently reminds me to consider the state of my heart when I’m more concerned with my stats. Months ago, when I wrote about cancer, loss, and grief, I lost subscribers. Statistics, they say, don’t lie.  I lost an audience yet gained hope and purpose and a redemptive thread to weave into my words.

I can write about what people want to read, according to the stats, but if it’s not true to the Reason I write, the Origin of all truth and all healing, then my writing becomes more about my own image and less about the One whose image I humbly bear.

Some of my favorite writers who happen to have large followings share stories of heartache & failure, ask honest and hard questions, and are raising awareness of extreme poverty, injustice, and human trafficking – not exactly feel-good topics. I’m not suggesting a correlation between shallowness and popularity. My personal lesson is to listen to the Spirit and examine my heart and not my site hits. It also gives me permission to stop trying so hard.

I’m all for removing the masks but authenticity, as the current trend, can become just another form of image management or self-presentation.  We rally around those who share their weaknesses, and rightfully so, but we also shy away from “Too Much Information” especially in a public forum. Authenticity, on a horizontal plane, can only extend – or heal – so far.

I’m learning this — trying too hard to be authentic eventually presents as being inauthentic.

These are lessons I’m learning in all areas of my life, not just my writing. The contexts where authenticity means the most are my closest relationships. I hope that my family and friends can count on me to be the same person at home or church or work or play.

Authencity is a simplifier. Yes, I still want to post pictures of my (cutest ever) dog. I don’t want to hide from a social media world. But I need to take care that I’m not conforming through lots of costume & content changes in order to feel approved. I want my inmost tendencies to be more toward discernment and less toward disclosure.

In the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh: “The most exhausting thing you can be is inauthentic.”

When I open my soul authentically to my Creator, His approval is the fresh breath in my spiritual lungs. This allows me to inhale the sacredness of space, single-heartedness, simplicity, and the work of the Spirit.

Finding my Audience of One is all that matters.

True authenticity is, yes horizontal; but it is more essentially vertical.

If my writing portrays just another human having a human experience, it falls flat.

I want you to see Jesus. I want every part of my life to be true to Him. I want you to see that I’ve messed up. On a horizontal level, you might imagine me as a relatable person. We might feel connected to each other through the common experience of brokenness.

But there’s a vertical component to my life, and my mess-ups would separate me from God if not for His grace. I don’t want a story of all my mess-ups to make a reader feel connected with me. I want the reality of a redemptive God to inspire a reader to connect with Him.

Authenticity is less being true to one’s self and more being true to one’s origin. In Him we live and move and have our being.

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It’s possible to possess both an image-generated identity and authenticity. But only when the image of Christ generates the living and moving and being.

And, for me, the writing.

For you, it might be the teaching or the serving or the parenting or the working or the giving.

Whatever it is, image-bearer, do it as serving the Lord. You and I are authenticated by an Audience of One.

That’s all that matters.

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Psalm 51:6 – Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

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Some excellent online articles about authenticity:

Keeping It Real: The Truth about Authenticity by Megan Hill. http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2012/september/keeping-it-real-truth-about-authenticity.html?paging=off

Does It Matter if Authenticity is Authentic? by Noam Pianko. http://shma.com/2011/12/does-it-matter-if-authenticity-is-authentic/

Authenticity, Honesty, and the Stay-At-Home-Mother by Rebecca VanDoodeWaard. http://thechristianpundit.org/2014/01/28/authenticity-honesty-and-the-stay-at-home-mother/

Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness? by Brett McCracken. http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/has-authenticity-trumped-holiness-2/

 


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Random & Real Things I Learned in May

A couple of summers ago, I attended the She Speaks Conference (for writers, speakers, and women’s ministry leaders). I quickly discovered that my fellow participants were swapping business cards. I didn’t have any business cards (I didn’t have a blog either). So in preparation for this year’s conference, I had cards made in hopes of being a little more with the program.

On the back of the cards, I tried to come up with something descriptive, maybe interesting, about me. You know, something concise yet clever & creative. (And, well, necessarily true).

After floating all sorts of ideas, here’s where I eventually landed:
“Christ-follower, wife, mom, wanna-be-pastry chef, and writer about things random to redemptive.”

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If you’ve read more than one post on my blog, you probably know that I don’t write about random, more-fun-than-serious things very often. Yep, I’m usually a reflective sort of gal.

That’s why I like linking up with Emily Freeman’s Let’s Share What We Learned in (whatever month just passed) series. Emily asks us to share lessons from the silly to the serious, so it’s a good challenge for me to look for some sort of balance between the two. Here goes –

What I Learned in May:

1. My dog isn’t the only dog that takes a mouthful of food out of his bowl, walks over to the rug, drops his food, and chows down. I’ve discovered that many people attribute this habit of eating off the rug to some kind of evolutionary instinct (as in, dogs in years past dragged their food away from their pack to avoid fighting for it). Nah … I think my dog is just quirky like this. But at least he eats every crumb.

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2. After 20 years of marriage, my husband still can’t read my mind. But I still expect him to, as evidenced by the question I asked him last night: “Do you think we should replace that thingy in there?” Of course, my question was met with the.blank.stare. And this works both ways; he can’t read my mind either, though – thank goodness – he doesn’t use words like “thingy.”

3. In May, I learned another definition of introvert: “The Introverted are the people who live in the constant tension between the desire to communicate… and the desire to hide.” Yep. That about sums me up right there.

4. My daughter is listening in church. As our pastor delivered a message on Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”) he explained that we can be peace-makers, peace-breakers, or peace-fakers. (He makes applications so easy to remember like this). He hit upon my tendency, as the aforementioned introvert, to be a “peace-faker” – the one who thinks she’s making peace by avoiding conflict, only to stuff all sorts of stuff that simmers inside (until reaching the inevitable boiling point). Later that Sunday, my daughter was with me when I received an email that stung. I tried to temper my reaction, but she immediately inquired: “So, what are you going to do, Mom? Are you going to be a peace-maker, a peace-breaker, or a peace-faker?”

I need to keep listening to my pastor. Because she is. And she’s watching me.

5. Did you know that the television (and Twitter) ratings for the NFL draft were way higher than the ratings for the NBA playoffs? Yeah. As of this writing, kickoff is 94 days, 23 hours, and 18 minutes away.

6. Ah, and there’s the age-old lesson: never say never. I will never learn this. I know because I’m back into cake decorating when (after a couple of disasters) I said I would never do it again (except for my daughter’s birthday). But because I’m fund-raising for a mission trip, I figured that cake decorating was something unique I could offer. And it’s actually worked out this time, although transporting these cakes has taken a few years off of my life.

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Well, Olaf didn’t arrive in one piece, but I did that on purpose with appreciation for this character’s tendency to lose his head anyway.

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7. According to Barna research, I live in the 6th most “Bible-minded” city in the United States. Barna describes “Bible-minded” as a combination of regular Bible reading with belief in the Bible’s accuracy. Interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I’m pleased and grateful. But on the other hand, I have to wonder why my city also has the sixth highest incidence of human trafficking in the United States. Hmm. Human trafficking is not a foreign issue, and it’s time to do something about the disconnect in our Bible-minded cities. It happens here. Action starts with awareness but it doesn’t end there. True biblical mindedness compels us toward the biblical mandate to love and serve our neighbors. May we be doers of the Word and not merely hearers (preaching to myself!).

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8. I am inspired by people who are going after their goals in the golden years. An 81-year-old veteran, Bill Nave, just earned his master’s degree in Biblical Studies from my alma mater. Another Christ-follower, Orville Rogers – a great-grandfather in his mid-nineties – is still (literally) running after world records and says, “If God gives me five more years I expect to be very much in the hunt for golds and more world records.” He is amazing. And I could watch the video of Kitty Cohen throwing out the first pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays all day long. Kitty is 101. You gotta watch her winding up …. and winding up … and winding up some more. This.is.her.moment. (and she’ll enjoy it until she’s 102 and some more).

The cool thing about Kitty is that she’s been walking in events for cancer research since she was the spry age of 95. So far she’s logged 224 miles.

I want to run my race with purpose and perseverance too and be inspired by teammates going before me and be an inspiration to those coming after me.

9. There’s a lot of land-clearing going on around my house. Forests are leveled for lots where large homes will rise.

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The other day, as I was thinking about a misunderstanding that my daughter was having with a teacher, I drove past a bulldozer doing its thing. With an image of that bulldozer in my mind, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me to NOT step into that situation (as I was tempted to do). As a mom, I often want to clear obstacles and troubles out of my girl’s way. But doing so would take away an opportunity for her to develop courage, responsibility, and character. Of course, there’s a time and place when a parent has to be an advocate, but our culture consistently disregards the value of disappointment, perseverance, and natural consequences, and parents who buy into the idea that their kids can’t fail aren’t giving them the chance to succeed either.

10. The “Kid President,” Robby Novak, is a riot. You have to watch “Five Things that Make Summer Awesome.” Just try to NOT smile. You can’t.

And keep watching. You’ll learn, like I did, why summer isn’t awesome for everyone. And for every view, like or share of Kid President’s video through July 31 , the ConAgra Foods Foundation will donate the monetary equivalent of one meal to Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization, up to one million meals.

“Let’s feed some kids, yo.”


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Five Minute Friday: Pushing Back the Dark

As I’m angered over what has happened to the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, I wonder – what can I do? A world away, I can sign a petition and speak out on their behalf over social media, but these actions seem too small to make a difference.

But when a sense of helplessness comes over me, I have to remind myself that image-bearers are light-bearers. As Jesus came to be Light in a dark world, His followers are here to push back the dark. Perhaps my flame is small but it can’t help but penetrate darkness. And when I put my candle next to yours, the light spreads.

You and I cannot do everything, but individually and collectively we can do something.

Because today’s Five Minute Friday writing prompt is “grateful,” I’m thinking of light-bearers who push back the dark.

I’m grateful for —

The woman who leads Bible study at the jail.

The fellow customer who runs my groceries to the car in the pouring rain.

The family who organizes a baby shower for clients of the pregnancy center.

The former sex slave who shares her story to wake us from our ignorance.

The man who takes vacation to dig wells in a thirsty country.

The husband who works hard to serve his family and his newly widowed mother in law.

The kids who joyfully play games with the nursing home residents.

The stranger who pays for my mother’s lunch “just because.”

The woman who surrenders her secret to begin a ministry of compassion.

The couple who opens their home and hearts to the orphan.

And of course … the mothers who fill our lives with love, laughter, and light.

 

My 5 minutes are up, but for the rest of this day my thoughts will be full of more examples of people who make this world a brighter place.

My heart is full too … Thank you, light-bearers, and shine on.

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~ Renee

Grateful for my inspiration today –

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Lisa-Jo Baker, Surprised by Motherhood: Five Minute Fridays

Josh Wilson, “Pushing Back the Dark” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66wdK5q_Wr4

 

 

 


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Who Makes You Beautiful

The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express.” (Frances Bacon, 1561 – 1626). In a modern world filled with photos, digital images and selfies, Mr. Bacon’s aged words are still true.

Our culture is talking a lot about beauty these days. We’re obsessed with Princess Kate and her every.fashion.choice. People magazine just named Lupita Nyong’o as the Most Beautiful Person of the year.

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And the Today Show recently promoted a week-long “love your selfie” feature to take an “honest and revealing” look at body image and traditional definitions of beauty.

Did you hear about the most recent Dove “Real Beauty” campaign? Body image specialist Ann Kearney-Cooke offered women the opportunity to participate in an experiment with the “RB-X” patch, a “revolutionary product developed to enhance the way women perceive their own beauty.” The participants wore the patch and kept a video diary for two weeks. Each woman chronicles a gradual, positive change in attitude about her appearance.

At the end of the Dove video, Kearney-Cooke revealed to each woman that the patch was nothing more than a placebo. Upon discovering that the patch had no revolutionary power, the women recognized that they felt better about themselves purely through the power of the mind.

Dove’s conclusion (and marketing push) is that “(…) the right state of mind can unlock a powerful feeling of beauty that lives inside all women. Become part of the journey that will empower women around the world with the message that beauty is a state of mind.

As a student of psychology and counseling, I agree with the power of positive (or negative) thinking. I continually experience the influence of my thoughts upon my choices. I can tell myself and my preteen daughter all day long that the North American perception of beauty is unrealistic and superficial and narrow; and therefore it matters most to be beautiful on the inside.

But as my daughter sorts through all the little jars on my bathroom counter, she asks, “What is all this stuff?”

And I think about the example that I’m setting. Does that mean I’m not going to buy those little “revolutionary” jars anymore? Do I need them to feel better about myself?

I don’t know.

Within two weeks, the women in the Dove campaign felt more beautiful. Since the patch is fake, however, how will their attitudes fare in two months? Two years? Ten years?

We need more.

I don’t mean that we mean more “love your selfie” campaigns. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign is 10 years old now. What does it take to pay attention?

Even if the media finally stopped promoting outward beauty as an ideal and if advertisers stopped promoting anti-aging products, we would still face an enemy who is very shrewd in finding ways to distract us into discontent.

The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon), had riches, wives, power, and “splendor,” and yet he wrote that “all is vanity.”

How, then do we live?

Lupita Nyong’o, who once yearned for lighter skin, said that her mother taught her to understand that “You can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us … what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.”

But … “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). With all due admiration for Lupita and the Dove campaign, the “inner beauty” message is not new. It’s not wrong either. But it’s incomplete. When will the conversation change?

Is true beauty only a state of mind? If so, I am the one who defines myself as beautiful.

Or, is beauty in the eye of the beholder? If so, you are the one who will (or will not) define me as beautiful.

Both of these definers of beauty are lacking. Every now and then, I take a rare and inspired moment to create something I’ve seen on Pinterest, like a recipe, a cake, a wreath, etc … Of course I love it when my peeps are pleased with my creations, but I’m truly fulfilled if I can take a step back and say “It is good.”

The truest definition of beauty comes from the creator. The same is true of you and me. Because our Creator has fashioned us in a way that pleases Him and He affirms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, we must take Him at His word.

According to the creator of the Dove experiment, after wearing the beauty patch, “The women started focusing on their signature strengths.”

What she means by this, I suppose, is that the women started owning those attributes that made them unique.

Women (and men) who have trusted in Jesus have an enduring signature strength that sets us apart.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart (Proverbs 3: 3 – 4).

In Scripture, love and faithfulness indicate a binding, covenant relationship. God has signed His Name upon the hearts of those who are united to Him through Christ. His signature is an adornment that beautifies from the inside out. It’s not a fad and it won’t fade.

This world wants us to change our perspective. Jesus asks us to change our posture. This requires more than a patch.

Self-reliant or God-reliant? It’s up to us to choose.

Beauty is more than a state of mind. It’s a surrender of the heart.

This world is going to encourage us to “love our selfie.”

Let’s love the Savior.


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Leave Something on Someone’s Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone else think this sounds exhausting??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t say it any better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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