Over the past few months, I've been reminded of some powerful lessons about walking out our identity in Christ. I'm pretty vocal about speaking life over people, reminding them who they are, and offering coaching on how to see God's gifts and calling in their lives. Some people receive this encouragement with excitement, find the strength to walk out this identity with humility, and even “slay the dragons” that attempt to keep them back from being all God calls them to be. Others walk away with a sense of entitlement and attempt to carry out their calling without fully embracing the discipline and courage to crucify their flesh and follow godly principles that lead to true fruit. In my personal life, the more I discover God's plan for my life, the more I come to constant forks in the road that require me to either take the “high road” and walk it out or simply turn my back on God's plan. Walking out your identity takes a lot of courage.
We all love the story of the Ugly Duckling: the awkward, misfit chick who lives among the ducks and eventually discovers his true identity as a swan. However, this discovery still requires a choice: will he shift his mindset from duckling behavior to that of a graceful swan? Or will he still carry the habits of duckling-hood into his adult life as a swan?
One difference between ducks and swans is that ducks can drink saltwater from the ocean, while swans typically do not. In this picture, I captured the photo of swans on a Scottish beach where the ocean is known to be especially salty. This “ballet of swans” (which is what a group of swans is called) swam along the shoreline for quite a while until they came to a place where a fresh water stream flowed into the sea. They could drink the water because it was near to the spring's mouth, and it was a beautiful moment to watch them quench their thirst.
Just like the swan, we must have courage and discernment, feeding ourselves with that which is healthy for our new identity. It takes fortitude, determination, and a commitment to follow the Holy Spirit as He leads us to discern the fresh water that will truly satisfy our thirst and make us strong. Choosing to be discerning and take initiative is part of embracing our true identity.
Prayer: Father, please show me who I am in You, and teach me how to walk this out every day. Give me the strength and fortitude to become discerning and hear You clearly as I grow in my identity in Christ.
To unpack more of your identity in Christ, read Bible studies on the topic of authentic beauty, and find personal questions to help you grow, pick up a copy of my new book Finding Beautiful! It's hardcover with full color photos and 12 makeover stories of young women who help us define God's perspective of beauty for women today.
I created this photo to show an unusual door in a wilderness, representing times where God shows up in unique ways when life looks hopeless. I love the promise in Hosea where God speaks to the nation of Israel who is going through a very difficult time:
There I will give back her vineyards to her
and transform her Valley of Troubles into a Door of Hope.
Hosea 2:15 The Living Bible paraphrase
A real life example of this can be found in the makeover story I captured of Katherine Chapman, a young woman with a heart for beauty and a message of hope that we can all relate to.
As we filmed on a back porch in Southern California, I could immediately tell that Kat wanted nothing less than sincere authenticity in every part of her life- including our interview. She told her story with the same transparency she lived, daring to touch every emotion in its purest, uncluttered form and treasuring the sacredness of each one. She wanted us to meet her joy and pain, and feel at peace with both, because she was.
As a child, Kat had longed for beauty. One day, crammed into the station wagon with her siblings, she had spied a ballerina figurine in a dance studio window and voiced her dream.
“Someday, I'd like to be a ballerina.”
“You can't do that,” one of her siblings scoffed, “because ballerinas are beautiful.”
Mortified, Kat's shoulders slumped with shame. I guess my dreams of being beautiful, glorious, and known are of no value, she mused.
Years later, when Kat married and entered motherhood, she found herself facing a new kind of shame. After seven miscarriages (including four in one year) she felt like a failure, since her body was unable to protect the little child she wanted so badly to love. After one particularly traumatic miscarriage, she wrapped the tiny body of her child and dug a grave in the cold dirt of her backyard. Weeping, she told her husband,
“I don't want to be God's needy little girl – I want to be strong, and bold, and brave.”
“Maybe that's it,” her husband responded. “Maybe God doesn't want you to be strong... maybe He just wants you to be His little girl and let Him hold you.”
Slowly, Kat started realizing she didn't need to perform for God's approval, and that He wasn't ignoring her pain. She could feel every moment and talk to Him about it, leaning on Him for strength, and enjoying the moments of beauty that He sent her way.
One day in the shower, Kat began to pinpoint the battlefield in her mind. Itemizing the lies that tormented her, she isolated the attacks and began to call them out.
Fear- I'm afraid of singing in front of a microphone
Doubt- what if God doesn't meet my needs?
Hopelessness- am I valuable enough to merit God's love?
I will only bow my knee to You, God! She vowed. These other 'gods' that want my attention are not going to win!
There in the shower, she began to sing the words:
I will follow
I will pursue
I will seek You
Above any other
Above any other god
Above any other love
Above any other name
Little did she know that this song would become an anthem during a worship movement that swept her city, and this simple chorus would bring healing to people who needed a voice to express their pain and trust in God. Kat's Valley of Trouble had become a Door of Hope.
Read Kat's full story in the book, Finding Beautiful: Discovering Authentic Beauty Around the World.
As a potter working a piece of clay on the wheel, I get messy right along with the clay. The process of transformation isn't clean or simple, it's raw and real as my hands reach inside the pot to bring purpose from this piece of dirt. Not for the faint of heart, the process of “becoming” requires vulnerability from both the potter and clay.
In a society that often revolves around Instagram and social media, it can be easy to paint the picture that life is perfect or that we have everything together. But isn't it often the messy places in life that God uses as a testimony of His faithfulness? If we don't let people see the mess that God is transforming, we keep them at arms' length, and true, authentic relationships never happen.
Jesus models healthy vulnerability for us. He chose 12 raw, imperfect men to hang out with for 3 ½ years and they got to see what life was like for Him. Every time Jesus was rejected, tested with the temptation to compromise, or was offered extravagant praise, they got to watch the process and see how He walked it out. Without Jesus' vulnerability, his close disciples would never have seen first-hand what it meant to live out the gospel every day. He said,
You are the ones who have remained with Me in My times of testing.
Jesus also had great boundaries: he wasn't afraid to be authentic and real, but he was never co-dependent on the people around him. He knew when to reserve His battles for prayer, pouring out His heart to the Father, and when to honestly share with others difficult things that were happening or going to happen. In the same way, sometimes we need to guard our hearts and emotions, working through life's difficulties with close friends and the Lord. Other times, when we open up and share about the "messy" parts of life, it allows God to be glorified as we walk out the difficult parts of life with Him.
For my book, Finding Beautiful: Discovering Authentic Beauty Around the World, I interviewed Charla, a young woman who was incredibly brave to open her past and give us a glimpse of her journey for the chapter Beautiful Vulnerability. She shares about growing up in a home where her father was the song leader at their Christian church, but the abuse and controlling behavior behind the scenes was deeply damaging to her heart. Charla wanted nothing to do with the picture of Jesus that was painted by her parents. At the age of 16, she became pregnant, and her family helped her to have an abortion to save face in the church. Devastated by the experience and the mocking of her school mates, Charla began to read the Psalms and cry out to God from her misery.
Slipping into a little country church, she heard the visiting preacher play guitar and share the gospel. Something new and precious touched Charla's heart... Jesus died for ME... He loves ME! Although she had memorized John 3:16 and could quote Bible verses all day long, she had never had an encounter with the love and forgiveness of Jesus. Sobbing, she ran to the altar and was radically touched by God.
You can read more of Charla's story and her healing road from abortion in the book, Finding Beautiful. Through her vulnerability, we get a picture of God's love and the tender way He woos and wins us to His heart.
Prayer: Father, help me to experience Your love in the messiness of life, and be vulnerable to share both the joys and triumphs of the journey, knowing You are faithful each step of the way.
For Charla's "after" shoot, my friend Nancy Warner styled a stunning table just for her. In a beautiful garden overlooking a small lake, we wanted to show how the Lord spreads a feast of restoration.
To read the full story of Redemption and discover moments of beauty in your world, pick up my book Finding Beautiful: Discovering Authentic Beauty Around the World.
Sometimes inspiration hits us in unique ways... I created this photo during a worship conference, and while the beautiful music was playing, I felt like the Lord was saying that strongholds of darkness over the city were being decimated because of the unity that was taking place. In my mind's eye, I caught a glimpse of the Bride of Christ tearing down strongholds, and I attempted to recreate the image.
For the weapons of our warfare
are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
2 Corinthians 10:3
I believe we can step into the place of a "beautiful warrior" both in a corporate church setting and in our personal lives. One example of this is a makeover story I captured of a courageous woman in Jerusalem, Israel...
Oriel was born in Texas and moved with her family to Israel as a child. Always feeling that she was ugly, Oriel used to beg God to make her beautiful, and couldn't understand why He had made her so differently than her ideal of beauty. Moving to Israel confirmed her fears, when the kids at school bullied her, and the threat of possible terrorism only made her feel more different than the rest of the world. She felt isolated from the world and cut off from God, believing that He could never love her.
Eventually, panic attacks started overwhelming her and she became confined to her basement room for a year, refusing to attend school as a teenager, and terrified of life. One day her brother came to her and said,
“Oriel, you say that you believe in God. If you truly do, then you must believe that He loves you, because His Word tells us that He does. It's an offense to Him to refuse His love.”
Shocked, Oriel realized that she had to either trust that God loved her, even if she didn't feel it, or reject His love. It was the tiny step forward she needed, and she decided to put her trust in God's love. She checked into a facility that started helping her to overcome her anxiety, and God began to heal her life. Today, she's a thriving young woman with a steady job and confident smile!
The stronghold of fear is invisible, but can hold us captive as much as any prison bars. Often we may feel that we have to fight it out alone, but sometimes God uses community to help us take those next steps rather than an instant quick fix. Sometimes people feel angry that God doesn't change things for us in a moment, but other times we have to courageously bring skilled, wise people into our situation who walk with us into wholeness.
As in the picture of the Bride, we'd all love to swing our sword and tear down the strongholds of the enemy, but I love how Scripture calls the corporate church the Bride of Christ: the community of the church holds great power, not just one person. Allowing the right people into our lives brings amazing freedom, and YOU might be just the right person who carries what someone else needs for their journey. Together, we can all be Beautiful Warriors!
Prayer: Lord, show me who You have placed in my life to help bring down the strongholds in my life, and show me how I can do the same for others.
Read Oriel's full story in my new book, Finding Beautiful: Discovering Authentic Beauty Around the World.
This week I'm sharing a photo creation that's a bit darker than usual. I call it, Refusing to See. Sometimes God wants to take us further in some area, and it's tempting to ignore His call and pretend not to see what He is doing. In the end, it's all about trust: do we trust Christ enough to allow Him to lead us?
As I traveled the world to film makeovers and interviews with young women, I had the beautiful opportunity to capture the story of a young lady who had allowed God to pry her fingers off her eyes and encounter His love. Amy met me in London for her shoot, and after capturing her “before” photos on the fast-paced streets, she began to share about her home town on the English coast. It sounded epic and surreal, and I decided to finish her shoot there. We jumped the train and traveled for several hours, landing at surreal fields and white bluffs overlooking the ocean.
Amy shared how her struggle with Anorexia began with insecurities she faced from a school teacher who bullied her at a young age. Even after he was expelled, she decided that if she could be “perfect,” she'd never have to experience the brunt of disapproval again. After her grandmother unexpectedly died and her mother became pregnant and had another child, Amy's world felt even more fragile. Terrified of rejection, she began controlling everything around her, especially her diet. If I can control my body, she reasoned, I can be perfect, just like the girls I see in magazines who look happy.
Doctors diagnosed her with Anorexia and depression, but instead of solving her problems, the inner turmoil increased and Amy found herself walking to the brink of the white cliffs and contemplating suicide. However, something intangible kept her back from jumping and she walked away, choosing instead to enter a discipleship program for young women. One of the counselors led her to the window and showed her the rolling moors.
“Amy, do you see all this beauty?” she asked. She then reached for Amy's hand and pointed to her palm. “God created all this beauty, and your troubles are just a speck in His hand. They're not unimportant, but they're so small in comparison to His greatness. If you can trust Him, you'll be able to watch Him take care of your troubles.”
Amy's eating disorder was really an issue of trust. Choosing to trust that God was big enough to take care of things she couldn't was a big step: it allowed her to let go of obsessively controlling her body and begin the mental process of embracing health. Being imperfect was ok, because He was on her side. Pealing her fingers off of her eyes, she began to realize that God's love was there all the time, waiting for her to trust Him.
I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel God's tug to let go of a situation and trust Him. If I cover my eyes and refuse to see how He is leading, I end up trying to accomplish it in my own strength, and missing out on His love and purpose. I believe God loves our hard work, responsibility, and desire to excel, but if we feel the tug on our hearts to follow Christ rather than our own ideas about a situation, it leads us to a choice: will we trust God or do things our way? As we choose to put Him first, we'll discover that trust is a beautiful thing.
Prayer: Lord, I want to follow You fully! In areas of my life that I need to trust You, please show me how to put You first so I can rest in Your peace and fully experience Your love.
This week we'll talk about a young woman in her 20's from Ireland who became an evolutionist to disprove the existence of God, and how today she's become a passionate follower and preacher of Christ. Before that, I'd like to share a picture that was one of my early creations named, “The Call.”
When God places His call upon your life, you find yourself seeking after the things of God with a deep hunger to know more-- it's not normal! God places a supernatural gift of hunger in your heart. Of course, you can say no, and many people do. But those who say yes are drawn by the Lord to a close relationship with Him and find themselves wrapped up in His calling.
I created this picture to describe the way God called the prophet Jeremiah.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Then said I:
“Ah, Lord God!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me:
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
When God calls you to follow Him, not even your fears can keep you from the call! It pulls and tugs on your heart until you fully surrender to His leading and you find your heart coming alive.
I met Danielle in Northern Ireland and we filmed her radical story on a pier overlooking the Irish sea. Her father had studied to become a marine biologist, but he died when Danielle was only six. Angry that God had not saved her father's life, Danielle became bitter and decided to pick up his legacy of studying science, also to prove the theory of evolution and lash out at Christianity.
In her twenties, Danielle was fighting major diseases and walking with crutches, even as she became a powerful spokeswoman for environmental science. One day she lashed out in anger toward her mother, and realized something very dark was controlling her. Crying out to Jesus, she made a tiny step forward toward Christ. The story is too long to write in this email, but not only did her Father give her the peace she needed so much, but He completely healed her physical body. She now runs her own business, Manna Cards, and preaches about the love of God. Even while she was afraid and angry at God, He pursued and chased after her, drawing her with love.
Read Danielle's full story in my book, Finding Beautiful: Discovering Authentic Beauty Around the World.
How many of you have a dream in your heart but feel like it's completely unattainable? You can see it so clearly, and maybe in burns in your heart, but it feels impossible at the moment.
Today I'm wrestling with a dream that I want to see happen. I can see it and almost touch it, but the steps to that goal aren't clear. This is the moment where a dream stays a dream, or you can begin to take that idea to God, pray, and receive His strategy for its fulfillment.
“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
Sometimes it's easier to give up on a dream than believe God answers prayer. Timing, His perfect will, and other people sometimes tie into the answer He gives, but if we really believe that He loves us and has a plan for our lives, the "impossible" walls around our dreams may just be there to test our tenacity. Prayer is an amazing place of action, where we lay our dreams before God and listen for His heartbeat and strategy.
This idea reminds me of Heidi, a story from my book Finding Beautiful.
Her biggest dream was to be a wife and mother. After praying and fasting for her husband from the tender age of nine and marrying her true love, Heidi was devastated to discover the hidden life of addiction and abuse within the life of her husband. Her dreams came crashing down at a young age when her marriage fell apart and she found herself all alone in a strange country. Yet God was not finished with her dreams, and she discovered Hie power of restoration and a special gift of love that was woven into this chapter of her journey. God loves dreams and is faithful to carry them when we trust Him!
Check out Finding Beautiful here:
Every time we flip on the TV or step into a check out line at the grocery store, we are met with the media's depiction of worldly beauty. To be honest, it sometimes feels to me like the world has done a better job of identifying and enjoying beauty than the church, but since God is the author of real beauty, I thought we could camp out on a few aspects of His definition of beauty.
This marks the first of a 12 picture series that give us an “out of the box” definition of beauty. Each of these ideas coincides with a chapter from my new book, Finding Beautiful, so there's always further reading for those interested!
Every one of the heroes of the Bible had one thing in common: they experienced amazing adventures with God. Moses met God in the desert and set a million slaves free, Esther was promoted from exile to queen, Ruth traveled to a foreign land and fell in love, David went from the outcast son to king of Israel... each one was pulled by God outside of their comfort zones to follow His leading into an adventure that rivaled anything they could have imagined. Many were lauded later in Hebrews 11 as having the faith that pleased God in powerful ways.
I created this photo with the idea of stepping into the unknown without knowing the next step or even where the sea will part in order to move forward. In our world today, we might call it feeling insecure or unstable. In the Bible, it's called faith, and it involves embracing the beauty of God's adventures without always knowing the outcome. This can be a little intimidating, but it can also be exhilarating as we watch God show up and move us forward in amazing ways! Finding and following His adventure for our lives is a beautiful thing, and we can always be confident of this truth:
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
One young woman I interviewed for Finding Beautiful was Lauren, who planned on living a very normal life until God called her into missions. Eventually this led to a trip around the world, where she simply asked God which nations she was called to serve, and often saw miraculous situations occur as the way opened up before her. Her before/after life makeover shoot looked like this.
What are the places of adventure in your life? Do you feel completely settled and comfortable in your current situation, or are there areas you are stepping into the waves and trusting God to part the waters for? I believe this kind of adventure is so valuable and beautiful to God. Maybe it doesn't mean taking a trip around the world, but it may involve embracing His lead in an area of life you feel unsure or not confident in. How are you watching His adventure unfold in your life?
Prayer: Father, thank You for promising that You will never leave me. Show me how to tap into the beautiful adventure You are calling me into!
Recently I was reminded of a picture that I'd created that tells a beautiful story. It's been used in past devotionals, but since our nation has recently celebrated the National Day of Prayer, I thought it would be timely to remind ourselves of this important truth: the power of the secret place of prayer.
The Grimm brothers recorded the tale of a princess who was locked in castle room and told to turn a pile of straw into gold. It was not something she could accomplish on her own, but a creature appears and helps her accomplish the task, and she does such a good job that the King asks for her hand in marriage. In the fairy tale, the imp who does the gold-spinning is an evil creature with malicious intent, but the Lord is offering to be our Helper with a different motive: I believe is calling His Bride into the secret place of prayer in order to entrust her with great treasure! It's in the secret place of prayer with Him that straw is turned to gold.
I feel like the Lord recognizes that our time is precious, since there are so many good things vying for our attention, and therefore our time is costly. Yet if we entrust Him with our time and invest it in the secret place, He will bring us things of even greater value. In comparison, the treasure He will entrust us with for investing our time with Him is like gold compared to straw. In that place of prayer, we can rest and receive His peace and grace for our daily lives.
“Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? ...the gold and crystal cannot equal it: the exchange of it shall not be for jewels or fine gold.” Job 28:12, 17
The Lord promises us wisdom when we ask Him, so I believe the place of wisdom is found in the secret place, where He takes the time we invest in prayer and brings treasure from it. Also from this place comes gold tried in the fire mentioned in Revelation 3:18:
I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich;
How do we buy gold? We purchase it with our time, investing it in the secret place of prayer and meeting with the Lord. It's here that our hearts become rich with the depth of His love, wisdom, and fellowship with the King of Kings. He literally takes our straw and spins it to gold!
A few days ago I interviewed Brittny, a young woman who is featured in my book Finding Beautiful. We had captured a makeover and photo shoot, and we did a live follow-up interview for the book launch team.
During the interview, we touched on her former sense of worthlessness that stemmed from a difficult childhood.
“When did that change for you?” I asked. “How did God heal your heart?”
“It wasn't all at once,” Brittny responded thoughtfully, “but as I chose to obey God, I realized how much He loved people. One day in high school He moved me to reach out to a friend and tell her about Christ. In that moment, I realized how deeply He loved her, and how greatly He must love me too.”
I was struck by that thought. Brittny didn't experience a massive wave of God's love that instantly healed all her wounds: instead, when she obeyed Christ's tug on her heart, she experienced His character. By following Christ, she began to learn of His heart. I realized how opposite this is within a self-centered society: we often demand healing as if we deserve it, and then decide whether or not to serve God. Yet in the principle of Discipleship, sometimes we simply serve the Master from a heart of love and healing comes as we follow Him, one step at a time.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
The word “yoke” in this passage is: to join, servitude, coupling. One of the keys to accessing the heart of Jesus is simply to follow Him. As we step out in obedience, we discover how amazing He is! He is gentle, kind, and brings us rest. Yet the call is not a passive one: we are called to discipleship, and to actively pursue relationship with Him by studying the Word and following His Spirit. Like a team of cattle yoked together, we team up with Christ and walk with Him. This is discipleship: learning of our master as we follow His lead.
I'm feeling compelled to embrace the basics of this place: my first life's goal is simply to follow the Master and learn of Him, yoked up with Christ in everything He gives me to do. We are never asked to walk alone, but always closely yoked with Him as we walk out life together. This call is simple yet profound, and it stands as an open invitation to all of us.
Prayer: Lord, help me to walk with You every day, ready to hear, obey, and learn of Your kindness and love as we move forward together.