Well, missed another day blogging because with four kids, three half-days, four parent-teacher conferences and Mr. Uhler out of town I was just too dog-tired last night to do anything but sit on the couch and watch Castle. It was great.  I’ve been so exhausted all week. A certain three year-old keeps waking early and doesn’t always go back to sleep. Back at it now…

If you’ve been following along on this 31 day blog adventure, you know we’ve been talking about all kinds of things- authenticity, shame, vulnerability, identity, Love, freedom..whew. Some big stuff. Stuff that will take a lifetime to really unravel and understand. The touchpoint for it all, the thing that makes sense of it all for me is that question again: “God, who do you say I am? What do YOU think about me?” It is only when we answer this question that we can feel safe enough to be vulnerable, authentic enough to be loved as we are, and have freedom from shame because of how he loves us.

This summer we spent the weekend with some friends at their family cabin on a little lake. It was so glorious. Picture a perfect little A-frame built by her grandparents, weather hot enough to swim throughout the day, big shared meals cooked over a grill, firepit and s’mores, kids and fishing poles and frisbees and hammocks. Perfection. My friend and I floated lazily in the lake one afternoon and talked about things God was teaching us. The sun beat down on us as our feet dangled off of our inflatables into the cool lake. I was feeling rather raw about a couple relationships in my life- unseen and unknown. Unvalued. Undervalued. Unimportant.  There were some patterns in these relationships that were hurtful to me and they just came gushing out. I didn’t realize how much it hurt until I started talking about it. Katie’s wise question to me was timely: “Well, Jess, what do you think God is trying to teach you through this?” Gulp. “Uh, well, maybe that I need to let go of caring so much about what they think of me…even if I feel misunderstood or unimportant in their eyes. Maybe I need to just ask God what HE says about me.” For some reason, that thought hit a tender spot. Why in the world was it so scary to ask God what he says about me?

Yesterday, my friend Tara wrote this on a response to my post about the scandal of grace: “What would it feel like to be free to love and be loved completely?  We know what the imprisonment of guilt and shame feel like….why is freedom so scary?” Yes, Why?  When confronted with perfect, all-encompassing, holy, unconditional love, why do we shrink back and want to hide? Why do we look for fig leaves? For me, it’s because of those sixth grade girls.

When I was in sixth grade I wore thrift store clothes (way before it was cool) because that’s what we could afford. I went to school out of my district in a wealthier part of town where all the girls had Swatch watches, Esprit bags and Guess jeans. Except me.  What you wore was who you were.  I was Gemco and Goodwill. I was teased and always felt just outside of the circle of cool. I didn’t belong. I learned that I shouldn’t wear my hair in a ponytail because my ears stuck out too much, and in the mirror at dance class I learned that my legs were too scrawny and my thighs didn’t come together in the right places (oh, thigh gap!).

Those voices still ring loud in my ears. That feeling of not quite measuring up, not quite being a cool girl is subtly there in the background underneath my accomplishments and dreams. Today it takes a different form- it’s about not doing enough, not being in the right circles as a photographer, being on the outside of all those popular kids in Instagram with their thousands of followers and their blog features and networking parties and industry shout outs and workshops. In my heart, I know that’s not what I want, but the voices telling me to HUSTLE myself are so loud.  And the trouble is, as a solopreneur there is some truth to the need to hustle. If I don’t market myself, no one will. If I don’t think about how to reach potential clients and set myself apart from the hundreds of other photographers no one will. But I really don’t want to be burdened with caring about the numbers and the followers and the exposure. I want it to matter, what I do. I want it to be AUTHENTIC and not a marketing strategy. Ultimately, I want to trust the Author of my story. He’s writing a better one than I ever could. I read this post the other day about what it sometimes feels like as a photographer these days launching out on your own.  It’s overwhelming, really. I’m tired just reading it. And I say no to that path because I am holding out for something different. Something more like this. And it’s a little scary putting this out there because you might think less of me. You might feel superior to me. You might think, “aha!  I knew it.” But if you are a kindred spirit you are thinking, “yep, me too.” But this:

Creation awakens what already is, taking ideas, memory, and matter that exist and breathing new life into them. The earth is full of heartbreaking wonder and artists give the world strength to embrace it. We wake humanity to the beauty and courage all around and within us.

But there is resistance to your voice. There is a push for sameness. Safety beckons, and it kills. Real heroism is doing what you were made to do, because the world needs it. We need the child you were and can still be, we need your passion and your play. We need you to make your art and set it simply before us, to light the flame that is flickering inside all of us.

Those voices of the sixth grade girls are loud. The voices of the internet and social media are loud. The voices of people in my life who actually still send this message are loud- with their sidelong glances and even their silence in the face of my voicing my heart and offering up my vision. I want to be brave enough to stand up against it and say, “This is who I am, and I am worthy of love and respect because I am an image-bearer of God’s own likeness.” And so are you, don’t ya know? Who are the sixth-grade girls in your life?

Perhaps what’s really scary about asking God his opinion about me is that underneath all those other voices that want to tell me who I am, there is a smaller voice, my own, saying “If you don’t keep striving them wheels might just come off this thing. Are you sure you really want to find out what God says about you? What if he tells you you can stop feeling all this nonsense, then what are you going to have to hold onto to make you feel like you’re enough?  Do you really think His approval can replace the high you get from an Instagram feature or a new follower?  What if He tells you to just stop and BE and that He loves you perfectly right now and that actually that is the ONLY thing that will satisfy your soul’s deep hunger? What if he tells you that trying to perfect yourself in body, mind and spirit is futile and that HE is the only one who can do that and He is. What if He tells you that the vision you have for yourself is too small, that all the energy you put into being accepted is a measly little dream compared to HIS vision and purpose for you- to love him and become more like him.”

Yeah, what if?

Read more of 31 days of conversation here:  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Day 6  Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10 Day 12 Day 13 Day 14

Gimme some sugar, Sugar!

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