You can look perfect outside and be a wreck inside

Think of your favorite television show character or your favorite character from a novel. Just name someone. Why do you like that character so much? There are all sorts of reasons why people identify with fictional characters, and, as a novelist, it’s fascinating for me to understand why. But one thing I’ve discovered in most character studies is that people respond to vulnerabilities.

You could have a character in a book or movie that has no weakness, never screws up, never makes enemies, but I’m not sure anyone would like him. He’d be boring. At a writer’s conference I was just at, one of the speakers explained that the human brain’s favorite story is a story of struggle. Those are the tales we love, and, by extension, those are the characters we love too.

If you identify a favorite fictional character that you’ve seen or read about, just think for a moment about what kind of vulnerabilities that character has. And I’m not talking about weaknesses. I mean the bits and pieces of their lives that humanize them. The dust on their bookshelves, the disordered chaos of their spaceship, the wrinkles in their superhero cape, and their willingness to share it with others or hide it.

I’d be willing to bet that your favorite character has some quirks and tics that make him or her vulnerable, because that’s what makes a character likable. And in real life, it’s also what makes a person real.

70L5UYL0FO_1555x1037Today’s verses are 1 Peter 3:3-4.

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

This verse is mainly directed at women, but I think the context is relevant to both genders. We live in world that’s obsessed with appearances. We’re told every moment of every day how we should look, and if we don’t conform, there’s something wrong with us. We’re instructed to fill in all the gaps, to fix all the cracks, and to patch up the dents by whatever means necessary so that we don’t give people the idea that we’re unprofessional or uneducated or unpopular.

Dye your hair. Bleach your teeth. Pluck your eyebrows. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but don’t you ever get tired of not being real? Don’t you ever wonder if the face of the person sitting across from you is their actual face? Or is it a mask they’ve applied to keep people from getting too close?

Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak. It’s about admitting that you don’t have it all together. It’s knowing that your bookshelves are dusty and your trash cans are full and your workspace is messy and still being okay if other people see it. That’s hard to do. It’s difficult to open yourself up to criticism that way, because people are critical. People like to poke fun at others for a variety of reasons, and if you open your heart to another human being, you’re always taking the risk that it will backfire.

You can look perfect on the outside and be a wreck inside. You can give the appearance of having it all together but in reality your world is falling apart. When you’re out in the world or at work or at church, you just slip your mask on and pretend like everything is fine, until you get home, and there’s no one to face the darkness by your side. Why would there be? You’ve convinced everyone that there is no darkness.

No one is strong enough to get through life alone. And it is absolutely possible to make people think you’re fine when you really aren’t. And, sure, it’s scary to wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s terrifying to open your life to someone else’s scrutiny, but it’s what’s inside you that matters the most. The person you are in your soul is the person who will live forever, not the made-up, all-together fashion plate on the outside.

Instead of worrying about whether or not you look like you’ve got life figured out, spend some time actually figuring life out by reading the Bible and listening to what God says. He’ll tell you how to live. He’ll tell you what’s important.

So let’s get vulnerable. Let’s get real. That doesn’t mean you walk around telling everyone your troubles and your sorrows. But it does mean that you aren’t ashamed of them.

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Christmas tree in the living room of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What I learned from TSO

I love Christmas because it’s the one time of year when believers can stand and worship Christ in public without being jeered at. Any other time of the year, if I stood on a street corner singing about Christ being Lord, I’d probably be called a lunatic; I might have stuff thrown at me. But in December I can stand on any street corner nearly anywhere and sing about Christ being my Lord and people just call me a caroler. It may not last much longer, but I’m going to enjoy that as long as I can.

I recently got to attend a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show (thanks, Grandma!!), and I realized something: No matter how much our culture tries to push Christ out of Christmas, they can’t. As far as I know, TSO is a secular group, but for some reason I found the show this year to be more Christ-centered (in content) than I remember their other shows being. They did a rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” that honestly had me in tears, and all I could think as the gal was singing it was how awesome God is … because sitting there in a secular concert, a woman was singing about Christ being Lord in front of 8,000 people and everyone was listening.

Even in our broken, ruined culture, God still finds a way to make sure His Son receives glory for His sacrifice. And I realized that we can’t separate Christmas from Christ; no one can. You can’t see Christmas without seeing Christ. And that’s what helped me understand something else: Just as you can’t see Christmas without seeing Christ, you can’t see the world without seeing God Himself.

Christmas tree in the living room of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Christmas tree in the living room of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 1:15-17.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.

Who made light? Who made fire? Who designed fire to put off smoke? Who gave us the creativity to manufacture smoke machines and firecrackers and lasers? Who made music? Where did it come from? Who created the human eye and the human spirit so that we could enjoy loud concerts where all of these things come together in the awe-inspiring crescendo that is Trans-Siberian Orchestra?

Want to venture a guess?

The lyrics of the old, familiar Christmas carols bear witness to who God is and what He’s done for us. But beyond the lyrics is so much more. All creation is witness to who God is and what He’s done for us. The Earth. The stars. The oceans. The plains. The mountains. Clouds. Storms. Wind. Fire. Water. Birth. Death. Life itself. Pick an aspect of our world that we don’t understand and try to make sense of it without God.

As Christ is inseparable from Christmas, God is inseparable from the world around us. And the people who refuse to see Him are simply deceiving themselves for some reason or another. That’s totally their prerogative, by the way.

I know I rejoice at sunrises and sunsets because they’re so amazing only God could have made them. But when was the last time I marveled at an inchworm or an ant? When was the last time something small and “insignificant” caught my eye? Because even the small things are miraculous.

And the beauty of it all is that I don’t have to say anything. Creation speaks for itself.

I grieve for this culture because they’ve turned their backs on God. I mourn for the loss of the relationships that people could have with God because I know what He’s done in my life. But what I realized at that TSO concert is that if God can bring a secular audience to their feet in response to “O Come All Ye Faithful” in a culture like ours, He can bring glory to Himself however He wants, and the people who are listening will recognize it.

So go stand on a street corner today and sing Christmas carols while you still can. And if the day ever comes when we can’t do that anymore, don’t worry. Point out the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars. Point to the wind. Point to the parts of the life that can’t be explained and let God explain Himself to others when you don’t have words for it. He’s been doing it since He created time; He can handle it.