This year, I received one of the most unique birthday gifts I’ve ever gotten. We celebrated early, before I left town for a teaching assignment. There I was, sitting in a classy outfit given me by one friend. I’d just opened a beautiful vase from another friend, which had captured my heart a year ago. I’d loved it but left it at the antique store, because I don’t usually spend money on things that aren’t wearable or practical. My friend had taken notice and went back to the store later to buy it for me.
I was already having a great night. Then, right there in the restaurant, I was instructed to sit still and receive. Receive. One friend, then another, then another told me the things they appreciated about me, the characteristics that strike them, the things that inspire them and make me beautiful to them. My eyes well up just writing that sentence. When they were done, we took a picture together and one of my friends told me I should probably post it in black and white because I was raspberry red all over. I am Irish and it shows.
I’m even red in black and white! What got to me the most was that each of them said they appreciate the way I am always myself no matter where I am.
They called me authentic.
That is truly remarkable, because I did not start out that way. As a child, we naturally mimic those around us, learning roles like mom and cook and teacher. That’s important for our development, but I didn’t stop there. My dad told me time and again, “Kristi, be yourself. Be yourself. Be yourself.” I told him I was just multi-faceted. Sure, I can converse with anyone, and I’m interested in lots of things, but I was not just being colorful and adaptable; I was being a chameleon. I morphed to fit my environment, to be who I thought people wanted to see, to blend. But you never blend, when you’re not a real person. People don’t want to see you at all if you’re just virtual reality.
When I was 25, I started getting to know me. I made lists of who I was, what I liked, what I dreamed and who I wanted to be. I prayed a lot, internalizing what God says about me. Since then, I’ve been through several iterations of who I want to be. I’ve learned tons about what I really like and what just seemed nice at the time. I’ve learned that I am not my dream. I may pour all I am into something, but I outlive my dreams and Jesus lives in me. That is powerful. I don’t know how I could possibly have understood all this when I was 15, but I’m grateful Dad tried to explain anyway. This year at my birthday dinner, I was humbled to learn that authenticity is now something that defines me to others.
Who are you? What lights you up and energizes you? Only you can make that list.
What does God say about you? God says:
He gets excited about you – Zephaniah 3:17
He thinks more thoughts about you than there are grains of sand – Psalm 139:13-18
Those thoughts are of peace and not evil – Jeremiah 29:11
Jesus willingly gave His life for you – John 10:11-13
You are a friend of God – John 15:15
You are written on the palms of His hands – Isaiah 49:15-16
You are adopted as children and heirs of God through Christ – Galatians 4:5-7
For years, I’ve watched Christians fuss publicly about other Christians. Followers of Christ feel that it’s their duty to turn over tables and crack whips on Facebook and TV and in churches and in conversations, as though every other Christian is a Pharisee. We can be real bullies and downright snobs, forgetting that we’re all fallen and that’s why we came to Christ in the first place. We draw the line and snark, “I’m not one of those guys.” Is it frustrating seeing non-Christians judge God by His kids? Yes. They hardly look when we’re kind and compassionate with one another, but they certainly notice when we are hateful.
Tomorrow is my birthday, but I want to give it to you. Be born again as you. Be yourself—the redeemed, reborn you that Jesus paid the price for. Be born in the grace He brought to us, in the forgiveness He taught by agonizing example. Be born in the 3 years of kindness and compassion and faith and wisdom the gospels share, not in the 3 or so scenes of confrontation. Jesus was the Christ and therefore the only righteous Judge. We are not God, and He doesn’t need our defense. He desires instead our wild, passionate, compassionate devotion and love. And He directly asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus said, “Father…I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me.” John 17:23 NLT
Make a list
Make a list of what makes your heart soar and who God made you to be. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul stresses the importance of focusing on the right things. He says in Philippians 1:9,10 “It is my prayer that your love abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent.” He never says “approve what is excellent and disapprove of all that others do wrong.” Take your eyes off those who frustrate you. Focus instead on what you love and the One who loves you.
Then share that love.
Share it again.
Share it until it is all of who you are, everywhere you go, and be the authentic Christian you believe the world is missing.