Shame, Identity, And Why We Can’t Stop Singing, “This Is Me.”

The Greatest Showman has taken the world by storm as a powerful story of human triumph. If you haven’t seen it, drop everything you’re doing and go see it now. (Because priorities).

Some of you are like me, and you’ve not only seen the movie, but the phrase, “Alexa, play ‘The Greatest Showman‘ soundtrack,” is heard throughout the day…every. single. day.

Full disclosure? I’ve even taken my love of this movie to a whole different level. I came across a video tutorial of some of the choreography for the movie’s flagship song, “This Is Me,” and I’ve been practicing in my living room. No, really.

This Is Me” is a powerful anthem. It is a battle cry for anyone who has ever believed that they are unworthy of love and value,  but who are daring to step beyond the shackles of shame and hiding.

The movie depicts an array of unusual characters that the world has labeled “freaks” and “monsters.” We see Tom Thumb, a twenty-something year old man with dwarf syndrome, whose own mother kept him hidden and even denied having a son. We see Lettie, the bearded lady, who is introduced to us hiding behind her work of cleaning laundry, too ashamed to come out from behind the curtain.

Their outward oddities played a role in their being ostracized, but it was their hidden shame—their belief in their lack of worth, value, or belonging—that really held them prisoner.

We’ve all bought into the same vicious lies at some point or another. I’m going to bet that you have felt the gripping weight of pain, shame, and feeling unworthy at some point in your life.

Perhaps you’re feeling those things right now, tangled up in the darkness that comes when we believe no one will want us, love us, accept us as we are. As Keala Settle begins “This Is Me,” our hearts cry like mourning doves, knowing these words so well:

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are

We create our masks to hide behind. Tom Thumb hid in the confines of a ramshackle house. Lettie hid behind bed linens clipped carefully across a laundry line. Some of us hide behind achievement, others behind addiction. Some hide behind screens, and some behind productivity.

We all have experienced shame that has beaten and silenced our souls into hiding. But we are called to step out of the shadows and into the liberating light of freedom.

Shame suffocates the truth about who we really are.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to burst down the barricades; it is time to break free.  It’s time to take our identities back; to send a flood and drown out the shame and the lies with the truth.

On the other side of this screen is a human being made from the very hands that carved out the oceans, who set the galaxies in motion. You are a masterpiece. You are loved simply because you are.

You are loved. Period. And anything that speaks to the contrary is a lie straight from the pit of hell.

You, with your scars and bruises, your mistakes and failures, your baggage, your dreams, your feelings of being too much and not enough all at the same time. Even if you do not believe it, the truth is that you bear the Image of God—His DNA, his fingerprints.

To the person who has been abandoned, abused, and maligned: you are wanted.

To the person secretly questioning if your life matters: you matter more than you can fathom.

To the person consumed with pain and sorrow, hoping to crawl into a cave until you heal, too ashamed to reveal your broken heart to others: it’s time to be brave and step into the light.

To the person striving with everything you’ve got to earn approval, receive affirmation, and learn to be pleasing: in Jesus you can rest from a lifetime of trying to earn the love that is already yours.

To the person whose story has been used as a weapon against you; whose failures have been used as reasons why you are unloveable and too far from grace: Christ has overcome.

We must know the truth, not platitudes, not feel-good-statements, but the Truth Himself. He loves us, He is for us, and we don’t have to jump through hoops for Him.

“This Is Me” is an anthem for all of us; it is a battle cry against anything that would condemn us, shame us, or convince us that there is no hope.

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun. We are warriors. 
Yeah, that’s what we’ve become

Jesus has broken the chains of barricades holding you as a slave. You are a warrior.

Let’s be done hiding. Let’s be done with shame.

Let’s step into the light and say, “I am brave. I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be. This is me.” Beloved son or daughter. Uniquely crafted. Wanted. Purposed. Beloved.

One CRUCIAL Way To Prevent Spiritual Atrophy

I enjoy exercising. I have exercised regularly for years. I feel better when I exercise. I’m happier. I’m not as anxious. I am more alert and awake to do the other things I love. I choose to exercise because I see the evidence that it prevents physical atrophy and helps me to be a better “me,” which ultimately helps everyone around me too.

In a similar way, giving of myself to the church promotes personal growth, servingauthentic discipleship, and prevents spiritual atrophy. Giving of ourselves–our time, giftedness, and energy–is actually healthy and good for us, and for everyone around us.

I committed my life to following Christ and was baptized when I was 17 years old. For several years after that, I was growing and changing rapidly from the person I was before, but I never chose to step up and serve in the church. I would hear recruit teams share the needs their areas were experiencing, and I would hope to avoid eye contact so that I didn’t have to make up some reason why I couldn’t give of my time to help.

If I’m really honest, it wasn’t that I didn’t have time; I just flat-out didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to make the time to give of myself. I didn’t see how I could add value to my church by serving, and I didn’t see how serving would add value to my life.

Fast-forward a few years. I was a college student in Virginia attending Brentwood Church in Virginia (big shout out to my Brentwood Family. I love you guys!).  I love that the DNA of Brentwood Church is simple: connect and contribute. Connect through worship on Sundays and in a small group of believers (“Community Group,” “Life Group,” etc.), and contribute your time, energy, giftedness, and resources to the well-being of the church.

If I called Brentwood Church “home,” I was taught consistently and often to be an active participant, and not just an anonymous attender on Sundays. This  didn’t come from a perspective of legalism, or expectation, but rather of love and invitation. This church really honed in on the God-given gifts and skills of the people that were there and invited them to use those skills to advance God’s kingdom right there.

How many of you out there would say that you want to be valued, part of something meaningful, and as though you “belong?” I would be willing to bet that most of you responded with an adamant, “Yes!”

During my years at Brentwood, I began to feel wanted. I quit believing that I was expendable, and I and started to realize that as a Christ follower, I wasn’t just called to believe, I was invited to be intricately woven into God’s family. Serving wasn’t just for the people that had “arrived,” it was for me too—broken, flawed, imperfect me.

I decided to sign up to work with this church’s children’s ministry. I started out just filling in when someone would be absent, and then steadily I became more and more involved. Now, years later, one of my greatest passions is God’s people—all of God’s people—evaluating their God-given skills, talents, and interests and finding a place within the body of Christ to use those gifts. Not everyone gets excited about holding babies every week. Not everyone is comfortable leading. But everyone has something to bring to the table.

Whatever “it” is for you—that thing that you LOVE to do just for the sake of doing it—find where you can use THAT in your church. I dare you to test this for a year. Use your skills and passions consistently and often within your home church, and see how you experience deeper satisfaction, deeper feelings of connectedness within your church, and tremendous connection with others serving with you.

I think that as people we are wired to weigh opportunity costs. We can’t have or do everything, so we make choices. Sometimes these choices are based on pure motives like what is best for others. Sometimes our choices are based on what has the most value. Sometimes our choices are just for the sake of preference and what we would enjoy the most. I know I am not the only one that struggles against the clock every day. I think that most of us would say we want our time to matter and count towards something; life is too short to waste. Some of you might be like me 10 years ago, and maybe you just don’t see the benefit of giving of your time to your church.

But what if I told you that stepping up to serve all those years ago changed me? What if I told you that for the first time, I belonged somewhere? What if I said that plugging in and intentionally saying “no” to other things (including my Sunday afternoon nap) grew me into someone that finally had a place to call home? Serving in the Church enabled me to really connect and develop relationships with people. Serving was the catalyst to me honing in on who God created me to be. I  have a deep desire for purpose and meaning. Don’t we all? And what is more meaningful than owning our salvation purchased by Christ, and embracing the Body of Christ called “the church?”

Some of you may legitimately be unable to serve during traditional times like Sunday mornings. It’s ok to think outside of the box on your role in your church family! Maybe you attend a house church and there isn’t a major organization to jump right into, or maybe you live abroad and culturally the dynamic of church is very different than “American church”. To all believers reading this, I boldly declare that the Body of Christ transcends culture and time restraints. Serving means giving of yourself to meet the needs of other believers out of your abundance of time and resources. I cannot tell you what this looks like for you personally, but I certainly encourage you to search God’s heart on the matter! He loves you and you were made with purpose!

With all of my heart I believe that we each have a vital role. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that we are all equipped with different gifts, and we are called to use them. Can you imagine if your stomach quit working because it said, “This body doesn’t need me; the lungs have got this one.” How crippling! In the same way, we are all a vital part of the global, eternal Body of Christ.

You are invited to be all in and more than someone that watchers from the sidelines. Let’s all get in the game and thrive.

Like exercise, it may mean carving out the time because you see the value added. But I promise that God uses your energy, time, and talents to change the world when you commit them to Him, when you humbly submit your time and energy to Him to be used up for His glory. Serving impacts your community, your church, your peers, your family, and it impacts YOU! Give it a try. Commit to giving of your time in an area that you are interested in. Give it more than a few weeks—a year?—and see how your own heart changes as a result.

The Connection Between Carpe Diem and Your Happiness

I turn thirty this yeaquotescover-JPG-36r. It’s not “old” by any means, but I’m still taken aback that “thirty” is upon me. It seemed so far away when I was in college, and yet here I am.

Three decades of living, and I can still smell the leaves on the tree that held up my tire swing. I remember the taste of watermelon by the pool, and the smell of Georgia summer nights, lit up by the twinkle of fireflies. Some days I feel like I’m fresh out of high school or college; I can remember those days so vividly that it seems impossible that 10 years have passed.

Alanis Morissette famously wrote the lyrics, “I have no concept of time other than it is flying.” I think of that line so often these days. Time is flying by, and there is nothing that I can do to slow it down. The best that I can do is to savor it all: the sweet, the bitter, and everything in between.

This series has been all about becoming healthier, happier people. One terrible habit that hinders our progress is wishing away our days. Are you as guilty of it as I am? When work is draining and unsatisfying, when the hours are long, when we are tired, when kids are screaming, the house is a mess, when you’re waiting on a promotion, or a big move, or something “bigger and better” it is too easy to fall into the trap of wishing away our days.

The really tragic thing is that if we don’t intentionally break the habit of wishing for what’s next at the expense of today, we will never really live fulfilling lives. Eventually the hourglass will run out, and we will be left grasping at the wind for the times we wish we could relive. We will have lived an entire beautiful lifetime, and we will have squandered it by wishing it away one day at a time.

In my last post I opened up to you about my past struggle with anxiety and panic. I look back on my journey of healing with joy, not because it was easy. It was brutal. I had to face my worst nightmares as though they were my reality, and I had to go into the darkness with the Lord for Him to lead me out to true freedom. But I walked away with the gift of a greater desire and stronger resolve to live today. I want to taste my coffee, and sing along to the music. I want to look my son in his beautiful blue eyes and to soak up each moment that I have with him. I want to tell my husband that in spite of everything we have been through, he is my hero.

To be sure, there is nothing like facing the reality of life’s frailty to appreciate that tomorrow is not guaranteed. It took me believing that my tomorrow’s were gone for me to stop wishing away my todays.

Dear friends, I urge you out of a deep desire for your health and vibrancy to take a deep breath and to find the beauty in your life today.

I realize that some of you are facing battles that I can’t even comprehend. You are in the thick of a war that seems impossible, and every part of you is screaming that you just want out; you just want the pain to be over. Oh, friend, I wish that I could look you in the eye and tell you face-to-face to hold on. I would tell you that you are not alone, and that one day the pain will be but a memory.

Soon after I had given my life to Jesus, one of my dear friends, and author of www.holymisfit.com, made me a CD that included a song by LaRue called “One White Tulip.” I still have the CD, and still cherish that particular song. I will let the lyrics speak for themselves:

I was just thinking
About how time flies
And that we’re all drifting
Like clouds in the sky
And you have always been there
And now we have all changed

And it’s been one Beautiful life

I was just wondering
On how to recall
The wonderful memories
And how they all fall into place,
Like the smile on your face
Like the kisses and the tears that we’ve shared

It’s been one beautiful life
And I know it’s tasted it’s trials
It’s been one beautiful life
And I know it’s tasted it’s trials

And it’s not over
It’s only begun

We’ve always been different
But never alone
Like one white tulip
That stands on it’s own
And you will always be here
And we will stay the same

It’s been one beautiful life
And I know it’s tasted it’s trials

Join me today in resolving to no longer wish away life this side of Heaven, hoping for whatever is next. Breathe deep. Feel the moments. Continue with me as we “do life” together, all the while seeking to grow into a vibrant group of people living life becoming who we were made to be. Living life beautifully.

Run Hard. Love Strong.

Haley