This Fall, I have the pleasure of studying Hebrews with some wonderful friends who share such amazing insights, I feel like they all should write devotionals or speak at church retreats. They’ve helped me look at this book with a range of fresh perspectives that bring some of the older – and honestly, difficult to understand – words and passages to life and applicability for our present times.
Right out of the gate, we hit this verse that speaks to the greatness of Jesus, and were fascinated by this description of His nature, captured in the term “radiance.”
In the Greek, this means “reflected brightness,” or “effulgence” (see what I mean by archaic language?). So Christ reflects the brightness of God’s majesty, which makes sense since He is the exact imprint – a precise reproduction – of God’s nature.
Our group talked about how “radiant” isn’t a label we use that often nowadays, except in a few specific circumstances to describe the faces of:
1) A bride on her wedding day
2) A woman after she gives birth and holds her baby for the first time
3) A believer on their deathbed as they draw their final breaths before entering eternal glory
Isn’t that striking, how we perceive someone as radiant or glowing when they’re delighting in an overwhelming moment of joy – even if that moment involves pain and suffering? And how much of that luminosity is a reflection of the pure brilliance of the object which the person is beholding – the bride, her groom; the mother, her child; the believer, their Savior seated on the throne.
There’s a reason so many VBS programs over the decades have utilized the pun-ny “Son-shine” theme.
Jesus is the Light of the World, the Lamb who is the Lamp; He shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. And the more we’re with Him, soaking in His grace, the more our lives will reflect His bright hope in a world shuttered in darkness.
May we shine like little radiant lights mirroring His glory.
I was born during the Jennifer Era of U.S. history. Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, JLo, and I joined more than half a million of our moniker sisters in dominating the baby name charts from 1970 to 1984, until those scheming Jessicas hijacked our reign.
My name is thoroughly unoriginal, and I’ve come to accept that. What’s more difficult to swallow is the apparent requirement in this digital age for writers to leverage their names as their brand.
Sure, it makes sense. If you want to reach an audience with your message, you have to get your name out there so people can find you and read your work. To build a successful author platform, you must create a social persona to which fans will flock and publishers will beckon for book deals.
It’s DIY marketing with an egotistical spin, and it seems if you ever want to go anywhere in the publishing world, you’ve got push yourself to promote yourself.
An inner conflict
In case you didn’t pick up on it, I was cringing between the preceding lines. I strongly dislike the concept of self-made publicity for many different reasons, including the aforementioned ordinariness of my name. The world has plenty of Jennifers; it doesn’t need another one running around tooting her own horn.
Also repelling me from the “be your own brand” strategy: my tendency toward shyness, lack of knowledge and desire to market like a boss, and fear – fear that others won’t like me, or that they will like me and expect a standard of excellence I can’t always (or ever) deliver, and fear that I’ll care way too much about others’ perception and evaluation of the person I project myself to be.
Aside from these unpleasant factors, the most stomach-turning aspect of self-marketing is its very nature. Count how many times I dropped an “I, me my” in the preceding paragraph. I sound as conceited as a 2-year-old.
I know there are millions of people out there pounding the social pavement to develop online personalities as a means to spread an important message or advance a worthwhile movement or simply make money as a business venture, and that’s fine. However, I think there’s a tension that can and should arise for Christian authors writing Christian books, a vocation and niche I aspire to pursue.
If you’re ostensibly writing to proclaim the gospel and convey the truth of God’s saving grace, how do you justify throwing your time, energy, and resources into promoting yourself? How can you reconcile God’s command for His people to be like Christ – humble, submissive to His will, seeking His exaltation above all else – with your endless striving for people to like you and follow your words?
He must increase
Prominent Christian authors addressed these and other concerns regarding platform building during an online discussion earlier this year. Beth Moore, Margaret Feinberg, and Karen Swallow Prior shared honest thoughts from their experiences in the Christian publishing industry, warning of the perils of social media ladder climbing and admonishing believers to fight the fleshly temptation to make ourselves known under the guise of making Jesus known.
I followed these conversations with rapt attention, as I respect these women and want to heed their guidance in venturing out into this field. Yet for all the wisdom I gleaned, the klaxon of prideful posturing alarmed and discouraged me, especially after researching the platform strategy and confirming it as the new norm for author best practices.
This brought me to a crisis of writing about faith: Accept the necessary evil of self-promotion to move forward with my publishing aspirations, or refuse to undertake this sinful endeavor and scrap the whole dang author idea.
Dismayed as I was, I kept thinking and researching and praying, and then came upon this article by a not-yet widely known writer contemplating “The Social Media Strategy of John the Baptist.” Reflecting on John’s gospel, she describes how the outspoken forerunner of Christ grew a following as he proclaimed the coming Messiah, and then once Jesus appeared on the scene, directed his followers to the incarnate Savior:
“God had given John a platform – he had become famous and influential in his own right. But John used his platform to draw attention to the only One who could satisfy and save their souls.”
John used the platform God had given him to draw attention to Jesus, not himself, and made this outrageously meek statement that should be the motto of every follower of Christ: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
I read this article, and pondered this verse, and thanked the author and John the Baptist for this critical reminder.
Any platform I have is God’s, not mine. He gives and takes away gifts, skills, relationships, email subscribers, Twitter followers, and “tribe” members for whatever purposes He intends – most specifically, to exalt His name and shower goodness on His people.
Knowing this, I can publish a blog under my name, post content designed to encourage others, even seek out new readers to engage and connect with, and do so with a clean conscience IF my heart’s desire is to increase Jesus’ fanbase, not my own.
With whatever my hands find to write, I pray that the efforts involved – from production to publicity – will point others to the King of Kings, the Word of Life, my Blessed Redeemer.
As the pastor at my church stated during a recent sermon on Daniel’s rise to prominence in the Babylonian Empire, all due to God’s divine appointment and his humble obedience: “The greatness that the Scripture teaches is best described by you moving through the world and leaving a wake of the Kingdom of God behind you.”
I will not do this perfectly. The Spirit will inevitably need to convict me, on a repeated basis, and I petition Him to have at it. He knows how much I struggle with craving approval.
I also don’t plan to write exclusively about issues of deep spiritual significance, and occasionally cover more lighthearted subject matter – particularly that of the deprecating, keepin’ it real variety. This is fun for me, and I hope my enjoyment of pouring out some creative juices edifies others and honors God, as much as any mocking commentary about a TV show can accomplish that.
In stepping out on this precarious limb, setting up a platform for my writing work, I ask God to help me make wise choices in His strength, to value His truth above any other opinion or striving for “likes,” and to help me follow Beth Moore’s advice on navigating social media branding:
The answer will be found in serving God as faithfully and as purely as human hearts and souls know how and let Him build His own following and determine who listens to what voice and when.
Serving God with a pure heart isn’t ever easy, and the way forward isn’t entirely clear. Marketing as an author in the Christian publishing industry is risky business, with a danger involving soul-devastating consequences. The uncertainty weighs on me, and I expect to feel apprehension about this platform racket for however long the Lord allows me to write about Him.
But by His grace, I will forge ahead, trusting Him to send forth His Word either through or in spite of me, as I write under my humdrum, exceptionally unremarkable name, aiming to lift high the greatest Name in all the world.
Hair bows, leg warmers, ballet flats – things that shimmer, things that tie neatly, things that smell pleasant – sequins, ruffles, and all the shades of pink that could ever be squeezed out of the palette.
This is a world that is foreign to me, a culture I don’t belong in, much less comprehend, because I don’t have a daughter.
I have two sons, the rough and tumble kind, children awaited and prayed for – and I absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way. I embrace the boymom role full on, arms wide open, anticipating the tackle and dogpile to come.
There are times, though, that my mind wanders to that sparkly realm of possibilities, like when I’m venturing into the princess section shopping for a friend’s daughter’s birthday. It makes me wonder, or I guess you could even say, dream:
I wasn’t a cheerleader, but I don’t have anything against them. I mean … I might find them a tad annoying, but just when they overdo their performance beyond the average person’s tolerance level for perkiness.
It only takes a quick scroll through any popular parenting blog site to find cheerleaders of another squad than your local high school baton-twirlers. Mommy bloggers ’round the Internet are stepping up to the social game, rooting for fellow beleaguered moms in the trenches with empowering posts that chant for us to bring on the solidarity, sister:
Good job, mama! Hang in there, mama! You’ve put up with your whiny, messy, unswervingly disobedient children all day, mama, so when bedtime rolls around, treat yourself to a glass or four of your best $7 Cabernet and binge watch the heck out of a season of “Gilmore Girls.”
One major impetus for this maternity pep rally is retaliation against those who shame other moms for any and all possible reasons, making them feel awful and look like sad sacks of child-rearing-failing crap.
The world is a lonely place for couples having trouble getting pregnant. It’s hard to feel like you fit into a society where everyone and their giraffe is knocked up, posting pics of their bumps like they’re the universal outfit of the day.
Instead of further isolating those who are struggling to grow their families, you can support them by following this advice: shut yo mouth and open yo ears.
That’s my snappy adaption of the theme for this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, an initiative to inform the public about the 1 in 8 couples of childbearing age affected by the disease of infertility. RESOLVE, the organization sponsoring this movement, is throwing back to the old school catchphrase – “Listen Up!” – to help people understand the infertility community’s needs and promote access to a wide variety of family-building options.
During the long and grueling process it took to expand my family, I appreciated those who asked me thoughtful questions and stuck around as I spilled my guts about my screwy lady parts. On the flip side, those who didn’t give me the time of day to listen to my frustrations made my misery and feelings of being an outcast that much worse.
To educate others how they can “listen up,” I wanted to call out specific groups of people who – armed with knowledge and a better grasp on tactfulness – can support someone facing the devastation of infertility in important and distinct ways. And, because this topic is near and dear to me, I’ma preach. So all who have ears, let ’em hear:
Listen up, preggo ladies: The child you’re carrying is a blessing, and a miracle. All babies are, really. While you should celebrate this little life, remember there are many people out there (15 percent of U.S. couples, according to the CDC) who are still waiting on their miracle. If you know a loved one is struggling in this way, don’t dump salt on her wound by talking excessively about your pregnancy. Focus your conversations around non-baby-related subjects you both enjoy, and extend her the courtesy of an invitation to your shower, as well as the grace to bow out of it. And, for the love of Mark Zuckerberg, don’t post your announcement on social media until you’ve shared it with your loved one privately ahead of time.
Listen up, OB/GYNs: As hard as your job is, reaching up uteruses all day long, consider how degrading and defeating it is for a woman who can’t get pregnant to visit your office. She first must wait interminably long in a room surrounded by ballooning bellies, submit to the stirrups for various uncomfortable exams, and talk about her sex life plus other embarrassing topics with a physician who might not even know how to help. Please treat your patients with respect. Don’t downplay the problem – acting as though her irregular periods or ovarian cysts are run-of-the-mill female troubles rather than sources of extreme anguish. And, for Hippocrates’s sake, switch out the clocks in your rooms to ones that don’t tick so damn loud.
Listen up, fertility specialists: Don’t take this personally, but no one wants to see you. Couples who are facing the crushing disappointment of not being able to conceive naturally must reach a level of desperation to seek your help. Don’t make this humiliation worse by either speaking in a condescending tone or behaving in a dismissive manner. One in eight couples are humans – not just a number that could boost or tank your success rates. Show some compassion as you communicate, and treat your patients’ minds and spirits as well as their bodies by supplying resources and contact info for local support groups, psychiatrists, and counselors.
Listen up, alternative therapy providers: You guys are weird. You should probably own up to that. While couples who pursue your line of treatment would do almost anything to have a baby, they don’t need you pushing various get-fertile-fast items that would further bust their budgets or making unfounded promises that could further dash their dreams. Be honest about the strengths and limitations of your services, and don’t look shocked if a client asks you to turn off your hippie background music.
Listen up, adoption caseworkers: While you get the joy of helping bring parents and children together through the beautiful and redemptive process of adoption, you also have the task of drawing out the pain that might have motivated both the adoptive and birthparent(s) to seek this option. Please do NOT tell your prospective parents they must “get over” the disappointment of infertility before they can adopt – as if that grief is different than any other loss that takes time to process and perhaps continues to hurt even after resolution has been reached. You must know that all the adoption paperwork is exhausting, and the undertaking of preparing for a home study feels like a Fixer Upper reno, minus the assistance from Chip and Joanna. So handle your clients with care, and give them continuous status reports as they wait on pins and needles for the call that will change their lives.
Listen up, pastors: If you’ve already preached on the topic of barrenness in the Bible, well done! (There are at least six women in Scripture who struggled getting pregnant – including three of the founding mothers of Israel – so the odds are in your favor here.) You play a critical role in comforting those who have to muster the courage every Sunday to gather in a place dominated by families with children. Lift up the “least of these” in your congregation by researching good books and blogs that you could recommend, and support the efforts of those who facilitate infertility support groups in your community. On Mother’s Day, consider marking the occasion in less ostentatious ways than doing standing ovations or flower presentations, and/or mention the need to appreciate ALL the important women in our lives. And lastly, I beseech you, quit cracking procreation jokes from the pulpit. Not everyone in your church is “good at making babies,” and saying so will ostracize those who might already feel like church is a place where they don’t belong.
In whatever context you encounter those who are facing infertility, the way you handle your interactions can either uplift them or drag them down. We can make the world more compassionate through the simple gesture of listening to those who are hurting.
And all God’s people who are tired of hearing “just relax and you’ll get pregnant” said: “Amen.”
It is a universally accepted fact that one of the primary jobs of a parent is to nag your kids ad nauseam about saying “please” and “thank you.” They demand a cookie; you reply sing-songingly “What’s the magic word?” They beg to open birthday gifts; you interject a rhythmic “Well, what do you say?” after each is torn into and tossed aside.
Given my constant chorus of sometimes gentle, more times exasperated reminders, it irks me that my boys still forget to utter these common courtesies on a daily basis. Why is it they can’t recall these simple phrases they learned and even signed with their cute, pudgy hands as infants?
The lack of thanks especially bothers me. How have they grown into such gimme gremlins who expect milk to be served on tap and my phone to be accessed anytime for whatever random, nonsensical questions they want to ask Siri? It’s not like we’ve raised them in a day spa equipped with silver spoons and bunk bedside service.
Amidst this aggravation, it hit me that my incredulity at my sons’ ingratitude should be tempered by the knowledge that a) they’re 6- and 4-years-old; b) all kids can act ill-mannered at times and are by nature whiners; c) I do my best to provide a wealth of love and meet their basic needs, so of course they’ve become accustomed to abundant care and can occasionally take it for granted; and, most strikingly, d) I’m much worse at giving thanks than they are.
This conviction recently latched onto me and pierced my heart down to its most prideful parts. A single, frank comment posed in response to a sarcastic statement I made on social media cut my tongue right through to the cheek: “You should count your blessings.”
Oof. That stings, and spins so many self-incriminating wheels turning: Am I truly ungrateful? Have I fallen into complacent indifference to this bountiful life God has given me? Do I frequently fail to praise Him for the grace upon grace He provides every day? Has my preoccupation with perceived shortfalls eclipsed my appreciation for tangible windfalls – my husband, my children, my friends, my home?
In deed and in word, I can be ungrateful at times, and far too often, my numerous blessings go uncounted. Even though my heart recognizes the need for and importance of giving thanks, my mind habitually forgets to express it, to my own detriment.
In her latest book, “The Broken Way,” Ann Voskamp conveys the risk we take maintaining this gaping mental lapse: “Whenever I forget, fear walks in … Forget to give thanks – and you forget who God is. Forget to break and give – and it’s your soul that gets broken.”
When we forget to thank God, we lose our grip on the reality of our relationship – the essence of our lives’ dependence on Him – a kind of fatal spiritual amnesia.
How could we be so dense as to blank out on these truths? Perhaps we can blame our biology.
Thankfulness should theoretically be stored in long-term memory, which is permanent but requires conscious thought and is subject to weakening over time. Forgetting from long-term memory can be explained through retrieval failure – as one professor of psychiatry and aging described in an article on tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon (i.e., brain farts): “… if you don’t retrieve a memory often, it may be harder to remember. You know you have it somewhere, but you just haven’t used the information for a while. It gets a little a bit dusty.”
Lord knows how dusty-headed and absentminded His people can be, which could be why He repeats the concept of thanks more than 200 times throughout Scripture (according to KJV Hebrew and Greek concordances). In the Old Testament, “thank” appears most frequently as yahdah, which literally means to use the hand; to throw – think: hands extended in praise and confession. In the New Testament, it often shows up as eucharisteo, from the roots eu = good/well + charis = grace, as in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
In whatever we do, we must do whatever it takes to remember to thank God, to thank others, to live with hands outspread in thanksgiving for our redemption. Our Father has faithfully provided reminders throughout His Word to cue gratitude: through the aromas and rituals of thank offerings and Passover, through songs and hymns of praise, through the breaking of bread and pouring of wine in remembrance of the Cross.
As Voskamp intones, like a doxology, “the eucharisteo, then koinonia”: “Everything He embodied in the Last Supper – it is what would heal the body’s brokenness. Brokenness can be healed in re-membering. Remembering our union, our communion, our koinonia, with Christ.”
This is Truth worth committing to memory. It is a commitment, and because we’re human, requires reminders – whether that’s a note on the mirror, a notification on a phone, a song, a smell, a memento or alert of some kind – whatever signal or process that can help jog our memories of our undeserved grace and trigger the flow of our praise.
I’m still figuring out the best way to do this. Maybe I’ll recruit my boys to aid me in this effort and repay me for all the nagging I do to them. I can hear them now, chanting wholeheartedly: “Mom-my, you forgot to say thank-you.”
Nice reminder, kids. Irritating, but necessary, and vital for living life to the fullest.