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Book Jacket

0446576867
Hardcover
256 pages
Feb 2005
Warner Faith

Accept No Medicore Life: Living Beyond Labels, Libels, and Limitations

by David Foster

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

1


I Will Embrace My Uniqueness


It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.
-E. E. Cummings


What we have to be is what we are.
-Thomas Merton


The first time I was told to be ashamed of myself was at home.The first time I actually felt ashamed of myself was at church on Senior Day. This rite of passage awaited every high school senior in my childhood church. We seniors lined up behind the ornate white pulpit and, one by one, shuffled to the microphone to announce the universities to which we would be matriculating in the fall. Just as cruel fate would have it, the kid just before me announced he was going to Harvard on a full ride, no less. Then I stepped to the microphone with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to be there. It was silly. It was no one's business but my own what I was going to do with my life. I wanted to run, but since I couldn't, I did the next best thing; I lied. I thought about announcing I was going to Harvard, but my teachers in the audience knew my grades. In the heat of the moment I stepped to the microphone and blurted out, "While they're all going to school, I'm going to work!" Ha, ha, not really?

No one laughed, seemed shocked, or disappointed. The reaction was nil. I guess it sounded like the right thing for an average kid from an average family to do. I was the only one surprised or wounded by my words. Everything within me wanted someone to stand up in protest. I wanted my coach, one of my teachers,my parents,my pastor, or anyone to stand up and say,"You're a smart kid, David. You're destined for great things!" I shuffled off the stage in a hurry to get anywhere but there. I ran down the hallway, wanting more than anything to hear the sound of someone running after me. I needed someone to tell me I was important, I was special, and I could do anything I set my mind to do. But no one came, no one called, and no one seemed to notice or care. It wasn't just okay for me to be ordinary; it was expected. It was okay with my parents and my school, and now I had the misguided opinion it was even okay with God. But it wasn't okay with me. I already hated my life and dreaded my future. I decided from that day on, I would show the world just how common and ordinary my behavior could be.

I didn't know why or how, but as I lit up a Marlboro in my souped-up, flaming orange '66 Chevy Impala Super Sport that morning, I vowed to break loose from the labels and limitations that were suffocating me even before I had the chance to succeed, or fail for that matter. I set out on a quest that day to find someone to believe in me.There had to be someone in this world who could see beyond my rough, tough-guy exterior and discover something of greatness, but where was this person, and how could I find him? That day I rejected the mind-set that said,"Get a job, get a wife, get a mortgage, and then get burial insurance!"

By the time I was seventeen, I had accepted the idea that rules are more important than relationships, fitting in is more desirable than standing out, and you'll never amount to anything without trying to be like someone else. I had already learned not to like myself. I didn't know then that I'd tend to live according to other people's expectations of me. The Scriptures put it this way:"For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7 KJV).

Labels affix themselves to your heart and possess your thinking. I realize now this cycle of low expectation and lower desire is not limited to my town,my home, or even my church. It is epidemic because most people have accepted mediocre as the measuring stick of their lives.Why? We've been labeled, and those labels libel and limit us.We don't believe in ourselves because we're taught to look at our lives through the lens of labels.

Looking Through Labels

I'm an escapee from a small town located in a county in Kentucky called Barren. As a teenager, I felt barren. How bad is it when the pioneers who, after forging through forests and crossing the rivers, came upon a place so unimpressive they called it Barren? Can anything good come out of this? When Jesus was reared in Nazareth, the saying was,"Can anything, anyone of significance, come out of a little hick place like that?" At least I was in good company.

I grew up in the typical county seat town. Life revolved around ritual and routine. Monday through Friday centered on school, sports, and after-school jobs. Saturday was for sleeping late and watching afternoon movies, and Sunday was for going to church. Every Sunday I asked my mother,"Why do we have to go to church today?"And every Sunday morning she said,"You're going so you'll grow up to be a good person." I went to church, and I saw people who I knew weren't very good. I knew some of the stuff they were into during the week. When I heard, "Be good," I translated that to mean,"Be nice; be neuter." Don't make noise.Don't do anything that might be construed as bold or controversial.

A young boy longs for adventure, so the admonition to be good isn't appealing. I wanted to be dangerous. I wanted to be interesting and mysterious. I wanted to be Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and Superman all rolled up into one. Young boys run around the house in their red underwear, with a towel around their necks, wanting to be Superman. And young girls play dress up, not dress down.

A young businessman asked Jesus one day, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" Jesus replied,"Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments" (Matt. 19:16-17 NIV). Whether the young man was taken off guard or just plain arrogant, he assured Jesus that he had obeyed all of the commandments his entire life. When I heard this story as a kid, I knew I had already blown it big time. I wasn't good, and I didn't know anyone who was. So, if the God thing depended on good behavior, I was out before I ever got in.

My Sunday school teacher assured me that God loved me, but he warned me that His love was conditional upon my being good.The pastor cemented this teaching from the pulpit. My parents reinforced the virtue of goodness for goodness' sake during the week. I suppose it seemed to be a good way to motivate a mischievous boy to behave, but the result is, church kids grow up plagued with shame, guilt, remorse, and self-loathing because they've been raised believing in a God who is in a foul mood looking for someone to rain down judgment upon.

With our lips we proclaim God loves us, but our lives betray our confession.We live as though God's love for us is in some vague, abstract religious theory trapped in the words of an arcane hymnal. Yet God has demonstrated His great love for us in the story of the gospel. This is a love not of feelings but of action. It is a scandalous love in which our God sent His Son to die for people who couldn't be good without His love. British author G. K. Chesterton called the Christian life a "furious love affair." It took me a while to rip off the self-righteous label and embrace the transforming truth that God loves me in the morning sun and in the evening rain, without caution, regret, boundary, or breaking point. No matter what may come, He can't stop loving me. This is our hope and passion that we don't have to be good to be worthy of His grace, just open to embracing it.

Every six weeks my school sent a little card home to my parents to remind them of how average I was.They, in turn, displayed their displeasure by threatening me with all kinds of dreadful punishment. Mostly they explained that if I didn't work hard in school, it would be placed on my permanent record and follow me for the rest of my life. I wondered whether there was a government agency that followed you around wherever you went, recording everything you did onto your supersecret, superbad permanent record. That was also how I grew up thinking of God. He had angels keeping every sin listed on your permanent record in heaven.

Sometimes my parents would tag-team in their effort to scare me onto the honor roll.They demanded A's and B's out loud, but I knew in their hearts they hoped for C's. The pressure to please was so strong that if I got C's and D's, I changed the D to a C before the grade card got home. My parents' excitement bordered on the hysteria of hitting the lottery.They were relieved their son was at least average. They were elated, but I was humiliated. Changing the grade on the card couldn't erase the disappointment I felt deep within. I knew I could do better, but motivation is hard to find when you're beige and bad. I wanted to do better, but I've never responded well to threats, name-calling, and humiliation. I've discovered nobody else does either.

I don't know if you've ever felt beige, bad, or boring. For me it's the feeling I don't fit in and I'm never going to be good at anything. What brand of life can an average, good-for-nothing, beige person expect? Who ever wooed and won a wife by saying, "Hey, baby, I'm a mediocre man, I've been looking for a mediocre woman, and you're the most mediocre woman I've seen so far. How about you and me get together? We'll have a mediocre marriage and a mediocre life.We'll live in a mediocre house and raise mediocre kids.We'll send 'em to mediocre schools so they, too, can be mediocre"? Not on your life! No one says that! But a lot of us feel trapped by it because of the old labels and lenses we were handed as kids.

Labels make you feel afraid of almost everything. If you feel weak, you're afraid of the strong. Those labeled average are often afraid and intimidated by the gifted and exceptional. That fear shrinks the soul and slumps the body. Shrinking is the way to be safe. If you get small enough, people won't be able to notice you even exist, and they'll stop comparing, critiquing, and criticizing you. The number one value in a post-9/11 world is, it seems to me, safety.People we don't know in places we can't pronounce are plotting to kill us.We're terrified of terrorists, yet there are already enough nuclear weapons in the hands of lunatics to destroy the world fifteen times over.There is no such thing as a fail-safe world or a small enough place to hide.You can't escape urban problems by fleeing to the suburbs, you can't drown domestic difficulty at the bottom of a bottle, and you can't defeat your inner demons by isolating yourself from God or the rest of the world.

Labels make us afraid because they not only obscure the truth about us, but also obscure the truth about God. The truth is, although there are lots of lunatics out there, there's a sovereign, good, and powerful God in control of the affairs of human beings. He will never let us destroy ourselves. As Stonewall Jackson was noted for saying,"I am as safe on the battlefield as I am in my own bed." But even if you could hide in a deep bunker underground, you would have succeeded only in digging your own grave if the world blows up.

God created you to live large with your face toward the sun. He gave you two legs and a backbone so you could stand erect and tall. Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University said, "It's hard to remember Jesus did not come to make us safe, but rather to make us disciples, citizens of God's new age, a kingdom of surprise."1 God is aware of the dangers, and He is at the controls. He is big, bold, bodacious, and hot on your trail. Not to fry you, stamp you, or label you, but to love you, lift you, and liberate you.

My mother's favorite tactical complaint of me was, "Why can't you be more like your brother?" It seemed clear to me because I was not him! I got the feeling very early from home, school, and church, I was not enough now, and it was very likely I was never going to be enough in the future. And the cure for my unlucky lack of native talent and good looks was to do more, to achieve more, and to get more, so I would be more. I call it the tyranny of more. Someone asked Howard Hughes, the eccentric billionaire of a past generation,"How much is enough?" He said, "Just a little more!" This idea can be found even in Greek mythology. Sisyphus, the son of Aeolus, was founder of Corinth. He betrayed the secrets of the gods and was condemned to roll, for eternity, a huge boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom again just as it reached the top. The gods could think of no more dreadful punishment than that of futile and hopeless labor.

Hopeless is not an option because of two facts only you can face.You are today what your choices have made you. Not your mama, not your daddy, not your brother.You did not choose your labels, but only you can choose to remove the old lenses and look at your life from God's perspective.You are not responsible for all the "stuff " done to you.You shouldn't feel ashamed of what some halfhearted, small-minded person in your past said or did. But only you control what happens to what happened to you. The second bit of good news is, you can be better the moment you decide to be. The first declaration to make is, "I am loved right now as I am, and that is enough." That's freedom. God knows everything about you and loves you anyway. He will never love you more than He does right now, and He will never love you any less. That's grace.

Learning how to live in God's love, I think, is spending the rest of your life just saying,"God, how can I be the best at being me?" Instead of trying to be someone else, be the best you can be, but be that! Be yourself! Stop being ashamed of being who you are. Embracing your uniqueness starts with exchanging the lens of labels for the lens of love.

Looking Through Love

In Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, there is a scene in which a family is asleep in a cottage in the forest at dawn. The chimney smoke is having a conversation with the morning mist rising from the glade: "Do you think these people really know who they are?" And the smoke answers, "They wouldn't believe us if we told them."We have difficulty wrapping our minds around some things. The cross of Christ is one of these things. But it is God's loving and ultimate statement of His idea of your worth.

An intriguing insight to Christ's attitude toward the Cross is revealed in these words:"He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards"( Heb. 12:2 TLB). Max Lucado said it this way:"You aren't an accident.You weren't mass-produced.You aren't an assemblyline product. You were deliberately planned, specifically gifted, and lovingly positioned on this earth by the Master Craftsman."2 If that is true, then what do we see when we look through a lens of God's love?

Jesus told stories to help us grasp God's opinion of us. While teaching a large crowd, He said,"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field" (Matt. 13:44 NIV). Banks didn't exist in the first century. People buried their most valuable articles in the ground.To protect those valuables, the law stipulated that if you found a treasure scattered in a field, you could gather it up and keep it. If you dug up a container or chest with valuables in it, then it belonged to the land. In this story a man finds a treasure so great, he liquidates everything he has in order to buy the field.

He's interested not in the field, but in what's in the field. He wants the treasure, and he's willing to pay for it. Jesus held up this story as a lens through which we see a clearer picture of God's love for us. It is a sacrificial love. God loves you enough that He was willing to pay an awful price for the privilege. This is a far cry from the picture painted by those highlighting your lack of perfection. You are a treasure to be sought and bought.To God, your Creator and Savior, you are worth whatever He had to pay to love you. This is a far cry from what I heard in Sunday school or church.

Jesus continued the story by saying, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46 NIV). Here God is the jewel merchant.

I've often wondered why Jesus used pearls in this story. Is there something in the nature of a pearl that parallels our nature? A pearl begins as a single grain of sand, which makes its way into an oyster shell. Once there, it penetrates the membrane, causing irritation.

The oyster secretes a milky white substance, which coats the grain of sand. Over time, this process is repeated until a pearl is produced. Even then, a diver has to go down and retrieve the oyster, open it up, and through trial and error, search until he finds the pearl.A pearl is hard to make and hard to find. Given the fact we tend to hide from God, I can see the parallels in the pearl story and my own.God seeks me and finds me.And when He finds me, I'm the winner.

This understanding was a real breakthrough as well as hangup for me.Nobody pursued me. Nobody thought me worthy of praise.Yet here is God seeking me, paying a price to love me. This was and remains the greatest thought I've ever had. When Karl Barth, the famous German theologian, was asked what was the greatest theological concept he'd ever entertained, he said, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Jesus' third story was a fisherman's tale:"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away" (Matt. 13:47-48 NIV). This story reminds me of a summer spent on my uncle Henry's farm. It was the summer I learned how to chop tobacco, drive a tractor, and use a fishing net. Early one evening, with the daily chores behind us, Uncle Henry, several hired hands, and I gathered at the big pond.We stretched a wide net with wooden poles across the surface of the water. As the net was dragged across the bottom, it became heavy. All six of us worked to drag the net over to the bank. I saw all kinds of little creatures hopping and flopping around in the net. There were small snakes, turtles, and slithery reptilian creatures I had never seen before. My uncle knew the ones to be kept from the ones to be thrown back.When Jesus said the fishermen collected the good and threw away the bad, I can still remember putting on gloves and trying to grab hold of the fish in the net.

God views us as a catch to be caught and kept. In these three stories, Jesus reveals God's new way of looking at us. It is the lens of love. Through this lens, each of us is a treasure, a prize, and a catch. This lens is a far cry from the labels that others stick on us. This information is new to some.Others of you know God loves you unconditionally, but you've allowed time and circumstance to cover the truth with a coat of beige indifference.

Former boxing writer Harold Conrad visited a women's prison with heavyweight fighter Muhammad Ali."All the inmates lined up," wrote Conrad."They were ooh-ing and aah-ing as Ali went along. There were some good-looking ones. But he kissed only the ugly ones." After they left the prison, Conrad asked the fighter to explain why he chose to kiss only those women."Because no one ever kisses the ugly girls," he replied.3 What a graphic illustration of what Christ has done for us! He came to kiss the ugly and the unloved. Straight-A students get compliments, good athletes receive cheers, but average people don't attract much attention.They just tend to blend in with the woodwork. Everybody craves affirmation and affection.You were created in God's image to receive love and to give it away. Performance aside, people need to be noticed.They need pats on the back, smiles, and hugs. It's how we tell one another, "Hey, you're not alone!" It's how God uses other people to help us realize it's okay to be who we are without apology or compromise.

Remember Not to Forget

Recently my daughter Lindsey called to activate her new credit card.The operator told her she wasn't the person identified by the social security number she gave. Lindsey insisted she was indeed who she said she was. The credit card operator insisted, with an air of superiority, "I assure you, miss, you are not Lindsey Foster. Our records are impeccable."

Lindsey was shaken by being told that she was not who she thought she was. I suggested she call the social security office.The social security operator asked her a series of questions and then asked for her social security number.After a long pause, she came back on the line and said,"After checking our records, I am glad to say you are who you thought you were." What a relief ! I could've been putting the wrong person through college!

A few days later I related the story to a friend, who said, "I have one that can top that.We had some friends over for dinner. The father introduced his seventeen-year-old son by saying, 'His real name is John, but I call him Harley because he came along while I was trying to save up for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and so I had to put all my money into him. I've called him Harley ever since.' My friend said, 'I bet you've been hearing that story all your life, huh?' " The boy just nodded. How sad when parents label their children as objects rather than the good, gifted, and loved people they are.

E. E. Cummings wisely said,"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best to make you everybody else- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting." If you allow other people to tell you who you are, two things happen. On the one hand, people will underestimate your worth and value; on the other, they will overestimate what you can actually do. Neither is healthy. Therefore, neither is acceptable.

Lily Tomlin commented, "I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific." I agree, but when you're told for so long, by so many, that trying to be someone is sinful pride, you begin to believe it. David asked,

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. (Ps. 8:3-5 NIV)

I was raised in a church whose fatal sin was pride and whose favorite solution was shame.Every Sunday my pride was attacked, but I didn't feel prideful at all. I was trying to figure out if I had anything in me to be proud of. In contrast to what I heard growing up, experience has taught me that most people feel not too good about themselves, but too bad. I've worked with people for more than thirty years, and the vast majority feel absolutely rotten about themselves, no matter how good they try to be or how much they try to do.We work ourselves to death trying to be the good little boy or good little girl so we can gain approval. From childhood to adulthood we are taught to feel bad about who we are. But when you're sick and tired of being yourself, you are in deep trouble because that's all you can ever be. Remember, the opposite of pride is shame, not humility.

The simple instruction of Scripture is to "be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you" (Rom. 12:3 TLB). If it is wrong to overestimate yourself, isn't it at least equally wrong to underestimate yourself ? Because we haven't learned to balance pride and humility, the paradox of our time in history is that we can buy more, but enjoy it less.We have more conveniences, but less time; more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more medicine, but less wellness. We have multiplied our possessions without adding to our worth.We're obsessed with making a living, but not a life. Medical breakthroughs have added years to life, but not life to those years.We've done bigger things, but not better things.We eat fast food; we suffer slow digestion and shallow relationships. In our quest to get "the good life"we have two incomes, but more debt; fancier houses, but broken homes.We take quick trips, use disposable diapers, possess a throwaway morality, have overweight bodies, and buy pills that do everything from cheer to quiet to kill. All in a futile quest to get what we already have-love.

John, the disciple loved by Jesus, said,"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1 NIV).

If I'm not who you think I am, either good or bad, and I'm too often not who I think I am, either good or bad, then who am I? I'm who God says I am. Paul proclaimed, "I'm just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I've found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am" (Phil. 4:11-12 THE MESSAGE). Jesus Christ is God's statement of your worth.You are worth His love, His death, His sacrifice! Listen to the description:

It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my informed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. (Ps. 139:13-16 NRSV)


I read a story about Michelangelo chipping away with his chisel at a huge, shapeless piece of rock. The sculptor was asked what he was doing. "I am releasing the angel imprisoned in this marble," he answered. Jesus is the One who seeks to release the hidden hero in you. Saint Augustine said,"People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars-and they pass by themselves without wondering."

I sign every e-mail I send to my three daughters the same way. At the bottom of the e-mail I type "I-L-B-Y-D!!"The letters stand for "I love being your dad." It's like a secret code between us, a constant reminder of our relationship. God wants you to understand,"I-L-B-Y-D!! I love being your Dad!!" Each dime or dollar I've spent on my kids has been a privilege. As a matter of fact,my kids have never asked me, have never come close to asking me, for as much as I'm willing to give them. How much do you have when you consider this declaration, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32 NIV)? Think about how different Christianity would be if Jesus chose His twelve disciples using the lens of a consulting firm. Here is how the advice to Him might read:

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph Woodcrafter's Carpenter Shop, Nazareth From: Jordan Management Consultants, Jerusalem RE: Staff Team Evaluation

Thank You for submitting the resumes of the twelve men You've picked for management positions in Your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests, and we have not only run the results through our computer, we have also arranged and conducted personal interviews for each of them, with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultants.

It is the staff's opinion that most of Your nominees lack the background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise You're undertaking. For example: Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.Andrew has no qualities of leadership whatsoever. The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questionable attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel it our duty to tell You that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered high on the manic depressive scale.

However, one of Your candidates shows great potential. He's a man of great ability and resourcefulness. He meets people well. He has a keen sense of business, has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend that Judas Iscariot be the comptroller and right-hand man of your new organization.

God can do extraordinary things through you. If you're willing to be the one and only unique you, that is all that God requires. The Bible gives this assurance:"God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished" (Phil. 1:6 TLB). Never forget these three important truths. First, you are today what you have decided to become. Second, you can be more than you are right now. Third, you will never be happy until you engage in the effort to excel at being the best you that you can be as an act of worship to God. Don't be afraid to express yourself.

Express Yourself

Remember, you are a unique person created as an expression of the Father's love, and you have the assurance that "God's gifts and his call can never be withdrawn; he will never go back on his promises" (Rom. 11:29 TLB).You are created in His image to express the nobility of His love and goodness.You can only be the best at being you; therefore, embrace your uniqueness every day without apology.You have incredible worth for just having been born.You have worth before you think a thought, lift a finger, or earn a dime. Because of God's love, you have everything to be thankful for, but nothing to be proud of that hasn't come from Him. Robert H. Schuller cleverly noted,"Anyone can count the number of seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed." Use this image as a memory device when you're tempted to doubt your worth to God.

Brennan Manning illustrates the reach of God's love with this simple story:

Four years ago in a large city in the far West, rumors spread that a certain Catholic woman was having visions of Jesus. The reports reached the archbishop. He decided to check her out. There is always a fine line between the authentic mystic and the lunatic fringe. "Is it true ma'am, that you have visions of Jesus?" asked the cleric."Yes," the woman replied simply."Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession." The woman was stunned. "Did I hear you right, bishop? You actually want me to ask Jesus to tell me the sins of your past?" "Exactly. Please call me if anything happens." Ten days later the woman notified her spiritual leader of a recent apparition."Please come," she said.Within the hour the archbishop arrived. He trusted eye-to-eye contact."You just told me on the phone that you actually had a vision of Jesus. Did you do what I asked?""Yes, bishop, I asked Jesus to tell me the sins you confessed in your last confession." The bishop leaned forward with anticipation. His eyes narrowed. "What did Jesus say?" She took his hand and gazed deep into his eyes. "Bishop," she said,"these are his exact words:'I can't remember.'"

Instead of holding your past sins and failures over your head, God will turn your past into a beautiful story of grace and redemption worth sharing with the world. One of the real dangers when you talk about God to other people is to sound as if you are trafficking in truths you've not experienced. It's like talking about a picture of Mona Lisa you've seen in an art book as opposed to sharing what it's like to stand in front of the actual painting in the Louvre. It is one thing to say God is faithful; it is entirely a different thing to join David in shouting,"I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread" (Ps. 37:25 NIV).

You're not one in a million; you're more like one in several billion. Embrace your uniqueness and don't apologize for it.You have unique experiences, insights, strengths, and passions. Pursue them! Cultivate what motivates your mind and makes you come alive. Pursue a noble cause. You are created an original, so you need never live a carbon copy of anyone else. Forget about who others think you are and become who you really are.

While living in East Tennessee, I heard the story of a young boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because everywhere he went people asked,"Who's your daddy?" Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drugstore, people asked the same question. He started hiding at recess and lunchtime from other kids. He avoided people because the question caused shame.

When he was about twelve years old, a new preacher came to his church. He always went in late and slipped out early to avoid hearing the question,"Who's your daddy?" But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing his past, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, "Son, who's your daddy?" The whole church got deathly quiet. The boy could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question,"Who's your daddy?"

The preacher sensed the situation of the scared little boy. "Wait a minute!" he said. "I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now.You are a child of God."He patted the boy on his shoulder and said,"Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it."With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him,"Who's your daddy?" he'd just reply, "I'm a child of God." The little boy in this story turned out to be Ben W. Hooper, who grew up to be the Republican governor of Tennessee from 1911 to 1915.Never forget you are loved, like you are, as you are.You don't have to be good to be loved, but because you are loved by God, you have the potential for greatness if you will embrace your uniqueness and express yourself.

Be yourself; never be ashamed of who you are, what you look like, how you're put together, how tall you are, how short you are, or how pudgy you are. You could take some Oreos out of your diet, but forget trying to look like those anorexic, sad-sack,Adobe Photoshop-altered people on the front of magazines who glorify image over substance, glamour over grace. Reject those facades, trust God's opinion of you, and then trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of your life by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into the flames of achievement. Heed the words of Thomas Kempis, who said,"First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others."


Copyright 2005 by David Foster