Defining Me: Identity

What if you were asked to write a bio of yourself using 25 words or less—not for any specific context, but simply with a goal to describe yourself? Could you do it?

Then, what if later that same week, you were asked to capture the word “identity” in a photo—could you do that?

Those were the challenges I faced this week through my small group at church, for which we are using the book Courageous Creative by Jenny Randle (Challenges 21, 22, and 25). And that’s what they were: challenges.

First came the bio. Let me cheat and describe myself, particularly my training as a writer, in more than 25 words: I have degrees in technical writing, in the teaching of writing, and in rhetoric and professional communication. For my research at the Master’s and PhD levels, I focused on writing for audiences. Thus, having some idea about who I’m writing for when I write is pretty important to me, even when it’s not something that falls within the “professional” realm. And there I was facing a generic challenge to describe myself—my “awesome self” to be exact (p. 109).

Ahem, Jenny, not enough info. For whom? Why? For what platform/medium? (These are the first questions of writing! Audience, purpose, context! Especially for a technical writer trained in rhetoric like myself.)

I thought of the people in my small group. Seemed not to fit the bill. Too small. But something like a Facebook or Instagram bio didn’t seem to fit either. I was lost. Since the book we’re using is a Christian devotional, that did provide some direction: What do I think of myself, particularly in relation to God?

The day I read the challenge, all of the above thoughts came to mind, I panicked a bit, and then I put it away. Not today.

The next day, I tried to narrow down the type of info I’d put in this bio. Naturally, I wrote two-and-a-half pages of notes that didn’t come near to covering who I am.

The third day, I came to a draft. By now I had read the devotional and challenge for day 22—to revise the bio—so I knew I could draft it (something I have trouble doing, anyway, being the not-perfect perfectionist that I am). So I drafted it:

I’m a child of God,
imperfect but redeemed,
a sinner but forgiven.
I want to shine like a star in the universe
and glorify HIM.

I liked it, but again, draft. And it seemed like there was so much more that I was missing, even though I managed to put my life verses into it.

The next day, I completely revised it—not yet getting anyone’s input, as the challenge suggested, since I figured I could get input from my small group on Thursday.

child of God
being sanctified
shining like a star
holding out the Word of Life
for the GLORY of GOD

Ehh. I packed a lot more in there, but honestly, who would know it’s supposed to be a bio without any context?

Still struggling with these (and not satisfied), I put off the challenge I came across for Day 25. Jenny cleverly put these close together, not necessarily saying they were related, but still. Days 21 and 22 were write and revise a bio, and then day 25 was to capture the word “identity” in a photo using the negative space around the focus of the photo as something of interest.

Identity. In a photo. I had no clue what to do.

Honestly, I considered pulling out my dictionary (okay, pulling it up on my phone) and looking up the word. But I knew that wasn’t the point, because Jenny had asked her readers to pray about it and encouraged/reminded us that we have a God-given identity, and shouldn’t focus on/believe the lies we tell ourselves (or that are told to us) instead.

But how was I to capture that in a photo? Ideas flitted through my mind, some that I don’t have the resources, skill, or technical know-how to pull off. None of them felt quite right anyway. But today it was rainy and I was given unexpected time to be alone with God and my camera, and I think I did capture it—at least, my rendering of identity.

A cross on a necklace in foreground, chair and bookshelves in background

My savior, Jesus, represented by the empty cross, and in the background is the place in which I meet with him every day. This is my identity—he is my identity. I can’t separate myself from him. And I hope people see him when they look at me, and are drawn to what they see.

I will be the first to admit that when people have seen me in the past they haven’t always seen Jesus. Or, perhaps, they’ve seen me in some of (or only) my worst moments—there have been plenty—and think they’ve seen him and are repulsed by what they’ve seen. I know someone who has rejected even the existence of God because of the example his Christian parents provided as he was growing up. But that’s exactly why I need a savior: I’m a sinner in need of redemption, of someone who can restore my relationship with God and sanctify me (and thank God he is doing that day by day by day and won’t stop until he’s done).

And if I’ve been that bad example for you—shown you the need for a savior rather than the savior himself—I ask that you forgive me. And that you would look beyond me to him.

But I digress. Back to my story. When I took this photo and captured what, to me, encapsulates identity—my identity—it suddenly dawned on me why I couldn’t write that bio. It was because the bio has already been written for me. It’s more than 25 words, but Jenny must have miscounted when she made that request in her book.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

I’m thanking God for giving me an identity in him tonight.

The Hope of Renewal

Warm sunshine beckoned to me today, after what seems like weeks and weeks of chilly, rainy weather. I picked up my camera—a DSLR Canon Rebel T5 that I need to teach my amateur photographer self more about using—and enjoyed a short hike along a river’s edge.

moss on a tree trunk

river seen through a hole in a log

forested riverbanks

When I hike, I like to look around me, try to really see what I’m passing by. I always marvel at what God has made, at what beauty this creation has—and what we see is creation in bondage. God’s word tells us that

creation was subjected to frustration … in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:20-22, NIV).

Can you imagine what creation will look like when it is free from the bondage of sin?

bud on a tree

blossoms on a treemossy tree trunk in front of a river

As I looked at the trees today—especially those that towered above the rest and reached high into the sky—two fanciful thoughts came to me. (I’m not normally prone to fanciful thoughts, so indulge me for a moment.) First, the leaves at the top branches looked like feathers from where I was, feathers caressing the sky. Second—and my favorite thought—I wondered if, perhaps, trees grow tall into the sky hoping to reach back into heaven, to grow a bit closer to their creator. There is nothing biblical about that thought, but the great thing is that our creator has also given us imaginations. I don’t think he minds when we imagine trees reaching out to their creator when he himself told us that if we don’t praise him, the rocks will do it (Luke 19:40).

graffiti on a sanitation cover in a foresta bruised reed he will not breakdandelion puff-ball

The beauty of God’s creation, even in its state of decay and bondage, is that it can still testify to us about him, about who our creator is (Romans 1:20). I saw the reeds* depicted above and the following verse came to mind:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. (Isaiah 42:3-4, NIV)

The creator establishes beauty, cares for it tenderly, and will restore it in the end. All we need to do is look around us to see the evidence of this hope. I am so grateful for this world we live in, broken though it is.

*Forgive me if this isn’t a reed—I’m no botanist, but I do see beauty in even the broken things!

April, Au Naturel

One of my favorite things to do is to get out into God’s creation, go for a long walk or hike, and take my camera along. I was able to do that today for the first time this year and thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from today. I’m not a professional, but I thoroughly enjoy using my camera.

This first one is different from the rest, but I am just in love with it—a beaver’s dam. It was just picturesque.

It’s different from the photos I normally take because I don’t do many landscapes. For some reason—perhaps stemming from my love of antiques—I like to take pictures of old, broken down remnants of the past or close-up photos of nature (even dead nature), like in the series of photos below. (And if anyone knows what the item in this first photo was at one point, I’d love to know!)

I was also working on another challenge from Jenny Randle’s Courageous Creative (I mentioned it in yesterday’s blog, too), this time to take a photo representing 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Honestly, I didn’t find anything on this particular trail that just struck me as the this is it image I had to capture, but I did appreciate being able to think about what that would be—for me, perhaps a mushroom (growing out of the decay of something old—and because for some reason I am obsessed with taking pictures of them, although I know nothing about them and don’t eat them); a caterpillar’s cocoon or a butterfly; etc. The closest I got was this, a photo of the same plant with both an old, dead limb and new growth:

But I chose this one to put the verse on instead—an old tree limb with fresh moss, and in the unfocused background a vibrant, green plant: new growth:

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

I think both of these depict us—Christians, believers in and followers of Jesus—as we are in this world: the dead part is still there, still visible, still a very real part of our lives. But the new growth is also evident and it is the part of us that is alive, vibrant.

Hunting for just the right photo made me think of how we must die to ourselves to truly follow Christ (Matt. 16:24-25), and all around me was dead vegetation that was giving way to new life, or trees that were reawakening after the sleep of winter, the shedding of their old, dead leaves. In Christians, this is the sanctification process—and I am so grateful that God strips away what is old and dead and gives us this new life, makes (and is making) us more alive than ever before.