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How to Embrace Your True Self in a World of Fakers

How to Embrace Your True Self in a World of Fakers

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Do you have a nickname? Even if no one has used it in years, did you have a pet name of some kind when you were a child?

My grandfather called me “Stevie” until the day he died. (He’s the only one who could get away with it.) I was “Ralph” to my Aunt Missy, and “Butt-Butt” to my Uncle Tiger (his real name is David). “Stinky” is what my wife calls me most often. Those nicknames are a glimpse into the loving relationships I have with those closest to me: the names my inner circle use(d) to remind me they’re quite fond of me.

While I love nicknames, there are other names I’ve been called through the years that haven’t felt so good. I’ve been called, “sissy” and “fag,” “sinner” and “broken.” But those aren’t nearly as painful as the names I’ve called myself; things like “crazy” and “weak” and many that are much, much worse.

Embracing Your True Self

What about you? Have people labeled you and boxed you in, when all you’ve ever wanted to do is be free? What would it feel like to live the life you choose, rather than the life others think you should live? How long have you been performing for the approval of others? What would it feel like to take off the mask and stop pretending?

There are all sorts of labels people try to slap on us, and boxes we put ourselves in. But it’s who we are beneath the noise, chatter, and unrealistic expectations of other people that really counts.

Consider this wisdom from Thomas Merton:

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God—because Truth, Light—knows nothing about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy.My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love— outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.

Merton goes on to say...

We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face.But we cannot make these choices with impunity.Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it and that confusion reigns.
– abridged and adapted from New Seeds of Contemplation
How to Embrace Your True Self in a World of Fakers

The journey toward authenticity (or the “true self”) begins with self-awareness.

What is self-awareness? The dictionary defines self-awareness as “knowledge and awareness of your own personality or character.” When you’re self-aware, you have an accurate and clear understanding of your personality, strengths, weaknesses, and beliefs. You know what makes you tick. Self-awareness also includes an understanding of how others perceive you. Lacking self-awareness can lead to a very confusing and frustrating life!

Embracing self-awareness can empower you to be your true self.

Your level of self-awareness can influence your relationships, career, and happiness:

  • Self-awareness is necessary for taking control of your life. The direction of your life is determined by your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and reactions. Self-awareness is the principle way of understanding and influencing these things.
    • Self-awareness highlights faulty beliefs and emotional reactions that stand in your way and gives you the power to make adjustments.
  • Self-awareness illuminates the real reasons for past failures and challenges. We often dismiss our failures as bad luck or a lack of proper timing. But it’s also possible that we failed to perceive the situation, others, or ourselves accurately. It’s much easier to see the reason behind relationship, work, and other struggles when we can look at ourselves clearly.
    • Do you consistently struggle at work or in your relationships? What can you do better?
    • Those who lack self-awareness are puzzled by their negative outcomes or blame others exclusively.
  • Self-awareness is a critical quality for leaders. One study concluded that a high degree of self-awareness was the best predictor of success for executives.
    • Executives that have an understanding of their weaknesses are able to build a team composed of members that fill those weaknesses.
    • A lack of self-awareness puts a limit on your leadership abilities.
  • Self-awareness is the foundation for personal progress. Without it, any personal development efforts will be severely hampered.
    • Self-awareness is the cornerstone of success and self-improvement. Without self-awareness, the knowledge you possess can’t be applied effectively. It’s necessary to understand your beliefs, habits, strengths, and weaknesses to make a personal change. Avoid assuming that you’re self-aware. Give it some time and thought.

Building greater self-awareness won’t happen overnight, but it can be developed. You can start building your self-awareness, and reaping the benefits, starting today!

Download my Daily Authenticity Checklist:

Use these questions daily to ensure you are living an authentic life. Think of them as diagnostic questions to ensure you are embracing your true self every single day.

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Suicide and Children: What You Can Do

Children and Suicide: What You Can Do
“I have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” -James Baldwin

​My Little Girl Doesn’t Really Want to Hang Herself, Right?

A friend of mine was tidying up her little girl’s bedroom when she noticed tiny pieces of paper torn and lying in a pile near the top of the trash can. Because she’s a mom who gives a damn, Erin took the time to piece the shredded paper together.

After nearly ten minutes, Erin almost regretted her decision.

Erin’s daughter, who is only nine-years-old, had drawn a self-portrait of herself, hanging from the ceiling, her lifeless body in a noose.

Go back and read that last sentence again.

A nine-year-old little girl drew a picture of her lifeless body, hanging from a rope. Rather than playing with dolls or watching cartoons on the iPad, a precious little girl was daydreaming of dying by suicide.

Our job is not to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. Our job is to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” -L.R. Knost

I nearly died by suicide at the age of twenty-nine, but this little girl is in the fourth grade. A little white girl from suburban Middle America with access to just about anything a child with curly hair and dimpled cheeks could possibly want.

Just three weeks ago, her family returned home from a special birthday trip to Cinderella’s castle at Disney.

So, why did she draw it? Her mama asked the same question.

It turns out, this sweet little girl was being bullied at school.

Think it’s no big deal? I’ll raise you one higher: do you think it’s a big deal that my precious Caroline came home from school one day last year, upset because her pre-school classmates called her “chubby?” My daughter was only three.

“Children are mirrors, they reflect back to us all we say and do.” -Pam Leo

Our world is full of pain, that’s not a surprise to anyone reading this. What I’m learning, is that one of the most accurate ways to check the temperature of a nation is by looking at its children. I’m raising two of my own, and from the stories they bring home, it is more clear than ever that our world is full of fear and pain. The truth is, our children mirror the world around them.

If a child grows up in a world of loving kindness, where diversity is celebrated, and everyone is safe and welcome, they have a higher chance to repeat those healthy patterns. If a child grows up in a world filled with shaming behaviors, judgmental glances, and harsh criticism, they certainly have a greater chance at growing up to be a cold and calloused adult.

More often than not, our children become the people we shape them to be. Maybe that’s why Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.”

Call me harsh, but why would we be shocked that Erin’s daughter drew a picture of herself, feet dangling above the ground, neck in a noose? As sad as it is, it makes perfect sense when you realize our children are growing up in a world where they witness bullying at the highest levels of government.

My own daughter lives in a world that idolizes photoshopped, plastic celebrities who do not reflect the real beauty of natural women. My son is being raised in a culture where might makes right, and if someone doesn’t look, dress, or sound like you - they must be the enemy.

“History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.” -Nelson Mandela

Our children are being raised in a world where it is considered “normal” to have active shooter drills because the politicians their parents keep voting into office offer loads of lip service, but won’t vote to enact real gun control measures that count.

I’m not a politician or a parenting expert, but I am a pretty damn good dad. A dad who cares. A dad who has to brush his fear aside when he drops his son off at school some days.

Here’s what I know: the change is up to us.

The African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and it’s true. The responsibility lies in the hands of every man and woman who cares about the next generation. Healing our nation and shifting our dialogue begins at every dinner table from Birmingham to Bloomington.

Healing our children starts with the ways we interact with people around us, and in the words we use when we talk about ourselves. We cannot expect our children not to bully one another, or be surprised by their low self-esteem, when we slander our neighbors and hate ourselves.

The only way we will stop little girls from wanting to die after they get off the bus on Friday afternoons is by raising them in a world that empowers, encourages, and protects them. All of them.

If you want to live in a world where children don’t daydream of dying by suicide, join me in starting to create that reality today.

​FREE Book:

I was a pastor when I nearly died by suicide. For a limited time, you can download my Amazon bestselling book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, absolutely FREE. Just click here.


​*Originally published on The Writer's Guild.

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Love will Never Vote You Out

Love Wins
“It’s funny, isn’t it? That you can preach a judgmental and vengeful and angry God and nobody will mind. But you start preaching a God that is too accepting, too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind…and you are in trouble.” -Bishop Gene Robinson (Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)
Love Will Never Vote You Out (Even if the Methodist Church Does)

When You Believe You are Bad

Ryan wasn’t out when we were in Bible college together. I’m sure people had their suspicions, but he never told anyone he was gay until years after he was expelled. While they officially dismissed him for smoking, I’ve always wondered if it had more to do with their suspicions about his sexuality. So did Ryan.

That experience turned Ryan’s world upside-down. If our little Bible college didn’t want him, how could God possibly love him? My friend’s dream of working for a church was crushed. Over time, he internalized the rejection, until he believed he was intrinsically bad. I watched his life spiral out of control as he desperately tried to numb himself.

We have remained friends through the years, and I’ve been privileged to hear more of his story. Once, I asked Ryan why his life got so rough after Bible college. He said something I won’t ever forget: “When you believe you are bad, you don’t act good.”

Ryan was desperate to accept himself as a gay man, to believe that God could love him for who he is. He wanted to know there was room for him at God’s table, too, but toxic theology and leaders who voted him out told him otherwise.

Why Love Will Never Vote You Out

Of course, Ryan’s not the only one. I’ve had similar, heartbreaking conversations with several dear friends. Through their tears, each confessed that trying to “act straight” was like living in a prison of secrecy and fear. To this day, many are scared to death of being disowned by their families and shunned by their churches.

The fears aren’t unfounded. We’ve all heard horror stories about someone coming out and experiencing rejection, being shunned, and sometimes enduring outright violence, simply for being real about who they are.

Today’s news drives that point home. When the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States puts the worthiness of an entire group of people up for a vote, is it any wonder people struggle to believe they bear the image of the Divine?

If people believe the lie that their lives don’t matter, it damages the soul and sometimes kills the body. People don’t want to live in a world (read: a family or a church) where they aren’t known, accepted, and loved. Perpetuating hate and fear through destructive theology or political ideology is damaging the collective soul of this worldwide community of humans.

Please hear me: whoever you are, whatever you’ve done: you are not bad.If you’ve received that message, know it’s a nasty, hideous lie. Your dreams, your experiences — your joys and pains and sorrows and traumas and successes — are as unique as the stars in the sky, as varied as the number of hairs on your head. God and healthy communities have great big hearts and wide open arms. There’s plenty of room for everyone to fit.

Anyone that makes you feel devalued or ashamed because of your lived experience is not coming from a place of love. When you finally recognize that you are of intrinsic value just because you are a human being, you won’t allow anyone to diminish your worth any longer.

Love is Universal

This “be like us or you’re not welcome here” tribalism is why I left the Evangelical church. In the circles where I used to spend so much time, people were conditioned by years to believe that they are intrinsically evil. At the core of their being, people think they were born damaged, and horrible things like, “God loves me, but must not like me.”

But that’s not what real love says. My favorite thing about Jesus is that he promised that the underdog would have a front-row seat in His radical new kingdom, that the last would be first. The message of Jesus was a big “hell no” to the way things had always been and the lies we’ve always believed.

When religious people stop expecting people to fit their mold, agree with their politics, or live up to their social expectations, they extend freedom and joy to all of God’s people. And isn’t belonging what we all want? Isn’t that what Christ offers us?

At the end of the day, isn’t it more important to love my neighbors than to expect them to pass a litmus test on morality or religious fervor?

If you’ve felt ostracized due to your race, religion, sexuality, gender, disease, or disability, hear me again: you are not bad. If you are a part of any setting (religious or otherwise), that is more obsessed with perfection, cleanliness, and cultural norms than making everyone feel welcome, it is toxic. If real people don’t feel safe enough to enter a sanitized sanctuary, place of business, or home, it’s missing the point.

All any of us wants is love. Rest. Friendship. Compassion. Most of all: acceptance. We aren’t necessarily looking for answers. Just a place to take off our shoes, bow our heads, and rest, as we breathe in peace that no one can take away. The most rebellious thing a follower of Jesus can offer another human being is Love.

Countless people are hiding in church pews and at dinner tables with their own families, fearful of being ousted, just like my friend Ryan. Church leaders only reinforce those fears with their statements and votes.

It’s time to loosen the death grip on our precious moral stances and open our hands and hearts to everyone around us longing for love and acceptance. We can’t depend on the church or the government to care for people exactly as they are. Grace is beckoning each of us to step out, speak up, and make room for everyone.

Love Wins

While conservative Christians use the Bible to justify their discrimination and bigotry, I see a command to love everyone. In today’s context, I think Matthew 25:35–36 would read something like this:

I was LGBTQ+, and you invited me to the Table.
I was homeless, and you gave me a room.
I was an immigrant, and you welcomed me.
I had HIV, and you visited me.
I was a divorcee, and you didn’t exclude me from fellowship.
I was a woman, and you told me my voice mattered.
I was black, and you listened to me.
I was depressed, and you held me close.

I wish we could find grace to be unique, to embrace the story of all of us. My prayer these days is Lord, bind us together. We need the weirdness, the history, the art, the passion, the music, the queerness, and the glitter.

Please don’t back down in your resistance to the lies. You can love and be loved in return, exactly as you are. You might have to try a few places and communities, but there is a place for you. Come. Let’s celebrate the ways we are alike, and glory in our differences. Let’s listen to the sounds of friendship, harmony, and grace. Grace has made space at the table for all of us. Love will never vote you out (even if the Methodist church does).

*This article includes excerpts from Catching Your Breathand has been edited for relevance.

Additional Reading:

  1. How Can I be Gay and Call Myself a Christian? (guest post by Trey Pearson)
  2. How American Christians Use the Bible to Keep Discrimination Alive
  3. I Found God in a Gay Bar

Recommended Books:

  1. Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity (by Liz Edman)
  2. Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality (by Colby Martin)
  3. 8 Habits of Love: Overcome Fear and Transform Your Life (by Ed Bacon)
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You Can’t Glue Ashes: Notes on the First Year of Grief

You Can't Glue Ashes: Notes on the First Year of Grief

“​Blind me to the faults of the other fellow, but reveal to me my own.”

-Ben House, Sr.

To: Ben, From: Ben

A few days before Valentine’s day, my first-grader was sitting at the kitchen table filling out twenty superhero cards for his friends. When he filled one out for Ben, I was a little confused. He’d never mentioned there is another kid with the same name in his class.

“No, Dada. This one’s for Bossy.”

Gut punch. Tears well up. Holy shit.

It was the first time I realized we were nearing the one-year mark.

“Can we take this over to where Bossy lives now, at the cemetery?”

He doesn’t f*cking live there!

No, I didn’t say it.

Deep breath.

“Sure, bud. That would be wonderful,” I said, biting the inside of my lip to choke back the waterfall.

I hate cemeteries, but we went. It was the first time I had seen the headstone. Ben had fallen asleep in the truck, so I left him in the truck with my mom and walked over alone. She didn’t want to get out because it was raining.

Of course, it was raining. Grief is a constant rainy day.

I really have been doing pretty well these past six months. The tears turned from daily to random times each week. From there, they only started to show up once or twice per month. These days, they mostly get me when a little red bird crosses my path at the walking track, or whenever we drive up that old dirt driveway to his house, or when Nanny gives me some new treasure she’s found while cleaning out a closet or a room. Or if my Mama cries.

I stood there, staring at the tombstone and my mom rolled down the window and asked if I could fix the flowers. Stupid flowers. Why do we try to dress up death?

I did as I was told and knelt and emptied the metal canister the fake flowers were floating in. Dirty rainwater poured out, making room for the flowers to sit again, rather than swim. As I straightened them back, I read the epitaph: Here lies a man.

You Can't Glue Ashes: Notes on the First Year of Grief

​There is No Template

A friend of mine is a district manager for a big box store. I’d never really thought about it, but one day we started talking about templates. Did you know that you can walk into pretty much any big box store in any city in America and the floor plan is going to be exactly the same? They use a schematic, so all customers know what to expect, no matter what city they’re in. But grief is not like Old Navy or Target: it has no schematic.

The truth is, I nearly called this article, “How to Process a Year of Grief,” but I could never tell you how to process your own grief. How could I presume to tell someone else how to put the pieces back together? Sadly, they’ll never fit. You can’t glue ashes.

As my friend Robert told me just the other day, “The stages of grief aren’t linear.” Not at all. So I won’t tell you how to process your own grief. Other than to say, take your expectations and pour them out, like rainwater on tombstone flowers.

Nobody tells you a year of grief can feel like a blink and eternal conscious torment, all at the same time. How can a day feel like a thousand years? I’m not sure, but you can bet it happens. Grief doesn’t follow anyone’s timetable. She is volatile and unruly.

You Can't Glue Ashes: Notes on the First Year of Grief

Grief is a rainy day that becomes a mudslide.

Grief is taillights just ahead, suddenly lost in dense fog.

Grief is a memory, just out of reach.

Grief is a scattering of ashes into the wind.

Grief is a song on the tip of your tongue.

Grief smells like old coffee and dusty books.

Grief is a pair of overalls that will never fit.

Grief will never fit.

Grief is a slow dance with the ugliest girl in the room. And yet, her hands are soft as silk, her scent is strangely familiar. Her embrace is cold. Part of you wants to scream, “Get away from me!” And the other part of you wants to run away with her, snuggle together in an easy chair, and fall asleep under a heavy quilt of memories and tears.

Dance with her, my friend. You have to dance with her. Eventually, she’ll drop you - choosing to share her cheap perfume and cold stare with another poor soul. But she’ll keep her eyes on you, as she flows around the room. You can’t avoid her gaze or ever quite get that smell out of your nostrils. Grief is that way - floating and a fading in and out of sight. Grief is a dance no one ever wanted to learn.

​Grief is a dance no one ever wanted to learn. via @iamsteveaustin #grief #catchingyourbreath

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​Remember When?

Shortly after his death, Nanny sent me home with a treasure chest of Boss's writings: letters from Vietnam, articles he published while he was overseas, school papers, and love notes. There are also photographs, his high school diploma, and a prayer shawl he ordered from some damn televangelist once the dementia had really set in.

The truth is, my grandfather doesn’t live in a trunk in my room any more than he lives at the cemetery, underneath rain-soaked plastic flowers. He lives in my memory. In every story we tell on Sunday afternoons, sitting underneath the clinking of the ceiling fan at Nanny’s house. When we tell our remember-whens and belly laugh to keep ourselves from crying. He lives in my son’s piercing blue eyes, in my wife’s buttermilk cornbread, and in the way my four-year-old daughter naturally commands a room. The country boy lives in my blue jeans and bare feet as I check the mail. The old newspaperman lives in the tears that won’t stop falling as I write this article. It seems that my old Grandpappy lives, even in my grief.

In Memory of Ben House, Sr., 1935-2018

​You Can't Glue Ashes: Notes of the First Year of Grief via @iamsteveaustin #grief #catchingyourbreath

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Why No One Really Cares What You Believe

How to Be a Better Christian: Notes from an Ex-Pastor

“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practise the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterised by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds! ”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

How to be a Better Christian: Notes from an Ex-Pastor via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #lovewins #graceismessy

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For the Bible Tells Me So

When my daughter was around the age of two, she slammed her chubby hand on the kitchen table like some sort of fire and brimstone preacher as she yelled, “For da Bible tells me SO!”

“What did she just say?” I asked my wife. I could barely control my laughter.

“Tell Daddy again, Cara.”

“For da Bible tells me SOOO!” She stretched the last word into at least five syllables, her round face red with fury.

Why was she so angry? She had been refused another snack because it was only half an hour before supper. Sweet Caroline didn’t like my rationale and continued to wail as my wife and I tried our best to keep it together. “Where on Earth did she come up with this?!”

Lindsey laughed and sang the first few words of “Jesus Loves Me.” I smiled wide and said, “I’m quite familiar with the song, but why is this the phrase she chooses when she is pissed off?”

It was funny at the moment, but it reminded me of this truth: no one really cares what you believe.

Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.

Defending Your Faith

As an ex-pastor, I promise you, no one cares how many Bible verses you’ve memorized. They won’t ask what Bible college you attended or how many times you’ve been to a marriage conference. They are less-than impressed by the fact that you’ve read Defending Your Faith or The Case for Christ. Your neighbors aren’t likely interested in your views on penal substitutionary atonement or anything else in the realm of stuffy theology.

When I was in Bible college, I was convinced that people genuinely cared about my theology. We regularly practiced defending our faith. Every theological hill was an acceptable one to die on. Rather than defending Jesus, we were trying to own God.

Before that, it was high school youth group. Every Friday night, we went to the Galleria and passed out Gospel tracts. The paper was printed and folded to look like a dollar bill. We would drop them on the floor or leave them on the bathroom counter, hoping someone would pick them up and be forever saved from eternal conscious torment. I wonder how many dudes lost their cool when they realized it wasn’t a real buck...

The most embarrassing part was getting into the “If you were to die tonight,” conversations with complete strangers. I’m still amazed at our boldness. We would approach total strangers - out and about with their family and friends on a Friday night at the mall - and blast them with our theological certainty. Our blessed assurance included the conviction that anyone who didn’t believe just like us was doomed to hell.

No question about it: in trying to be a better Christian, I did more harm than good.

No one really cares what you believe. Here's why. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins

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How to Be a Better Christian

The story might feel different if our Bible study and prayer time made us more loving, for sure. But a theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love.

If you want to be a better Christian, hear Jesus calling us to be humble, kind, generous, patient, loving, and gracious. Listen to the greatest commandment: to love God, self, and neighbor. Jesus is begging us to be better examples of the faith we so boldly proclaim by understanding that there’s much more to belief than what most of us hear preached on a Sunday morning. Rather than using the Bible to justify our judgment and exclusion, Jesus is calling us to engage the world around us with Love.

When we talk about becoming a better Christian, we’re talking about the kind of human you are. Are you going to be the kind of person who binds and heals the wounds of others? Or are you going to drive the knife deeper? Will you give a glass of water to someone dying of thirst? Or will you pour the cement of your concrete theology down their throat?

The world is full of hurting people. And sadly, hurting people have bet against church folks. They don’t give a damn about the rightness of our theology or the firm foundation of our faith. They’re just looking for respect. For common decency. For eye contact. For a hug. For someone crazy enough to admit they don’t have it all figured out. For a hot cup of coffee or a cold beer and some honest conversation. For safety and love and belonging and a place to rest their tired feet and weary souls.

How do you make people feel? When you walk into a room, do you shift the energy with your loving kindness? Or do you suck the air right out of the crowd with your judgment? You can spend every waking moment of your life, clinging to the Bible, exegeting Scripture, debating every nuance of theology, and policing the thoughts and actions of those around you, or you can give your life away, embracing those in need.

A theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love. via @iamsteveaustin #graceismessy #lovewins #exvangelical

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A Thread of Love

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4:20

So, you want to be a better Christian? Stop expecting people to fit your mold, agree with your politics, and live up to your societal expectations. The world is so much bigger than your local church and your precious pastor. People are hungry for joy and freedom, but they’ll never find it through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus.

In a society permeated by fear, shame, and guilt, the way to be a better Christian is to practice more love, vulnerability, and forgiveness. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us, understanding that we are all connected. We are all the same. We are entirely woven together in a tapestry of diversity, and the thread that holds us all together is a universal desire for safety, love, and belonging.

The only thing people really care about is the way you treat them. If you want to be a better Christian, understand that you prove your faith by the depth of your love.

The Divine Call to Action

Looking for a daily reminder that being a better Christian means loving people? Click below to download my free printable, "The Divine Call to Action." Let's start loving God by loving each other.

People will never find joy and freedom through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins

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DIGNITY: 10 Ways to Build Your Self-Esteem

Self-worth course

The Importance of Dignity

Several months ago, I sent out a 1-question poll to about a thousand people, asking for the 1 thing you’d like to learn from me in 2019. The overwhelming response was in the areas of self-esteem and self-compassion. As a result, I’m thrilled to launch a new, FREE Masterclass, “DIGNITY: 10 Ways to Build Your Self-Esteem.”

So why is it so important to have positive self-esteem? You might think you’ve gotten by pretty well so far, and that’s great, you probably have. But is ‘getting by’ enough? Don’t you want to do more with your life? Don’t you want to be your best possible you?

Positive self-worth is the key to contentment – it gets you off the treadmill of striving just to get that one thing that will make you happy, whether it’s a new car, a bigger house, or promotion. Self-worth starts with clarity and honesty about yourself and where you are in the world.

Having a healthy sense of self-worth allows you to step up and take control of what you want out of life. It gives you the confidence to look at opportunities that otherwise you might pass by, believing you aren’t good enough to be successful at them. It gives you the self-assuredness to stand up for yourself and set appropriate boundaries.

A sense of dignity and self-worth is grounded in an honest appraisal and acceptance of your strengths and weaknesses. That is true self-knowledge which allows you to take advantage of your strengths and to be objective about things you could improve.

Studies have shown that if you feel good about yourself and believe you deserve to be happy or wealthy or have good relationships, you will attract those things into your life. It is a myth that some people are “born lucky.” People who expect to be happy, whose positive mindset leads them to see opportunities for happiness, will be happier.

If you’re ready to sign up for this free 10-part Masterclass, just click here.

PREVIEW of Lesson 2


This Masterclass is a guide to encourage and support you to take control of your self-esteem, honor your self-worth and reclaim your dignity.

No one else in the history of the universe has been just like you. You’re the best example of yourself that there is, or ever has been. And you have a responsibility to be kind to yourself, acknowledge and celebrate the individual qualities that make you up.

Dignity is not something people talk about that much – but it’s the foundation and signal to the world of self-worth. Saying someone has dignity tells you there’s something special about them – they’re not defined by other people, they know and value themselves.

And it stands out.

There’s a quiet shine to dignity – it’s not the brash shininess of arrogance or the heavy smallness of self-doubt. Dignity is calm and confident – dignity says this person knows their inner self and they stand proud.

Dignity is a powerful concept that lifts ‘self-esteem’ above just feeling good about yourself. Dignity honors your value as a unique human being – it implies honesty and self-awareness as well as positivity. And increasing your self-knowledge and self-valuation is the theme of this book.

We will look at the causes of low self-worth and the pressures that hold us back from living a positive life. We'll discover ten steps you can take right now to change this. From challenging your Inner Critic, through journaling, and onto alternative approaches like meditation, self-hypnosis, and Emotional Freedom Technique.

Congratulations! Just by reading this blog post, you’ve already taken the first step to a happier life. You’re on your way!

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What the Hell is a Christian Agnostic?

Catching Your Breath is the first time I’ve openly described myself as a Christian Agnostic. Of all the stories and tough questions I shared in the book, it’s the one thing everyone seems to want to know more about. So, what the hell is a Christian Agnostic?

Christian Agnostic

The definition I use for “agnostic” in the book is this: a person who holds neither of two opposing positions on a topic.

I guess I also need to define “Christian,” since we all have a different opinion on what that actually means. To me, being a Christian is holding the example of Jesus at the center of your life. And what is that example? To me, it means having Love as the motivation for everything you say and do.

And what is Love? The Bible defines love this way:

Love is patient and kind. It isn’t consumed with jealousy or bloated with ego. Love isn’t disrespectful. It isn’t only out for #1. Love celebrates the dignity of each human being who was made in the image of a God who loves us all without condition. Love is slow to anger and quick to forgive. Love doesn’t rejoice when evil happens, but chooses to celebrate when Truth prevails. Love is a safe place. You can’t love someone you don’t trust. But love believes the best of us, even when we aren’t quite showing our best self. (Obviously, my paraphrase.)

The Bible also says God is Love. So when you begin to see a combination of patience and kindness, respect and forgiveness, safety and dignity, it’s likely you are in the presence of Divine Love.

To me, being a Christian is following the instructions Jesus gave as “the greatest commandment”: loving God, myself, and my neighbor to the best of my ability.

I understand Jesus as the ultimate example of Love. Love makes room for others. The love of Jesus was bold, unafraid to speak truth to power. Jesus showed us a kind of love that consistently drew the circle larger, ever-inclusive of outcasts and misfits. The love of Jesus was never based on labels. Jesus was far more concerned with meeting physical needs, rather than debating matters of theology or man-made religious constructs.

So what does “agnostic” have to do with any of this?

I’m glad you asked.

To me, being a Christian Agnostic means I do my best to follow the loving example of Jesus, but as for the ins and outs of Christian history and theology: I don’t know. (And to be clear: I’m resting in the I-don’t-know-ness of my spiritual journey.) It’s why I love this line by Bob Goff in Everybody Always, “God is less concerned about the people who admit their doubts than the ones who pretend they’re certain.”

I’m more certain than I’ve ever been about this one thing: when it comes to theology, I’m completely uncertain. It’s doctrine and dogma that are my struggle, not Love. It’s all the other stuff that muddies the water for me.

To me, Love is Divine, and God is Love. Where you find one, you find the other. I see Love as Universal. I’ve known Buddhists who embody Love. I have Jewish and Sufi friends who are filled with patience and loving-kindness. I even have Atheist friends who lead their lives with Love far deeper than something mere mortals can cook up.   

A Soulgasm

The first inklings of writing Catching Your Breath began at the home of some friends, where a retired Episcopal priest would be talking about oneness and the 8 Habits of Love. I’d been warned that he was one of those “Oprah people,” so I knew I was in for a treat.

The Reverend who shared his story that evening wore no collar. A son of south Georgia, his drawl was as familiar as the kindness in his eyes. As he spoke, my mind began to fire on all 8 cylinders, and I wondered if my soul might explode from the compassionate sense of belonging that reverberated in every syllable of this conversation.

Much of what I heard from Ed Bacon that night sounded like a combination of Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, Paul Young’s The Shack, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins. As I sat on the couch, listening to this dynamic storytelling, I could feel myself being held by the Loving One.

I couldn’t get away from the idea that Love is far too great a thing to limit to only one religion or group of people – I had a soulgasm, to put it lightly. Or as Ed says, “a glory attack.”

For so long, I had been desperate to believe in the possibility of a God of love. A God of redemption. A God who is more passionate about reconciliation than anything else.

Love is a Crushing

Last week on social media, I shared these lyrics from Ronnie Freeman, “Love has crushed the prison doors.”

For the first twenty years of my life, I would have heard that a certain way (with language around sin and freedom). These days, I still connect strongly with the imagery, but I think about it in a slightly different way.

And it still gives me chills.

I’m learning that Love does crush whatever prison we find ourselves in. Either prisons of our own doing, or prisons of pain and woundedness others have tried to build around us.

Love crushes prisons of self-preservation.

Love removes masks of shame.

Love shatters walls of fear.

Love destroys certainty.

It’s a paradigm shift for me to think of Love as crushing. I’d much rather think of Love as only kind and comforting, compassionate and tender. And while that is true, Love is also willing to crush anything in its way to get to our hearts and transform our lives.

Daily, consistently, I need Divine Love to come in and crush the fear-based notion that there is anything that could ever separate me from the Love of God. As a Christian Agnostic, I need the crushing weight of Relentless Love to come in and tear down toxic theologies, rooted in fear, shame, guilt, and certainty.

For the first three decades of my life, my hope was built on my ability to out-perform the competition. My constant striving was exhausting, leaving my soul depleted to the point of desperation, resulting in a suicide attempt at the age of 29. In my effort to be perfect in hopes of earning the approval of God and other broken men, I ended up in an ICU hospital room, longing to die.

The truth was staring back at me: the only way I could heal and move forward was for everything to change.

I had to allow the waters of Love to come in and crush my need to perform. Love had to squash my constant striving. I was desperate for Love to wash over my tired soul, pulling the shattered pieces back with the tides.

These days, Love continues to crush me.

Each time I place the unrealistic expectations of others over the truth of my being, I hear the tides drawing closer. Whenever I begin to hustle for my worthiness, I feel the waters lapping against my ankles, begging me to live from my true self, rather than my ego. As my pride swells, Love raises up a mighty roar and brings me back down to earth, back to humility and a place of service.

Love is the great equalizer, reminding us that on our best or worst day, we are all standing on level ground. The ultimate message of Divine Love is this: everyone belongs.

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand how one strain of religion could hold the corner market on Divine Love. I saw how my evangelical Christian friends used divisive language, fear-mongering, and shame-based theology to keep us all separated. It never made sense to me that one religion (supposedly based in Love) could set itself up above another. These days, I’m calling bullshit.

I think Jesus is a most excellent example of Divine Love. But I also find that same balance of Love and Truth in the teachings of the Buddha, Gandhi, Rumi, and Mr. Rogers. The difference is that these days, that no longer confuses me. My faith is more full of holes than ever, but I don’t think that makes me less of a Christian.

I’m fully aware that people will read this kind of confession and commit to pray for me in my “struggle,” but the truth is, there’s no struggle here. I’m perfectly comfortable and confident that Love cannot be labeled as either sacred or secular, “Christian” or not. This is actually the place I’ve been all along, I’m just finally finding the freedom and courage to admit who I am: uncertain of many things, and desperate for Love’s crushing.

So what the hell is a Christian Agnostic? It looks a lot like me.

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