A few weeks ago, I got a chance to perform as a back-up singer in the grand finale of Estonia's version of "American Idol." I auditioned for the show in January, and was advanced to their version of the "Hollywood round."
I was the oldest person on stage (by nearly a decade), and I had the opportunity to chit chat with some talented young ladies, and felt a bit awkward when I realized I was old enough to legitimately be their mother.
Once I was one of them. There was no need to buy the latest wrinkle-erasing serum. I, like them, could have entered our catered lunch in the bottom of the theater and filled my plate with the mashed potatoes, the meatballs, the gravy and dessert and not worried too much about my figure.
I once was as young as them and had the same dream - to sing and perform.
So, before I took the stage and attempted to rock out with all the teenagers and twenty-somethings, I had a thought...
What sage advice would the nearly 37 year old Olivia tell the young, bright-eyed, teenage version of herself?
First, I'd pull her close, look deep into her green eyes, admire her skin without the scars, her eyebrows that were young and full and didn't care what a tweezer had to say to them. I'd even take the time to compliment her on the decorative floral paper she spent hours sticking on to the walls of her high school locker.
Then I would hug her for a long, long time until her tired, complicated, disciplined body and mind would finally relax, and say this:
1. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale.
Stretch up on your tippy toes, and let your arms crash down. Throw all that stress and worry into a knotted heap on the ground below.
Don't try so hard to be thin enough; to sing well enough.
Next time your annoying old-fashioned, pink alarm clock bangs its bells before dawn, grab that baby and chuck it against the nearest wall. 4:30 a.m. is not an acceptable time to wake up and study, just so you can finish the top of your class.
Take a moment to just rest, know and feel who you are.
Laugh more at the things that bring out that uncontainable belly chuckle that everyone in the room notices.
Your success is more about the health of who you are on the inside than who you appear to be on the outside. People will always be drawn to and promote that which is truly real, kind, and whole.
Take every single opportunity to dance and be free. Relax so that you can become the person you are meant to be.
2. Don't let people steal your gold.
I get it. You were really hurt by those people who, from the time you were eight years old, called you ugly, fat and unacceptable. But the true, lasting hurt began the moment you chose to believe them.
You were born with a core of gold inside of you - it was your talents, your dreams, your personality, your weaknesses.
It is every single person's responsibility to preserve and protect the treasure within them. You cannot allow thieves, with their sharpened pick axes and hurtful words, an entrance to chip away the God-given wealth that lies within.
Sometimes, you even steal from yourself. You can trash and ransack your own inner riches by making foolish choices and spending your gold on people not worthy of the expense. You repeatedly echo their lies in your head; allowing the deterioration to sink deep.
True. It feels easier to let an intruder in and surrender. We grow tired of protecting, of fighting for the truth, when everything around us screams persuasive lies.
But, even now, set your heart and soul on the truth. Whisper it to your embattled self each time an attacker draws near. Pray to God for His defense when you feel too weak to stand.
Don't let anyone come in and steal your gold! Keep it. Stay
despite your riches. And the value will only continue to strengthen, shine and grow.
3. There's no guilt in following your dreams.
You were made for a distinct purpose, and for that purpose you were given a distinct personality and skill set.
You will always be the most valuable to others, to your workplace/ organization, and to yourself when you are operating in your true gifts.
Pay attention to the things that come easy to you. Don't disregard the things that make you feel alive, excited and happy!
Don't let anyone tell you what you SHOULD do or study to be secure, make money, or to seemingly please your parents or God.
This is your journey, and a wise friend once told me:
"God smiles just as much when He sees you doing the thing you absolutely love, and that He created you for, as when you are sacrificing to serve Him."
5. Always see the best in others.
You will, without a doubt, have people be mean and rude to you.
Remember: We were all born with the same need to be unconditionally loved and accepted. Some people have had a rougher road to travel than others.
When people are angry, it usually stems from a root of fear.
When people are cool, uncaring and detached, it usually has a root of sadness.
When people are often cynical, it usually has festered from pain.
Ask yourself - did you do any thing truly deserving of their reaction? If the answer within is a definite NO...then it's not about you, Liv. They are hurting.
Since you can recognize what is truly going on, you choose to be wiser, kinder, gentler and more understanding of others. See the best in everyone. It's much better to be found guilty of seeing too much good in someone than seeing too much fault and bad in everything they do.
Life is hard and people are struggling. We would do well to assume most folks are far more tender than they are letting on. We should treat people with a disproportionate amount of grace, because the worst thing that could happen ISN'T that they really didn't need it when we offered it...but that they really did need it and we failed to notice." -
6. Only let one thing TRULY have your heart.
Nick and I have lived what will probably be some of the most challenging years of our lives recently. I've been tempted to make poor decisions. I've been tempted to "throw in the towel." I've, at times, just wanted to run away from it all. But there is one thing that ultimately keeps me.
God has my heart.
I noticed this recently as I was walking the streets in Kiev, Ukraine. I was praying about a difficult situation. Music was playing in my earbuds as I walked through swarms of police and street demonstrations. And, when I turned off all of my thoughts and emotions, I noticed this: my swinging hands turned slightly, unnoticeably upward towards heaven, and my heart was repeating these words, "I love you. I love you, God. Keep me, God. You are my everything."
And this is how I know I am truly safe. Yes, at times I want to do just what I want to do - whether it's right or wrong. But, even in my mistakes and my detours, I know I will always run home to Him. And that was, is, and always will be the safest place. Why? People will fail me. Life will sometimes beat me up. But no love can compare to the love and dreams He has for me. I am in His hands.
I don't know how to instruct you, Liv, on developing this sort of heart. It has just come from spending time noticing God's hand at work in my life and by listening to His quiet whispers. It arises from singing my heart out to Him in worship, and from prayer.
It was solidified once I realized that besides God, I will never be able to end this life carrying a prized possession, a noble career, or a lover with me. The only thing that will remain is me, my life's choices, and God. For that reason, I will not allow ANYTHING to build a wall between me and Him.
Now as I walk around Tallinn, I love to listen to this song. It embodies and postures my heart towards this truth.
Take a moment to listen and let the words sink in.
"Street Called Mercy" by Hillsong United
7. Finally, never,
, let your best friend take this picture of you in French class. It will come back to haunt you in the world of Facebook.
And know...that no matter how many bad choices you make (i.e. picture above), or how far you've fallen, you can always get up. You can heal. You can chip off the crust that surrounds your beauty, and live the good, worthy life you were designed for. Your true gold is always waiting to shine. Your God is always waiting to walk with you, cleanse you, carry you when you're too weak, and restore you. It is never too late, and He never tires.
The older, more wrinkled version of yourself - Liv