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Authenticity with God: Lessons from Sydney and Her Protege

December 9, 2011

I love the way my second daughter just says what’s on her mind. Haven’s prayer last night went like this:

“Dear God. Please help show me what I should give to poor people. What should I give?” At this point I’m thinking, “Wow, she is really on track, thinking of others instead of herself.” Then she continues… “God, what do I have that is too baby for me? Maybe that Belle outfit that Boone always tries to wear. And please show Boone that he is a boy and not a girl and help him to listen to me so that I can teach him and be like a teacher to him. Amen.”

I could hardly contain myself, so many humorous aspects of her processing. But when I got back to my room and reflected on how funny her prayer was, it occurred to me that in some ways, it is a model prayer. I mean, why not speak to God freely and tell him what we are really thinking? Do we really think even our most well thought out requests or comments are impressive to him? The truth is, he just wants to know us, whatever we are thinking or feeling, not our version of what we think he wants to hear. I personally find it difficult to just speak freely with God.

One of the most meaningful things for me in the past few months has been looking through Sydney’s journals, and reflecting on our lives together. Perhaps most impressive about her prayer journals, is how intimately she spoke with God and how free she felt with him. In some ways her prayers read like Haven’s – pure stream of consciousness. Sydney would pray for friend after friend and interspersed in the list would be a comment like “Boone is driving me crazy,” or ‘forgive me for this,” or “I feel fat.” Her prayers were frequently doodled, illustrated and stopped or mid-stream. She came to God as an authentic being, exactly like Haven does. I wonder how many things I spin, accent, or omit that keep me from bringing my true self to God, and thus having a full encounter with him.

Between her stream of consciousness paragraphs, Sydney wrote out Bible verses, or meaningful quotes of truth which spoke to her for one reason or another. I love this too, as a lesson/model for prayer. Showing up as an authentic self for raw, intimate, and honest conversation with God, and then looking at God’s truth for what it says about reality. Step one is, “where am I?” Step two is, “where is God?”

Sydney left countless journals that record her personal prayer life with God. True to her personality, there are bound ones and spiraled ones, striped and polka-dotted, and journals of every color of the rainbow. However, there is not one that is over 50% used. As she said, she always liked to have a new journal, “for inspiration.” Her ADD tendencies prevented her from sticking with almost anything to completion.

Because of my efficiency idol, I rolled my eyes at this while she was living. However, I now recognize the value of what she was doing. My perspective was incredibly short-sighted. I mean, what is half of a box of $12 journals, compared to a lifetime of walking with the living God? Yet another lesson from Sydney…

Thanks for walking with us,


From → Stories

  1. missy highsmith permalink

    love this post Todd.

  2. I don’t have words, Todd. Only tears. Tears through laughter in remembering and tears through sadness of what is no more. You are a good man. Thank you for helping me see that today, I want to look at others not for how they go about doing something, but taking the time to see what they are doing. Your wife was such a delightful mess:) who loved Jesus so much. I miss her. Thank you for bringing her back for us in small ways.

  3. Leah Cantrell permalink

    Loved reading this Todd. What an incredible insight into what our relationship with the Living God could/ should look like. Love to all of you, from all of us. So glad you are writing this blog.

  4. kat fritter permalink

    I always love to see what you are going to write but this is my favorite!!! It just made me laugh b/c it is so Syd and so real!! I love it! Thanks for sharing…..we should all strive to pray like that!

  5. Anne Albright permalink

    Such a beautiful reminder…so often our prayers end up so contrived instead of raw, authentic and truthful. On another note, when I saw Haven’s octopus I just had to smile. It instantly reminded me of Sydney with its brilliant array of colors! But when I went on to read the message, I had chills for a good five minutes and just sat here stunned. What a gift that she has the ability to process grief in such a deep, complex way. It really left me with the feeling that all will be alright, she will be o.k. As always, you all are in our thoughts and prayers.

  6. Natalie Davis permalink

    I love this Todd, it really has helped me today, thank you for that. love you and the children. natalie

  7. Stephanie Blanton permalink

    Love this. We all miss Sydney so much, and still finding it very hard to believe she’s no longer here. Thank you for keeping her spirit and lessons alive in us.

  8. Susan Little permalink

    Thank you for sharing! You and your children are in our prayers.

  9. Julie Anderson Holderness permalink

    What a Christmas gift! I Love the octopus. The eyelashes and red lips, especially. To see life……and death thru the words and pictures of a child. It doesn’t get any better. If I had an octopus, I would do just what Haven would do. I would need all those arms!!! The fact she chose THAT animal with so many arms, well, that is….PERFECT! Thinking of you and your precious family now and all through the year.

  10. None of us wants to quench the honest, precious spirit of a child. Oh, the beauty and transparency displayed through an innocent little one. How infrequently we give ourselves permission to be that imperfect and in-process, and yet God insists that we all must come to Him like a little child. Were He to chronicle of all our indiosyncrasies, I am convinced that He would be just as enamored with us. Todd, your children and their constant interaction with you are tangible connections to your past and your future. How inspiring their very essence must be. What a wonderful thing to contemplate.

  11. Megan Bowman permalink

    Truly beautiful, Todd! Things remind me of Syd daily and I always want to know more about her. She is definitely missed, but also has left so many lessons for us that I reflect on so often. I’m so very thankful for the impact she had on my life. Miss you guys a lot! Hope all is well!

  12. MaryJoe permalink

    Thank you for continuing to share your lives with us. The openess, honesty and yes, pain evident in Haven’s prayer should be a lesson to all of us on how we should speak to God. This is what he desires, that we open our hearts to him without reservation.

  13. sink kimmel permalink

    thanks for sharing Todd. appreciate your authenticity.

  14. Shannon Peterson Miller permalink

    Todd, you have a way of making people fall in love all over again with Sydney. I was an early childhood friend of Sydney’s. We lived just around the corner from each other in Clinton until she moved to Raleigh. We lost touch after middle school, and I missed out on so much! I have laughed so hard at your descriptions of Sydney’s creative nature. There are just too many similarities! I can never completely fill a prayer journal before needing a “prettier” cover; I jump from one creative project to the next–have even made jewelry to sell for a year; and my husband is SUPER organized and lovingly tolerates my creative obsessions. I pray that my spiritual life is put into action as vividly as Sydney’s was and is. She is a beautiful example of a Proverbs 31 woman, mother, and wife. Thank you for continuing to write–you are amazing! My family continues to pray for the four of you!

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