Two days ago, I didn't know it.
I know it now.
I am beautiful.
What I am about to share is deeply personal because it has deeply impacted my heart. It's a story that may not seem profound to some, but feels as if it has the potential to be dramatically life-altering for me.
What you need to know is that I have lived most of life believing my worth was determined by my performance. That perfection was the path to grace. That love was given when it was earned, and therefore withdrawn when it wasn't. I have lived being self-critical, seeing my faults and failures and believing they reduced my beauty. Add three children and many pounds, and to me even the outside seemed as unattractive as the inside.
It's a terrible way to live. In fact, it's not really living. And I know all the platitudes. I know the right theology on these matters. I know what I should believe about self-image and value. And if you are relating to my story so far, you probably know all those things too. Knowledge alone, however, never truly transforms anyone. At least, it hasn't changed me.
Place that broken kind of thinking into the culture we live in and it's a recipe for disaster. Society defines a woman's beauty with a size 2 and skinny jeans, no crows feet or muffin tops. 21st century America is a hard place to be a woman who sees beauty looking back at her regardless of what the mirror shows or the scale says or the payroll reflects. It's no wonder broken people stay broken in their thinking about being beautiful.
Simmer all of this in a pot of motherhood where I am raising two daughters and one son and constantly questioning how I can teach then to define beauty differently. I don't want my girls to worry about weight. I also don't want my girls to know I'm insecure about myself. I don't want my son to see a woman's beauty as skin deep. I also don't want him to see me give more time to my face than my heart.
If you had asked me two days ago if I was beautiful,
my answer would have been no.
And it has everything to do with the kinds of mirrors I hold up to myself. The mirrors I hold up are more often like ones you'd find in a Maze of Mirrors at the county fair. The ones that distort your image. You know the kind, right? The mirrors that give you a giraffe neck with short, squatty body in one and next you're stretched side to side like a taut blanket. At a carnival, you exchange a ticket for what you know will be skewed representation and we laugh and giggle our way through knowing what the reflection shows is not as reality is.
But what about in life?
We hold up our Fun House mirrors and forget we should expect distortion. These mirrors have a convexness has been conditioned by our failures, so the object in our mirror seems smaller than actual size. And we begin to believe it's all true - that we are small, insignificant, and hold little value.
Or we wash our mirrors down with concave fantasy and see the blemishes magnified. Every mistake and flaw brought to light and gives way to thinking that we are the sum of broken pieces and failures - physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
In all of this, there has still been an exchange to peering into these mirrors, but this time the cost is much higher than a few tickets and moments of fun. Instead, we choose to believe these mirrors show true reality, and so we exchange a peek at these distortions for our peace, our joy, our hope, our self-worth, our confidence.
It's a high price to pay. For some many of us, myself included, we have gotten lost in that carnival maze without even knowing it. So, you ask a woman if she knows she's beautiful, and you know what you'll hear most of the time? A small, timid, ashamed "No."
But not for me. Not as of two days ago.
My mirror changed dramatically and I believe, therefore, I have been too...
My 12 year old is a natural writer. She has wanted to tell stories from the time she could talk and put them to paper from the time she could form her letters. And she's good. Really good. Lately, she's been working on a book. (Yes, a book. I love her chutzpah.) Anyway, she asked me to read her first two chapters. I had been putting it off, and finally sat myself down to honor her request.
She did a great job at drawing in the reader and incrementally introducing details that keeps their attention. I could also tell she worked hard at giving details so the reader can feels as if they know the people and spaces of the fictional world. For instance, in her second chapter, she describes the protagonist's mother this way:
"Mother had beautiful brown hair that went down to her shoulders.
She also had wavy bangs that made her look even more beautiful than she already was. "
I remember reading that and thinking again about the lovey way she wove detail into this short description. I also thought it tender how she lovingly describe the mother's looks. Then I kept reading.
"Dad had short, spiky black hair and oval-ish glasses. He also had a goatee.
You could see his gray hairs better in his goatee than you could with the hair on the top of his head."
It was at this moment, I had to stop reading. If you know my husband, you know that how she described the father was my husband to a tee. In a second's time, I remember thinking, "That's Paul. She's describing Paul. Oh my goodness! When she described the mother, was she describing me!?! Is that how she sees me!?!"
I kept reading, and found the younger blond-haired, blue-eyed brother was the spitting image of her own brother. And it was then that i knew she had given her fictional family the same physical characteristics as her real family. And I was floored.
"My daughter thinks I'm beautiful. My daughter thinks I'm beautiful."
And a warmth flooded my heart. In that moment, I saw myself differently. This tween walks everyday life with me. This is the one who has seen me cry more tears in the last 9 months, then the rest of her life cumulatively. This is the girl who's asked her daddy why I am so sad. Who's told me I seem so serious. Who's looked at me in surprise when I joke and laugh along with my family these past few weeks. This very one, who has seen the very best and the very worst of me, sees me beautiful.
And the still, small Voice whispered in my ear, "It's how I have always seen you."
And I knew in that moment I felt more beautiful than I ever had.
I knew I was beautiful.
And I knew I would never forget that moment.
Maybe we just need to chuck the mirrors that get us lost in a maze of self-loathing and comparisons. Maybe we should look into the eyes of our children, of our spouses, of our loyal friends and allow them to be the mirror we choose. Maybe we can write ancient words on our hearts, etch them so deeply within, that they are the mirror of God's love for us (1 John 3:1).
I'm turning in my ride tickets. I'm leaving the fair. I am choosing to correct my vision.
I am beautiful.
And I know something about you.
You are beautiful too.