The woman who arrested my attention was ancient. Clutching a cigarette in one bird-like claw, she waited to cross the street. The black wig she wore reminded me of one my great-grandmother had worn. Its vibrant color and youthful volume made her head appear two sizes too small. However, it was not the wig or the smoke which had snapped me from my internal musings. What caught my eye was that this woman was a superhero.
Today is the kickoff of a new link-up for Christian bloggers. I hope you’ll come by and visit at Grace and Truth. Meet some new friends. Read some valuable insights. Better yet, add your voice to the mix. See you there!
This is one of the earliest posts on this blog, but it was one of my favorites to write. So in honor of the first day of the Grace and Truth link-up, I am revisiting that terrifying day in my bathroom….
I made a horrifying discovery in my bathroom this morning. It was even more frightening than the House Centipede I happened upon awhile back in this same locale. (Now there’s a critter straight out of a sci-fi nightmare, let me tell you!)
Indeed, I am sure that I shall never be the same after this morning’s revelations.
I have issues. Judging by the vast number of articles and blog posts I read, you have issues too. I’ve watched those Dove commercials on self-perception, and I too have cried because I can relate. I’m talking to the ladies here, but you men would do well to keep reading too. If you can’t relate personally, there is definitely a female in your life with…well, issues.
There are no less than eight different eye treatments cluttering my medicine cabinet as I write this. Creams, serums, gels, oils; all claiming to have the magical properties of the fountain of youth. They will make my fine lines, puffiness and under eye circles disappear, or so they say. I faithfully used each one for a time before concluding that I’d been lied to. Then it is on to the next snake-oil salesman for a new product because this one just might work.
Then, maybe I will be beautiful.
I know that my view of beauty is skewed. I suppose I could blame it on our culture that prizes hyper-sexuality, perfection, and above all, youth. But the simpler truth is that I have judged myself through the eyes of others my whole life. I’m willing to bet that you have too.
As children, we were all aware of who the beautiful ones were; the rest of us did the best we could. Over time, with the skillful use of smoke and mirrors I obtained the illusion of loveliness, and the adoration in the eyes of others was oh, so intoxicating! Then I would wash off the mask, and once again was just plain old me. The voices and actions of suitors long past added to the cacophony of voices telling me that I was just not pretty enough. Not captivating enough. Not worthy of love.
By the time my knight in shining armor arrived, I was already damaged. Even though he’d profess his undying devotion to me, I felt unworthy and suspicious. Compliments were met with derision and declarations of love were tainted by my disfigured self-image.
As the years have passed and taken their toll, my issues have only magnified. Wrinkled flesh and added pounds only make me cringe all the more when I’m forced to look in the mirror. Adding to the burden, as Christian women, we are often made to feel guilty for desiring to be beautiful. Or we are given pat answers that soothe the surface without healing the deeper wounds inside.
I have put off posting about this topic for months simply because I had no answers. I still don’t, but I am beginning to see…
I recently went to a book tour for my favorite author and my mind is still reeling from some of the things he shared that night. What is pertinent to this particular issue is that when we look in the mirror, what we see is not who we are. If I were to lose my limbs, my face, even my memory, would I still be me? Yes, of course I would. I am a spiritual being completely unreliant on my physical form.
What he said next sucked the breath from my lungs. He said that we live our lives as if we are physical beings who occasionally have spiritual experiences. True, yes? But Mr. Dekker then pointed out that this is totally wrong. Rather, we are spiritual beings who are living a temporary physical existence. The truth of this was so simple, yet so weighty, that I momentarily forgot to breathe.
This is so profound that I want to reiterate:
We live our lives as if we are physical beings having the occasional spiritual experience. The reality, however, is that we are spiritual beings living a temporary physical existence.
Sitting in my plastic stackable chair, surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt the shackles of my ‘issues’ fall away. I could clearly see that I have indeed been living this deception. Through my mind flashed all of the words and events that had led to my perception of my own worth, my own beauty. I could see that my identity was based on falsehoods. (Please take a moment and read about our true identity here.) I wanted to jump up and dance, to sing praises to my Creator, to shout to the world that I was finally free!
This is so huge to me, and I think all of us on varying levels, because our perception of reality will have a profound influence on how we live our lives.
If I try to find my significance in outward beauty, or even in my roles of daughter, wife, mother, teacher, or church member, then I am doomed to failure. By understanding my identity as daughter of the Most High, I am learning that He looks at me as beautiful, perfect, without blemish, and complete.
Do I embrace my visage in the mirror now? No, I don’t. I do not see my physical form much different. However, I no longer feel as enslaved to it. My loathing and obsession have lessened because I know my worth does not reside in flesh and bone. The ugliness of my warped vision won’t last forever.
Someday that ugliness will all be gone.
Someday I will sing and dance and walk hand-in-hand with my Jesus.
And someday I will look into His eyes and know that I am beautiful.
I am fortunate to still have a living grandparent. Well… sort of. It is a strange season of life when you see a loved one decline in both body and mind. It is incredibly hard. Yet what a privilege I have to know this woman, and to have had her in my life for such a length of time. The following is something I wrote about two years ago. I would like to use it to begin a series of vignettes about my grandmother. I will post them in story form under the title, ‘A Once Vibrant Life’. They will probably appear rather sporadically, as the mood and inspiration strike.
The sound of my shoes seemed incredibly loud as I walked down the dingy hallway. It had sprinkled this morning and my sandaled feet were making a squishy squeaking noise. “I sound like Squidward on that Sponge Bob show,” I thought, and had to suppress a giggle. Not that I found the thought that funny. In fact, I thought that that particular piece of pop culture was highly overrated. But the visuals that went with the sound of my wet Tevas were so out of place in this hallway that stank of desperation, I couldn’t help but giggle with the absurdity of it.
Squeak, squish, Squeak, squish; almost to the end of the hall. I wondered where everyone was. Shouldn’t there be more signs of life? Employees, residents, visitors… anyone?
Her door was slightly ajar and I hesitated before entering. Grandma had had a stroke the night before and I was not sure what to expect. Dad had told me on the phone earlier that morning that she was doing well and could speak but that she couldn’t remember the names of anything. Her words were sometimes coming out all jumbled too. Mixed Salad, the professionals called it. I took a breath, put on my best smile, and breezed through the door.
I was relieved to see my dad sitting in a chair next to her bed. His head was drooping toward his chest, but he looked up as I approached. “Hey Beck,” he smiled tiredly. I could tell that he’d been up most of the night. “How is she?” I whispered, glancing at the still figure in the bed. Grandma looked so small lying there covered in a mound of warmed blankets. She was sleeping on her back with her mouth hanging open slightly. A thin trickle of saliva was running from the corner of her mouth to the blanket tucked tightly around her neck. In better days I knew she’d be horrified to be caught in such an undignified pose.
Before he could answer, her faded blue eyes opened and fixed blearily on my face. “Hi Grandma,” I tried to sound upbeat and hoped that the smile on my face didn’t look as strained as it felt. A bony trembling hand emerged from under the covers clutching a ratty tissue. She wiped the side of her mouth and rasped, “Must’ve fallen asleep.”
“Do you know who this is, Mom?” my dad prodded.
“I sure do!” she replied firmly. But then a small frown began to form and her eyes looked puzzled.
“I hear you’ve got your names all scrambled up Grandma,” I said, hoping to put her at ease. I knew that she recognized me, but my name was not processing through her brain’s fried circuitry.
The therapists had instructed dad to give her a series of choices, to allow her to try to retrieve the information that was locked inside. He spoke, “Is this Susan, Linda, or Becky?”
Without hesitation she stated, “Becky!” I smiled wide and teased, “I knew you’d think of it!” Returning my smile with a rather lopsided one, she settled back and her eyes drifted closed once more. Dad and I visited quietly while she slept. Every once in a while she would startle awake, see us at her side, and drift off again. After an hour or so I left.
As I walked back the way I had come in, I wondered why these places always seemed to be painted in washed out colors. It was yellow in this particular wing, but not a cheery sunny kind of yellow. It more resembled an old mustard stain, faded from the wash but still a ghostly presence. Sort of like the folks ensconced in these rooms, I thought. They had become the faded, ethereal stains of once vibrant lives.
I stepped outside and sat for a moment on a little bench in the outer yard. My eyes felt grainy and I knew I was close to bawling like a baby. I took a few deep breaths and looked down at my toes. I tried to remember the name of the nail polish that currently graced my feet. I hated having my feet confined and so wore sandals whenever going barefoot was unacceptable. Having pretty toes was important to me. I pondered these inane things for a time until the urge to cry had passed. Crying never made me feel better. In fact, I always felt worse. I have never cried daintily like you see in the movies. My face contorts painfully, my nose runs, I get all blotchy and I heave more than sob. Not a pretty sight. Besides, crying wouldn’t change the fact that I was losing my Grandma, bit by bit.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (ESV)