You are a Beautiful Woman

distorted reflections“You are a beautiful  woman,” he said.

A sigh wrestled with the smile on my mouth as I told him to play the cards. Just play the cards already.

Three hours later, I stood before my bedroom mirror in my Easter dress with my curls undone and I repeated his words aloud. “You are a beautiful woman.”

It’s funny that those words can have such an impact on me even when they are spoken by a guy who is gloating that my discard just helped him effectively triple my score in gin rummy. But they do. Because they remind me of something I’ve always known, but have a hard time remembering:

God makes beautiful things. I’m a firm believer of that. And yet, I don’t always let that knowledge slip from my head to my heart. I don’t always feel beautiful. But I am.

I am a beautiful woman.

And it’s crazy how simply speaking those words aloud can leave me breathless, reeling with the possibility that maybe, just maybe they’re true. Maybe I am beautiful. Maybe I am desirable. Maybe I’ve got more worth than I ever ascribed to me.

I don’t think of myself as an insecure human being. I’m not one to string lies into titles and lay them upon myself, but I do sometimes struggle with the word beautiful. With my vision of it and God’s vision of it. Because I often see beauty as that illusive image even the most desirable woman in the world can’t hold onto for long.

But that’s not what beautiful is.

Beautiful is any vessel God has crafted for His glory, even though they’ve long forgotten to find beauty in the curves of the clay that gives them form.

Beautiful is the colors cast upon the floors of God’s house by a stained glass window that is comprised of all the broken and flawed pieces of you.

Beautiful is the bride of Christ dancing in her Lover’s arms.

Beautiful is you.

Yes, you.

You are a beautiful woman.

And maybe that thought has been elusive for too long, but today I encourage you to take hold of it. Cradle it close to your heart. Roll it around and around on your tongue until it finds a home there.

Because you are a beautiful  woman. And you’ve been forgetting that far too long.

Define “Beauty”

Human beings have a really bad habit of comparing ourselves to others. We also have a horrible habit of declaring some people more beautiful than others. As if we have a right to declare one of God’s masterpieces more perfect than the next. And maybe it has everything to do with the fact that I have an extremely vulnerable post going up on the Devotional Diva website tomorrow, but I want to take a moment and talk about beauty.

If you’re like most women, you probably don’t believe that you’re beautiful. You don’t believe you’re valuable. And I’m willing to bet that you have features you hate.

Because someone once told you what beautiful was, and you never quite fit the mold.

Two months ago, I stumbled across a post on Good Women Project that recommended I write my body a love letter. It was more of an apology. For all the years I took it for granted. For all the times I convinced myself not to care about my appearance. For all the years I resented my body because I knew what the genetics said I could have been. But after twenty-one years, I finally penned the words:

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Because we all have our idea of what beautiful is, and you were never mine.”

And I told myself I’m beautiful. I praised the features I love rather than critiqued the ones I hate. It was a healing experience. A powerful experience. An experience I would recommend  to every woman on the planet.

Write your body a love letter. Because you’re beautiful like that.

Because for years and years, you’ve fed yourself lies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and you deserve a little truth in your diet.

You deserve the kind of truth that Hannah Brencher weaves into her blog post about bullying our bodies.
You deserve the kind of love letter that compares you to a breathtaking sunset.
You deserve to know that God made you beautiful.
And you deserve to hear it from yourself.

So write your body a love letter. Be honest. Be kind. And be sure to tell yourself you’re beautiful.

Because you are.

The Beauty of Redemption

I returned to the United States with India temporarily tattooed on my hand, but permanently ingrained on my heart.

Meeting up with my brothers in Mumbai was definitely a highlight of my trip, but the real miracle happened when our team left the city. After spending a few days amidst the poverty and pain of Mumbai, the lush, green haven called Ashagram washed over me. I sensed immediately what one of the former street boys confirmed only a few hours later: “This is a healing place.”

I know that it’s a healing place for those who were rescued from the darkness of the streets of Mumbai, but I also believe that each one of my team members experienced that healing in one way or another.

The term “beauty from ashes” has never meant so much to me. The hungry street boys I saw in Mumbai… I met them at Ashagram. Their eyes were aglow with the saving power of Jesus’ love. The prostitutes I saw lingering outside the brothels… I met them too. They smiled, they laughed, they praised the God who rescued them from darkness. And as I entered into a beautiful night of worship while a young man named Sunil played his guitar,  I discovered the true meaning of the word redemption. How was it possible that this extravagant worshiper could be the drug addict he claimed he once was?

Just when I was wondering if the hand of God was so clearly seen in my own life, one of the boys slipped me a note that read:

Do you know that you are my very close friend i ever have. Friendship is like love. and love never end. an love not take record of rong. you are love.

Though I wished I could have stayed much longer, I’m content to leave on that note. I figure that if that was the conclusion Santosh came to after my nine-day stay at Ashagram, I did what I went there to do. And I experienced the beauty of redemption in a way I never knew that I could.

Set Beautiful Free

Three weeks from today, I’ll be boarding a plane to India where I’ll visit a ministry that works in the world’s largest red light district. Their vision: to see an end to sex slavery. Their mantra: Set Beautiful Free.

In light of this upcoming trip, I was delighted to find that the new sermon series at my church is on beauty. It’s like God’s four week training session on what it truly means to set beautiful free. Though I feel like lavishing love upon the women of Kamathipura’s red light district is a great place to start, I’ve become increasingly aware of the beauty that needs to be released right here in my own hometown.

We’re not living up to our full potential. We’re not truly letting beauty run free in our lives. Many of us don’t even see the beauty of our lives because we’re so concerned with the pain of the ugly. But beauty is there.

Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Did you hear that? That’s beautiful. God delights over you. He finds joy in you. The very thought of you is enough to put a song in His heart. He finds you breathtakingly beautiful and absolutely amazing. Trust me, He would have made you a different way if He thought something about you wasn’t perfect.

Like a butterfly emerging from his cocoon, God yearns to draw beauty out of our lives. He longs to call forth the lovely creation He fashioned in each of our souls. But only when we embrace the beauty – when we are able to see what God sees in us – will we be able to spread our wings and float on the gentle melody of His love.

As I walk among the people who have dedicated their lives to setting beautiful free in the city of Mumbai, I pray that you too will set beautiful free. May your heart be filled with the passion of your Father’s love, and may you truly be freed to fly in the fullness of His grace.

Dream big dreams. And set beautiful free.

More Than Good Enough

For most of my life, my morning consisted of throwing on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, running a brush through my hair, looking in the mirror and saying, “Eh, God said that it was good.” Perhaps you would never look at me and think that I was insecure. After all, I never buried my flaws under a pile of make-up. But deep in my heart, the root of the problem was the same. I was never more than “good enough.” But then I wondered…

Who am I to critique the handiwork of the Master Artist? Who am I to say that one creation is better than another? And if God declared that it was good, how can I say that I’m only “good enough”?

Think of the most beautiful thing you ever created, whether it be a poem, a picture, or a piece of music. I’m sure that your heart swells with pride at the memory of the moment that work of art came alive. Now imagine that your treasured creation could talk and it said to you, “I’m ugly. I hate this, that and the other. Why did you make me this way?” Imagine the devastation, and perhaps you will come close to understanding the breaking of God’s heart.

The fact is, He finds joy in you. You are the perfect masterpiece that brings light to His eyes. When you look in the mirror, I hope you’ll see what He sees because God didn’t only make you “good enough”; He made you perfect.

A Beautiful Viewpoint

I had a comment from a reader saying that she loved others, but hated herself. I found her remark to be quite painful. I wish that I knew this woman. I wish that I knew exactly what she hated about herself so I could set her straight. But since I’m so far removed from her individual situation, I’m going to take a stab at what I believe causes the most self-hatred in a woman. Body image.

The perfect body is something no woman will ever achieve because there’s no definite end. Perfection is a matter of opinion, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, just this morning, a coworker commented that my hair looks pretty pulled back. I personally think it looks better framed around my face. The only reason I pulled it back today was because it was driving me crazy.

See the girl in this picture? Most people probably wouldn’t notice these small details, but sometimes when she looks in the mirror, all she can see is the scar on her forehead from where she tripped and fell as a three-year-old, the bags under her eyes which are not from a lack of sleep but from her father’s genetics, the pimples on her face, and her imperfect smile caused by the teeth she never grew. Most people don’t notice those things about me, but sometimes these “flaws” rush to the forefront of my mind. Every woman sees flaws in herself that she’s willing to overlook in others. In reality, most people don’t look at you with the same critical eye you use to view yourself.

I think there’s a certain wonder in the fact that no one snowflake is the same. Even leaves take on different shapes and sizes. Each one uniquely beautiful, but no two quite the same. There has never been, and never will be, someone exactly like you. I think that’s a cause for celebration. Beauty is not something to be achieved because God is not capable of creating something ugly. From where I stand, you, my friend, are breathtakingly beautiful because beauty is not a goal to reach, but a point of view.

Take a look at yourself with new eyes. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.

Want a little more information on beauty? Check out what one of my favorite wordpress authors has to say about the subject.

And God Saw That It Was Good. Period.

I was babysitting a six-year-old girl one day and she told me that we were going to play make-believe. “I get to be the princess,” she declared, “because I have blond hair.” I’m sorry, what? Where did that come from? I figure she adopted her narrow-minded view of hair color from Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Barbie, and the like.

What kind of world do we live in to think that a girl becomes a princess based on the color of her hair? It makes me wonder where our culture’s standard of beauty comes from. The thing I find most interesting is how quickly it changes. Way back in the day, women hid themselves away from the sun in attempt to maintain their fair complexion. Today, you can get laughed at for being “too white.”

What sort of people are we that we could condense beauty to a hair color, skin complexion, or pant size? Where do we get the idea that we have the right to declare a portion of God’s creation as better than the rest? The Bible says that God created everything and saw that it was good. What it does not say is, “God created a size fourteen, average looking woman with brown hair and dull brown eyes, and said that it was good. Then he created a size zero, stunningly attractive blond with sparkling blue eyes and said that she was better.” Go ahead and search your Bible from cover to cover. You won’t find it in there. There is no better or best. God saw that it was good. Period.

I don’t know who the first woman to buy into the comparison game was, but it has been haunting women of every generation for hundreds and thousands of years. We start to think things like, “I wish I had her eyes, her hair, and her smile,” and, “Maybe if I had a figure like so-and-so’s… Yeah, I think I would look better if I just lost ten more pounds.”

I once heard someone say that if you are going to compare yourself to someone, you should compare yourself to your cousins, as they are the people you are genetically programmed to look more like. I think the point they were trying to make is that you shouldn’t obsess over looking like digitally tweaked models in magazines, but what this person failed to consider is that someone has to be the cousin of the models in those magazines. Take it from the girl whose cousins look like they could be the models in those magazines: Comparing yourself to anyone (even/especially family members) is a bad idea.

The point is, God created you and He said that you look good. Period. You are His carefully crafted masterpiece, and He thinks that you’re breathtakingly gorgeous. It doesn’t matter that you think your nose is a little too pointed and your butt is a little too large. When God looks at you, He sees perfection. He sees all the concentration He put into forming you. He sees the divine purpose for which He created you.

Psalm 45:11 tells us, “The king is enthralled by your beauty: honor him, for he is your lord.” In other words, God thinks you’re gorgeous. Stop saying that the way God formed you isn’t good enough because it is more than good enough. This is the God who created the sun and the moon and the trees and the clouds. Everything He makes is perfect – without flaw. Just like Song of Solomon 4:7 where He declares, “All beautiful you are, my darling, there is no flaw in you.” God made you beautiful. Period. No amount of any culture’s lies can change the fact that you are His creation. God delights in you just the way you are. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. When insecurities threaten to resurface, just remember that God looked down from on high and saw that you look good. Period.