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Can you hear Me?

>> Wednesday, July 17, 2013

** I wrote this blog back in the Spring, but was having trouble with the site and couldn't post it. As I'm going to attempt to start updating my blog again regularly, I went back through some saved drafts and decided to post it even though it's a little old. It still rings true for me, and just rereading it again I was taken back to that day and the significance of its lesson on me. Hope it maybe has some significance on you too!**

Well after about 30 hours that some crazy stomach virus decided to start its course through my body yesterday morning, I felt well enough to go for a short walk this afternoon. It's a beautiful Spring day, and I figured some fresh air would do me some good and hopefully speed up the recovery process.

I put on my rubber boots, grabbed the dogs leash and off we went. It was surprisingly quiet in my neighbourhood today. We live right near a big park - open fields, trails, a large pond and a huge forest - so I had expected quite a few people to be out and about enjoying the weather, but I guess maybe school hadn't been let out quite yet. Franklin and I ended up having the place to ourselves, which I love (as quiet suits me just fine), so we moseyed along - Franklin urging me to walk faster as he wanted to sniff absolutely everything that Spring has to offer.

As the sun beat down on us (first day without a jacket on!) my mind started to wander a bit, and I started thinking about beauty and how it just seems to be such a hard time for young girls to grow up in right now - constantly being bombarded by images of what "beauty" is and how to achieve it. I don't really know why I started thinking about it - perhaps it's because my husband works with youth and we often talk about what challenges young people face, perhaps because I was reading an article the other day about something related to that, or perhaps because God put it on my heart for a reason.

I started thinking about how I've faced my own struggles and insecurities over the years as it relates to beauty - what I think it is, what it means to be or not be known as physically beautiful, and what "inner beauty" really means.

I was very fortunate growing up. My family never placed a lot of importance on physical beauty. I went through a very awkward phase (I mean really awkward) from the time I was about 11 to probably around 18. Yup - it was a pretty long phase. From a purely physical standpoint, I wasn't someone society would have described as beautiful. I had really frizzy hair (which for some reason I cut short, thinking that would "calm" the frizz. Ha! It only makes it worse people!) I also had a huge space between my front teeth, which was to be straightened by retainers, braces and "head gear" (yes, the kind that wraps around your whole head . . . ) I also had acne, and was super, super, super skinny. Although I ate like a horse, I just had extremely high metabolism and couldn't gain weight for the life of me. Let's put it this way - until I was 18 I pretty much looked like a very skinny, frizzy, short-haired guy.

But here's the thing though - I don't think I realized any of that at the time. As looks weren't really emphasized in my family or in my circle of friends, it never really dawned on me that I wasn't "physically beautiful". Sure there were some mean kids at school who teased me from time to time, and sure there was that one time some lady stopped me at the mailbox to ask if I was a boy or a girl (seriously) and I ran home crying, but it honestly never really bothered me that much. My parents were great at always making sure that it was personality traits or qualities we had to work at that were recognized. If I studied really hard and did well on a test? I was praised for it. When my parents found out I had stood up to a bully who was teasing a special needs boy on the bus and then walked him home? I saw tears in their eyes as they told me how proud they were of me. I knew even at that young age, that when I was applauded or praised, it was due to something that really mattered - that was a reflection of who I really was.

It was only when I was around 18/19 years old that I started to place a lot more significance on my own physical appearance. I would look back at photographs of myself during that awkward phase and be ashamed at how I had looked. I remember getting really upset one day as I looked through older photos of myself - holding one up to my dad & saying - "Why didn't you guys tell me I looked so bad? Why didn't you tell me I was ugly!" And he simply looked at me and said "But you weren't. You were beautiful then just as you're beautiful now." I scoffed at it and continued into what I call the "hair straightening years". I started putting a lot more time and effort into how I looked, and started to place way too much importance on physical beauty. I would wake up early everyday - hours earlier then I had to - just to straighten my long unruly, super-light dyed blonde hair, and then spend probably about a half hour applying make-up and picking out the right clothes. I also became a little obsessed with working out - I would go running or exercise for at least an hour everyday, on top of multiple dance classes a week. The clothes I would pick out were picked out to accentuate my figure, and although I wasn't overly provocative in my clothing, I do admit I was looking for clothes that would be considered "sexy" to the opposite sex and show off how fit and toned I was.

It's hard to pin point exactly why that "hair straightening" phase started, although I'm sure a lot of it probably had to do with the fact that I had started to grow into my features more, and was for the first time in my life getting attention from guys. People other than family members and friends started referring to me as "pretty" or "cute" and even "beautiful" and as a young woman that can definitely affect you. It made me feel good, and made me feel valued. Why would someone calling me "pretty" make me feel more valued than someone calling me "smart"? Probably because then (as well as now), physical beauty seems to unfortunately hold more weight on the scale than many other attributes when it comes to weighing someones "value". Everywhere we look we are being bombarded by physical beauty. Even those companies that are trying to be more realistic in their advertising campaigns by using models who are of average weight and proportions, are still tending to use "models" who have what we would still consider "beautiful" facial features.

The hair straightening years lasted for awhile. It wasn't until I met the man who would become my husband, and started to see myself through his eyes, that I started to settle into a more permanent place of self-worth. When I truly started to realize that he loved the "real" no make-up, t-shirts and jeans me - just as much as the straight hair, made-up, tight skirt and top me - I really started to return to that place I lived in from 11-18. A place where looks aren't equal to worth -where your outward self is not indicative to your inner qualities - which are the qualities that hold the most weight. This was also happening at a time where I started to come back to my faith, and I not only started to see myself through my husband's eyes but through the eyes of God, as a child of God. That message of inner beauty and the strength of that continued to triumph over the message of society I had been succumbing to for so long.

I'm not saying I'm now so wise that I never care about how I look, or go through phases where I think I'm "fat" or "ugly". I'm human, and thus I am flawed. It's hard to not let the media's image of beauty impede on what I know is the true image. It's hard to watch TV, or a movie, or flip through a magazine and not start to think "man I really need to lose some more weight", or "I really need to buy some anti-wrinkle cream - those laugh lines are getting a little more noticeable!". It's hard. It's really hard. But when you are surrounded by people who not only see what's truly important, it makes it so much easier to push past that, take a breath, and remember what's really important. Outward, physical beauty is fleeting. It may get you attention, it may make you feel valued or important for awhile, but it doesn't last. Although we can admire physical beauty in a person - it isn't often those fleeting qualities that people remember about you. People remember kindness. They remember warmth. They remember how you made them feel about themselves. They may remember that you looked nice, they may remember that you had nice hair or beautiful eyes - but they'll probably remember more the warmth and spirit that shone out of your eyes, rather than what colour they were. They'll probably remember more that laughter often came out of your mouth, instead of whether or not your teeth were straight and shining white.

I should state somewhere in this post that I'm not saying we shouldn't pay any attention at all to our physical selves. I recognize that my body is a gift from God and should treat it accordingly. We should eat healthy, we should exercise, and if we want to wear a nice outfit and put on some make-up and do our hair - that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's not unhealthy to want to be healthy. It's not a bad thing if we want to get dressed up and look nice. It's when that starts to be an indicator of who we are and what we're worth that we need to worry about. If you feel better about yourself on the days you're all dolled up than you do on the no make-up, sweatpants kinda' days - well then you should maybe start to examine why you really feel that way. That's when you need to realize and remember that it is our inner qualities and spirit that is more important than our outward appearance. The Bible talks in several places about beauty, and I would definitely encourage you to search out those passages and do some study on what is in the Word itself about beauty. Remember that you (yes YOU) were created in the image of God. Do you get that? Do you understand that? Do you understand that you weren't a mistake? That not only whatever you look like on the outside is a masterpiece, but that God sees your heart and that's what is truly important?

As I walked down the path and had all this on my heart, Franklin and I reached one of the entrances to the forest. I was drawn closer to the trees, and we stood for several minutes taking in the scene. It was beautiful. Nature in it's finest. Not physically mind you. From all the rain and melted snow, there's now a massive swamp on the fringes of the forest, and it's not the most inviting for a walk. The trees still haven't yet really started to bloom, and it's muddy and brown and messy. What was most beautiful was the sound. It sounded like a mixture of frogs & crickets, singing out in what literally sounded like a symphony of nature. I know that sounds corny, but it's true.

It was as if God was driving the message home to me. "Do you hear that? I know what you see you don't think is "beautiful", but do you hear that? Do you hear that it is beautiful? Do you feel it's beauty? Now truly open your eyes and see that it IS beautiful. It is MY creation, and it is beauty. And you are beautiful as you are also my creation."

Remember that next time you look at yourself in the mirror and see only what you think are your flaws. Remember that the next time your inner dialogue is full of self-directed criticisms'. Try and see yourself for what you truly are. You are a CHILD OF GOD.

Marvellous. Perfect. Beautiful.


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