You are Beautiful!

youarebeautiful

Summer is coming, and as it approaches, I am hearing a lot about skin care, botox, self tanning and plastic surgery. Perhaps it is because I am eight months pregnant, but these conversations often leave me tired! I think it’s because I know I could spend all my time and money fighting the force of aging and worldly imperfections and still come up short. And it’s no fun to dwell on our flaws, is it?! It can be a slippery slope. I write this with no condemnation at all…I admit I delight in getting my hair colored a shade of blond it has not naturally been since I was 18 and don’t feel fully dressed until I put I on my lip gloss. I enjoy good beauty tips from friends!

But I think there’s another conversation we need to engage in as women. The battle is not against aging, cellulite, skin tone, wrinkles or roots…it’s against an enemy who whispers something to us from the time we’re little: “you are not beautiful” or “you are not as pretty as…” Or the more subtle whispers from magazines, billboards, commercials and the world around us: “you’d be more beautiful if...” What is that “if” for you? I know what it is for me. Our real battle is against these lies, and this is the battle we need to engage in and help each other fight. There is a fine line between stewarding the gift of our bodies well for God’s glory and questioning the masterpiece design of our Maker.

I had the privilege of hearing my amazing sister-in-Christ, Toya, speak on beauty this month. As she confidently shared how she sees herself as beautiful in the eyes of God, she radiated a contagious glow, and I felt myself becoming more beautiful in my own chair as she spoke. She read from 1st Peter 3, “Let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights,” and Proverbs 31, “charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.” She talked about how Jesus had “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2) Isn’t that crazy? He was the most magnetizing person of all times, but it was not what was on the outside that drew strangers to reach out and touch him. It was WHO and WHOSE he was. Toya asked those of us in the audience what makes us feel beautiful. I think a common answer was knowing that someone saw it in us. Every little girl and grown woman out there longs for someone to see beauty in her. And until she sees herself through the eyes of God and knows WHO and WHOSE she is, she will never fully comprehend just how beautiful she really is.

I loved this wisdom from my devotion “No More Perfect Moms” and wanted to share: “When you look at yourself in the mirror, what filter do you see yourself through? Do you compare what you see in the mirror to what you see in magazine articles and television shows? Or do you see yourself through God’s eyes? His eyes care more about the condition of your heart than the condition of your skin. We can make peace with our bodies if we will learn to see it through God’s eyes. Let’s explore what God says about our bodies and our hearts.

First Corinthians 6:19–20 asks, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (ESV). A little earlier in 1 Corinthians we read, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? . . . For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16–17 ESV). From the book of Romans comes this instruction: “I appeal to you . . . present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1 ESV). First Corinthians also reminds us, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). All of these verses tell us that our bodies belong to God. He asks us to take care of our bodies and treat them like the Holy Spirit’s precious home. So taking care of our physical bodies is a stewardship issue. We are taking care of something that doesn’t actually belong to us, but instead belongs to God.

When you consider these verses, do you get the feeling that your body is actually a gift from God? I do. In fact, it’s a gift God made Himself! In Psalm 139 we discover, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (Psalm 139:13–14). . . .

Now imagine God knitting together your body. When the last stitch is complete, He says, “If you EVER wonder if I love you, just look at this incredible body I’ve given you. It is evidence of sacrifice and a heart full of love for you.” Our bodies are truly miraculous. . . . The human body is an intricate piece of artwork God fashioned and gave to each one of us. Think about that the next time you stand in front of a mirror!”

Isn’t that awesome? Along those lines, with beauty on my mind, something new and exciting struck me in reading the story of David and Goliath this week. Before David went to fight the giant, Saul put his own armor on the boy. The armor of a King, what a privilege. But David said about the coat and helmet, “I cannot go in in these…because I am not used to them.” (1 Sam 17:39) So he took them off. David was not engaged in the battle the world fights. He saw a different battle that called for a different armor. The rest of the Israelites saw the giant and as defying Israel and they were terrified. David saw the giant as defying God and he had courage in God to defeat him. God always wins His battles. So I ask you – what battle are you actually fighting when it comes to beauty? What weapons are you using? The weapons of the world or the armor of God? Are you fighting for victory or from it?

Saul tried to keep David’s eyes on his shortcomings by telling him he was too inexperienced to fight. But David confidently reminded his king that he had killed both a lion and a bear and that “this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them because he has defiled the armies of the living God.” (1 Sam 17:36) I think God often trains us for battles alone in the wilderness like He did David. That’s where our confidence comes from – that time in the wilderness between us, God and the enemy. In the battle of beauty, the enemy is a beast we think we can never overcome…one who whispers of our ugliness, our past sins, our shortcomings, and how we compare to others. But, once we’ve surrendered to God’s perfect love, fought that monster of ugly with His truth, received the victory Jesus won on our behalf, and see that beast defeated in light of the finished work of the cross, we are armed to fight any battle. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world….they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Cor 10:4) Paul tells us we have been given the weapons of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the sword of God’s word.

If the armor of the world doesn’t fit you, don’t let it weigh you down. You don’t have to put on anything that doesn’t fit you just because the rulers of this world tell you to. We are in a fight. Not against the giant of aging and imperfection, but against an enemy who defies the living God by telling us we are not beautiful, special, beloved, approved, fearfully and wonderfully made, and carefully knit together by divine design. This enemy knows how precious we are to our Maker, he shudders when he sees us coming and he knows that the One who lives in us is greater than him. He knows that our bodies are very special because they are temples of the Holy Spirit. And he also knows that when we start seeing this, he’s in big trouble!

Paul talks about fighting the “good fight.” (2 Tim 4:7) The Greek word good is “kalos,” which also means beautiful. Yes, we are called to fight the beautiful fight. It’s the fight for souls, the fight for eternity when we will “put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.” (2 Cor 5:2) It’s the fight against the lies of an enemy who defies a living God…a God who died for us so we’d never be ugly again, who made us in His image and lovingly placed on each one of us the weight of HIS glory. The battle has already been won for you. You are cherished and precious in His sight. We can stop trying to become beautiful because we already are! You will never be more beautiful in Christ than you are right now. This beauty never goes away or fades, and it is being renewed every day. It’s a free gift. Receive it. Walk in it. Claim it. Tell another sister she’s beautiful today, and show her WHO and WHOSE she is. We are free to take off the armor of the world if it doesn’t fit us and fight the beautiful fight. The real battle. God’s battle. Agree with Him. And say it to yourself: “You are altogether beautiful, my darling, there is no flaw in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7)

Mud Puddles

It was a day with little plans, overcast skies and a soaking wet ground; a potential bad combination for a mama! I let the kids out in the backyard to buy some time and figure out what to do with our adventure day. And within about 15 seconds, they found them….the two puddles in the back of the yard. And they plunged RIGHT IN.

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Oh dear! Too late to stop them! Do I run them inside and clean them off? Hmmmm. On second thought, we had nowhere to be and since they were already covered in mud, we made a morning of it. Boy, did we! They giggled and squealed and rolled around and had a ball.

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It brought back fun memories from my childhood of playing in the mud, and I still cherish the pictures my mom took to capture those carefree days.

As my kids laughed and splashed, I stood at a distance puzzled about why they react so differently to mud puddles than I do. Here are the thoughts that ran through my mind:

I am wearing borrowed white maternity pants that they better not ruin

Will their new shoes ever look the same?

Is the grass ever going to grow back in that spot?

How will I get them into the bath without getting mud on the rug?

What if I change clothes and get in with them?…No, a meeting with the financial people to talk taxes later and I’ve already showered.

Those thoughts that came into my mind did not come close to my children’s little brains. They saw: Fun. Water. Irresistible adventure. So simple. They did not hesitate one minute to step into it. They did not think about their clothes, how they’d get clean or what came next. And why should they? They have me, don’t they? Has there ever been a mess I couldn’t clean up? They trusted I would be there to clean them off and make sure they are clothed tomorrow. Or, perhaps they intuitively understand that cleanliness is not an exterior thing at all. They trust they are taken care of…and they are…so they don’t worry.

On days like this, I realize that while I am teaching them about life, there is so much that they teach me. I hope I am always a mama like Mary who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 NIV)

As I looked at my kids, I wondered…when did the shift in thinking about mud puddles happen for me? I think with responsibility, we become less free-spirited and childlike. And that’s a good thing in many ways. But as responsible adults, do we really believe Jesus when He says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… But, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 33-34)

When God offers me adventures, do I jump in? Do I trust there is nothing to worry about because I’ve got Him? Or do I see all the reasons why not to? Do I see the abundant life He freely offers, or just the consequences of stepping in?

How quickly we can talk ourselves out of what God puts right in front us. God puts these interruptions in our lives…people to share our faith with, ministries to give our resources and time to, people who are hurting on the side of the road…messes everywhere. And when we rationalize why we can’t go all in, we stand on the sidelines of an abundant life. Do we have to jump in to be more approved by our Father in heaven? Absolutely not! But we get to! And it’s more fun! He has called us to live in the present tense, to trust Him and not to worry, to follow Him right now, to become like little children and to enter His kingdom.

Father, thank You for children. Thank you for telling us not to hinder them. Thank you for providing the most simple opportunities to live an abundant life in our backyards. Please open our eyes to the messes you would have us step into, renew our minds to trust Your provision, and give us childlike faith to let go of our worries and follow You in wild, pure joy.

The Race: Overcoming the Comparison Trap

stayinyourlane

STAY IN YOUR LANE!” These passionate words from Robert Madu (robertmadu.com) at the Catalyst Conference echo in my mind. He gave a powerful message relevant to what I think we all struggle with…the comparison trap.

He told the story of Saul and his envy of David and how it led to his eventual downfall. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, ‘but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?’ And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.” (1 Samuel 18:8) Here Saul was a king, blessed with an entire kingdom, and yet he kept his eyes on David. He compared this to the author of Hebrews who tells us to keep our eyes on JESUS. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We are in race. When we look in someone else’s lane, we will trip and fall because we will miss what’s right in front of us. Our races are different for a divine reason and we are all meant to keep our eyes on Jesus, not each other.

This week, through an unusual mix of conversations and encounters, I have been subtly reminded of who I am not. And it feels….icky. It feels icky when we look at others and then look at ourselves in comparison and feel like we come up short. Why? Because we were not meant to define our identity on a measuring stick to other people. God in His great mercy, took away that measuring stick…our distance to perfection was so very far that He came to give us HIS greatness, to give us the full measure of perfection that is only available in Christ. The Truth about us is defined by Him. He is the Potter, and we are the pots handmade uniquely to reflect His image and glory. When we look at others pondering our identity, we see who we are not. When we look at Jesus, we see who we are. And to our Creator, who we are is very special.

When I start to think about who I am not, I try to remember who I AM and what is in my lane. God has given me unique gifts. He has given me an amazing husband and made me the only person on this planet chosen to walk through life with him as one flesh. He has given me two precious children who cry out for “mama” and no one else will do. He has given me a love of writing and sharing my story. He has opened doors for me to see hurting people look to Jesus and go from dead on the inside to alive. People who the world often overlooks. Over the past four years, I have grabbed hold of where I feel God is calling me, and as a result, I have let go of some things. My lane is much less successful by worldly standards. Sometimes, when I look at others, I long to be approved by the world around me. When I look at what I don’t have, it blinds me to what is right in front of me and to HIS goodness, which is more than enough! I have been rescued from an ordinary life into an extraordinary life of unseen realities, “for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) I am reminded that He is preparing for us “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2nd Corinthians 4:17) When I let go of my desire for approval by the world’s standards, I can make room for His perfect love and become who I am meant to be.

I can look in others’ lanes and stumble and fall, often in a pivotal part of my race. The comparison trap comes from all angles. Sometimes I see people running their race beautifully in something God has called them to do, and wonder if I should be doing that too. Robert Madu calls this the “but me” glasses. When we look through the “but me” glasses, evaluating things through the lens of where we fit in, we are paralyzed from genuinely celebrating Kingdom wins and giving others much needed encouragement. By looking through the lens of Christ, we can see others and their accomplishments, not in relation to us, but how He sees them. Let’s encourage someone who is running beautifully today!

I think the comparison trap happens because when we think of races, we often think of competition. I think of the Olympics where there is only one gold medalist. But God’s race is not like that. In His race, we are NOT running against each other. We are running TO Jesus. We are running AGAINST spiritual powers of darkness. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) We have a real enemy and that enemy is always spiritual. It is not someone in another lane. Not ever. They are most often the ones on our team who we should celebrate and encourage. We are running against doubt, fear, insecurities, and lies. Any long distance runner knows that the biggest obstacles in the race are in their mind.

We are called to throw off the sin that so easily entangles us. I think of Forrest Gump running for the first time and the braces falling off his legs. I love the expression on his face as he realizes he is not handicapped and discovers that within him is actually something amazing. As we throw off our sin, we become like Jesus, “for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29) “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” (2nd Corinthians 3:18) There are powers of darkness that are terrified to see this happen and want us to keep our eyes fixed anywhere but Jesus. But there’s a cloud of witnesses of those who have gone before who are surrounding us and cheering us on. Because our race matters.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Do you ever hear chatter inside your head that is downright ugly? Thoughts about yourself? I do. We have to remember that those thoughts have no place. We wouldn’t talk to others like that. Why in the world do we allow thoughts like that in about ourselves? Those thoughts are the voice of the enemy who wants to blind us to our Loving Father, to Christ who lives in us, and to the Truth about who we are. So what are we to do? Take them captive. Renew our minds to the Truth. Fix our eyes on Jesus. And run. Run this race that has a finish line in eternity with no more death or crying or pain. It has a finish line in a Kingdom where “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

I want to look back and see a race well run with Him and for Him. I want to see a LOT of love and not a lot of fear. I want to see that I said YES to the things that matter to Him and no to the things that don’t. I want to see grace received and extended in abundance. I want to see that I grabbed hold of the life that is truly life, and let go of the things that so often distract me from His purpose and call. I want to be remembered by the light of Christ He so graciously put in me to shine. I want to have an eternal impact during my time here. I want to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2nd Timothy 4:7) But I can’t do that if my eyes are fixed on someone else’s lane.

I am the only person in this world like me and you are the only person in this world like you. Let’s boldly celebrate how our Creator made us! You be the best you, I’ll be the best me. We were not meant to hide our gifts. He has given us permission to shine because when we do, He does! As said by Marianne Williamson, “we were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.”

We are distracted by design because we were made made by design…we were created in a unique way for a unique purpose that if fully stepped into, would terrify the powers of darkness. As Christ followers, if God uses us to share the Gospel with one person whose life is transformed by Jesus, it will change eternity and possibly the course of generations forever.  We have an enemy who wants to blind us to this truth by keeping our eyes on things of this world, other people and who we are not. 

So, who ARE you? What’s in your lane? What are your special gifts? What’s your unique purpose? What’s in front of you right now? Who’s in front of you? Who are you racing? What do you see as your destination? And what does finishing well look like?

Paul says, “my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24) What task has He given you? Life here is so very short. Too short for comparison and condemnation. In Christ, we can throw off the shackles that hinder us and break free to run lightly as as we were divinely designed.“Those who hope in the Lord…will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary.” (Isaiah 40:31) Lord, give us grace to run our race and remember that He who is in us and greater than He who is in the world.

You and I were knit together for a divine purpose that has its start and end in Him. Jesus is with us in every moment, and we will see Him face-to-face at the finish line. Jesus, the One who, while we were still sinners did not hold one thing back from us. So let’s look up, fix our eyes on Him…and run our hearts out, “pressing on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:14)