Part of the 30 day challenge series

To be honest, my first reaction to this question was to list all the things I don’t like about my body.  Even 10 months after giving birth to you, I can name a thing or two that I wish was firmer or tighter.  :]  Not to mention new skin sensitivities and what-nots.  You know, vain things that only a vain woman would really care about (like your umma!).  But I’m learning to view my body differently now.  Yes, to value inner and outer beauty in their rightful places — the former as chief and the latter as subject — but to also view my outer person as an instrument of love and service.

So from a real, every day point of view, my answer is … my hands.

With them I lift you, wipe your caboose and nose, wash an ever-growing pile of dishes, clean an ever-growing pile of laundry, cook our meals, open books and flip pages, write and type, demonstrate things for you, stroke your cheek, pat your back, play piano for you sometimes, and fish things out of your mouth (labels, stickers, small pieces of everything).  Life would be much more difficult without my working hands.  I’m sure we’d find a way around it (like those without hands do), but I’m grateful for my two hands.  They aren’t the most beautiful things, but they are so useful in serving those whom I love.  Like you!

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One of my favorite places.

September 7, 2012

Once a day — or at least every other day — my senses pull me to this rose garden near our home.  (Which is shorthand for saying I love the sights, scents, and sounds of this place and can’t stay away for too long. :])  Just a few minutes’ walk, and there it is.  Steps dipping into a garden that’s been almost carved into the side of the hill.  A sea of roses lovingly labeled, distinguishing one from the next.  A fountain cascading between parallel stairs.  A pool trying very hard to be a pond with a lily pad here and there.  Twisting paths and lanes and roads.  Squirrels who chase each other around trees.  Tall redwoods.  Never quite ripe blackberries.  And stillness.  Not a dead silence but kind of living, friendly stillness — if you get what I mean.

In the mornings, a cool mist hangs over the garden.  That’s probably my favorite time to go, before the day’s rush sets in.  A good rival is at evening twilight, walking with JE, or meandering off within sight as he runs up and down the stairs.

I haven’t brought my journal here yet.  I’m not sure if I will.  There’s something about the hush and beauty of this place that renders me silent, even in thought.  Not always of course, but more than any other place at the moment.  The beauty of His creation really does something to soothe my soul.  Death is not foreign to this garden, but along with the withering things are the sprouting, blossoming, growing things.  And while I can only see what’s above ground level, there’s a whole invisible world underneath and within that sustains what’s visible.  It’s good to remember that — for so many reasons.  The Gardener isn’t done with His work.  What’s dead isn’t always dead, what’s alive isn’t always alive.  But all are in good hands.  Under-gardeners helping, too.

This place is a hiding place of sorts.  But I rarely come here to hide, if ever.  I guess I love coming here because the beauty and soft thrum of growth — imperceptible to the eye — afford me a “heart at leisure from itself” and a heart at leisure from other “noise.”  It’s a sweet balm, this place, and my thoughts are just strung along … chirp to chatter, tree to blossom, steps to sky.  From nature to her nurturing Creator.

This is my Father’s world.  I rest me in the thought.

Only this.

September 29, 2011

Several months after her arrival she contracted malaria, and a high temperature brought her to death’s door and close to despair.  Had God called her to China only to let her die within a few months?  The spiritual anguish and rebellion she endured were worse than the physical illness, but eventually she reached a point of acceptance where she was able to say, “Lord, if it was only this that was Your will, Your will be done.”

(Valeria Griffiths on Marie Monsen, Not Less than Everything, pp. 246-247)

If it was only this.  Only what?  Disappointment.  Disease.  Delay.  Spiritual depression.  Possibly death.  If it was only this that was His will, only this that He had prepared her for here on earth, she was ready — happy — to make His will her home.

… That’s beautiful.

Only Skin Deep.

August 8, 2008

(For those of you who are interested, the entire conference notes for all sessions and seminars are now available for free! Click on “Conference Media” & create a log-in to access them! … haha, I sound like a pop-up ad.)

“True modesty can only come from a person who wants to show the world how great God is, not how great she is.”

“Outward beauty without inner beauty is a monstrosity (see Proverbs 11:22).”

Martha Peace was Session #2’s speaker. She jokingly used Elyse Fitzpatrick, Session #1’s speaker, as an example of vanity because Elyse had painted her toe nails and painstakingly put polka dots on them (hahaha). Her message was titled “Only Skin Deep: Understanding the Vanity of External Beauty.”

I’m never surprised that this is an issue addressed at almost every women’s conference & in almost every women’s interest book. I appreciated Martha Peace’s message, because it is an ongoing struggle for women from any walk of life or culture to think rightly about external beauty, about physical appearance.

She pointed out how vanity, how consumed we are with our image, is a part of Narcissism (the love of self, a sin). “We may not pine away as [the Greek youth Narcissus] did, but we are consumed with our image, too. We become depressed, compare ourselves to other women, fall into self-pity …”

Here are some of her session notes:

Vanity is something that is empty, futile, vain, or worthless. Vanity (in the sense of the love of beauty) is an “inflated pride in one’s appearance.”

Be discerning about possible signs of vanity in yourself:
– Overly concerned about how you look.
– Unable to gracious receive compliments …
– Depressed or anxious because “I’m fat.”
– On a quest for thinness that results in abuse of your body.
– Overspend on clothes, hair, makeup, etc.
– Compare self to others & how they look.
– Say things to elicit compliments from others.
– Dress in a sensual or immodest manner.

The world, she said, views vanity as a “body image problem, low self-esteem, hurts from childhood, insecurity, or significance needs not met.” The biblical view, however, is that the woman is “not grateful (I Thes. 5:16-18), [is] not content (I Tim. 6:6), [is] a lover of self (Romans 12:3, 2 Tim. 3:2), lusts for beauty (James 1:14-15), [and is] not motivated by love for God or others but by the love of self and others’ approval (I John 2:15-17).” Ouch, huh?

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was a beautiful woman, but in I Peter 3:5-6, she was said to be beautiful because of submission to her husband and holiness (hoping in God).

This isn’t to say that we must be “legalistic about dress and make up,” because Colossians 2 reminds us that asceticism and self abasement are of no use against the flesh; but rather that we should “enjoy the freedom the Lord has given,” remembering that that the pursuit of external beauty is a depressing, empty pursuit that is ultimately hopeless. True beauty comes from within!

“We must turn from our passion from loving ourselves and calling attention to ourselves to a passion for God and serving Him regardless of what we look like … That our love and passion for the Lord is what we treasure, [not being] self-consumed and -focused … Not a vain, proud woman, but consumed and enamored of the Lord.”

It was sweet to hear an older woman of the faith exhorting and encouraging the younger ones to follow Christ and love Him in this specific way.

I’ll be camping ’til Monday with my cousins and some family friends’ kids, and you know what that means: no running water (no showers!), no mirrors, no electrical outlets … In short, it’s a good place to put these truths into practice.

Or not :]

Ed Welch, author of When People Are Big & God Is Small, gave a message a couple years ago at Capitol Hill Baptist Church — Does Thin Equal Beautiful?

“We’re a culture that has lost its heart. The only thing that we have is appearance. The only thing that we have is a facade. There isn’t discussion about things below the surface really that often . . . a culture that especially for women advertises that appearance is what truly defines you . . .Thin does equal beautiful in this particular culture.”

I’ll just let Ed Welch’s message speak for itself.  Listen to it :]

rockwell_mirror.jpg

This is one of my favorite paintings by Norman Rockwell. It captures well the preoccupation of many (myself included). Note the make-up & hairbrush on the floor by her feet; the magazine propped on her lap; the tossed-aside doll; the wistful, half-reproachful look into the mirror.

I bought a small copy of this my freshman year of college & posted it up right next to my mirror. It was my visual reminder of I Peter 3:3-4 – “Your adornment must not be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

It’s difficult not to be overly concerned (key word: “overly”) with physical appearances when we live in a society that is obsessed with physical beauty. A woman can be called intelligent, funny, kind, or gifted, but chances are, none of these adjectives will please her more supremely than calling her beautiful. After all, it’s typically the beautiful who receive more attention, better treatment, immediate approval, admiration, the envy of others, & the benefit of the doubt.

We’re obsessed with appearances on all levels, because whether we like to admit it or not, we fear man (mankind) & hold on to his approval like gems when we ought to fear God & seek His approval instead. “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

But where to find the beauty that doesn’t wash off, fade, wrinkle, put on pounds, or go out of style? Where to find the beauty that mirrors don’t (& can’t) reflect? Where to find the beauty that Almighty God is pleased with & finds precious?

I Peter 3:4 says it’s in “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle & quiet spirit.” The adornment & beauty that pleases God is internal & eternal, not merely external – a gentle & quiet spirit.

Gentleness refers to “meekness . . . that disposition of spirit in which we accept [God’s] dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting . . . [it is] the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. The gentle person is not occupied with self at all. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, not of the human will (Gal 5:23)” (BlueLetterBible.Org). This word for “gentle” is also used to describe Jesus (Matthew 11:29). Such gentleness is “an active attitude & deliberate acceptance, not just passive submission” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).

Quietness refers to the “tranquility arising from within . . . it is associated with ‘meek’, & is to characterize the spirit or disposition” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words). It refers to a “tranquil disposition free from the inner turmoil that causes disturbances” (I.S.B.E.).

Here is the beauty that does not fade. Here is a beauty that the ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ cannot reflect. Here is true lasting beauty. “Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

That doesn’t mean we put all our mirrors, make-up, fine clothes, & jewelry away. The Proverbs 31 woman was commended for her clothing of “fine linen & purple” (Proverbs 31:22). But we don’t make these our idol, our pursuit of first importance.

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” (I Peter 5:5)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy & beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, & patience, bearing with one another . . . put on love.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

May we seek, with all our hearts, the kind of beauty that is precious in His sight – the kind of beauty that is faithfully reflected to us in the unchanging, clear mirror of His Word . . . & that is cultivated in unceasing prayer, in walking by the Spirit, in abiding in Christ.

“Charm is deceitful, & beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).