The Story

“All of these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am.” – Brandi Carlisle, “The Story”

I read something recently that said, “Thank goodness we do not look like what we’ve been through.”

I look in the mirror and have trouble relating to that statement. I look every bit of what I’ve been through.

I have never been the beautiful girl. I have not even been the pretty girl. I’ve been the marrying kind, as some say. Of course, I thought I’d be the “live alone in an apartment with too many cats” kind.

And that has always kind of bothered me. We women have this innate need to be lovely and adored, and, if we do not get that need filled, we likely become either lowly, desolate, and bitter; or over-bearing and attention-seeking (see Stasi and John Eldridge’s book Captivating for more on this topic). I became the former, often depressed and self-deprecating with regard to my appearance. Cerebrally, appearances should not define us, should not matter that much, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, we know. Every one of us knows. We tell ourselves all the time. But, the facts do not matter much in a world revolving around image.

I hear your thirties are supposed to be that magical time when we stop caring as much about what others think. But instead, I have found myself more critical, mainly due to my inability to maintain (you know, the oft-spoken “she let herself go”), in addition to the marks of life upon my body.

So, when I read the statement above, about looking like what I’ve been through, I had to step back for an assessment. On the bridge of my nose is a scar from years of wearing glasses, often having those glasses hit by flying sporting equipment in P.E. classes. My cheeks and chin are bumpy from the blemishes of youth, years I spent fielding taunts and sarcastic comments from the bullies and the cool kids.

Those marks, however unsightly by cultural standards, remind me that I made plans to end my life, but I survived.

My abdomen has a probably permanent bulge and dark vertical line from carrying three babies. I have scar tissue in my side from their kicks and residual pain in my tailbone, which broke when I delivered the first. I have literally been torn apart and put back together.

But it is the back together that matters. And those children are alive and healthy and beautiful.

I have gray hair and split ends and unpainted nails because those things are low on my list of priorities (no shame if that’s your thing, it just isn’t mine). I have bruises on my legs from carrying car seats and kicking children. I have freckles on my arms and sun spots on my feet from days spent outside ministering on mission trips or making memories with my family. The veins of my hands protrude, and my knuckles are growing knobby from nights writing out whatever is heavy on my heart. There are lines between my eyes, across my forehead, around my mouth – all the remnants of emotion and thought. There are a dozen other stories on my body too personal to tell.

My body is a testament to the depth of my soul, and I must learn to love it for its imperfections, not in spite of. If I love “in spite of,” I will always resent those flaws and diminish their stories.

Yes, my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Temple of God in Jerusalem was lovely and ornate. However, let us not forget that God’s presence also resided in a tent, and it was glorious. As Momma always said, it’s what’s inside that counts.

Ladies, sisters, love your story. Love the evidence of a full life that is written on your body. You are not your body; it is simply a precious, ever-changing portrait of your story.

After all, nobody ever says at a funeral, “Look at that beautiful corpse.” They will say, “Look at her beautiful life.”

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Don’t Judge Me

We live in a world of sound bytes. A world where messages must be short and loud and plentiful. And everyday I encounter feeds full of quips and quotes and visually appealing images with mantras in pretty fonts, all attempts to define self behind a screen.

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There are a lot of things I could say about the positives and negatives of this over-stimulated and isolated world we’ve created for ourselves, but I will choose to address one for today.

One trend among my peers is to collect bumper sticker-like memes to adorn social media, to make a statement, to 

inspire, to procure identity. Some are true and lovely and noble, and my digital connections are daily populated with them. Some, however, make my heart break. These all take different forms, with varying degrees of poetry or pointed-ness, but they can be summarized as such: Don’t judge me.

That’s from a popular Bible verse, right? “Judge not, lest you be judged…”

I see these mostly from women –  women about my age, intelligent women, strong women, Jesus-loving, born-again women.  Yet when I see these memes or quotes, I feel as though the woman behind them is taking some kind of defensive posture and I wonder why.  Not, “What did you do?” But, “Why do you feel judged?”

You see, I believe in no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). I believe that whom the Son has set free is free indeed (John 8:36). I believe His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22).

Those beliefs are freeing. They turn my deepest shame into my greatest testimony. They cause me to wear my past like a scar with a story I can tell to anyone who’ll listen. I can tell of His love and His goodness and His grace.

So when I see women I love waving their “Don’t judge me” flags like banners of war, shouting it in 24 point font from smart phones to the audience of the world, I can only come to a few conclusions:

1. We’re trying to justify open sin. Okay, that was the harshest one, but it needs to be addressed. I would rather be the friend who tells you when there’s spinach in your teeth than the one who smiles on the outside and laughs on the inside. When Adam and Eve sinned, their first response was to cover it themselves. They hid, they covered, they pointed fingers and threw out distractions. And, ladies, it is our first defense as well when we aren’t ready to give up or admit a sin. Jesus forgives. He does not pass judgement. But He also told the woman he saved from stoning to, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). His kindness leads us to repentance, not defensiveness. Simply, God did not send Jesus to die so we could continue in the same sin which

 draws us away from Him. If there is the ache of conviction in our hearts, throwing our fig leaves in people’s faces and daring them hold us accountable only causes a deeper gulch between ourselves, our Savior, and the people we love.

2. Someone is condemning us unjustly. I have to be honest: for all the talk about hypocritical Christians and gossiping women, the reality is much less dramatic than the belief. By and large, most people are not spending their precious minutes or hours throwing shade at you. Our enemy, his powers and principalities, would certainly like to make us think so, but it just isn’t true. Some people do gossip or pass judgement, and that is a terrible thing, but it is an indicator of their own issues, not yours. However, can I make a freeing suggestion? Let them! I said above that my past and all my sin (recent included) is my test

imony of His grace. I will own it. I will share it. And, if that doesn’t silence the naysayers and ninnies, nothing will. I won’t lose my joy, or develop a self-righteous, don’t judge attitude about it.

3. Someone is condemning us unjustly, and she’s living in our heads. This is the most poisonous answer, but the one I fear is most common. Maybe you’ve had the talk with Jesus, the teary and snotty on-your-face talk, but there is a linger. That linger is not a voice but a sense that easily projects onto others, particularly other women. It is applied to looks in a hallwa

y or a concerned question or even to the lack of someone else’s communication. We quickly chalk up every misinterpreted signal as evidence that someone knows, someone condemns, someone judges. Beloved, we must get free of this. It is not only dangerous to ourselves, but our sisters. It is the same spirit that caused Cain to look at Abel with hatred and murder. It is the spirit that perpetuates isolation or drama in female relationships. It is a root of the real war on women. Satan has a field day with it, and it grieves the Holy Spirit and retracts the advancement of the Kingdom.

So, how do we deal with the linger? We take our thoughts captive. We shut the mouth of the liar every time the notion of condemnation enters our minds. We own our faults so no one else can use them against us. And, if we have sin in our lives, we stop justifying it and submit it to God with open and rendered hearts.

We must stop shouting from the rooftops we don’t want to be judged. Living in grace, living in “no condemnation” doesn’t mean screaming at others to mind their own business, but humbly and gratefully accepting the mercy of our Father, rejoicing that He has made a way for us to be restored to Him.  Instead, let us release with abandon the faults of our lives and the worr

y in our hearts. Let us use our social media microphones, our inspiring images, to shout His name and the glory of His goodness that we may walk in true freedom.