Beneath my Beautiful
First published in the fall of 2014 on my dear friend’s website, Iseejoy.org.
She is beautiful — the lady staring back at me in my mirror.She looks a lot like me, but nothing like what I want and ought to be.Splashed across my mirror are my beautiful smile, gorgeous face and almost flawless skin.Depth and compassion appear as glimpses– like shadows in the night fading in and out of sight.
It wasn’t always like this.
As I reminisce on my reflections in my mirror — both past and current, I began to pay close attention to the mirrors my family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and clients held up to me. I came to the rather dire conclusion that my personal mirror was not the only culprit. Their mirrors showcased different variations of “You are beautiful,” and glimpses of “You are a tremendous blessing in my life.”
Don’t get me wrong; I am not the most beautiful woman in the world — far from it. Like many women, I want to be told that I am beautiful every day. However, growing up, I’ve always hoped and prayed to leave a legacy of compassion, empathy, activism, acts of love, service, wholeheartedness and excellence among other things. Ultimately, I want the world to know and see Christ in me and through me. In addition, I definitely have flaws, and the mirrors held up to me specifically by family and close friends reflected these flaws. In between the different variations of “You are effortlessly sexy,” and the glimpses of “You are kind and confident,” are the many instances of “You don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable,” and “You think the world revolves around you.”
These reflections seem balanced — beauty, soul and flaws. However, I knew the lady looking right back at me was not the woman I want and ought to be. The reflections were skewed. This lady had little resemblance to the Proverbs 31 woman — “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 30: 30). She looked nothing like Esther, with courage and guts she stood before kings, slayed giants and saved a nation. These reflections of me did not look like Ruth — selfless, giving, hardworking and loyal. The women in these mirrors could not claim to own attributes from David or Paul — steadfast, devoted to Christ and willing to proclaim Him to the entire world. These reflections of beauty I had given myself permission to stand on in the last three years looked less and less like Jesus every day.
I cannot pin point exactly where in my journey my eyes and heart turned, but it had to be sometime in the last three years. Maybe it was before and had just been simmering in the shadows waiting for the right time to burst loose. Whatever the case, I began to flinch as this bitter truth raised its head. The fade began when my dreams broke and the circumstances of my life took an unwanted turn. When dreams break or we encounter devastating circumstances, the altars on which we place our identity and security usually shatters from right under us. In their collapse, we find something else to set our diminishing self-esteem, security and identity on. For me, it became an issue of shifting from one failing shadow to another, and the values of compassion, love, and mercy became glimpses.
My first wakeup call was in 2012. I realized I had stopped caring enough about people to listen to what they had to say, and my writings and conversations had suddenly stopped tackling issues that used to burn on my heart. I had let my conversations and writings remain exclusively about the mundane. I had stopped writing. At that realization, I knew my circumstances, bitter as they may be, were beginning to expose my selfishness. However, awareness does not necessarily bring about change, and as the months rolled into years — I let me triumph over Him.
My second wakeup call came knocking in August 2014. I reconnected with an old friend, and he held up a mirror to me. It reflected nothing different from the reflections I had become accustomed to in the last three years. This time I was not just piqued, I was deeply bothered. A nagging feeling had been tugging at my heart all year and in August it stopped tugging, it began to rip at my skin, I bled and it hurt. However, my friend did something different. In addition to a mirror, he held up photo images — an image of himself and three of his female friends in Christ. Sitting across from him and spending a lot of time catching up in August, it hit me. I could not, whether consciously or unconsciously, operate from what I saw in those reflections and succeed. I could not let these reflections of me drive me, whether or not, I wanted it — I had allowed it. It had gotten me here and hasn’t gotten me far. Sitting across from him, my selfishness was yet again exposed.
The images of these women who had laid it all down for Jesus, and who were conquering their worlds for Him stayed with me. In them, I glimpsed some of the things I dreamed and still dream about. However, I had stopped doing the things I use to do and loved doing. I had stopped seeing the needs around me and filling them joyfully and anonymously. Some desires have also gone dormant, coming alive here and there- my desire to speak truth into the hearts and life of people, my desire to showcase the greatness of our God and to tell of his goodness, my desire to be unfettered and to allow everyone around me the freedom to do likewise, my desire to do the impossible, and my desire to speak truth, love and life into broken places. These were the silent words of prayers that used to daily gush out of me but now they only trickle out once in a while. These were the dreams that were truly broken not their replacements — a better job, a successful business, my insatiable wanderlust, a beautiful home etc. I had laid and kept my gaze on me.
As I both cringed and worked my way through these truths, two verses in Colossians 1 kept coming to mind — “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 1:27 -28)
Then it hit me yet again, I have been looking in all the wrong places. I was looking in the wrong mirrors and at the wrong images. The only place to set my gaze on is the mirror and image God places before me — the Word of God, and Jesus Christ. It is in Him that I see the person I am ultimately going to look like — HIM. The reflections in those others mirrors could not hold up under the weight of my worship. I could never look like the women in those images, and honestly, I don’t want to. In the breath that this revelation became mine, I chose to break free. When my skin sags, my hair turns gray, laugh lines appear and everything heads south — the reflection of Christ in me can only get better. It will reveal me perfect in Christ with a depth of spirit, a burden for the lost, love that sees and fill needs, courage that takes nations as an inheritance and ends of the earth as possessions and a God –confidence that stands through any storm. Christ is enough — He sees beyond my physical beauty, my self-esteem and confidence, my intelligence, my exuberant personality and my writings.
We cannot allow anyone tell us how to think about us. Our identities are not determined by sin, flaws, strength, job title, income, color of our skin or the numbers on the scale. Our security and identity will fall flat if we build them on anything other than Christ. Identify the predominant reflection(s) in the mirrors before you and break free. If you are not diligent, you will begin to buy into them and forget who you are, what you stand for and what you want to stand for.
I did — I built my identity on what I did, my boldness, the security of a job, my self-confidence and my “unshakable” belief in myself. About three years ago, when Christ kicked these things out from under me, I found myself gasping for air, giving in to fear and clawing for the next best things. I landed on my bubbly personality, my friendships and my talents, and when those could not hold water, my fear fearfilled heart and feeble fingers held on to my beauty. That got kicked out faster than I could blink. I finally got the message, and began to declare that I am created in the image of the almighty God. It is all beneath the beautiful — Christ gives me value. I realized if I was not willing to abandon fear and the things I had consciously and unconsciously banked on, I will eventually find this race too demanding and too costly. I had to lose my way to find His path.
Fear is a liar. It tells you things that are not true. It calls your heart away from the mirror of the Word of God and turns it to self. In Christ, you are more than a beautiful smile, a hot body, long flowing hair, broad manly shoulders, bouncy curly afro and a gorgeous/handsome face. In Christ, you are more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. You have got so much more going for you when you look in the Word of God. This is war — all we build our hope and security on outside of Christ will fail. They are all sinking grounds.
My prayer for you as I have been praying for myself in the past year is “Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart.”
PS: You are Immensely Loved!