My arm has long since fallen asleep and I’m amazed again by how heavy a nearly three-year-old can feel.
I lie pressed up against her in the bed and watch her chest rise and fall. She smells wonderful. I like to press my lips against her tiny palm, her chest and feel the space where her small soul is wrapped up in the wonder of her skin.
In the quiet of the bedroom where all I can hear is the hum of the humidifier and the soft snuffling of Zoe’s croupy breath, my mind wanders to all the ways I want her to feel beautiful. And I remember all the ways I did not when I was a young girl.
How is it that false or foolish things that people speak over us when we’re fifteen can hold more weight than the truth that people who love us speak when we’re adults. Why do I accept as cold, hard, reality the sentences that slipped careless from a hairdresser all those years ago and never pause to examine if they contain any truth, just swallow them hook, line and sinker?
I have thin, straggly hair. My ears stick out.
These are assessments I have owned as mine since I was a teenager and only because a too-hip-for-his-age hairdresser once whispered them to my mom. As if they were a shameful secret. As if I should apologize for ears that got in the way of his scissors.
I remember how my cheeks burned. How for years afterward I felt embarrassed anytime a hairdresser came to trimming in the vicinity. How I imagined they must be appalled by my big and sticky-out-ears.
These thoughts smack me in the head as I’m lying trapped under my sick daughter and for the first time in the twenty years since those words were spoken to me I drag them out into the light of day. I flip them over in my hands – thin hair, ears that stick out – and I realize two things.
First, neither of those statements is a reflection on me as a person – they don’t describe my temperament, my faith, my qualities as a friend or mother.
And second – neither is particularly true, since I have long ago grown into my ears and watched my hair thicken over the course of each of my three pregnancies.
Why then have these two statements come along for the ride all these years – like unwelcome hitch hikers, directing my thoughts about myself?
I watch Zoe’s eyelashes flutter on that porcelain white skin that is so warm to my lips and I’m astonished to discover how a hairdresser I only met once or twice has basically been back-seat-driving my definition of beautiful for years.
Me with the too thin hair and the too stuck out ears could not have been beautiful. I knew this from the tone of his voice and the set of his lip when he made his observed aside to my mom. And these words grew and grew until they had long, strong arms and legs that held me straight jacket tight anytime I thought about my hair.
Lying next to my long-limbed girl girl who is still unmarred by the opinions of others I finally wriggle free from the lie of my childhood. I find I can move in all the ways that matter. Not, perhaps, the arm still happily trapped beneath her body, but the heart that had felt quietly embarrassed by it’s physical appearance for so long.
The more I think about Zoe and the beauty I want her to grow into the more I realize I will need to own my own first. I will need to weed out the lies that have snuck, sometimes unnoticed, into my self image so that I am ready to do battle against any that come against her.
I must be beautiful in thought before I am beautiful anywhere else.
I will be a passionate beauty hunter – quick to recognize it in myself and translate it for Zoe. Beauty in attitude, beauty in excitement, beauty in laughter, beauty in service, beauty in grace, beauty in community.
And yes, beauty in ears with character and hair that’s inherited from a family of women – all powerful heart beauties.
I will root out the lies and plant fresh bulbs of beauty – for Zoe and me both.
We aren’t usually comfortable shining the spotlight in our own direction. But for those of us raising daughters, for those of us doing battle with word wounds, for those of us who want to grow into the beauty that God has long since spoken over us – let’s go on a beauty hunt together.
Write down beauty everywhere you find it in yourself – laundry folded in love, beds made, dinners cooked, lattes picked up for the husband at Starbucks. The red high heels, the swimsuit that shows off the wonder that your body has delivered, the family legacy of freckles. Even the tired eyes from being up all night with sick kids.
Write it down – write down the only definition of beauty that matters:
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14.
Let’s go on a beauty hunt together and in so doing, slay the lies of our childhoods.
In the comments today, complete this sentence: I went on a beauty hunt and found…