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Monday, July 28, 2014

Beauty Is As Beauty Does

What is beauty?  Yeah, I know that's a frequently asked question.  There's currently a fad going around Facebook where people are challenging one another to post five pictures where they feel beautiful.  And I'm not saying that's stupid or silly.  I participated too, so don't you worry about it.  :)

However, we don't focus on what beauty is often enough.  Merriam-Webster defines beauty as "the quality of being physically attractive; the qualities in a person or a thing that give pleasure to the senses or the mind".  This is the definition society tends to follow.  You look at the font covers of the tabloid magazines while waiting in the check out line at Walmart and you see glaring headlines like "Stars Without Makeup".   (Oh admit it, you look at the covers of the stupid things too.)  Underneath this honestly useless topic are the most unflattering photos of, you guessed it, stars without makeup.  When did we get so focused on covering up our true skin?  Sure, it's nice to cover up the occasional zit now and then, accentuate cheekbones, make your eyes pop with color, but seriously?  Do we have to categorize beauty by the amount of foundation you cake on?  Sure, we tell our daughters, girlfriends, sisters, best friends that they don't need makeup to look beautiful, but our voices our outnumbered by insane shrieks of society.  Is it bad to try to look your best?  No, I don't think so.  But becoming dependent on makeup to make us beautiful instead of allowing our natural beauty to color our cheeks and bring a sparkle to our eyes, that's overdoing it.

Speaking of natural beauty, when did looking beautiful replace being beautiful?  I thought they were supposed to be one and the same.  Regardless of what they should be or used to be, they are now two very different things.  You've seen the movies where there is the incredibly attractive girl who could care less about what other people feel and is a complete jerk to everyone she comes into contact.  Would you call her truly beautiful?  Or does she only look the part?  And then there are those characters who aren't physically attractive (although honestly, that's all a matter of personal opinion and preference), and these characters are simply gushing with goodness and have truly beautiful personalities.  And to the viewer, they either become more attractive, or we stay stuck on the "why couldn't they have picked a cuter actor/actress for this role?"

So what does it mean to be beautiful?  Just as with looking beautiful, that is very objective.  But being beautiful can be boiled down to simply being real.  No one likes a person who is fake or two-faced.  Being yourself is the best kind of beautiful.
Being beautiful is also being kind.  Showing true kindness to others, without expecting it to be shown back, is one of the most stunning attributes of a person.  Loving with a selfless love, doing things simply out of the goodness of the heart, believing the best of others, giving second chances, listening and knowing when to advise and when to stay quiet...all these are beautiful qualities that makes an individual stand out.  (Of course, all these need to be monitored and not excessive, because if you're always giving someone the benefit of the doubt and refusing to acknowledge the sad but glaring truth in front of you, then you need to reevaluate your goodness to make sure it isn't naivety.)

But the most important point I want to make is please please PLEASE NEVER EVER COMPARE YOUR BEAUTY TO SOMEONE ELSE!!!!  It's absolutely exhausting and you will never come out on top.  You will always feel dissatisfied with yourself.  It's cliche to say be yourself, because that's the most beautiful you that you can be, but it's very true.  You are you, so you are your own kind of beautiful.  I cannot stress this enough.  If you try to be like someone else, your true beauty will fade and be replaced by figurative layers of foundation, blush, and eyeliner, maybe even literally.
Let yourself shine through, even if some people make fun of your quirks, your laugh, your size, your optimism, whatever it is.  Be the you God made.
God doesn't make junk.  He makes beautiful things...He made you didn't He?

Hold onto that.  

I don't know where you're at right now.  You may be perfectly content with who you are, which is fantastic!  You may think "My goodness, that is exactly what I keep doing!"  Also awesome.  You may be a guy.

...

If that's the case, start over, and insert "handsome" where "beauty/beautiful" is and ignore all the stuff about makeup.  Unless you're okay with being considered beautiful...then just keep reading.   

So what are you?  A beautiful face or a beautiful person?  They ought to go hand in hand, but our views on outward and inward beauty are so skewed now.  Who will you be?  It's hard to pull away from wanting to look beautiful, I admit.  What?  The blogger has serious appearance insecurities?  Heck yes I do!  I didn't start this blog to lecture you on moral issues that I have no history with.  I started this to share how God is shaping me so that I could hopefully shed some light to others.  

I challenge you to sit down and decide for yourself what you see as beautiful and compare that with Scripture.  Don't be afraid to seek out what true beauty is, even if others may laugh.  Because when someone sees the you that you truly are, they will point that out to you.  And after a while, you'll start to believe them.  You'll begin to see yourself as truly beautiful.  

But don't forget who made you beautiful at birth.  Because you were: beautiful at birth.

"There is no definition of beauty, but when you can see someone's spirit coming through, something unexplainable, that's beautiful to me."  Liv Taylor

“What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.” Scott Westerfield Uglies

“No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.” Eleanor Roosevelt

"I sincerely feel that beauty largely comes from within." Christy Turlington

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dethroned

Some of you know that Psalm 42 is pretty much my salvation chapter.  It was the thorn in my side, stabbing the contentment right out of me, using pain to open my eyes to the lies I was listening to.  Over and over I read the first five verses, trying to figure out why they pricked me.

"As the deer pants for streams of water, 
so my soul pants for you, my God.  
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  
When can I go and meet with God?  
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, 
'Where is your God?'
These things I remember as I pour out my soul:
 how I used to go to the house of God 
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? 
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God."

That was when I realized I was listening to the lies of the devil, "You're good enough"; "You're going to church and answer everything right in Sunday School; that's enough"; "You have good morals, you don't need to be reading your Bible outside of church".  This was three years ago at a Student Life conference.  There, I was challenged with the concept of being devoted to God, something that I'd never attempted.  Through the entire week, I  struggled with feeling discontented with my spiritual life, as well as feeling the weight of the lies on my life.  It wasn't until the last worship session--the morning we left--that I made the immediate, somewhat spontaneous, decision to let Christ hold my life.  This was honestly the third time I'd "accepted" Christ, but the first time I'd done so with an unselfish reason.  I didn't know how to do this whole "devoted" thing, but I wanted it more than anything.

I still don't know how to do it.  It's a daily struggle, to devote my life to Christ.  I knew that going into it, but it never really clicked until last night.  I shared my salvation story and these verses with one of my closest friends a couple days ago, and it stuck with me differently than it had the previous times I told the story.  I kind of pushed it away through the day, not wanting to focus on the nagging feeling.  I just wanted to enjoy the day.

But on the drive home alone later that night, dozens of thoughts began bouncing off the walls of my brain.  Now, this is pretty typical of me, but these were more overwhelming thoughts than usual.  I realized that I was starting to revert back to the excuses I'd given into in high school.

Some of you know how lately I've been feeling more driven to God and the Bible, wanting to know Him more.  So why am I still going back to simply being content with my spiritual life?  Because of excuses.  I am the queen of rationalizing.  I give a solid argument (well, I think it's solid...probably wouldn't hold up in any court) for almost any side of any problem I've faced.  But when it comes to God and the Bible, the queen needs to step down from her throne and bow down to the King of kings, no matter what.  I am the deer; I pant for God, yet I don't put forth the effort that I should.  I can't live a life of excuses.  A life of excuses is not worth living.  Now don't get all freaked out on me.  I am not saying that if you're living a life of excuses that you should take your life.  What I mean is you need to end the excuses, not your life.  Excuses keep you from growing in your faith and shining the light of Christ.  Excuses hold you down like shackles.  And if anyone knows me, I hate being held down.

So this is me, again, saying enough of the excuses.  I don't want to live that way.  I want Christ to permeate my entire life, my being, my words, my glances, my everything.  This isn't going to be the only time I do this.  I forget that most of all, that I daily have to wake up saying, "Today, God, I devote my life to you.  Do with me as you will."

So what about you?  Do you hold onto your excuses?  Do you like being a prisoner to them?  I challenge you today to look at how you're living your life.  If you're using excuses for remaining where you are, push them away.  You have potential to do amazing things, but you'll never get there if you don't take the time and put forth the effort to be better than you are.  You are amazing and beautiful and powerful even now; think of how much more you will be if you get rid of the excuses.

Will you stand dethroned with me?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sleepless Ramblings

"Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.  You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.  I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, Holy One of Israel.  My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you--I whom you have delivered.  My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion." Psalm 71:20-24

There are some nights that I have a hard time sleeping.  Yeah, sure, it doesn't help that I stay up ridiculously late reading, watching tv or just hanging out on Pinterest.  (If you're considering getting an account, walk away now.  It's a wonderful, beautiful, mind-boggling time waster that you won't be able to get away from!)  But sometimes, I can't sleep because my hypersensitive hearing kicks in, flipping the switch on my overactive imagination from "standby" to "overdrive".  I was discussing this with a friend tonight and was presented with the brilliant (and "duh Angel") idea to take a verse of Scripture, memorize it, and repeat it over and over until the fear subsides.  Seriously, why didn't I think of that?  That's a totally me thing to suggest!  *insert embarrassed face here*

So I started flipping through my Bible, trying to remember passages or verses that really struck a nerve with me when I was scared or just having a bad day.  I went to Habakkuk 3 and Zephaniah 3 before heading to the book of Psalms, because honestly, we all know that's the mother lode of verses targeting fear and uncertainty.  I turned pages, not really going to any particular chapter, just looking for underlines and highlights (after all, my Bible is like a coloring book with purpose)!

Then I got to Psalm 71.  It begins with "In you, Lord, I have taken refuge..."  Of course that was gonna pull me in!  As I read on, phrases like "deliver me" and "save me" jumped out, pulling on my shirt sleeves, (figuratively, of course, how creepy would it be if words literally jumped off of a page and pulled on your clothes?), telling me to read on.  There were many verses that I was drawn to, yet I still felt empty.  There was something else I needed from this chapter, and I needed to be patient and intentionally read every word to find the meaning God had for me in that moment.

Then, yank!  Verse twenty: "Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up."  If that wasn't the protein bar of a verse I needed, I didn't know what was.  God spoke to me directly through that verse.  He said, (paraphrasing my feelings), "My daughter, these torments you experience are so that my glory can be proclaimed.  I brought you through the robbery; I will bring you through this."  These "night terrors" I experience some nights aren't fun in the least, but they aren't going to destroy me, even though I sometimes feel that way.  Because God will restore me and I will praise Him for His faithfulness, even though I don't always feel restored.  That's what faith is for.  That's what trust means.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Underrated Notice

"Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross.  It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.  The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be the king of the Jews."  Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."" (John 19:19, 21, 22)

Mom and I have been reading the Bible together out loud for a few years now.  Going to college made for a more complicated nighttime tradition.  Last night, we read John chapter 19.  It was one of those moments where you read a story you've heard thousands of times, but you suddenly see it in a different way.

When I read what Pilate wrote on the sign for the cross, I immediately thought that he was mocking Jesus.  The entire time before the crucifixion, Pilate seemed to be advocating for Jesus to be released as he couldn't find any solid reason for Jesus to be put to death.  He seemed to be acting like the good guy, so why was he putting such a sign up on the cross for all to read?

But then I kept reading.

The chief priests went up to Pilate and started complaining.  "Dude,"--(this is my paraphrase of course)--"don't make it look like you're buying into this 'King of the Jews' junk just because he said so!"  They wanted him to change it, to change the notice to say "Jesus of Nazareth, who claims to be the king of the Jews."  King, with a small "k".  But Pilate would have none of their ranting and raving, instead, he stood his ground.  "Guys, what I wrote on that notice is what I wrote.  I'm not going to change it because it ticks you off."

Now let's stop and think about this.  Pilate is a Roman official.  He's not a Jew.  Pilate is a man of many gods.  This whole "follow Jesus" thing isn't exactly up his alley.  But he is better able to see Jesus than the Jewish priests are because he's not blinded by their same laws and commands.  He sees Jesus' innocence and wants to fight for it, but can only fight so hard before he recognizes it's a losing battle.  So what does he do?  He acknowledges who Jesus claims to be.  He puts it up in big letters on a sign, telling the world that Jesus is the King of the Jews.

What is wrong with this picture?  Is it that the Roman is the one who acts like he believes Jesus instead of the God-fearing Jews?  That's what bugs me.  Shouldn't it have been the other way around?  That's the logical answer.  But God doesn't always work that way.  No, He likes to throw us little curveballs and show us again and again that He is in control and will use people how you would least expect them.  The Jews were filled with Scriptures; they knew the Old Testament backwards and forwards.  The high priests were like the professors with the PhDs.  But sometimes, the less we know, the better we can see.  And I'll let you take that however you will.