God Doesn’t Do “Un-Pretty”

This is my first blog for “A Pen and A Prayer” and it isn’t the one I originally thought I was meant to write.  But something began to move on my heart and I’m going to run with it.

Last month I placed my Rawley Family Romances Collection into Netgalley, a portal for readers to request and review books.  Now many people say authors shouldn’t read their reviews, especially bad ones.  Still, I’ve often found that I can learn something from a meaningful review, even a negative one.  At the end of my month-long run on Netgalley, I received a review from a reader who didn’t finish the book.

“I got through most of the first story. I liked the characters and the premise and got vested into the story. What set me off was actually the terms the author used to describe heavy people. I didn’t really care for it and when it occurred a second time, particularly to describe a character I was starting to like, I decided to not finish the book.”

I didn’t have to wonder what she meant.  I knew immediately which character and verbatim which terms I’d used.

You see, the Rawley Family Romances Collection is a bundle of the first 3 books about the Rawley Family.  I actually wrote the first book when I was in high school, then revised it and published it fifteen years later.  My world was very different from when I first created that story to when I put it out into the world. And just as different today.

He took a step forward, and a short, pudgy woman came from behind him.

That line comes from All for Hope, the original, first Rawley Romance.  The “short, pudgy” woman wasn’t the main character.  She’s on the sidelines, key to the story but certainly not the star.  And why would she be?  She’s not slender with a nice bust and gorgeous hair.  No, she’s just the “short and pudgy” one, right?

I can remember sitting in class in high school uncomfortable and nervous as all teenagers are when two guys, a few years older, start making conversation.  They laughed and joked and seemed to want to include me in things.  It took at least a few weeks for me to recognize the word they were hissing under their breaths when the spoke to me.  That was when I discovered that “Fats” was the name they’d give me.  And I will never, ever forget that moment.

So you see, when I referred to Meg Rawley as “short, pudgy” it wasn’t that I was making fun of persons with extra weight.  It was a self-deprecating reference to me.  That was how I saw myself.

But that’s not how God sees me.  To Him, I am beautiful because He made me to be beautiful.

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But it’s easy to forget that these days.  We, especially women, are so obsessed with our appearance.  We work and toil to look better, to stay young, to stay slim.  And yet deep down inside I think so many of us are constantly hissing those ugly words to ourselves.  It’s almost as if we are seeking to remind ourselves that we aren’t worthy on some level.

But God tells us that isn’t true.  We can be made beautiful, not with makeup or diet fads or fine clothes and jewelry.  It is only through Him that we can discover the inner radiance that creates true beauty.  And that’s something that no one can sell us or give us or tell us.  We have to learn that for ourselves through Him.

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I’ve struggled with my weight since my teen years.  And I eventually ballooned to nearly 250 pounds at one point early in my marriage.  I remember my husband once telling me that I needed to learn to love myself.

What?  Love myself?  Pfft!  I’m too busy loving him, my family, my friends.  Who really loves themselves anyway?

Listen, learning to love yourself isn’t easy to do.  Whether it’s your looks, your past, your vices, etc. we all have some reason to find ourselves unlovable.  And it’s funny how it works, at least for me.  When I see myself as “un-pretty,” I mentally feel unhappy, depressed, anxious.  And when I’m worried and sad and emotionally wrought, I tend to feel unattractive.  So clearly the physical and emotional aspects are very closely related.

Still, God’s love for us is perfect.  He sees our weaknesses and our faults, but we are His children.  His adoration for each precious one of us cannot be overstated.

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I haven’t learned this lesson.  The fear of being un-pretty, un-lovable, un-worthy seeps into my heart at some point each and every day.  I am working on it and will probably do that for the rest of my life.  And sometimes, when I look in the mirror I can be pleased with the person that my God in Heaven created me to be.  And for that reason, I can also try to take better care of myself, not in the sense of losing weight to look better, but to live better.

As part of that growing process, I eventually wrote a story for Meg.  And in it she still struggles with her body image and with loving herself.  All for Family gives just a snippet of that journey and how she eventually learned to love herself as much as others loved her.  Because just like that reviewer, I had come to truly like Meg in the first Rawley Romance.  And don’t we all deserve love?

Don’t ask me, just ask God…

~oOo~

A few years ago I attended a talk by Liz Curtis Higgs and each attendee was given a “Ta da” Bookmark and Mirror decal.  If you don’t know the story of “Ta da”, I’d encourage you to look her up because she can tell the story much better than I can.  But gist of it is this… each morning before starting your day, look in the mirror, throw up your hands and say “Ta da”… because God made you in his image and made you beautiful!  It truly does make for a wonderful start to your day.  Do any of the things I’ve talked about here strike a chord with you?  Leave a comment below and I’ll send a few of you a “Ta da” Bookmark.

Get Real

Yesterday was a shitty day.

Now, if you clicked onto this blog expecting some very churchy-type words spoken in a holy, lofty way, and my phrasing offends you, I really am sorry.  It’s not my intent. But it is the truth.

Years ago, I was part of the leadership of a women’s Bible study. The woman in charge made an impression on me . . . at the time, I didn’t realize just how strong it had been, but even now, nearly fourteen years later, I’m still trying to shake some of her beliefs that I took as my own. She wasn’t deliberately in error, but what she taught was hurtful and damaging to many women seeking God.

I clearly remember her telling us that as Christians, it was our responsibility to always put on a happy face.

“Never go out into the world and complain or admit that your life is anything but blessed,” she instructed me one day. “As a Christian, you are the example, and who is going to follow Jesus if you look like you’re not always happy?”

For a long time–too long–I bought into that. If there was something wrong in my world–and there was crappy crud, most of the time, because we live in this world–I stuffed it down. I put on a good show. I walked on the sunny side of the street. I put on a happy face.

But I was miserable.

Because God is a loving Father, He very gently but firmly led me to see that the way I was living was not what He asked. I checked, and nowhere in the Bible does Jesus instruct anyone to pretend anything. He doesn’t tell the disciples, as they’re about to preach before record-setting crowds, to put on their game faces.

Only one time does Jesus tell us to ‘cheer up’: in John 16:33, He says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus doesn’t say, “Believe in me and life becomes one big banquet of happy.” No, He very clearly tells us that we WILL have troubles. But He also tells us that in Him, we can have peace.

So I stand by my first sentence. Yesterday was a shitty day. I’d finished a book the night before, and I was so relieved about that, but as always, the next one is bearing down on me. We just returned from a trip to New Jersey to see my father-in-law, who has Parkinson’s disease and is in a nursing home, with severe dementia. The visit was not a good one, and his decline is sad. My husband continues to seek pastoral opportunities–chances to minister to those who need to know God loves them–but doors seem to be closing, not opening. The bank account is dwindling close to zero, nearly five months after the church eliminated his position. A check promised us for one of his preaching engagements hasn’t arrived. My publisher is very, very late on my royalty payments. Friends are suffering, and violence struck in the UK.

Yup, it was a shitty day.

Instead of pretending that it wasn’t, I did what God wants me to do. I got real with Him. As I went about my day, doing laundry, catching up on work and making dinner, I talked to Him about what troubled me. I pointed out why I was worried, where I felt maybe He was falling down on the job and how I think things should be.

He listened, because He loves me, and what He desires from me isn’t false happiness, pretend praise or a veneer of Christian joy. He wants my heart, that damaged, ugly, scarred and less-than-perfect vessel. He wants me, in all of my imperfection. He wants a relationship that is real, not a daily check-in where I put on a happy face.

And then He answered me, because He loves me, and what He wants for me is real growth, maturity and an even closer relationship with Him. He didn’t give me a timeline for answers. He didn’t promise things were going to get better before they got worse. But He did tell me that He is in charge, He knows the whole story, beginning to end, and even if things get much, much worse, He’s still got this.

He reminded me of one of my very favorite songs, The One Thing I Know by Sara Groves:

And the veil just lifted
I can finally understand
The way you work in me
But even if I didn’t
You are still a sovereign God
Who has a plan for me.

So even if I don’t get it, He is still God, and His plan is still in place. I can trust Him.

This morning, my husband handed me a little square of cotton. He’d been doing laundry yesterday and found this . . . these small facial wipes were a gift from an author friend, and each has an inspirational saying. This is the one my husband gave me:

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That, my friends, is as real as it gets. Yes, things get shitty sometimes, but God is never going to leave us. I don’t need to pretend to be happy all the time; He only wants me to hold tight to His promise:

“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”