Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World

I have this picture in my head that encourages and challenges me every day as a mom.

The memory is a little fuzzy, but it is of a Young Life Leader's wife -- young, vibrant, beautiful, sprinting off out of her cabin at camp and down the hill to go and find her three young sons so that she could play with them because she missed them. That image reminded me of how I can also look if I choose to -- not an old "mom self" weighed down by tiredness and a baby bjorn, but by "normal self" , unfettered, active, playful, fun galloping off to play with my babies because I want to, not because I have to.

(See? Even Baby Bjorns can be beautiful when worn with love and a smile!)

It wasn't about what she was wearing, or how beautifully decorated her home was. She had no make-up. But at that moment, she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and she gave me hope that my children will see me that way if I show them that side of myself, too.

That image has stayed with me for over two years now. And even now, it was so beautiful and inspiring that it makes me weep.

And even though every night, as I tuck my five babies in bed, they whisper, "You are the best mom ever!" I don't believe them. So I pinterest and magazine and facebook images to help figure out how to organize better, clean better, shop better, wear make-up or clothes better. I want to be the most beautiful, organized, put-together woman in the world! I compare and contrast shred my soul over a pound of baby fat or a sink full of dirty dishes.

(My kitchen on a daily basis.  I wish I was exaggerating, but that section is probably the "clean" part)

And I wrestle with the worlds of I Peter 3:3-4, because a big part of me doesn't believe them either. "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." 

I know in my soul that God's Kingdom is the "upside down Kingdom", but those verses don't make sense when I look at what "the world" is looking at as the standard for beauty. I'm not advocating frumpiness, but in my culture it is very difficult for a woman to be truly respected without outward adornment of self and home. But the paradox is that kind of introspection and self-centeredness doesn't create beauty. It creates ugly. Grumpy. Dissatisfied.

A woman surrounded by beauty and the capacity to be beautiful, but refusing to engage or enjoy it. Kind of like this:

(Three exhausted babies (and one grumpy mommy!) at camp ... definitely NOT as beautiful as my friend that day!) 

But then I remember her -- the most beautiful woman in the world. And I remember my own mother -- her soft arms, her sweet voice singing me Jesus songs to sleep, the stunning beauty of her youth -- the stunning beauty of her later years -- and I know with all my heart what that verse means.

(My beautiful Mommy and my nephew Liam)

I'm not beautiful like that every day. Or even most days. But just a few weeks back, after church, at a luncheon, I sat back, fiddling with my smarphone, and watched my children play in a moonbounce. Like most times, largely disengaged. Holding back, preoccupied with my social image or our ever important schedule. And all of a sudden, I remembered that I wasn't in fancy clothes -- just jeans and a t-shirt. And I thought of my friend, and how beautiful she was.

So I dropped to my knees and crawled on the ground, roaring like a lion and chasing after my children with all my youth and energy. We dissolved into kisses and hugs, chucked balls at one another, and I gave them all horsey rides til the hole in my ripped jeans ripped even deeper.

And for one, sweet, proud instant, I, too, became the most beautiful woman in the world.

There, in the shadow of the doorway, stood another mom, watching. Weary from her own toil and struggle and comparison war. And when I rose, panting with laughter and the heaviness of my riders ("The horsie is tired!"), I felt strong enough to encourage her with her burdens -- and she, a stranger, felt bold enough to share those burdens with me.

She spoke with longing of a new wardrobe, and I laughed right along with her. But I hope that just as I carry the image of my friend with me, she will I hope that she will carry that image with her -- a disheveled, ripped jean mom (dressed in her Sunday best, somehow), glowing with beauty and power and the love of Christ.

I hope she will see herself the way her children see her. The way I saw her. The way God sees her. I hope that she, too, will know that as she comforts grieving adopted children or changes diapers of babies born back to back, as she teaches them of Jesus and models His love to a dying world, that she also is one of the most beautiful women in the world.

And I pray one day -- gently, quietly, glowing with the love of Christ -- you will stop fretting about gold or braided hair or pinterest-perfect, and shall join us, racing towards others with gentle, quiet, joyous love, and transform (if even for an instant!) into one of the most beautiful women in the world, too.