"For me, the process of Jesus 'changing my mind' about me being ugly or beautiful, shameful or a work of art put together on purpose, was both a long process and a momentary process. It happened over lots of years where He started teaching me truths, but then He would hammer home those truths in moments where, because of the circumstances, I would be set free in a kind of violent and very emotional, new way."
Let me share with you some snapshots of those particular moments of being set free:
It all started with noticing.
I started noticing my habits:
- I could not walk past a window (and I'm not even talking about a MIRROR...I'm talking about a WINDOW!) without checking my reflection. When I noticed that it was a compulsion that I could not stop doing, I started feeling like I had a problem. I felt like a disease inside of me: I had to look at myself, analyze my body, decide if it looked fat or skinny, if my clothes looked OK, if my hair looked OK, If my skin looked too oily. I realized that I was obsessed with my looks...and although what I was doing was probably very normal, it probably wasn't right.
- I could not stop slipping into the bathroom to 'fix' my makeup...or more accurately, to 'fix my face.' I'd use my oil blotting sheets. I'd put on more powder. Any redness showing through, any shine to my face, any skin tone of my own, was unacceptable and shameful. So I'd go to the bathroom every hour. And if I couldn't, I'd feel uncomfortably on display...like everyone could see my failure to be good enough.
- I felt like I was the only one. Everyone else was measuring up. I was failing. I could pretend that I was OK, but there was always this fear that people would find out that I was faking it and deep inside, I wasn't good enough. I was ugly. So I couldn't let anyone see me without my 'armor,' so to speak, on: my hair done, my makeup on, my oil blotted off, my powder blotted on, my personality perfectly in place.
But then I chose to not cover up anymore.
When I started to notice that I was using makeup to hide that I wasn't good enough, I knew God was asking me to do something drastic to re-learn how to think about myself.
I had an inkling that I couldn't just all of the sudden 'believe' that I was beautiful, made by God. When I looked in the mirror, all I felt was disgust. I knew I had to do something drastic.
So I committed to not wearing any makeup at all for 7 months.
I'd stand in front of the mirror and I'd look at myself. My skin was all raw and red without the makeup because I had never been kind to my face. I would scrub it roughly with a washcloth or towel, thinking I was 'helping' it...but it was really more of a physical manifestation of my inner feelings about my face and my skin. I had to learn to gently wash my face, to be kind to my skin, be kind to myself even tangibly. I'd look at my reflection and verbally say truth (that I didn't believe yet) about the way I was made: "I am beautifully created, fearfully and wonderfully made. I am beautiful because God Himself is beautiful. He made all women to display something specific about Himself to the world: beauty. I can't be a woman and not be beautiful; if I am a woman, I am beautiful. The world has confused me about the definition of what is beautiful and what is not. Beauty does not equal perfection. Beauty does not equal ideals. I am unique in my beauty."
It sounds somewhat trite to write those words now, but I assure you that it was far from trite at the time, while I was staring at my un-covered-up self in the mirror.
Sometimes I would cry.
I felt ashamed at people seeing me without any way for me to hide. They could see me as I was, and I had no way to avoid judgement. I had to use my strength and energy to believe what GOD said, to entrust myself into HIS hands.
And little by little, I started feeling less self-conscious. I started believing the words I was saying in the mirror. I felt more restful inside. The way I saw myself started to shift. But when I say 'little-by-little,' I REALLY MEAN liiiiiiiiittle by little. It was a VERY slow process. It was like fighting tooth and nail for every single inch of new belief.
A little bit after that no makeup time period, I actually went on a canoeing trip with my church that wasn't your regular church canoeing trip. It was a 'Let's try to learn experientially what it feels like to be OK with weakness and vulnerability in following God." So we weren't allowed to have watches or clocks to know the time; we didn't know the route or where or when we would stop next. We spent a few hours on a 'solo time' alone in the woods. Girls were not supposed to bring or use beauty products or mirrors for the several days we were on the river. You can imagine that it was a controversial trip, to say the least.
But, believe it or not, that trip was actually incredibly healing for me in the area of beauty, because it forced me to have what I felt was shameful about me (my skin without makeup, my hair without products to keep it un-frizzy, etc) visible to everyone else, in a community. And yes, it actually was a very painful experience. I remember even wearing a baseball cap and pulling it down as far as I could on my face to hide myself as much as I could.
But I also remember GOD on that trip, and His voice. I prayed this verse over my life in the area of beauty, as I felt the excruciating pain of people seeing me without anyway way to make myself better or hide my imperfections, no way to hide my shame that I believed made me ugly:
“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still (Exodus 14:13-14).”
I prayed that some kind of 'enemy,' some kind of 'Egyptian,' would be broken off of my life. That a bondage that kept me chained up would be broken off of me. In the story that this verse is a part of, God's people were being chased by enemies that they were slaves to. Then God did a miracle and parted the Red Sea; God's people walked through on dry ground and their enemies were swallowed up by the sea. They never saw those enemies again; they were never slaves to them again.
And guess what? That same thing DID happen to me that trip. I wanted it to happen alone, in my own heart. But it happened when I opened up publicly about how I felt about myself; I remember actually saying a few sentences to the whole group about how 'I believe I am ugly and the trip was very difficult for me because of that.' I told them that I felt ashamed that I was the only one who was too ugly to go without the makeup and the products because I was unpresentable and unacceptable. A friend came up to me and looked me right in the eyes, and told me I was beautiful...and for the first time, I let myself receive her words instead of pushing them away. I would have usually felt that such words were trite and unable to heal the deep brokenness inside of me; but that day, I let myself soften inside and receive her words as a healing truth.
God literally delivered me from enemies in those 3-4 days. I never again saw those same 'Egyptians' with the same strength and magnitude that I had before that trip.
When I did the no-makeup experiment, it was a little bit before I got married, so when the time of my wedding came around, I was re-learning how to wear makeup. I was trying to learn how to wear it in a healthy way, not a hiding way. (Some days I am still learning this lesson, 9 years later).
But anyway, I went into a department store to buy some foundation that I needed for my wedding. I knew what I wanted as a bride: to wear makeup, but to wear it in a way that honored my Maker with a deep belief that I was already beautiful, that I didn't need to 'get beautiful' in any way. For me, that meant makeup, but minimal makeup. Even when I look back on my wedding pictures, now, I'm surprised at (and proud of) how minimally I wore my makeup.
So there I was in the department store, and I told the lady that I was getting married and I needed to buy foundation. Bad choice. My-not-very-strong-in-this-area self quickly was overpowered by this makeup-will-fix-your-world woman who was quite in the flow of our culture. I was sucked right back in. She sat me down in a chair and did a whole analysis on what was wrong with my skin, and what product would easily fix each flaw, and she sold me over $200 of beauty products to make myself acceptable. And I believed her.
I walked out of that store thinking, "What in the world just happened to me? It was like a wave washed right over me and I literally did not know WHICH way was up."
I called Caleb, my then-finance (and now-husband), who was supporting me in my journey. I couldn't believe that I had so easily jumped right back into the belief system that I needed so much to become enough. It was just so alluring...especially when that was what I grew up believing: I'm incomplete, inadequate, unacceptable without add-ons. Without fixing.
So we decided that this situation called for us to make some bold statements to my soul. I didn't want to make those statements. I wanted to cling to what was familiar, what made me feel pretty and enough in the past. But we knew that, for my freedom to progress, I had to draw a line. I had to say "NO" to what had always controlled my definitions of beauty, what had told me I had to be in order to be acceptable to society.
So we returned some of those makeup items to the department store. It was embarrassing. The sales associate looked at me weird. But it had to be done for my soul to break free. AND we kept some of the products. And in the parking lot of that store, we placed them on the ground, and we actually stomped on them. Yep. Stomped on them. We smashed them. In the name of Jesus. And we said things like, "By the power of Jesus' name, because He purchased my freedom, I won't be controlled by this anymore. I won't listen to makeup's voice anymore. I won't believe it's seductive reasoning that I need it, that it's not that bad, that I'm ugly, anything that it tries to suggest to me. I will submit myself to God's voice, not makeup's voice!"
I had to take some violent actions to cement my freedom and say NO to the temptation to return to bondage again.
Along the way, there also were innumerable conversations with my husband. Caleb. I couldn't have made it without him. I wouldn't have had the strength to believe new things. I needed someone else to believe it for me- and to tell me over and over- before I had eyes to see or a heart to believe.
And if you want to know more about what my snapshots of being set free more nowadays look like, check out these blog posts. It's a common struggle for me. It's an area in which God is teaching me to submit to His voice alone. You can check out some of those stories of struggling obedience here:
Thanks for listening to my stories. May you have many of your own stories, as well.