“Mom, what are those lines on your tummy?” I paused slightly at my daughter’s words, knowing my reaction in this moment was important.
“Oh, those? Those are called stretchmarks, honey.”
And as I finished changing my shirt (without flinching, without attempting to hide those scars), I explained about pregnancy and round tummies and how my stretchmarks remind me of the beautiful time she and her brother spent in my tummy.
Stretchmarks are beautiful.
They are the visual reminder of a mother’s dreams and wild hopes and desperate prayers for her unborn child. They are the forever fading (but never disappearing) evidence of the miracle of carrying and nurturing a child for nine long months, a child who all too soon towers over us physically and leaves us marveling about that long-ago time.
As I gathered with my oldest, bestest girlfriends for an impromptu family pizza night, our conversation turned to laughing and lamenting about finding jeans that don’t give us the dreaded “mom butt.” And as I gazed upon the faces of these women I’ve known for ten years, these women with whom I’ve wept uncountable tears, prayed audacious prayers, and laughed so hard that I started to pee my pants, I saw not a few more wrinkles and a few grey hairs, but beauty.
I saw lives intertwined, a shared history that needs no words of explanation, women who know one another’s faults, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities — but who forgive, encourage, and cover one another’s rough edges. I saw sisterhood in its most beautiful form. Those (tiny) wrinkles and occasional, random grey hairs? Beautiful.
When I got the call this week about the death of a man who was winding down his career just as mine was starting, I considered the eight years I knew him. It was not the last year of ever-declining health that came to mind, but of earlier times — of a generous man with a heart so tender he could not help but say “yes” if the request involved helping a child, of phone calls asking my younger lawyer self to help someone out of a crazy legal situation but to quietly and secretly send him the bill, of lunches with “the gang” in which all we laughed over stories told about his adventures forty and fifty years ago.
When I think of the heart that beat beneath those baby blue eyes and heavily lined face, beautiful.
Our culture tells us that beauty lies in striving to look 18 for the next 60 years. Our magazines show us a version of beauty, but then fake it with airbrushing and botox and starving. Our fashion industry uses models who are 14 to walk runways and tells 35-year-old moms that we must look like prepubescent teens in order to be sexy.
Let us carefully and intentionally set aside cultural notions of beauty. They are a mirage — an image we will chase forever through a desert with no hope of ever attaining the goal. We will starve ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually, wasting our precious few days on earth running after an illusion.
Let us, instead, live beauty.
Can we embrace our bodies and all of the bumps and scars and wrinkles as a sign of a life beautifully lived, instead of forever wishing for a body that pretends we’ve lived not at all?
As we meet our own eyes in the mirror every morning, can we see ourselves, not as our culture would describe us, but as our Savior sees us? As his creation? As women who have weathered hard storms but survived? Women who have shed real tears, laughed too loudly, and laid down their own wants and desires for those of their children, their spouses, others? Do we dare see ourselves as women filled with invaluable experiences, with giftings and talents and good things to offer to the world around us?
Do you know what Jesus would whisper into your soul as you glance into your mirror, if only you will turn down the clanging, loud voices of our culture: Beautiful. BEAUTIFUL. B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L.