Thursday, February 12, 2015

on beauty and success

Happy girls
are the prettiest.

            ~ Audrey  Hepburn

He shows me the quote while we're browsing in a store and I nearly well up with tears. 

I get it now. Pretty isn't what I used to make it. 

Something profound has happened in my heart and I can feel it.
     What was once closed up tight is now broken wide open.

When my groom showed me that quote in the store and smiled at me, I smiled back and thought about how I really do get it now. 

I've always been younger than most of my peers. I couldn't wait for grey hair and fine lines to make me look older; surely then people would think I'm credible and good enough. When I landed a biggish-feeling job early on in my career, I held my breath hoping people wouldn't find out my age. I imagined people dismissing my capability just as soon as they found out that I was so young.

I wanted attention in all the wrong places.

Because of my determined and intensely focused way of being, I thought I could get whatever opportunities and experiences that I thought I deserved. I was under the impression that we ought to do whatever we can to make our dreams happen.

In my world, dreams were fulfilled through hard work and discipline. I believed we can accomplish anything we put our mind to. I considered dreams to be like cookies that I could decide to reach in and take for myself, or decline and miss out on altogether. Now I realize it's true that hard work pays off, but not always in the ways we imagine or the ways we want.

Even if we do what we can and find our dreams unfolding before our eyes, every choice comes at a cost. Sometimes we underestimate the extent to which our choices have on others and the very life within us.

My approach to life was to do whatever I could to protect myself from the threat of pain, even if it meant missing out on certain experiences. I thought there were insignificant parts of life that should be dismissed and my attention should only be on what matters most, like working hard at making everything right. 

Success was, to me, all about being better and fixing what is wrong. 

I knew that nothing is perfect and so I looked for brokenness in everything. I spent my days hammering the stakes in ever deeper to keep my tent from flying loose to keep the bad guys out.

I was so aware that each day is fragile and not for certain that I focused so much on the possibility that I might get sick and die young, or that the people I treasure might suddenly be taken from my life. Fear encapsulated my heart. I focused so much on the seemingly big stuff that I distanced myself from moment-by-moment experiences and denied myself happiness.  

Rules and expectations were my guide, making me rigid. Twig-like.

The threat was always high that I'd burst into a wildfire at any time. I was so thirsty for joy, yet nearly every drop of happiness evaporated on the surface before it got much of a chance to soak in deep to provide life-giving moisture to my dry and brittle soul.

I walked around a cold person who was nearly dead inside. 

Things happened in life that hurt and I was disappointed that I couldn't control the bad guys or keep the bad things out.

I had been under the impression that I was a superhero of sort and angry that I was made a fallable-human. I patched up my insides as best I could with such thick armor, making it so that I couldn't feel anything. 

Since I couldn't control things and people, I tried to control myself. I chose foods specifically because I read or heard they were good for me and made conscious choices to eat things that tasted like dirt and cardboard, only merely tolerating the taste. I made an idol out of certain drinks and foods touted as cancer-fighters. I didn't even consider if I actually enjoyed something.

Every decision I made was based on rules I created, all in an attempt to control fear's grip over my life. The cost of perfection nearly cost me life itself. 

Joy was something I didn't allow myself to seek or experience until it remarkably found me in a regular, everyday moment that I realized right then was anything but regular and every bit significant.

Something as simple as watching my son eat plain vanilla ice cream with colorful sprinkles made such a profound impact on me. Vanilla had always seemed so boring and not worth it, yet when I considered the flavor of the bean's tiny seeds, I began to understand the treasure in the taste, and though they add no nutritional value and cost extra, sprinkles are simply fun. Joy-full, actually.

Like the flick of a light switch, I knew something needed to be loosened in me. 

I realized that no matter how trivial or inconsequential-seeming something might be, if a part of life makes me smile it really does have value.

Suddenly, I remembered the time when I had eaten a tiny sliver of lemon cake that a colleague brought into the office one day several years ago. I remember that teeny-tiny bite being quite possibly the most delicious flavor I had ever tasted. That memory heightened my senses to life and I wanted more of that.

Turns out, it takes time to loosen the grip on a tightly sealed lid. Though I craved fun and freedom, my muscle memory was to clench tight in fear. I was willing to choose joy instead of chase perfection, I just didn't know how. I feared whether willingness would be enough.

I feared the cost of loosening my grip. 

I had been treading water for so long and felt like I was gasping for air. I knew that I needed to swim with the current and trust that I would survive without all the armor that was merely weighing me down. But, surely, that would feel uncomfortable!, I thought.

Living the way I had been wasn't doing me or anyone else any favors. That my family was still a part of my everyday was nothing short of a miracle. Rules and the try-hard life weren't making me advance any faster to my dreams, and especially not because I was good. Living that way simply made me exhausted and depleted.

Slowly, I let myself experience more the gift of grace has to offer. 
     I began to open myself to the love of the people who are a part of it all. 

I became more mindful of my reactions through my senses and became overwhelmed with gratefulness and contentment. I considered that life really might be enough, as it is . . . even though it it might not be how I would have it. And I considered that I really might be enough, too, as I am.

I considered that maybe my imperfections and the imperfections of life are actually perfectly designed and that I can trust God knows what He's doing. Maybe I could rest.

It felt a bit wonky interacting with people and life felt sort of clunky as I learned to navigate what it means to be me and not someone I think I should be.

For so many years I wanted to hover and hide. I allowed myself to die a bit on the insides as I waited for the eventual to seize me. And then one day, as I lay in a heap on my living room floor crying a hot mess, I heard myself say: "I just want to LIVE!"

Life bloomed.
Beauty unfurled.
Success was completely redefined.

Not because of anything I did, but because of the gentle love of God . . . for me. 

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