“How I forgot to be who God had planned for me to be – and my struggle back to reality.” The words are written at the beginning of a 17-page testimony my mom penned in October of 1999 – just 4 short months before she died from the ravages of breast and bone cancer. The story was tucked in a brown envelope, in a non-descript binder full of poetry – a binder with a simple dedication at the front: “to Ronne, with love, from MOM.” This morning, as I rummaged through some boxes in a closet looking for god-knows-what, I found it. I had read the poetry, but had never opened the envelope before.
A few days ago, a friend confessed a fear on a Facebook thread. She said the fear of not measuring up to others threatened to paralyze her – and the fear of not being pretty enough held her hostage. I quickly responded with encouraging words, sharing my own past demons of inadequacy that screamed their loudest during the days when I modeled professionally. Every monthly weigh-in determined whether or not I would get bookings. My comp card featured not only my name but my measurements and height. Every modeling gig paid bills and put food in my son’s belly – essentials for a single mom who was the sole provider. But the pressure to look beautiful took a damaging toll. My words to my friend reminded her of her truth worth and beauty – something I said I had learned to embrace. But they may not have been completely true.
Because I still battle those demons.
The voices aren’t as loud as they used to be, but they are still there. I embrace my laugh lines, but shudder every time I put on a swimsuit and see the legs that lost their beauty due to bulimia. I style my hair and see the silver-grey reminders of time that is passing far more quickly than I would have ever imagined. And in the media, I am presented images of Michelle Pfeiffer or Christie Brinkley or some other woman in her ‘50s who has not a sag or wrinkle. And it’s much more than the physical. The voices make it easy to believe I will be passed over for those who are younger, brighter, smarter, cooler, more spiritual, more talented, more anything-other-than-me-because-who-would-really-want-me. Yes, those voices are there. The voices that want me to forget how to be who God had planned for me to be.
Those voices spoke to my mom too.
I knew how to be glamorous and act brilliant about most everything. I could dress in my great-looking gowns, and because most people thought I was good-looking, I could stand with the best of them…the greater I got at playing the part of someone else, the more fearful I became. I was dying inside.
But here’s her reality – a reality she found when she embraced the true beauty of her gifts, her talents, her personality. A reality she walked as she lived out the last years of her life, a widow caring for and feeding others as an in-home healthcare provider (something she didn’t think had any real value at all when she did it as a homemaker and mom).
It’s alright for me to be the person that God created me to be. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. This is my gift from God and I will be that person…the greatest thing that a man could ever do in this life is to be what God has already made you to be. To build cities is a great thing. But maybe the greatest thing ever is to just be yourself…to close your ears to that reality is like denying life itself.
And that reality is – and is becoming – my reality too. Maybe the god-knows-what I was searching for today was really God-knows-exactly-what I needed. Hearing my mom’s voice encouraging me to stay the course, to embrace my God-given gifts of leadership, teaching, exhortation, and wisdom – and let my personality shine through the talents God’s offered. For mom, it was tending to and feeding others who couldn’t care for themselves. For me, it’s in pouring into lives through teaching and losing myself in stories of redemption – and finding my own redemption in the process.
When my friend shared her fear, something came to life in scriptures I had read so many times before. Philippians 4:6 was the first scripture I ever memorized – about praying rather than worrying, and being thankful. And what followed was the list of things to ponder. Beautiful things. True things. Admirable things. Things I had made a point to focus on – for everyone but me. Now I read the list in the morning as a prayer for each of us on this journey, that we’ll see with clear eyes the things in our own lives that are true, honorable, reputable, real, grace-full, beautiful, worth celebrating. Because it’s in the seeing that we remember who God planned for us to be. It’s in the believing we can say “I will be that person.”
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. Philippians 4:8-9 (MSG)
So what is it that threatens to paralyze you? What are you afraid of? What piece of Philippians 4:8-9 is hard for you to see in yourself? Oh, and by the way, my friend is confronting her fear head-on, and beautiful things are happening. You can read her post about it here.