Reflections, Distortions and Beauty

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I Corinthians 13:12

We recently bought a full-length mirror to put in the corner of our bedroom.  It is not a high-end mirror, but has metallic details that will complement the décor in my bedroom with a price tag that fit my budget.  It will also serve a purpose, making sure I have a clear reflection of myself before I leave the bedroom.  I will let you in on a little secret, I am not the most observant or organized person, often putting away my laundry inside out.  To make matters worse, I frequently leave my house with my shirt inside out.  To be fair, this usually happens when I am heading to the gym at 4:00AM, keeping the lights dim in order not to awaken my husband.  But on occasion, it happens in the middle of the day indicating that I’m a bit scattered.  Yet, this is not the only observation that I am making while gazing in the mirror: it goes much deeper.  I want to be able to clearly look at myself and be grateful for where I am right now on my weight loss journey!

In the last few weeks, as I get closer to reaching a major milestone in my weight loss journey for the first time in my adult life, I have been really struggling.  It seems as I get closer and closer to my goal, I battle more and more with my self-image.  I have spent a lot of time praying and analyzing my emotions and thoughts.  I have poured my heart out to God and my husband.  I can’t say that I have all the answers, or that I have won the battle, but I have learned some things that I hope will help.

First, I honestly believe that, as women, we are created with the innate desire to be beautiful and create beauty around us.  I am not talking about being the perfect Barbie doll or Hollywood’s ideal of beauty.  Staci Eldredge says it best in her book “Captivating”.  “We desire to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, worth fighting for, a beauty that is core to who we truly are.  We want beauty that can be seen; beauty that can be felt; beauty that affects others; a beauty all our own to unveil.”  This desire manifests itself in how we dress, how we decorate our homes, and the food we serve.  This sense of beauty expresses itself in the words we write, the music we create, and the parties we throw.  It permeates everything we do!

I am confident that this desire for beauty, in ourselves and in our surroundings, is given to us by God because He is the ultimate creator of beauty.  Pay attention to the beautiful sunrises He designs, the vivid, jewel-toned plumage of the peacock he fashioned, and the shimmering reflection of moonlight on the water he envisioned.  He designed beauty all around us, not only for us to enjoy, but to help us discover the depths of His love for us.  We are created in His image, so it stands to reason that He would design us to love beauty and have a desire to create it our lives.

Recently, I was showing some paintings to a little girl I babysit.  We first looked at some modern paintings, where the faces were distorted, colors were sharp and lines were angular.  She noted that the pictures were odd and said, “I don’t like this, it looks scary.”  We then looked at some impressionist paintings where the color was enhanced by natural light; the lines were fluid and objects clearer.  She articulated that these pictures were beautiful.  I know that modern art has its place, but I have never heard someone say that the artwork was beautiful; instead words like “transforming” or “thought-provoking” often accompanied people’s opinions of modern art.

In many ways, our fallen world has distorted our concept of beauty, like modern art.  It distorts how God defines beauty and causes us to be dissatisfied with ourselves, especially as women.  We feel we need to measure up to a certain concept to be considered beautiful and are rarely satisfied with where we are at.  I recently was talking about weight loss with a beautiful, articulate woman who has greatly influenced my life.  She said some words that struck me.  “I have struggled with weight my whole life.  It has affected me and my confidence for years.  For years, I have defined myself by whether or not I had my weight under control.  A lot of wasted time!”

“A lot of wasted time!”  How many of us can be honest with ourselves about the time and energy we have focused on making sure we measure up: whether it relates to weight, skin care, preventing aging, hair maintenance and so much more?  It doesn’t seem to matter what size we are or how much time we spend taking care of our skin, it’s never enough.  We rarely look into a mirror and see ourselves as beautiful.  Instead, our flaws jump out at us resulting in negative critiques of ourselves.  We rarely take compliments well and often offer a caveat to the compliment by saying words like “but” and “if only” and “except”.  And this wasted time distorts our perception and robs us of our self-confidence, marring the beautiful picture we really are and replacing it with ugliness.

As I lose weight, there are some consequences to years of obesity that can’t be fixed by the weight loss alone.  I can only do so much toning, and in some places I will hit a wall.  As I get closer to my goal, these walls seem insurmountable and appear as prominent defects in my inner reflection.  If I could put this thought into a word picture, it is like looking into the mirror and hearing a voice that sounds like a foghorn blaring, “You have some major defects that prevent you from being truly beautiful.  You will never attain true beauty.  You will never look thin!”  This foghorn voice makes me feel defeated, condemned and guilt-ridden for years of living in obesity.

Defeated, condemned and guilt-ridden are places where many of us live concerning about our outward appearance.  This place often leaves us desperately looking for approval from others, fuels addictions, and covers our pillows with tear stains as we silently grieve what we think we lack.  This place cripples our attempts to achieve what God desires for our lives by consuming our energy with wasted effort.

I decided to look up some scriptures about how God defines beauty.  Song of Solomon, a book that mirrors the relationship between a husband and wife in addition to being allegorical of the relationship between God and us, declares, “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”  If you look at the original Hebrew, the word “flaw” is translated as “defect”.  God sees us as beautiful and doesn’t see any defects in us!!  In Ecclesiastes 3:11, the writer declares, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  Everything includes me and you!!  Peter addresses women in particular in the passage found in 1 Peter 3:3-4 by admonishing us that our beauty should not come from outward adornment,…instead 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.”  Our “inner self” is what is in our heart: it’s our belief about who we are in God.  Often, how we feel about ourselves is reflected in our posture, our facial expressions and our countenance.  If we are confident in God’s definition of our unfading beauty, then we will see our value through His eyes.

Photo credit to Margaret Collins

If God sees us as beautiful, but our fallen world has bombarded us with messages with negativity, how do we replace the messages of negativity with the messages of God?  It’s easy to know on an intellectual level that our weight or are our aging skin shouldn’t define us.  Yet, most of us truly don’t believe it in our hearts.  We have no problems telling our daughters, sisters, and friends that they are beautiful when they express negative self-image statements, but we reinforce our own negativity by over-analyzing ourselves when looking in the mirror.  How many of our husbands have told us we looked beautiful and we respond with statements like “Really, are you sure this looks good on me?”

I don’t have a magical solution that is going to fix years of negative self-reflection, but I am going to work on doing three tangible things in my life, believing that, with God’s help, I can start to chip away at the negativity.

1. I am going to learn to take a compliment well.  I am not going to offer reasons, excuses, caveats, or any other additional information.  I am going to respond with the simple words “Thank you!”

2. I am going to memorize scriptures that help me recognize beauty as God defines it.  I have written down the three scriptures I referred to earlier and put them on my new mirror as a daily reminder.  I want to replace the thought patterns of the world with God’s word.  In Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages us to think on things that are lovely and are of a good report.  Negative thoughts keep me in a place of condemnation, whereas God’s word can lift me up and reinforce my confidence in the Lord.

3. Finally, I am going to offer some grace to myself in areas that can’t be fixed by weight loss alone.  The consequences of a life-long battle with obesity are real.  Despite this fact, I can celebrate what I have accomplished.  I can be grateful for the things I have learned about myself on this journey.

I am excited about my new mirror.  Hopefully, I will no longer walk outside of my room with my clothes inside out.  Prayerfully, I will look in the mirror and see the reflection that God sees and let the distorted, negative self-image fade.

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Hobby Lobby and Perfection

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me my own.” Philippians 3:12

About a year ago, I went on a mission to find the “best” chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I read a lot of different articles from bakers with various opinions on ingredients and techniques: butter vs. shortening, how long to cream the butter, the ratio of brown sugar to white sugar, and whether or not to use chocolate chips or to roughly chop chocolate into chunks yourself.  I happened upon one recipe and decided to try it.  It called for browning the butter and using dark brown sugar.  It also suggested using good quality chocolate, so I splurged and bought Lindt dark chocolate bars.  When the cookie came out of the oven, my whole family was captivated with the results!  It raised chocolate chip cookies to a whole new level: rich, buttery and decadent.  I put aside my research and devoured my conclusion with delight!

A week and half ago, just like the Grinch, I got “a wonderful, awful idea!”  I decided to try yet another recipe.  I thought this one would appeal more to my husband, since it was reviewed as an extra crispy chocolate chip cookie!  The recipe called for more butter than most recipes and a larger proportion of white sugar vs. brown sugar.  My baking experience made me apprehensive when the recipe called for adding water to the dough, but I forged ahead!  The recipe warned me that the dough would spread, but when I took them out of the oven I was astounded.  The cookies spread into a thin, lace-like substance, covering almost the entire pan in a thin layer.  The chocolate chips congealed in the center of the cookies and shrunk in size.  In addition, this is one recipe where the cookies tasted just as bad as they looked: greasy with lack-luster flavor.  I attempted to refrigerate the rest of the dough to see if it would improve the quality, but to no avail.  As a last resort, I threw the rest of the dough into a pan, hoping it would magically turn into edible bars.  Instead, the bars were gooey, sticking to your teeth with a weird gummy like after taste.  As far as appealing to my husband, he attempted to eat some, but most of them ended up in the trash!

This is what the cookies looked like after baking. Photo credit Margaret Collins

My epic cookie failure reminded me of the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  I already had an incredible recipe, why did I feel a need to improve on it?  The recipe I found a year ago met everyone’s expectations in what a chocolate cookie should be: crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, lots of flavor, and decadent chocolate.  Nevertheless, I had the brilliant idea of attempting another recipe hoping to find even greater success.  Instead, I ended up with a lot of wasted ingredients (and we all know how hard flour is to come by in a pandemic) and a blemish on my baking record.

It made me wonder about myself, how often do I forge ahead with an idea without really thinking about the costs and whether or not I really need to improve on something?  How often have I jumped on the bandwagon of some trendy new home improvement concept or family-enhancing idea, without really thinking about whether or not this really fits our home and family?  The answer to that question is more often than I want to admit.

I love new ideas, and often read books that challenge me to not only improve myself, but also my home and relationships within in my family.  I love conversing with friends, sharing ideas and brainstorming on ways to better myself.  In addition, our society seems to embrace the concept of self-improvement in all areas of life with the advent of home-improvement stores to project supply stores like Lowe’s and Hobby Lobby.  The concept of self-improvement is good, but I have to learn to balance this with the importance of consistency and tradition.  Not everything should change and not every idea is the best fit for me and my family.

For example, I have a dear friend who does family worship time during their dinner meal.  Regularly, they would sing together after their meal and read the Bible aloud.  Our family already did our devotions in the morning, but I had this crazy notion that we should try it in the evening as well.  Yet, this just didn’t fit our family; we often had dinner guests and couldn’t develop a consistent habit of incorporating another devotion time in our day.  I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to fit our family.  Another example was the time I got the idea to sew a felt advent calendar that would be a family heirloom to pass on to future generations.  My sewing abilities resulted in a vaguely Christmas tree-like blob with five unidentifiable ornaments.  This project ended up in the trash, just like the chocolate chip cookies, along with my wasted time and energy!

I think it’s important to take an honest look at your life and evaluate what areas need some improvements.  We should always be striving to be more Christ-like while strengthening our families.  Even in our homes, we should be striving to create an atmosphere that is comfortable and represents us as a family.  This might mean investing time and energy into improving in our lives!  Yet, some improvements might not be needed, or might not fit your family’s disposition.  This is where we need to stop and ask ourselves some tough questions.  Am I trying to be the perfect Christian, trying to create the perfect family, fashion the perfect home, or, in my case, produce the perfect chocolate chip cookie?  If this is the root of our need for improvement, we need to stop and change direction.

This is my favorite recipe, although we didn’t love the M&M’s in the cookie. Photo credit Margaret Collins

In a recent Facebook post, Lysa TerKeurst wrote, “The pursuit of perfection leads to pretending.  Pretending encourages others to chase perfection.  And it’s just all so very exhausting.  Let’s give each other the gift of transparency and grace as we pursue Jesus.  Because perfection doesn’t exist on this side of eternity.”  That last statement is powerful!!  Perfection is unattainable this side of eternity!  It doesn’t mean we can’t work to improve upon things, but our goal should always be to bring glory to God by reflecting His presence in our lives.  This includes improving ourselves, our families, and our homes.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Bringing glory to God needs to be the heart of all self-improvements, not perfection.  Before forging ahead to make changes in my life, I need to make sure that it is going to bring glory to God!

In closing, I want to share one more thought.  The Bible talks about the marriage supper of the Lamb.  It is supposed to be this amazing feast where we spend time worshipping and eating with our Savior!  Can you imagine how beautiful the table is going to be decorated, centerpieces that pass any magazine cover!!  Being a foodie, I often wonder what amazing foods will be served at this table for us to share with fellow believers.  I can just imagine how amazing those chocolate chip cookies are going to be, far better than anything I can create on this side of eternity.  This will be the perfection we could never achieve in this life!

Peeps, Resurrection and Brokenness

“But he wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

When I was a child, Easter was one of my favorite holidays.  I loved coloring eggs; it made me feel like Faberge designing eggs for the Russian Tsar, albeit with pastel swirls and stickers.  Easter morning, I would search for my Easter basket and dive into the candy; Brach’s jelly beans, marshmallow cream eggs and Peeps.  Those of us born before the 90s didn’t have the option of Starburst Jelly Beans, Reese’s Eggs, or Godiva Easter Bunnies.  Our Peeps only came in yellow, and the fake chocolate that coated the marshmallow eggs was considered a delectable treat!  After devouring the candy, we would go to my grandparents and eat the traditional ham, potato casserole and my grandmother’s famous fruit salad.

When I became a Christian, Easter came to mean more than just eggs, ham and cheap candy.  It is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, the basis of my salvation and the center of my hope.  I still carried on some of the old childhood traditions with my children.  We colored eggs and put together Easter baskets full of better candy, books, crafts and toys.  We had Easter egg hunts, although our children had to wear snow pants and winter coats while searching for plastic eggs in the bitter Wisconsin spring!  I searched for the perfect Easter outfits for my children, dressing them up in their best for Easter Sunday service.  We balanced these traditions with intentional teaching about the true meaning of Easter.  This included the Resurrection Egg hunt, reading the Easter story as a family, and worshipping together in our local church.

Maggie, Ethan and I coloring Easter eggs!

This year, I was really looking forward to Easter.  My husband and I had written and were directing an Easter drama for our church.  The final dress rehearsal was supposed to be tonight and the performance tomorrow.  It was amazing to see how the whole congregation pulled together, developing and using talents they didn’t know they had, and stepping outside of their comfort zones to minister to our community.  Obviously, the current pandemic has forced us to cancel the drama.  But I don’t want this to be another blog about loss, or what we can learn from this crisis.  Instead, I want to share with you what I learned by writing this Passion play based on Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

By no means can I pen the words of Jesus’ life better than the actual God-inspired scripture found in the gospels.  I encourage you to spend some time reading the accounts for yourself.  As you read, I want to point out a few things that have struck me about the life of Jesus.

First, he spent his three years ministering to broken people.  These people didn’t have it all together, they engaged in self-destructive behaviors, and were deemed failures by society.  Their actions resulted in broken families, criminal behavior and terrible reputations.  Yet Jesus chose to spend time with them, and in some cases, went out of his way to find them.  He showed them kindness and compassion.  He didn’t condemn them, but encouraged them to be honest about their sins, telling them that their broken lives could be made whole.  Their lives, including the adulterous woman, the man with leprosy, and the Samaritan woman at the well, were permanently changed by just being in the presence of Jesus!

Second, Jesus loved his friends, his twelve chosen disciples, despite knowing that they would all betray him in the hour of his greatest need.  These twelve men spent three years with Jesus, witnessed him performing miracles, listened to him teach, and watched him minister to others.  They knew the true character of Jesus, beyond what the crowds saw.  They knew that this man was without sin, full of integrity and holding no bitterness against anyone.  His character on the shores of Galilee was the same as it was while praying in Gethsemane.  Yet when Jesus faced the crowds sealing his fate with rabid shouts of “Crucify him”, none of his disciples stood up to defend him.  Instead, they deserted him and, in one case, denied even knowing him!

Third, his death was brutal, bloody and painfully personal. There was nothing clean about his death: he was beaten, shredding his flesh and exposing bone.  He was hung on a cross with nails in his hands and feet and a crown of thorns pressed into his skull.  A spear was cruelly driven into his side until every drop of blood was wrung from his tortured body!  The painfully personal part is that he was completely innocent, yet he suffered all of this so that I, Sherry Collins, wouldn’t have to pay the ultimate price of death for my sins; sins like bad attitudes, lies, gossip, betrayals and so much more!  The consequences of my sin would have meant death and eternal separation from God!  Yet Jesus paid the price for my sin!!!  And through his resurrection, he gave me hope that I can overcome sin and spend eternity with Him!

These three revelations are not new to me.  I have been a Christian for over thirty years and have meditated on the gospel accounts before, drawing some of the same conclusions.  Yet, this year, I have spent some time examining my own brokenness in a little more depth.  This brokenness was a result of a childhood filled with abuse, causing deep wounds and much pain.  This brokenness led to self-image problems, obesity and relationship challenges.  In reading the accounts of Jesus, I have often wondered what brokenness was experienced by the people to whom he ministered.  For example, did the adulterous woman come from a home where her step-father sexually assaulted her?  Did the Samaritan woman at the well grow up in an alcoholic family?  We don’t know what caused any of them to sin, but it likely stemmed from brokenness, just as it did in my life.

My brokenness is not an excuse for sin, nor is it justification for any of my shortcomings.  Yet, despite my sin and shortcomings, Jesus was broken so that my brokenness could be made whole.  In Psalms 147:3, the psalmist records, “He healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds.”  This was a prophetic promise to me in my future.  Jesus’ death and resurrection would heal the brokenness in my life, and I am forever thankful for this healing!  This Easter, I will have my Peeps and my ham dinner, but more importantly, I will have the wholeness that the brokenness of Jesus has given!

Tigger, Social Distancing and Quarantine 15

“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Psalms 90:12

The title of my blog is “Graceful Transitions”.  From the beginning, I wanted to write about transitions I was experiencing in life, endeavoring to be a candid voice by sharing some of my struggles, insights and reflections.  I have engaged a lot of different topics, including weight loss, adoption, inspiring books, daily devotions, self-perception and loneliness.  More often than not, I will have an idea, pray until I get a confirmation from the Lord, and then attempt to write a blog that will minister to my readers.

This week, I struggled and debated on what to write for this blog.  The COVID-19 pandemic is blowing up our newsfeed, adversely affecting our economy, changing our lives and, most importantly, infecting and killing people worldwide.  Do I write another blog to encourage others, or do I write about a different topic to help others focus on things other than the pandemic.  I agonized, prayed and counseled with my husband.

The reality is that all of us are still dealing with a lot of uncertainty, and adjusting to changes in our daily lives.  Last week’s blog was easy to write, because it was easy to remain positive and take the high road.  I try to look at difficulties as temporary situations that I can persevere through; such as a snowstorm, recovery from a surgery, or unemployment.  Yet, COVID-19 seems different.  We have more questions than answers: when will restrictions be lifted, when will it be safe to socialize again, what will happen to our economy.  And the scariest question of all: will someone I love be infected by the disease.  Even the experts, those in public health, are unsure of when the peak is going to hit and what the long term prognosis is!

So I decided to write again about some things I have learned about myself and the world around me during this pandemic.  Some of it might be a little light-hearted, and some of it more serious.

1.  My relationship with God, including my worship and prayer, cannot be limited to a church building.  Being connected to a group of believers is important to my walk and growth in God.  Having a Pastor encourage, teach, admonish and convict me through sermons is an integral part of my faith.  Having the body of Christ encourage and edify me is equally important.  Yet, I still need to have my own relationship with God that includes worship and prayer.  The God who saturates a Sunday evening service in my church is the same God who can saturate my living room while I listen to worship music and my pastor preaches on Facebook Live.

2.  Being an extrovert in a pandemic that requires you to practice social distancing is more than just challenging!!  As an extrovert, I can imagine that dealing with social distancing is equal to an introvert attending a party.  For those who don’t know me, personally, I am an extrovert!  I will not pretend that I am a balanced ambivert, or that I have introvert tendencies: I don’t!  I have always been able to walk into any social situation with the ability to talk to, and connect with, strangers.  I have never felt shy, I get louder in a group, and I am energized after a party!  This social distancing is hard!  I find myself making more than the usual amount of small talk in the grocery store.  I miss being with groups of people on a regular basis.  When this is all over, I am going to bounce around like Tigger, interacting with people and giving hugs while the song “O’ Happy Day” plays in the background!

3.  I can maintain a healthy lifestyle while being quarantined.  I have seen a lot of the memes about gaining the “quarantine 15”.  I understand the sentiment behind it: stress eating, lack of exercise and boredom!  I have worked too hard to let a pandemic derail my resolve to be healthy!  I am taking as many walks/runs as the weather permits: the sunshine is good for me, plus I get to see other humans besides my family (remember, I’m an extrovert)!  I bought some dumbbells, I work out to the Planet Fitness in-home workout videos, and I make extra trips around the house during my daily routine.  I bought healthy snacks and diligently track what I am eating.  As a result, I have continued to lose weight these last few weeks!  I am grateful for that since my goal during this pandemic was just maintenance of the weight I had already lost.

No, I don’t exercise outside, my yard is not exclusive enough to attempt planks and pushups! I do use my mat and dumbbells to stay fit.

4.  I cherish my American lifestyle and freedom all the more.  Even though it’s only been two weeks, I miss being able to do ordinary things like eat at a restaurant, browse in a bookstore, and have company.  If I want to go hiking, I need to investigate whether or not the place is open to hikers.  I can’t go see my son and daughter-in-law in Rhode Island for the duration of the time of the restrictions.  These are freedoms that I have taken for granted!  As much as I have always been thankful for my freedom, I am even more thankful, now!

5. I need to limit the media voices speaking doom and gloom.  A month ago, I set up my phone to limit and alert me to the amount of the time I spent on my screen.  I set a time limit and quickly disciplined myself to my preset limits, until the pandemic!  After the pandemic hit, my phone alerted me that my screen time had increased significantly from the week before, and honestly, it has continued to grow.  Yes, it is important to be informed, but constantly checking the news has not helped me remain calm and peaceful.  I have determined that this coming week I will stick to my screen time limits.

6.  I am not in control, but I serve the God who is in control.  I don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last, how it is going to effect the economy, or if it will infect someone I love, personally.  I do know a God who is faithful and just and has a plan!  In Isaiah 41:10, the Lord says, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”  When I start to look around at the situation and see all the problems, leading me to fear and dismay, I need to turn my gaze back toward the Lord.  He will strengthen me to endure whatever may come.  He has never failed me!

7.  How I spend my new found free time reflects my treasures.  I will admit I have somewhat enjoyed the slower pace of life, not having outside distractions and obligations.  It would be easy to pass the time binging on movies, playing games or catching up on sleep.  Yet, as a Christian, I am called to always be a witness.  I need to use this time to be a witness to my family, my church, and my community.  I need to spend additional time praying and seeking God for direction.  I need to be kingdom-minded, not self-involved or self-indulgent.  I need to find ways to still be a “light” while social distancing.

This is an unprecedented situation for all of us.  Most of us lead busy lives, full of activity and interaction.  Yet, for the immediate future, it looks like most of America will be “sheltering in” to flatten the curve and keep ourselves, and others, safe.  Six months from now, I hope that I can look back at this time with a renewed sense of purpose, growth and a deeper relationship with God!