Beauty in the Ordinary

“But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-11

I will be turning forty-nine next week.  At this age, birthdays often induce some refection, especially since I am so close to the big 5-0.  Some women view turning fifty as the beginning of the end when wrinkles, cellulite and grey hair take over.  Other women see it as a pivotal turning point where they make a bucket list and prioritize accomplishments to achieve before the end of their life.  I have one more year to think about what I want fifty to look like.  But this year, at almost forty-nine, I feel contemplative.  If I look back on my life, it is nothing like I imagined it would be, but everything I hoped it would be.  And if I had to describe my life in a few words, I would say “beautifully ordinary”.  This may seem like a contradictory statement, and maybe a little bit of a letdown, but take a little journey with me through an ordinary life lived out beautifully by the grace of God.

This is one of the best organization tools I use. It makes menu planning fun. Picture credit Margaret Collins

As a child, I thought I was headed toward a career making a big impact on the world.  At one point, I wanted to be an investigative reporter exploring the streets of Calcutta.  I also thought about being a lobbyist climbing Capitol Hill, trying to influence Congress for social justice causes.  Later, I hoped I would be a therapist helping other people overcome childhood trauma.  Regardless, all my dreams involved travel, adventure, and influence!

My reality, however, has looked quite different.  Instead of a career, I chose to stay home with my children and home-educate them.  Yes, we did travel, but never anywhere requiring a passport.  Any international travel was done from our living room through the pages of books, or in my kitchen where I tried to introduce my children to international cuisine.  Adventure was not found in a war-torn village, instead it was found camping in a tent, banging logs together to scare away the raccoons, or exploring nature in our backyard.  And, although I never became a licensed therapist, the people I influenced the greatest were those who lived in the four walls of my home.  This did not happen by me extolling the virtues of a Christian world point of view, although both my children would say I did my share of that.  I impacted lives around me by doing the ordinary things in my life through the inspiration of God and to the best of my ability!

My friend, Lynette, an incredible micro blogger with “Joy Intended”, wrote, this week, about “the momma of that little boy with three loaves and two small fishes.  Yes, the unnamed lady.  She was somebody great.  Because she was back home, in the kitchen, way behind the scenes.  Doing the mundane thing of baking bread for the 192,384 time.”  Little did this mother know that her very bread would be used in a miracle to feed thousands.  It is in the mundane, ordinary tasks we do every day that impact others.  It is finding the one gift or talent God has given us and developing that talent to bless the kingdom of God.  It is choosing to reflect God’s beauty in your corner of the world, no matter how big or small the impact may be.

I have spent a lot of time writing out menu plans and grocery lists, not only to feed my family, but also to make sure our pantry is always company ready.  I have learned to preserve several different flavors of jam, some of which delight a certain eight-year-old on her toast, every morning.  I try to keep my home sunny and comfortable, so that both my family and friends can be in a place that is inviting and conducive to good conversation.  I keep a stack of cards on hand to jot short notes of encouragement to others.

Susan Branch, in her book, “A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside”, reflects on her travels.  She says, “What we do matters.  It’s the everyday little things that mean the most & make all the difference.”  She later goes on to say, “Perhaps just going about our business, thinking small, thinking Home, thinking, “What do I have to give?” is the true secret for a happy life.”

As I turn forty-nine, I am not looking to start a non-profit that will have a global impact, although I might.  I am not looking to travel to Africa to help children in an orphanage, although I am open to that.  I am not looking to be a licensed therapist, although if God lays it on my heart, I will go back to school.  Today, I am writing this post and praying that it speaks to at least one person.  Today, I am going to write a few cards out to some important people in my life to let them know I care.  Today, I am going to finish my load of laundry and put it away, so that we have fresh linens to use.  Today, is just an ordinary day in a beautiful life!

Will Migory Sow Ever Twirl?

“Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalms 34:5

Many years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter and I went shopping for her traditional Easter dress.  She combed through the racks, selecting a white dress trimmed in a wide spring-green ribbon with a matching green shrug.  She rushed to the dressing room, came out a few minutes later, and proceeded to twirl jubilantly!  She exclaimed, “I knew this was the dress, because it would twirl the best!”  I smiled at my daughter’s whimsy and bought her the dress.

This past Easter, a group of young girls were standing in the foyer of our church, giggling and chatting.  Dressed in their finest Easter dresses with lots of tulle and ruffles complementing the shades of blue, pink, and cream, I smiled.  Reminded of my daughter’s standard of the perfect Easter dress, I asked them if their dresses twirled.  Taking turns, each girl spun in her dress, finishing with a curtsy at the end.  The sea of glitter and twirling tulle, along with the smiles on their faces, radiated pure joy, pleasure in beauty, and complete confidence in their princess-like status!  Then they asked me to twirl.  For the first time ever in my life, I twirled around in my Easter dress.  Although I smiled as I spun, I felt a moment of deep sadness come over me.  I shrugged the feeling off and went on my way.

My attempts at twirling. Photo credit to Margaret Collins

It has been a few weeks since Easter, and I have thought about that moment often.  What was the root of that sadness I felt as I twirled in my Easter dress?  I spent some time praying about it, and, through a series of conversations with different people, I have finally been able to put words to the feeling that came over me.  I have never twirled because I have never felt like a princess!

I am aware that I am being vulnerable, and I am still trying to process this in real time, but I never intended this blog to be a place where I come off completely polished and put together.  It’s about transitions, and, sometimes, transitions can be messy.  I believe my feelings will resonate with other women.  And for my male readers, unfortunately, I am sure that you have women in your life who have probably felt the same way.

Looking back on my life, I have always had a slight aversion to princesses.  This has manifested itself in various ways, including purposely steering my daughter away from the whole Disney princess culture.  Even in the Bible, I was drawn more to the Ruth and Rahab characters than to Esther.  This aversion has a lot to do with my wounding as a child.  My sexual abuse at the hands of my father made me feel dirty and ashamed.  In addition to not feeling like a princess, my obesity did not fit the traditional appearance of a princess.  I struggled to find clothing that made me feel feminine.  I wouldn’t even have considered layers of tulle because that would have added volume in places that I didn’t want to emphasize.  I was also unable to tame my wavy hair, which further added to my feelings of awkwardness.

I remember reading aloud “The Tale of Despereaux” to my children and identifying with Migory Sow, a character in the book whose name matched her unfortunate appearance and her even more unfortunate life.  Her ears were disfigured to the point of resembling cauliflower because of the beatings she had endured.  She escaped by being a servant in the castle, but even there she is described as “rounder and rounder, and bigger and bigger.  Only her head stayed small.”  One time, when she expressed her desire to be a princess, her abusive “uncle”, who had bought her from her father, responded, “Har.  An ugly, dumb thing like you.”

I covered up my Migory-like feelings by being outgoing and the life of the party.  I worked hard at being a good and supportive friend.  Even though I could not wear the princess dresses I desired, I helped my friends by becoming their personal shopping assistant.  I suppressed all my desires for physical beauty and, instead, focused on developing my character and my talents.  I admit that I lived a little vicariously through my daughter, encouraging her to play dress up and buying her dresses that twirled.  But, deep inside, there was a desire to twirl, to have a moment where I was blissfully joyful!

As I have lost weight, I have begun to wear dresses with more feminine patterns and shirts with flowing sleeves.  I even have a few dresses that meet Maggie’s twirling standard.  However, despite the lower numbers on the scale and the more feminine clothing, I still felt like Migory Sow inside with the princess crown on her head.  My own voice echoed the rat, Roscuro’s, response, “Ridiculous. Laughable. I mean you will never look like a princess no matter how big a crown you put on your tiny head!”  All my efforts to eat right, wear more feminine clothes, and even attempt to twirl, could not erase the hopeless feeling I have had engrained in me since childhood.  Even other people’s compliments, including my husband’s, did not make me feel like twirling.

At the end of “The Tale of Despereaux”, although Migory Sow never becomes a princess in the literal sense, her real father atones for his mistreatment of his daughter and “treats her like one for the rest of his days.”  I cannot look to my stepfather for healing, but I can look to my heavenly Father.  His unconditional love written on the pages of the Bible helps me to see who He truly is and how He really sees me.  Through His reflection, the negative messages from my childhood begin to diminish and I hear His voice more clearly.  David declares in Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed.”

One summer, I kept wiping out on my bike in our gravel driveway.  Just as my knee would start to heal and a scab would begin to form, I found myself falling off my bike again, repeatedly picking stones out of the same wound.  Eventually, it did heal, but the resulting scar is a reminder of that summer of scraped knees. I am still unpacking this as I write, as I haven’t erased all the “Migory Sow” messages in my mind.  Right now, it is an open wound.  But as I learn to rewrite those messages with the voice of Jesus speaking into my life, eventually a scab will form, moving me closer to complete healing.  I might be left with a scar, but it will be a reminder to me of the goodness and love of Jesus.  Until then, I will keep twirling!