Trying to find beautiful: On body image and relationships

I have a complicated relationship with the word beautiful.

The first time I remember telling myself I was fat was in junior high.

I’d like to think it had to do with a changing body and hormones, but I don’t think that was it.

There is something about being suddenly aware of boys that throws a girl into new beliefs about herself. I’d like that not to be true – and it may not be an issue for some of you out there – but for many of us that’s just the way it is, and we need to be honest about that. From a very early age, our beauty is tied up in the relationships around us. It actually makes me want to cry a little bit, that our beauty would be wrapped up in what a someone thinks of us. There is something off there, something so connected to the way it’s supposed to be, but not quite right, and it’s hard to figure it all out, so we plunge ahead on weird courses trying to make ourselves feel better,

trying to find beautiful.

In high school, I remember exercising for beauty, rather than health or strength for the first time. Maybe if I did just the right amount of sit ups I would feel better. I remember healthily and not healthily saying no to chips and Snickers bars and pop, because maybe then I’d be pretty and my hips would stop making pants so dang difficult.

I thought with marriage my body image issues would be better. With a husband to tell me I’m beautiful, what can go wrong? That pit of disdain (or at least discomfort) when I weighed myself or looked in the mirror would melt away in the arms of someone who loved me unconditionally.

But it didn’t get better.

Shocker, but a man didn’t solve my problems.

Even as an adult, the word beautiful played games in my head, taunting me with something I’d never be.

I’m not girly.

I’m not graceful.

I’m not good with my hair.

I like food a lot.

And then, one day I turned to my left and saw my daughter. The words taunting me, I heard from her mouth. That was when I demanded that something had to give. I pleaded with God to help me. Lord, I want her to see beautiful in herself, in her friends, in me… instead of maybe ok.

God’s answer, as always, was the Word of God. He picked me up, dusted off my shame, and sent me to the Scriptures.

When I studied and then wrote through the Song of Songs, I began to see that beauty has a lot less to do with pretty and a lot more to do with strength than we think. It has to do with a Savior, and is more intimately connected to His sacrifice and death than I can wrap my head around. It has to do with honor and kindness, even when it holds onto its very physical properties.

And it’s relational.

No wonder I struggled with my beauty based on boys. We understand beautiful in relationship – any and all relationships, romantic, friendship, or familial. That, I believe, is Scriptural Truth.

Healing our beliefs about the word beautiful will be changed in the Word, yes, but God is teaching me that it is also changed in community with each other – in friendship, in life together, in calling out beautiful where we see it, and in proclaiming God’s workmanship in one another – not just to our daughters, but to one another’s daughters, to wives, and to women everywhere.

If you have a complicated relationship with the word beautiful, here is what I want to tell you:

God makes beautiful and God defines beautiful, I don’t get to. I want to believe Him instead, be covered by Him instead of my own ideas about my body and myself and this one word – beautiful,

but we can only do that together.

I’ll never conquer this by myself. Our brains weren’t designed for that. The battle wasn’t meant to be lonely.

Dig out your phone. Text a friend. Tell them they are beautiful. Sing it over them. They need you and in the midst of that, God will heal this weirdness about beauty and beautiful and boys and all of it.

Altogether beautiful, friends.

Let’s help each other begin to believe it.

Click here for a free sample of Altogether Beautiful: A Study of the Song of Songs 

In Awe of the Creator: Art, Life, and Beautiful Strength

I have loved art since I was a little girl.

I remember being maybe eight and standing in front of just one panel of “Water Lilies” at the St. Louis Art Museum and feeling like I might begin to understand the Bigness of God. I would imagine jumping in the painting and then falling through to the water, but God lifting me up, sitting me firmly in the center of a lily pad and asking me my thoughts on life and the day.

This is the Creator I always wanted to know more about, who fascinated me to no end.

When I met Kati Kleimola I was instantly struck by the air of creativity that surrounds her. Kati is a professional artist, wife, and mom of five. She has a home studio, exhibits in juried shows, and teaches classes at local galleries.  Her Instagram is a bevy of vibrant color. Every time I look at it, I am struck with that same intimate, yet bursting-at-the-seams, feeling I experienced with Monet’s “Water Lilies.” In Kati’s work, I see Life and that is no mistake.

She tells me,

“I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio and come from a family of makers and fixers. Art has always been a part of my life. Even as a child I was always painting and drawing. Capturing the world on paper has always helped
me see it better. Having a rhythmic relationship with my Creator is something that I need to function as an artist, wife, and mother. The fact that God has blessed me with so much that I don’t deserve or couldn’t imagine keeps me humble and keeps me wanting to share His beauty with the world around me.”

Kati and I have dreamed for a while now of a study that helps people learn of a Creator that isn’t far off from His creation:

One who redeems.

One who loves fully, vibrantly.

One who shows us His own handiwork in both light and dark, sunshine and shadow.

Then, when I wrote Altogether Beautiful, all I could see was imagery everywhere. Two words kept rolling in my head:

Strength & Beauty

Kati saw it too and calls it,

“The give and take of things from one extreme to another.”

How do you capture that with words on a page alone?

When I met with the team at Concordia Publishing House to dream about a vision for the study I kept trying to describe things that look like strength and beauty to me-

Pride and Prejudice, the field, ridiculously large coats, dawn, birds, cat tails, slightly unkept hair, fog, sunlight, striding toward

the pillars and steps of the St. Louis Art Museum on a sunny day, a pond and paddle-boats at its base

dark chocolate, melted, strawberries, and the taste buds to enjoy it

and Kati’s artwork.

Flowers could be just flowers on a canvas, yes, but an artist brings strength and life to them with a bold pallet, brush strokes, fine details, and the Creator working in them.

Our God brings strength and life to His world and His Word through his own large strokes of time, plans, and space. He gives color and meaning to the grey and mundane. Even the very dark is cloaked in the velvet of His purposes.

He reaches us with His Word by sharing the glory of all He has made, in order for us to understand all that He is.

Here’s just one example in Song of Songs 5:1 –

I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
    I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
    I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
    I drank my wine with my milk.

What of a world without honey, a world without sweet, without spicy? We don’t have to know that world, because He gives all of it to us in plenty.

Art helps us to see this, to capture this.

Concordia Publishing saw the same thing in Kati’s art: an opportunity for us to connect to the Creator visually, while we tarried in the Word; a way for the ripeness of God’s descriptions in the Song of Songs to come off the text rather than be trapped in my words and descriptions alone.

Kati recently told me, “When I read the Song of Songs I see really stark contrasting images…Luscious life, spring time, deep colors, flowers all over the pages, animals, seasons, shapes, colors, and land features. The contrast within the descriptions is so poetic and at the same time reflects what artists have to do in shaping images with light and dark.”

Here are some pieces of her inspiration when she was working through the Song. What do you see? What stands out to you in the Biblical narrative and in Kati’s flat lay below?

So, we did it! We created a book, a Bible study that not only uses words, but uses Kati’s art alongside Scripture’s rich language and Truth to help us connect and understand a Creator who would be connected enough to Redeem us.

In Altogether Beautiful, my hope is that you’ll see vibrant life on each page, I hope. Because of God’s Word. He shines brightest, as He should. I also think you’ll see the Life He gives a little bit clearer because Kati Kleimola put brush to canvas and let us include her work.

Wait until you see the finished product.

Check out more information and get a free sample of Altogether Beautiful here.

Connect with Kati and see her pieces available here.

Where do you see strength and beauty around you in His Creation? Where do you see Life in His Word? Who helps you to see it? Share with us in the comments.

Strength, beauty, art, and Life – altogether beautiful.

New Year, New Word: Beautiful

About this time of the year I find myself in a rut.

I take down my Christmas tree. All the sparkly presents are unwrapped and put away. I sweep up the living room and sit down, mourning the loss of the twinkling lights.

It’s cold. It’s windy. And everything seems kind of boring if I’m honest.

Every year I know these grey days are going to come, so I choose a word for the coming year, giving the days an extra dose of creativity and focus. I ask myself sometime mid-summer, “What am I going to work on? What do I want to be different in my life? What could be improved? Where would I like to be more intentional, gain some clarity?”

Past year’s words have included:

Warm

Brave

Hope

Fearlessly wrong

Sometimes I cheat with two words. I don’t like rules. 😉

This year, nothing came to me, so I just let it set. And set. And set.

Still nothing.

How in the world was I going to get through the January rut when I already lacked inspiration in late summer?

Then, we got on a plane and headed to Spain.

One day, we drove up a mountain in fog so thick that I thought for sure we would be run off the road by a tiny little European coupe that wanted to come down the mountain using the same lane.

We saw some stuff, headed down the mountain, watched some Star Trek, and went to bed.

The next day, the fog lifted, and we made the decision to head back up the mountain. When we reached the top, we got out of the car and my jaw dropped.

It was beautiful.

Mountains all around us, trees, dew, sunshine – all in the same place we had missed it the night before, veiled from our eyes.

I realized that this is what I wanted to focus on: Beauty.

I wrote a book about it, so you would think the journey would be over. But that day on the mountain, I understood that this was just the beginning.

I wanted to see beautiful like this in my every day. I wanted to stop and enjoy it. To breath it in, rather than pass it by.

Laughing on the top of a mountain with our friends about fog adventures, guardrails, and the cross-cultural similarities in school field trips, I remembered things I think I had forgotten just a little bit:

Life is Beautiful.

Conversation is Beautiful.

This world is Beautiful.

I want to see those truths every day – not just in my rejoicing, but in my rut as well.

I want to see it through the violence, through the mess, through lonely, and through the mundane.

This year, my word for the year is beautiful.

I want to focus intentionally on all that God has made and done and saved and just how beautiful that is:

I am beautiful.
This world, with all its heartbreak and pain…is beautiful.
Relationship, in its complications and mess…is beautiful.
This day, rain, sun, or shadow…is beautiful.

Join me on this journey of seeing beautiful, fixing our perspective together on the One who truly makes everything, everything beautiful in His time. Where do you think we often miss beauty in this life? Tell us about them:

Name one, two, three, or more things that strike you as beautiful today and share them in the comments.

Download this Beautiful Reminders page.

List three things every day that are beautiful around you. These can be things of physical beauty, or ideas, people, experiences, anything.

Study with me! Journey through Altogether Beautiful with me. Preorder from Concordia Publishing House , Amazon  or wherever you like to get your books. There are samples at the Concordia link and look for free stuff details to come.

I can just feel it…

this year is going to be beautiful.