Things that Make Me Feel Altogether Beautiful

Beauty isn’t everything.

Beauty is, in fact, in the eye of the beholder.

But one thing I learned from studying the Song of Songs is that God appreciates beauty, regards beauty, and doesn’t ignore beauty either, so neither should I.

I think for too long I vacillated between buying all the nice things or wanting all the nice things to stuffing my desire for beautiful things and being beautiful way deep down. I confused appreciation with coveting because the line felt dangerously close. And it was, it is.

Biblical Truth: Anything God makes for good, Satan will try to distort.

Fighting Satan’s ridiculousness doesn’t mean running from beauty and beautiful things though. It means embracing it fully, while asking God, seeking God, imploring God, receiving God, and hearing from God, in His Word. This is what you’ll find if you study the Song with me:

Not one thing beautiful exists on this earth, without God’s hand in it.

So, to celebrate that fact. I thought I would share with you a few of the things that make me feel beautiful. When I put these things on, when I hold them in my hand, I am reminded not of how much I don’t have, but of all I have and Who provides it. Things can be like that, valuable, without becoming little gods for us to worship. They can point us to all that He has given us and all that He has redeemed for us. Most often these things are connected to people, because people matter more every time.

I’m going to limit myself to beautiful things you’ll see a glimpse of in the Altogether Beautiful video segments, or you’d end up with a post that goes on for days.

Beautiful thing #1 –

Giant, colorful, soft leather earrings

My friend, Jen, makes these earrings. I would still love them if they weren’t made by her, but I know they make me feel beyond beautiful because of her. She taught me that a pop of color can make an ordinary day just a hint more spunky and fun. I like that they aren’t totally hidden in my mass of dark unruly hair. They aren’t heavy and burdensome either. There is enough heavy and burdensome in life without earrings to heave around.

I also love that they are designed by hands that care for a family, hands that serve the Lord, and hands that carefully select quality leathers considering the hands that dyed them and softened them around the globe.

Jen, who has been there for me in my finest and in my darkest is altogether beautiful and so is her work. You’ll see Designs by Jennilyn earrings in six out of eight Altogether Beautiful videos!

I have managed to get my sisters and most of their friends slightly addicted to these earrings as well. If you’re intrigued, here’s the link:

Designs by Jennilyn on Etsy

Beautiful thing #2 –

Shirts that proclaim things that matter

I could buy t-shirts for days…it’s true. I’d rather be in a good pair of jeans, Converse, and a t-shirt than anything else, including my pajamas (most of the time). I like my t-shirts to be meaningful, to create conversation. I remember the early days of college, connecting with someone on the first day of classes because I was sporting a St. Louis Blues shirt:

“Do you bleed blue?”

“I DO bleed blue! Are you from St. Louis?”

And that’s all it takes to get a conversation off and running. There are even better shirts out there than sports teams and (let’s be honest) the seven Star Wars shirts I have on my t-shirt shelf. The best shirts do more than those ever could. In the Altogether Beautiful videos, you’ll see my grey shirt with “Faith” written in script and the T creating a clear cross in the middle. It’s striking, modern, and fresh. My friend and fellow social worker and advocate, Kristy and her business partner, sell these shirts on their website, Comfortably Kind. A minimum of twenty percent of the profits go to help local charities, military families, cancer awareness and other things that matter. I super love that and it makes me feel beautifully connected to others when I know we’re working toward something together.

Check out  Comfortably Kind!

Beautiful thing #3 –

Red mug, warm beverage

My youth group in Ohio gave me this mug. There is a long story behind it, but suffice it to say that there are few physical objects in the world that make me feel as loved as this mug. The only physical thing to hold court with it for a piece of my heart is my fifteenth-anniversary band of chocolate diamonds from my husband.

Beverages with people, conversation with people – those are the best moments of life.

It’s just a mug. If it broke, I won’t lose those relationships, but life happens, people move, youth grow up, and hearts ache to be connected. My big red mug reminds me to treasure up every moment in my heart, embrace every relationship even when they’re hard, and call, text, and invite-in more every day because life is short and love is worth the energy.

What is beautiful in your life?

What little things make you feel beautiful?

Thank you for sharing with me and listening to me. You are #altogetherbeautiful with or without any of the things, but may they remind you of how Altogether Beautiful you are to Him.

Hope for Sermon Sleepers (My Redeemer Lives 6:2)

When we were in college my husband did this annoying thing where he woke me up in the middle of class.

We weren’t even dating, but he felt a moral obligation to make sure I got my money’s worth out of every syllable from my New Testament professor. I remember vaguely thinking something along the lines of, “Who is this guy?!”

Then, we started dating and we sat in church together. Sure enough, he started waking me during sermons too. Grrrrr. That wasn’t just irritating. It was embarrassing. I was a theology major for pity’s sake! More than that…

I loved Jesus. Why was it so darn hard to stay awake for Him?

Dave never added to my humiliation. He really just gave me a quiet nudge. He was giving me kindness, reminding me of what I believed…sermons are important. I came to church to be filled with the Word, not take a nap. I wanted to stay awake for things. I really did. As an adult I recognize that I need a substantial amount of sleep to function well. College held lots of late nights and just enough immaturity for me that I couldn’t quite stay awake when someone started talking theology for more than 10 minutes. (Ironic, I know.) Because of my embarrassment, I always transformed Dave’s little nudge into righteous anger in my mind saying to myself, “I wasn’t asleep! He’s so sensitive. Seriously, Dave, lighten up.”

It wasn’t until, at just the right moment, Acts 20 crossed my path, that I found hope for my sermon sleeping and, as hope usually looks, it came in the shape of a little bit of Law, and a whole lot of Gospel.

Please read Acts 20 to find what I think is the first recorded Biblical account of sermon sleeping:

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

Eutychus, my friend, when I get to heaven, I look forward to saying thank you for lifting my shame.

God knows just what we need. This passage brought up three questions for me in quick succession:

Question #1: Who in the world falls asleep while Paul, the Paul, is talking?

If anyone is going to be interesting, I wondered, isn’t it going to be Paul? I puffed myself up thinking I would never fall asleep listening to Paul. I would give up life and limb to be that guy listening to the Apostle Paul.

The Law rushed in — I fell asleep all the time. Wasn’t God’s Word interesting enough by itself for me? Wasn’t I falling asleep to the Apostle Paul’s writings essentially?

Boo. No one likes a soul that tattles on itself, but that’s exactly what God gave us and it’s a beautiful thing. I think it’s easy to blame the pastor or blame the church when we don’t like a sermon. It’s easy to call it uninspiring or unrelatable. It’s easy to write our grocery list too, or mentally check off what needs to be done for the week. It’s easy to check out in our drowsiness. Life is busy and life is exhausting.

The Law told me that day that I was guilty. It’s my own job to get enough rest, stay alert, and “get something” out of the sermon. I had closed my heart, intentionally or unintentionally, to hearing the grace God was reaching out to me with and responded with,

“No thank You. I’m a little too tired right now.”

Question #2: If I loved Jesus enough, wouldn’t I stay awake?

Quickly, my mind flitted to another question. My conscience began to prick in all the best ways when I heard Eutychus’s story. Here is another young adult, just like me, hungry for the Word of God, but battling the Old Adam of sin and, in many ways, a slightly drowsy faith walk. Paul himself teaches us in Romans 7:15:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

I think young adulthood is when you first become glaringly aware of this dynamic. Even when we try really, really hard, we end up with palm to face wondering what in the world went wrong.

Eutychus wanted to hear the Word. I mean, he showed up and I think that’s important to note. Then, Paul talked…and taught…and talked…and taught. It was after midnight. It’s hard to listen to theology after 9pm, much less midnight. I’m not excusing his action (or inaction, really) or mine, but it’s very important that we understand that God’s economy doesn’t work by separating the sermon-sleeping goats from the righteous, alert, and attentive sheep.

Should we stay awake and learn? Yes! But neither Jesus’s love for us, nor our love or belief in Jesus, is dependent on our abilities, ever.

Next came the Gospel…

Question #3: Is that a resurrection?

Read Acts 20:9-10 again, so we don’t miss this moment of abundant grace and mercy:

And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”

Three stories up, a long fall down, and taken up dead — that might have been the conclusion to Eutychus’s story. The Greek term for dead in Acts 20:9, nekros, literally means what lacks life. There are 130 occurrences of this Greek root in the New Testament and they are all either about dead people, being dead in our sins without Jesus, or the power of God to raise the dead. How very appropriate.

The Holy Spirit moved in Paul, and in Acts 20:10, Paul went down to Eutychus and took him in his arms, calmed the weary crowd’s fears, and God brought grace.

The link between resurrection and forgiveness in this instance could not be stronger. Eutychus, Paul, and the rest of the congregation took one who once was dead and ate, drank, and conversed with him for the rest of the night. There is so much comfort to be had there! Yes he was alive, which is comforting, but he was also given grace, which means grace is available from this God they came to hear about from Paul.

There is hope for sermon sleepers, resurrection hope.
Where there once was heartache, there now is Hope.

I didn’t deserve it, but God as always gave all the grace. I stopped looking at Dave like he had twenty heads. Eventually, I stopped falling asleep (probably because there were toddlers to take care of in the pew, but that story is for another day).

Romans 7:16 gives Truth:

Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 

The Law is good. Sleeping in church is not good. Avoiding God’s Word in any way is not good.

Go just a little further to Romans 8:1-2 for Truth and Grace:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

Jesus changes everything, for Eutychus and for me. We are ruled by Life, not death, not condemnation. I can hear the Law and there comes the Gospel. It’s a beautiful thing.

Something I’m gonna want to stay awake for.

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*Greek reference:

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