Friday, February 5, 2010

My Identity: A Child of God

I had the opportunity to speak to our mom's group last night. The curriculum we are using is Rosemary Flaaten's book, A Woman and Her Relationships. (I highly recommend it!) This is the way I connected with what she had to say.

I turned on The Oprah Winfrey show the other day just to see if anything inspiring was on. Rita Wilson, the wife of Tom Hanks, was on the show to “help women look great at every age“. They were doing makeovers on people to help them look their best. Like most women, I am interested in how I can improve my appearance so I listen for little tricks and advice that can help me personally. Curiously, I watched the show, only to find myself slightly frustrated and irritated. In a nutshell, I believe I was being told that I would need a makeover. I should start dressing differently, get my hair done more often, start wearing make up and follow the advice of T.V. talk shows, magazines and pressure from society I feel every day.

Believe me, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with wearing clothes and make up that help you feel better about yourself. However, I am saying that there is a comparison game out there that I simply don’t want to play anymore. I know what I need to do to feel good about myself and I’m very grateful to have a husband who loves and accepts me just the way I am. I do not need the criticism or validation from others.

I believe God has worked in my heart about these topics over the years. And He still continues to do so. I am passionate that, as Christians, we gaze into a different mirror than the rest of the world. I also am a firm believer that the family we grow up in does not give us an excuse for our negative characteristics today. We can be different and be empowered for it!

Like most women, I struggle with this comparison game. I want my stomach as flat as one woman’s. I want my hair to be full like another’s. I long to not worry about stretch marks and cellulite and hair where it shouldn‘t be. I wish my skin was different. I wish my butt was smaller. I wish I could be comfortable in a swim suit - or shorts. Heck, I’d be happy if I could just be comfortable in my “fat” jeans these days. No matter what point I’m at in my life, I just never seem satisfied with my appearance.

Just a few years ago, I began to actually pay money to get my hair done. This was never something I did unless I simply needed to get a hair cut. Now, I go fairly regularly and allow my hairstylist to have some freedom in what she does with my hair. I have yet to go away crying from her house so I think overall, things are going well. Still, I find myself praying for God to help me keep perspective as I sit in that chair. The first time I went she commented on working on virgin hair. She was so excited to introduce my hair to a world of color. The next time, she convinced me to start waxing my eyebrows. Another time I went to her, I found myself walking out of her house not with just a new hairstyle and freshly waxed brows but with make-up on as well as borrowing some of her clothes for an evening out with my husband. Since that day, she is always commenting on my lips. “You have such beautiful lips,” she’ll tell me, “Just think of how beautiful you would look with lipstick on.” So, even as I attempt to do something small to improve my appearance, I get to hear how I should still be doing something more.

Thankfully, I’ve learned how to respond to my friend every time she makes this comment about my lips. “Thank you,” I reply. “If you think my lips look beautiful without lipstick, I don’t really need to wear lipstick than, do I?” I just went to visit her yesterday and she didn’t pressure me to wear lipstick and even accepted the fact that I really do know what works best for my lifestyle. I’m very happy with a hairstyle I don’t have to spend a lot of time on and still can feel good about. I am so thankful that I have learned that my approval and self-worth do not come from other people.

A friend of mine forwarded me an article from Proverbs 31 Ministries. The author of the article, T. Suzanne Eller, talks about the mirror we see ourselves in. She says,

“How many times have I met a truly beautiful woman and complemented her, only to hear her say, "Well, thank you, but I need to lose five pounds," or "I'm having a crazy hair day," or "Did you see that woman over there, now she's beautiful." What I saw was a smile that was warm and welcoming, or beautiful hazel eyes that were filled with compassion, or a woman who was frugal and fabulous. My complements were sincere, but fell flat as she focused on her flaws instead.

What would happen if we focused on the mirror Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:12 instead? "Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now." (NLT) The more we get to know God, the clearer things become. We stop checking out our own image and discover more about Him.

And there's a bonus. The more we get to know Him, the more others see us through His reflection.

Now, that's real beauty.”

In the book on relationships we are reading, the author, Rosemary Flaaten, also delves into the impact our maiden families play in our lives. I remember as a kid the way I longed so much for my parents’ approval. In particular, I longed so much for my Dad’s love. I wanted his time, his focus and his affirmation.

I remember a time when I was younger where I had won some awards for achieving some sort of accomplishments. I desperately looked forward to showing my daddy the awards I had won. I remember waiting upstairs for him to come home. My dad was a carpenter and he put in long hard hours at work to provide for his family. Many days, he’d be gone by sunrise and get home after sunset. For some reason, I have a clear picture in my mind of falling asleep on the sofa waiting for my dad with my box of awards beside me. I don’t have a picture of him coming home and showing him all I was so proud of and the what the response was that he gave. I simply remember being asleep waiting for him to come home.

As I got older, I followed in the family tradition of playing basketball. I did fairly well and would often get playing time in the game. I didn’t always start but I was usually second string. I remember in junior high walking to my Grandma’s general store in town after practice to wait until my mom could pick me up. I remember that in high school, I would get rides home from my friend, Traci, and her parents many times after our games because my parents would be at the ball games of my brothers. It’s just the way it was. The fact that my dad invested his time in my brothers games and expected my mom to do the same, didn‘t stop me from playing hard. I just desperately wanted to see my dad express pride in me. I was Daddy’s girl and he held such a special place in my heart.

Fast forward to my married life when I was pregnant with my first child. I remember vividly the pain I felt one night because of the longing I had for my dad to simply desire to spend time with me. My brother and his wife had just had their baby and we were expecting four months later. We would all be heading over to their house to see my new niece and I thought it would be fun to go out to dinner with my parents. I was craving fried chicken, corn fritters, and other food from White Fence Farm and I knew my dad enjoyed eating there. I was certain he’d take me up on an invitation to eat there with us. I called my mom and as far as I knew the plans were set. As we sat at my brother’s house, time began ticking away and I felt my appetite grow. For some reason, my dad never got up to leave. Finally, my mom informed me that we should just go ahead without them. I had such a difficult time wrapping my mind around why my dad wouldn’t take the time to go out to eat with us. I just went home and cried myself to sleep.

I was always Daddy’s Little Girl. So you can just imagine how much it rocked my world when two years ago, this very month, my dad died of Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma/Leukemia. The man whose approval I longed for most of my life was now gone. No more being surprised by an unexpected expression of love. No more opportunities to cherish the few moments we got to spend together. No more. It was over. And if I my identity were in my dad… had I not learned…if I was still looking to him for my approval and security…I don’t think I’d be making it through each day.

Thankfully, God was gracious to me. In those couple years prior to my dad’s battle with cancer, God worked in my heart to show me that my approval does not come from my father, my husband, family, children, friends, or any other human being for that matter. My identity needed to be found in one place alone.

It was a few years ago that I found myself in a conversation with some other mom friends following this question in a study we were doing. “How would you answer the question, ‘Who am I?’” I was uncomfortable stating that I was “Rod’s wife“, or simply a “mom“, “daughter“, “sister“, or even a “friend“. It got me thinking about my identity. Finding my identity in any of these earthly relationships just would not work for me. What happens if, God forbid, something should happen where I am no longer a “wife“? What if I am no longer able to hear the words “mom” because tragedy hits? What if I lose my friendships? What happens then? If my identity is caught up in some sort of human relationship, then who do I become? That’s when I realized how secure I was in where my identity came from. I am a Child of God. Secure in who I am. Secure in a relationship that will never end. Secure in the unchanging identity that being God’s child provides me with. And I’ve clung to that. Hard. Day in and day out I struggle with low self-esteem. I fight off the influence of the world and the standard they shout for me to strive to. And I cling to the Bible. For in it, I find who I am. I find what God’s standards are for my life and I can be at peace.

God was gracious to me prior to my dad’s death. Back in 2004, I completed a half marathon. Prior to the event, I found myself angry with my dad that he wouldn’t be there to cheer me on. This is when I realized I was not being fair. I had grown so accustomed to being disappointed by my parents that I just assumed they wouldn’t attend - to the point that I hadn’t even asked them to come. I informed Rod that it probably wasn’t fair to be angry with them until I had at least invited them. As it turns out, my parents were there for the entire race. A memory I cherish today. Then, in December of 2007, just a couple months before my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma, I asked him to complete a 5K run with me. He embraced the moment and I have another memory to cherish for a lifetime.

Sometimes, God will gift us with moments like the ones with my dad I now so deeply cherish. He’ll give us moments with our children or friends or even total strangers that can boost our self-esteem. Not to mention the gift God gives me in my husband who loves me just the way I am and reminds me often that to him, I am beautiful. But we need to remember that these are just added bonuses. We are who we are because we are created by God, loved unconditionally, and purchased with the blood of Christ.

As I find myself in the comparison game about my appearance or find myself longing for someone else’s approval or love, I am so thankful that I have total security, acceptance, love and approval in God alone. And I still remember to thank Him often for the extra bonuses in the people He surrounds me with!

3 comments:

  1. Tristi,

    Thanks for sharing last night. You were honest and eloquent and I appreciate you so much.

    Love,
    Lorraine

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are so deep! The more I have read your thoughts on this blog, the more I see that our minds seem to run in a similar direction. I love it when God makes some truths so clear, and you actually get it! Of course, we stray from remembering this truth once in a while, but as we look to Him, we remember. Thanks for sharing your heart once again!

    ReplyDelete