I wanted to scratch my forehead off. The night before had come off swimmingly, but my temples were pounding. My team and I had planned the party to a tee and I had been in town since Thursday, trying to squeeze in time for family as well as last-minute details for the event. Maybe it was all the dancing, or the bright light from all the photo-booth pictures. Maybe it was the after-party or the loud conversations screamed over blasting music. Maybe it was just the exhaustion from it all, but my throat hurt from all the conversations and my head was pounding. It was the morning after my 10-year high school reunion, and although we all told stories from our younger days, my body reminded me that I was 28, not 18 anymore.
Again, I tried not to scratch my forehead. See, I’m a beauty blogger for a local business during the week when I’m not shooting or writing. I was supposed to promote our skincare products and facials from the web….but I had never gotten a facial before. You can’t write on something you’ve never experienced, right? So, 4 days before the reunion I booked a facial with our esthetician and figured it would make a good blog post, and perhaps my skin would be all glowy for the event. What could go wrong?
My skin was clear before all of this. Well, 2 days after my facial, my face looked like it got stung by a colony of bees. It looked like tiny blisters all over my forehead and cheeks! Needless to say, I freaked out. My face was fine before, and I was attending a 10-year reunion in two days. I didn’t have time for this.
I’d like to tell you it all cleared up before the reunion, but it didn’t. I stared in the mirror on the day of the event and then solemnly looked at Cole, who was putting his socks on.
“What happened? My skin has never looked like this. I look like a 13 year-old dealing with puberty! Aren’t facials supposed to make your skin pretty? I’m a red dalmatian!!” I whined.
“Ash, that lady told you that facials get rid of toxins, right? Well, the toxins have to get out somehow. I guess this is just how they get out. It’s fine. It will be really dark in there and no one will notice. You look beautiful.” He was trying to comfort me.
But comfort wouldn’t come. I planned everything for this night. Everything. Every “t” crossed and every “i” dotted. The face in the mirror was the one thing I couldn’t possibly plan for, and now I was the one who was dotted. I may or may not have silently prayed that everyone else at the reunion would be ugly too, and then I wouldn’t feel so alone. My mind was going all Kristen Wiig, and try as I might, I couldn’t reign it in!
I know, I sound dramatic. Probably because I was. It was stupid, really. But I felt ugly. As in really really ugly. And like other times in life, something stupid and inconsequential dominated my thoughts. I was lost in my own head until Cole snapped me out of crazy-land.
“What if this isn’t an accident?” Cole said quietly. I knew where he was going.
“Oh, so God broke my face out? To teach me something? Really?” I snapped back.
“I’m not saying God purposefully made you feel ugly, Ashley. I’m saying He uses random things all the time to teach us. The break-out is unfortunate, but do you believe He’s a God who uses ordinary circumstances for our good, or do you not? You say all the time that He teaches you things through even the most basic of experiences in your life. Who is to say this isn’t one of them?”
He had a point. But I wasn’t ready to concede. I hated when he was right. I couldn’t muster a logical response. “I have to get ready,” I said as a means to deflect. Let’s be honest, I didn’t want to talk to God about my stupid face. There are much larger problems going on in the world and I was simultaneously mad about my break-out and guilt-ridden that I cared this much about it. I had just been to South Sudan for Pete’s sake; I knew there were bigger issues going on in the world.
I knew He’d eventually remind me of a verse to sort my thoughts out, as He does a lot of the time. God, I mean. I expected a condemning Scripture about selfishness or something, or about beauty being vain.
But that’s not what He had in mind. He wasn’t out to condemn me. A short little verse came to my mind.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.”
Now, that verse comes from Proverbs 31. It used to be the chapter of the Bible I hated most. I know, I know. It’s the “wife” chapter—the one that describes a great, godly woman. Most women love that passage; they use it as a guideline for character and life. I’ve hated it for most of my Christian life because I’ve never connected with the woman in that chapter. I don’t know how to make clothes and I don’t rise early to feed the needy. I don’t make my own bedspreads or can my own food or mop the floor twice a day. I remember my days in seminary—it’s like any time a woman spoke on the Bible, she’d use Proverbs 31, and I’d be like, COME ON! There are 66 books in the Bible! Teach on something else. Something a little deeper than napkins and sweeping and sewing stuff.
Without hashing it all out to you, suffice it to say that God has taught me a lot about Proverbs 31 over the years. Upon studying it later in my Christian life, I see it in a whole different light and I’ve come to understand and like it. It took me a while to understand what the author was actually trying to say about this woman, but now that my grasp is better, I actually enjoy this woman in Proverbs.
“She laughs without fear of the future….” I mulled it over while I combed mascara through my lashes. Some of it got on my eyelid and I cursed the black goo and reached for a Q-Tip.
It hit me right there, mid mascara. I put the makeup down and looked at myself, furrowing my brow as the pieces came together.
God doesn’t want to condemn me for my face freak-out. He doesn’t want to smite me for being selfish or vain. He already knew those things about me when we first came to know each other. He’s not caught by surprise and wringing His hands, wondering how He’s going to get me in line. He loved me when I hated him. He knew I was selfish and messy from the get-go.
No, condemnation isn’t what He’s after. What he really wants is for me to be free. Free from fear or anxiety. Free from the need of people’s approval. Free from the chains of what our culture defines “beauty” as. Free from the crushing expectations I put on myself regarding the future. He doesn’t want me to cower in fear of His wrath or His disappointment. He wants me to laugh for crying out loud. I searched for the verse on my iPhone just to be sure. Yep, it says the word “laugh.”
A God that wants me to laugh? I started talking to Him freely again, all my fear dissolved.
You surprise me again today, Lord. A godly woman is so rooted in Your love for her, that she can laugh at anything that’s thrown her way instead of being fearful of the future. You don’t want me to be scared of you when I get all caught up in something I shouldn’t have. You want me to laugh at my stupid, flawed issues and remember all that You’ve done for me. You want my identity to be so strong in You, that things like this don’t devastate me, but make me laugh instead. You don’t want me to see how mad you are at all of this. You want me to see how much better you are than all of this. You want me to remember everything You promise to be for me when I’m big fat mess.
And that was the truth. I was (and am) a mess. My mind was a mess. My focus and perspective about the evening was a mess. And in the heat of South Carolina humidity, I was a hot mess.
I took the time to look at my face and laugh. At myself. At how stupid this is. At how much it doesn’t matter. At how ironic and poorly-timed and funny it all is. At how big of a mess I really am on a daily basis. At how far I have to go in my faith and how much God already knew that. About how crazy He is to love us all the way He does.
I could feel the Lord pushing me past myself, prodding me to think about others instead of self. And I realized that my self-absorption divided me from people. I can’t fully care for them if my thoughts are consumed with myself. He brought faces to mind of those attending our reunion, and I prayed for them individually, by name. It was a simple exercise to get my mind focused on serving my classmates and not on my own vanity.
Cole was finished getting ready and asked if I was okay. I told him yes, and that I was still a bit upset about my face, but I trusted God to grow me out of my selfishness over time. I looked up at the sky, half talking to God and half explaining myself to Cole. “I have a long way to grow, don’t I?” I sighed. Cole stopped and tipped my face back down to meet his eyes. “We all do, Ash. All of us.” He said it seriously, but with compassion.
We left the hotel, ready to party, and ended up having a phenomenal night.
And that’s the story of my face and the reunion. That’s one little example of how the Word of God helped overcome my worst critic: myself. That’s one little victory in the midst of a lot of daily battles. And I’m thankful to the Lord—that he’s faithful to come to me when I avoid him. That He is a God that shows up in ordinary circumstances and moves us through them. That He’s not “too busy” or “too above us” for those little moments. That He doesn’t condemn me for struggling with a first-world issue, but He does push me to get over them. I love Him for this: He’s not a God that wants me to be comfortable, cool, or pretty. He’s a God that wants me to be free from needing those things.
I woke up that morning really tired and really thankful—that He’s a god that wants us to serve those we loved in our past and laugh as we move through our future.