Notes from my opportunity to speak at the Beautiful You Conference today…if you would, please pray? For grace, for words, for each beautiful girl…
My God story starts like yours does…as a love story in the heart of a loving Father-God, who planned my life in the same heartbeat that made everything from nothing, set the universe in order, and placed Himself in a position to save us all.
To answer the obvious…it’s a birthmark. This is the way I was born. The doctors told my parents that I might not live, that I might have brain damage. They just loved me. To them, I was more beautiful than any other baby in the hospital…why? Because I was theirs. They didn’t love me despite the way I looked. They looked past the external and saw their baby, their firstborn. I believe God gave them His eyes to see me the way He did…precious, wonderful…beautiful.
My parents raised me in wisdom. They never treated me specially because of my birthmark. They took me out in public, I went to school, had friends. Yes, people asked questions. Yes, people stared. Yes, people were sometimes rude. But, they taught me to be strong and to be myself. I didn’t need to apologize for who I was, nor was I allowed to be defensive or expect special treatment. To them, I was like any other child…and most of my childhood, I saw myself through their eyes, and I believe, as God wanted me to see myself…precious, wonderful…beautiful.
As good parents, mine were concerned for my future. My mother asked our pediatrician questions. These questions led us to a specialist who was willing to try a variety of procedures to lighten or perhaps remove my birthmark. It was during this time–when I was just 11 years old–that I clearly remember God speaking to my heart. We had already tried a few laser treatments on my birthmark and the results had been less than exciting. One night, while lying in bed, I heard Him speak softly to me and say, “No, Daughter. This is not my plan for you. I have a plan for the way you look and I have made you precious, wonderful…beautiful. ”
I didn’t really even know much about God, except a few Bible stories from Sunday School and the information I received from singing “Jesus Loves Me.” But I believed Him. I told my Mom that I wanted to stop the treatments and after she realized that I was certain, we did.
At the end of my childhood were the murky waters of adolescence. Suddenly, what I thought of myself wasn’t nearly as important as what others thought of me. And, I could point fingers and blame some of the other insecure adolescents in my peer group, but that wasn’t really at the heart of the issue. Seeds of doubt had been planted. I was no longer listening to my parents’ reassurances that I was precious, wonderful and beautiful. I was listening to lies…Lies that told me that I needed to wear the right clothes, have the right shoes, wear my hair a certain way, apply buckets of makeup. Lies that told me my value was determined by what I looked like, who my friends were, and who accepted me. Lies that told me that–though it was plainly obvious that I was different–that it was wrong to be different and I needed to try to fit in. Lies that told me that I could act and be and look like everyone else.
By the time I entered high school, I was beginning to have doubts about my decision to keep my birthmark. It was painful to be called ugly, to be left out, to be excluded. All I wanted to do was to blend into the crowd…to somehow melt into the background and be just like everyone else. I looked around and it seemed that most everyone else was precious to someone, was wonderfully talented at something, and–certainly–more beautiful than I was.
I was miserable most of the time.
I managed to keep up a good front. I was in the band, in the choir, got fairly good grades, had a couple of sort of friends…but underneath all of that was emptiness, loneliness, sadness. I couldn’t understand how to be comfortable being different. High school was all about fitting in and being the same…and I wasn’t.
One day in my junior year, a boy I sat next to in class who had always been kind to me invited me to a Young Life meeting. I shyly told him that I didn’t know what Young Life was and he reassured me that I would fit right in. He had said the magic words “You’ll fit right in.” I wrote down the time and address for the meeting and got my parents’ permission to go.
Right away, I was caught off guard. I didn’t know very many of the kids at the meeting, but one of the moms who was helping host made me feel at home. I took a seat on the floor along with about 50 other kids and listened to a man named Doug share from the Bible. I had been attending church all my life, but I had never heard anyone talk about Jesus in a way that made me understand that He wanted to be my Friend. I also had never heard anyone explain that I was a sinner. That night, Doug extended an invitation to ask Jesus into our hearts. We were supposed to keep our eyes closed while he prayed, but I peeked the entire time. About 3 kids raised their hands…I was not one of them. I didn’t really know if it was okay. I had a lot of questions and I wanted to know more…and, I didn’t want to be in the minority.
Over the next couple of months, I attended a few more Young Life meetings. I’d like to say that those kids became my best friends, that I was invited for sleepovers and tailgates, had someone to sit with at lunch, formed an insta-clique with the Christians at my school. But, that didn’t happen. The kids were nice to me, but I was still alone.
I was learning a lot at the meetings…about who Jesus was, His love for us, how I could live for Him. At the last meeting before our Christmas break, Doug taught about what it meant to live for Christ…that it could be a lonely road, a road less traveled…but that we would never, ever be alone.
His words brought tears to my eyes. I always felt alone and scared. The thought of never being alone again…of always having a friend…of belonging…I wanted that. Again that night, he asked if anyone wanted to begin a relationship with Christ. Again, I peeked around and saw a few hands go into the air. Mine wasn’t one of them.
As I was putting on my coat to leave, one of the moms handed me a candy cane and gave me a hug. She held me for an extra minute and whispered in my ear, “God thinks you are precious and beautiful just the way you are.”
My 17th birthday was a few days later. After our family celebration, as I lay in my bed staring out the window at the moon, I was overwhelmed by the thought that in 365 more days, I would become an adult. My heart was gripped with fear. I started to cry at the thought of living the kind of lonely life I had become accustomed to. I stumbled out of bed and lay face down on the floor sobbing. Doug’s words came back to me in that moment…”All you have to do is tell Jesus that you want Him.”
For the first time, I spoke directly to God and confessed my fears to Him. I prayed the same prayer that I had heard over and over again at Young Life…”God, I need You. Please come into my life. Please be my friend. Please save me!”
There was no thunder or lightning, no halo around my head, no angels flying through my room. But over the next few weeks, a peace came into my heart that I’d never felt before. I still wanted to have friends, I still wanted to be liked, I still wanted to fit in. But I didn’t feel alone!
And over the next few months, God slowly began to remind me that He saw me differently than I was seeing myself. He began to show me that my value had nothing to do with the way I looked and everything to do with His love for me. To me, His love was precious, wonderful…beautiful.
Like all good love stories, there are many more chapters. So many that I can’t share them all today. But this is one I will…
Though I had given my heart to Jesus and again believed that He saw me as precious, wonderful and beautiful…I didn’t ever hope to believe that I would find that kind of love in another person. I trusted God with my heart, but a lifetime of interacting with people had taught me to be cautious with my affections. In the spring of 1998, my quiet time with God had led me to dedicate my heart to Him 100%…I was willing to think of God as my Husband and was content to live my life happily as a single person, working in ministry.
My best friend had been working a temporary job and insisted that I meet one of her co-workers. I told her I would, but that I was sure that we were just meant to be friends. 18 months later, I found myself standing quietly in the foyer of a beautiful church, wearing a wedding gown, waiting to walk down the aisle to the most wonderful, compassionate, loving man I’ve ever met. When they opened the doors to the sanctuary and I saw him at the end of the aisle, I saw the love of Jesus pouring from this man towards me.
When we got into the car after our reception, my new husband handed me a long-stemmed rose with a simple note that read…To my precious, wonderful, beautiful wife.
My Christ-like husband Charlie and I have been married now for 11.5 years and we have four precious, wonderful, beautiful children.