If you know my daughter, or if you follow our #vessiedressesherself hashtag on Instagram, you know that the child has an affinity for dresses and skirts. The bigger, the more sparkly, the better. I let her dress herself with just a few rules:
1. Must be weather appropriate
2. No jammies
3. No costumes outside the house
The particular dress in question- the cause of much weeping and gnashing of teeth- broke all three of these rules, and I wasn't going to budge. Another tidbit of info you may know regarding my daughter is that she has a flair for the dramatic. But here's what I want her to know about being pretty:
You were in tears on the stairs and I was in no mood to play hostess to your dramatics. We were in a rush. We're not usually in a rush, to be honest. I avoid rushing at all costs and I can mostly get us out the door in a timely manner, but today... we were in a rush. And now this display. And all over a princess dress.
The waterworks on you will surely someday earn you critical acclaim. But this time, real tears welled up in your eyes and rolled down your red cheeks. This time, your tiny four year-old self was truly in the midst of a tragedy. But I said the same thing I usually find myself saying to you in instances such as these,
"You're being ridiculous..."
You quieted. Then sniffled.
"But Mom," you whispered, "if I don't wear a dress, I won't be pretty! I'll be so ugly!"
And you meant it. In your world, your lack of a princess dress was honestly the gauge against which you judged your prettiness. And I was crushed. Who told you that? I mean it. I want names. Who told my barely-been-on-earth-long-enough-to-know-what-pretty-means-daughter that what it meant was a glittery dress and sparkly make up? But more than that, who told you that without those things you would be ugly?
Listen to me, child... pretty is not a physical trait. It's a heart trait. It's a soul trait. Pretty is what happens when your heart is open and loving and kind. Pretty is the sparkle in your eyes that happens from recognizing the pretty hearts in other people, and from building them up over and over when they don't feel so pretty. Pretty is when we see people the way Jesus sees them, and love them the way He would love them... And you have it, baby. The prettiness. That heart is pure, sparkly gold and I've seen it make other people's hearts feel pretty too. Including my own. But pretty didn't come from a box at the store. It came from within.
It's an understanding that you and I and all other women have that regardless of what we're wearing on the outside, our hearts are all the same, and we have to care for each other's hearts in order to keep them that way. Pretty, I mean. And your heart is my responsibility. It's my job to remind you what pretty really is. So let me be clear:
You might not always be fancy, but you will always be pretty.
Your clothes won't always sparkle, but your heart always will.
You can put on make up, but you can't cover up a hateful heart.
The world will sell you glitter in excess, but no amount of flash and shine can ever make you love yourself... that has to come from within... from that pretty heart.
Don't sell yourself short, baby. That that cheap, flimsy dress couldn't possibly hold the entirety of your worth. It doesn't even hold a candle to your beauty. You are made in the image of a God who loves you. You are lovely because he loves you. Inside and out.
“What’s your favorite childhood memory?”
My husband asked me this not long ago, and while I consider my childhood happy, it was difficult to conjure up a specific memory that I felt embodied the essence of it. Shouldn’t that be an easy question to answer? Something joyous should always come easily to the forefront of the mind, right?
I won’t pretend I had a rough upbringing, but I was raised by a single mother who often worked two and three jobs to keep us afloat- long days and nights with little to show except full tummies and happy faces on her children. Many of my friends have wonderful childhood memories of going on vacations and visiting fabulous places. Or having big elaborate birthday parties and expensive Christmases. We never took so much as a weekend vacation, but our hearts were always full.
But then I remembered….one single moment that I feel was the most perfect and happy of moments for a little girl:
I’ve just awoken to a summer morning, sunlight blinding as I opened the metal screen door and sleepily step onto the astro turf-covered front porch. The pastures are lit up bright neon green from summer’s morning light, and the most perfect breeze blows through the front porch. My mother is on the west end of the porch, paint brush in hand, painting a large bookshelf white to go in my room. An airplane buzzes overhead and the wind chime clangs in the background. She looks up, and smiles.
That’s it. That’s the moment. Unceremonious and completely insignificant on a grand scale. And I often think of how my mother couldn’t have known that this was the moment that would be etched into my brain when I pictured my childhood. Her hair undone, a messy shirt thrown on, paint covering her hands. And then I think of all the moments in my own children’s lives that I’ve tried to make so picturesque and perfect. All the messes to which I’ve said no, and all the times I’ve insisted we not go out to play when the weather wasn’t ideal; and I wonder what they’ll remember about their childhood…
So today is a yes day. We’re embracing messy hair and dust on the floors and dishes left undone. No struggling against the ever-strengthening current of perfection. Today, we just play, because today could be the day. Any moment could be the one carved into their little hearts and burned into their memories. Today could be their moment in the porch.
A baby. Someone's baby. Face down on the shore. Washed up from the vastness they had hoped would bring them new life- water that held their fate. Desperation can be the only explanation for putting one's trust in something so volatile.
So we see the picture in the news and our hearts lurch and our stomachs turn, and so does the channel. We can't even watch as the world burns around us... And I have to wonder, are we doing enough? I don't mean our government. I mean us. I mean me. And where do we start? When our news feeds flip from one tragedy to the next, and our hands fall paper white from fear and our eyes burn and our minds race, where do we even start? And will our children see and learn from our mistakes? Will they still claim our Jesus if we sit back and wait on the bodies to wash up on our door step?
We can't say we didn't know- not just about the one dead baby in a sea of others, but about all of it. Here and abroad. In our streets and theirs. In our homes and hearts.
We can't say we didn't see the quiet racism and the systematic injustices that now spills over into outrage and boils in the streets. We can't say we didn't know of the murder of thousands in their mother's wombs before their lungs had even a chance to take in a breath. We can't claim ignorance to the disintegration of the foundations of families, hidden in the shadows of the internet where promises of instant gratification and self glorification live.
We can't say we didn't see. And if we see, we can't stand stock still while there is work to be done.
So what do we do? Where does that leave us? Shouldn't we feel the same desperation in our hearts to help a broken and dying world that those migrants felt before putting their hope in the water and cramming their courage into a boat?
Go. Move. Help. Be the Church.
I'm not talking about earning your way into heaven. I'm talking about embracing your humanity and conceding that we're all in this boat together, and our only hope is in the water.
There is hope in Christ.
There is truth.
The only water that holds the promise of life...
I know what you’re thinking. It’s bearing down on you hard, isn’t it? This upcoming holiday for celebrating dads. You’re desperately trying to avoid thinking about it. Maybe you never had one. Maybe the one you had wasn’t around. And maybe when he was, you were worse off than when he was gone. Maybe your dad did awful, unspeakable things to you. Maybe he lied to you over and over and hurt you physically and mentally. And maybe he never provided for you the basic things a child needs: Safety. Comfort. Peace. Provision.
If you’ve ever lived in a house full of anger or abuse or neglect- built on a wobbly axis, threatening to tip at any moment, scared to even speak lest you disturb the balance of one person, spinning out of control- you know. You know how the actions of the one to whom you are supposed to look for guidance can completely mold you- harden you, or leave you shattered and destroyed. Leave your heart hurting. Leave your hands trembling, reaching upward, wanting. Leave your eyes darting, waiting for the next attack, potential assailants lurking in every corner of your life. When will the bottom drop out? When will the sky fall?
Some of us respond in anger. Some of us responded by plunging headlong into romance after romance, seeking to fill the void. Some of us responded by participating in destructive behaviors- drugs, alcohol, food- in order to numb the pain. And some of us have tried over and over to pull ourselves out of the void and use it to create our own way. Always the burden remains. Always rooted in fear.
How can you trust when the one who was meant to call you his own left you trembling, gasping, flailing?
Listen to me, friend:
There is one who calls you daughter. He calls you beloved. He fights for your heart daily. He longs to hear you call him ‘Father.’
He never tells you he’ll be there, and then leaves you waiting.
He never promises provision without providing.
He never leaves you in the middle of the night.
He never hurts you.
His love is not dependent upon your actions or deeds.
You can never make Him love you less.
You cannot earn his love. You don’t need to.
He never chooses another over you.
He never lies to you.
He is not your dad.
He is not your dad.
He is not your dad.
Take heart, friend. Look up. Don’t hide your face. Your father is not absent. He is with you always. He has loved you always, and loves you still. Rest in Him this Father’s Day.
My name is Chelsea. Redeemed. Wife. Mommy. Photographer. Light Chaser. I hope you find light here too.