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.
My name is Chelsea. Redeemed. Wife. Mommy. Photographer. Light Chaser. I hope you find light here too.