Smile…

I don’t think I am getting my point across too well. But I saw the sticker and it frustrated me. I know today is World Mental Health Day yet I’m not sure how much that will be spoken of in churches tomorrow. I know that there are 27 million plus people trapped in modern day slavery, yet so many don’t know. I know the world is in turmoil, and we grapple for solutions. I know millions live in abject poverty, whilst I live a life of comfort. I know there are thousands in children in the UK in the care system without a family, and so many homes closed to them. I know there is darkness and despair. So I just think that ’Smile Jesus loves you’ doesn’t always cut in.

A few (quite rushed) thoughts on World Mental Health Day…

So yesterday I noticed in our offices a yellow ‘Smile, Jesus loves you’ sticker.  I was reminded that I used to have that as a pencil sharpener in 6th form.  Along with my pencils, pens, notebooks, badges and anything else I could get covered in Bible verses or Christian mottos, I thought it was the best thing and of course the best form of evangelism.  Little did I know that it wasn’t the sharpener, the pen or even the ‘Mix CD’ I made for my RE teacher of 2003’s Christian hits (I know!) that would really show Jesus’ love, but my actions and my story.  I learned over the years that the fact I was smiling; the fact that I have joy in my heart despite all I had been through, that I was so full of God’s grace and forgiveness that it spread across my face- that was the true evangelism.

Don’t get me wrong, those things or similar can be a really great conversation starter and they were for me in 6th form.  In my RE class especially there was a girl who was Jehovah Witness and sometimes witch and a guy who was atheist but also dabbled in dark things and my teacher who used to be a Christian, had clearly been damaged by fundamentalism, yet cried when he recounted the story of him and a friend finding a dead lamb beside the road and being overwhelmed by Jesus’ sacrifice.  The pens and bracelets and mottos helped start dialogue that continued into class and we often had huge clashes, particularly myself and the atheist as he claimed I was ‘burning through him’ with my eyes when I looked at him, and he once stared he would ‘kill me and chop me up’.  Clearly a spiritual battle was taking place.  I was a brand new Christian, likely overzealous, but utterly convicted by the transformation that had taken place in my life.  I really believed I should smile because I knew for the first time that Jesus loved me!  I thought it was a great thing to have on my pencil sharpener!

I even managed to get ‘thrown out’ of my History class for smiling too much.  I was asked why I was grinning, to which I responded that I wasn’t grinning just smiling because I was happy, and like to smile.  My teacher told me to stop, which of course meant I couldn’t and when he thought I was making fun of him asked me to leave the class.  This was rather awkward to later explain to the head of 6th form when I was sat in the common room enjoying a cup of tea instead of enjoying my History lesson.  My RE teacher a while later said that he often ‘debated’ with my history teacher about the things I said about faith.  I to this day don’t know why he took my side, as he certainly didn’t agree with me about Jesus, but it seems he agreed enough to defend me against the History teacher.  Again- a spiritual battle.

This was at a time when I still didn’t fully realise what a spiritual battle was.  I didn’t know that Satan had been trying to claim me from the moment I was born, and often so nearly did.  I didn’t know that so much of the darkness that had surrounded my life and those closest to me; anxiety, poverty, depression, feelings of worthlessness, pain, addiction, self-injury, hopelessness, and fear were all things that should not surround you- part of the backdrop of the ultimate battle of good vs evil, life vs death, eternity vs darkness.  I had now claimed life and light but that didn’t mean that the darkness did not still try to overcome.

When I was younger, I forget how old perhaps around 13 or 14, one of my favourite songs was ‘smile’ by Michael Jackson.  I used to hear the lyrics and tears would float down my cheeks.  I know it’s pretty melancholy and perhaps dramatic to say but I used to think the song was actually speaking to me; I used to think each word was telling the story of my life and that it really would one day get better somehow even though I didn’t know how.

Songs like this, the pink blossom tree that sat in the garden on our estate and the love for my siblings willed me to push against the darkness. To not give up with life.

Smile, though your heart is aching

Smile, even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky

You’ll get by… 

If you smile

With your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just…

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just…

Smile, though your heart is aching

Smile, even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds in the sky

You’ll get by…

If you smile

Through your fear and sorrow

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile…

That’s the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what’s the use of crying

You’ll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile

I found hope, as I have said before, when I was 15 and my life changed.  I entered into a new phase, with a new family and new revelation.  I was told again and again that I was loved, valued, precious and forgiven.  Not just through words, but more often in the way I was treated.  I (like the pens and sharpeners said) was told ‘Jesus loves me’, but more importantly I was shown it in small acts of love, in edification, in forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it and in being cared for and respected.

I was learning that I didn’t need to be afraid of death, which I had so feared so deeply from a young age when my half-brother had taken his own life and I cried myself to sleep thinking of the void.  I was learning that I shouldn’t have thoughts of throwing myself from a high window or into traffic to escape the numbing pain.  I was learning that I should give my body all that it needs and deserves.  I was learning that I had something unique and beautiful to offer the world. I was learning that I had a voice.  I was learning that it shouldn’t be so hard.  I was learning that community and time with people and opening yourself up is important.  I was learning that self-destruction won’t solve anything.  I was learning how to smile, and finding so many reasons to do so!

I wish however that someone had told me more clearly, that when you become a Christian, when you know outstanding grace, love acceptance and forgiveness, that the darkness does not disappear.  I mean, I do know this.  My life had seen the darkness that the world can offer and I knew that even though I had God’s love and protection, that the darkness was still there.  I was still in the battle.  But I think that’s why I kind of hate those pencil sharpeners, bumper stickers and bracelets sometimes.  They over simplify things.  Of course Jesus loves me and of course I should smile, but, because Jesus loves me doesn’t mean I will always be smiling.  Life is more complex than that.  In my opinion it doesn’t give enough gravity to the darkness that is real.

I kind of like Job for his honesty…

Job 9:

27 If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
    I will change my expression, and smile,’
28 I still dread all my sufferings,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.
29 Since I am already found guilty,
    why should I struggle in vain?
30 Even if I washed myself with soap
    and my hands with cleansing powder,
31 you would plunge me into a slime pit
    so that even my clothes would detest me.

In the novel ‘The Fault in our Stars’ which grapples with teenage cancer, the male teen’s parents have a house full of ‘encouragements’.  Little notes and pillows and signs.  Things like ‘in the darkest days the Lord put the best people in your life’.  Whilst these things are true and in the novel encouraging to his parents, it doesn’t change the fact he has cancer.  Part of me feels like those kind of encouragements sometimes take away from acknowledging the reality and the pain.  It’s a fine balance of course as we don’t want to give into the darkness or allow it to swallow us (which I naturally sometimes do), but little cute words don’t always cut it.  In the novel, *spoiler alert!* the boy dies.  His girlfriend delivers a heart-breaking eulogy in a ‘pre funeral’ for him, but when it comes to the actual funeral she says an ‘encouragement’- something twee about laughter or rainbows.  She says that funerals are not for the dead but those left behind.  I think sometimes these stickers, pencil sharpeners or notes are more encouraging to Christians than they are to everyone else.  As I said I know its true Jesus loves me and I should smile, but this is not necessarily the message the world needs to hear.  It’s not always even the message the church needs to hear.  We need the ‘pre- funeral eulogy’.  The words that speak of hurt but also hope.

Christians suffer unthinkable tragedy; death, miscarriage, loss, and pain.  Christians suffer from mental illness.  Christians go through divorce.  Christians are broken and hurt and torn apart.  We don’t need cute messages or to be told to cheer up.  We shouldn’t have to expect to smile all the time.  We do need the truth and the miracle of the Gospel.  We do need powerful prayers and Bible verses spoken over us.  And we do have access to a peace that can pass understanding and a joy that can remain in the midst of unspeakable pain.

I don’t think I am getting my point across too well.  But I saw the sticker and it frustrated me.  I know today is World Mental Health Day yet I’m not sure how much that will be spoken of in churches tomorrow.  I know that there are 27 million plus people trapped in modern day slavery, yet so many don’t know.  I know the world is in turmoil, and we grapple for solutions.  I know millions live in abject poverty, whilst I live a life of comfort. I know there are thousands in children in the UK in the care system without a family, and so many homes closed to them.  I know there is darkness and despair.  So I just think that ’Smile Jesus loves you’ doesn’t always cut in.

We have a hope, a joy, and promises of new and better tomorrows.  We have so many reasons to smile, but that needs to come from a place of people being told the truth.  Not just to smile because you’re a Christian so you should be happy.  Not just to tell someone who doesn’t know Jesus that it will all be ok of they just follow him.  Not just to tell the world that Jesus and the Church have an answer to the suffering, but to actually live it.  We need to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  We need to give people a reason to smile.  We need to feed the poor, give homes to the orphans, set people free from slavery and do all we can to spread hope.

We need to tell people why we can still find joy and are able to smile even in the depth of suffering because of the hope we have found.  I need to tell people how I have learnt to smile rather than put it on a sticker.

I am thankful now that my story and my smile can bring hope to others.  I want people to know that God is good even when life isn’t.  I want them to see that it can get better, that life can turn around.  I want them to believe that people can be forces of good and miracles can happen.  I believe my life is a miracle.  I believe there are so many reasons to face tomorrow with a smile.  I know it can be hard and seem hopeless and hurt.  I know that having Jesus in your life doesn’t magically change that.  But salvation is, being delivered from dire situations or harm.  I know now this doesn’t mean we won’t get hurt.  I know it doesn’t mean we won’t face terrible situations and see unthinkable things.  But it does mean that we will survive them, we will get through, and we have hope and a future.  In the end of the story Jesus wins.  Love wins.  Hope wins.  That gives me reason to smile.  I hope it does you too.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing'” -Mother Theresa

If you are suffering or struggling there is hope and there are places you can get help and people who can help you.  you are not alone…

“That’s” What Makes You Beautiful

What is beauty? What is “that thing” that makes someone beautiful? Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Does a beautiful heart make a beautiful person?

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
– Audrey Hepburn

 

Something that’s been on my mind lately, as well as all the other random thoughts whizzing around my head, is what makes someone ‘beautiful’?  I love the above quote, and in theory try and think of beauty as far beyond skin deep.  Yet in an often superficial and shallow world, beauty as defined by the ‘perfect face’ or ‘perfect body’ can be rammed down our throats.  It’s a subject that women especially have approached again and again, and for Christian women it can be a cause of real conflict- the battle between knowing that God looks at our heart, and that ‘beauty soon fades’ but living in a society where surface beauty is all too glorified, and that God has made us in His image, just as we are.

I’m going to try and be real, and this is more a collection of thoughts than a defined stance.  I would love your thoughts, feedback and conversation on this.  What is beauty? What is “that thing” that makes someone beautiful?  Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?  Does a beautiful heart make a beautiful person?

The UK beauty industry is worth over £17 billion.  ‘Zoella’ a British beauty blogger has 7,611,899 subscribed to her YouTube channel.  Bethany Mota her US counterpart has 8,414,326.  Now whilst both do admittedly talk about lots of subjects and tackle anxiety, bullying and many issues young women value advice on, the main focus of both vlogs are beauty and lifestyle.

What is it about outward beauty that causes millions to follow these girls for tips?  Is it more about them being approachable and relatable and the insight into their lives than the beauty tips they offer?  I don’t know? I do know that women often love fashion, beauty and magazines and especially things that give you practical advice on ‘how to look and feel great’.  I know I am drawn to beautiful things, beautiful people, have boards on Pinterest solely of lovely faces, manicures, clothing and accessories.  Yet isn’t beauty so much more than that?

So, the honest part…  For many years I really struggled with my body and really who I was.  My birth mother had anorexia for a lot of my life, and without really knowing it I think her relationship with food caused me to have issues myself.  When I was fostered age 15 it took a while to not only get out of bad habits of just being ‘fussy’ with food, but to also recognise the value in it, and really enjoy it.  The consequence being I put on quite a bit of weight, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I remember vividly in the very early days before we were about to go on a holiday to Wales, my mum knew I needed some new clothes including more summer appropriate outfits.  She took me to a shop, convincing me to try on a knee length denim skirt.  And I cried…

I cried not because I was a ‘prude’ offended by showing skin, or that I didn’t like it, but more that I was so confused and angered with my own body, that the sight of parts normally kept covered caused me distress.  I eventually got the skirt as well as 2 tops the same style one in blue and one pink, because again knowing the joy or pleasure in clothing beyond practicality was something alien to me.  For years I had slicked back my curly hair, having no clue how to tame it; now encouraged to let it fall free.  For years I had been embarrassed by my milk white skin; now showing it a little more.  For years I had hated my ski slope nose and the moles above my mouth; now a little more at ease with them.

Every woman and man I’m sure knows that feeling.  Each of us have parts of our body that are not our friends, which we sometimes even hate.  For me; my teeth, my chin, my thighs and tummy that bear stretch marks from sudden weight gain, and my old nemesis cellulite.  Oh and body hair in general.   Sometimes our discomfort makes sense, sometimes it’s totally illogical.

 

“Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.”

-J.K Rowling

I know women who have young babies, for whom being clean and clothed is important, but little beyond that.  Are they not radiant?  Yet sometimes the media shoves images in our face of pregnant women in 6 inch heels, mum’s who’ve immediately lost all the ‘baby weight’, or women stepping out with their babies with the perfect outfit, perfect manicure, and perfect blow dried hair.

I know women who are battling physical and mental health problems who do well to be up and dressed, all the while bombarded with these images of ‘regular’ women strutting around like catwalk models.  Is beauty not so much more than that?

In recent years most of the time I don’t have the energy or the money to look or feel my best.  I often struggle just to get out of my pj’s and out the house, so ‘looking great’ isn’t top priority.  Yet it’s always in the back of my mind; if I could just do this, if I just changed that.

I am at my worst before social gatherings.  I recently spent hours before a friend’s wedding freaking out about my hair, makeup and clothing because I knew photos would be taken and many people would be there.  My absolute worst often comes before Church.  Hours are spent fixing my hair, applying makeup when most ‘work days’ I don’t bother, and changing several times to find the right outfit.  Why?  If I’m honest with myself the presence of guys is always a factor, but also other beautiful, confident, preened and ‘perfect’ women can be a bigger battle to face.  I find it so sad that in Church, in the company of friends or before some of my most exciting outings is when I feel most unhappy, most fat, and most ugly.  That isn’t right.

Isn’t beauty just being the best possible version of yourself?  The one who makes their world more beautiful?  The one who loves and gives, is kind and generous?  Am I not beautiful enough ‘as I am’ because of my soul, my spirit, my heart?

Now don’t get me wrong- I think we all want to look and feel our best.  It’s great if we want to live healthier, be cleanly and groomed.  But it can often spiral so far beyond this can’t it?  When does wanting to look good turn into a soul shredding obsession with ‘fixing’ all our flaws?

“Perfection is the disease of a nation, it’s the soul that needs the surgery” – Beyonce, Pretty Hurts

 

You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. – Song of Songs 4:7

 

 

The Bible is full of amazing truth as to the true value of a person.  The ‘woman of noble character’ in Proverbs 31 is not talked about in terms of her appearance and beauty, but her character, work, wisdom and compassion for the poor.  And above all her love for God.

30: Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

1 Peter 3 (MSG)

What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewellery you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.

4-6 Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way

This is such a hard lesson to really live.  As I said earlier, I think there is a war waging amongst Christian women especially between the truth we are told from our loving Father; that he loves us just as we are and that he looks to our heart, our character and our love, and between what the world and sometimes even the Church perpetuates that we are loved based on our beauty, our brains or our skills.  How can we be our best, love our bodies, have confidence in ourselves and everything physical God has given us, yet not get swept into a frenzy of idolising beauty, sexy, fashion, clothing, makeup, and appearance.  It is a lesson I think we learn again new each day, and one that we may never perfect, but I for one want to strive for it.

I want to celebrate beauty and brains, smart and sexy, confidence and success but also celebrate love and compassion, generosity and kindness, introverts and hard workers, people with physical or mental disabilities being their best, innovation and change, fortitude and favour.

I want to celebrate and shine a light on those whose beauty comes from overcoming, from struggles and falling down but managing to get back up.  Those whose beauty comes from strength in times of terrible adversity, from healing scars, and pushing through.  Those whose beauty comes from their fighting for freedom, for justice, for love and equality.  Those whose beauty comes from living through the daily grind and being the best they can be.  Those whose beauty comes from putting others before themselves and using their life to help others.

I know and see so many BEAUTIFUL men and women.  You are unlikely to see their faces plastered across magazines or on TV, and you won’t see them walking the catwalks.  But their legacies will live on, their words will be passed down generations and the effects of their beautiful lives will live on long after those magazine images have faded.

Why not comment or share with someone today who is truly beautiful.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

You Are…

 

How many times has the world said these things to you?  How many time have you said them to yourself? How many times have you had things like this spoken over you?  How many times have you believed them to be true?  How many times have you listened to these lies of the enemy?  Like me, too many no doubt…

For us, as people, especially as women, it is so easy to believe lies about ourselves.  When all the world shouts is “You are not good enough as you are” from so many directions, from our TV screens, from the internet, from people around us, even friends and on occasion the Church.

The above images are from my favourite tv programme ‘One Tree Hill’.  I find it insane that even in a fictional scenario, a woman as beautiful as ‘Brooke’ played by Sophia Bush could feel these things about herself.  But she does, because the lies of the enemy are not restricted to you, or me, or the ‘least attractive’ or least confident, but effect almost everyone.

Anywhere, at any point in life it is so easy to look around, compare yourself to others and conclude that you are not as pretty, capable, smart, confident, talented or good as them.  But that is an utter lie!!  You are perfect just as you are!  And do you know how I know?  Because the Creator of the Universe, the God of heaven and earth, the King of Kings, and Savior of the world tells me so…

The Bible is just bursting full of the TRUTH God intends you to know and believe.  The Scriptures speak constantly against the lies of the world, and uphold the truths of how the Father sees you.

Regardless of what you have done, how you feel, how many times and in whatever ways you have messed up, how broken you feel, or how far from God you may be … the truth remains you are an adored beloved child of God.  

 

You are Beautiful (Ps 45:11) – ‘The King is enthralled by your beauty…’

You are Unique (Ps 139:13) – 

 

You are Unique.  Be true to who you are…

 

You are loved! (Jer 31:3) – “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

You are special (Eph 2:10) – For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

You are unique.  Created by God for His glory- to do his good works, things that only you could do.  He wants you to live entirely for Him, doing all that you were called to do, and being all that you were called to be. To show people that you were here, for His glory.

 

 

You were created for a purpose (Jer 29:11)- “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

You are cared for (Eph 3:17-19) – ‘17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ 

 

You are lovely (Dan 12:3) – ‘Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. ‘

 

You are important (1 Pet 2:9) – ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’

You are royalty.  Daughter of the King of Kings, a member of the Royal priesthood.  You are special.

 

You are Forgiven! (Ps 103:12) – ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’

Is 1:18 ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…’

 

 

 

You are a New Creation (2 Cor 5:17) – ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’

 

 

You are family (Eph 2:19) – ‘So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God.’

Whenever you are doubting how precious you are, it’s so important to remember not only what God says about you, but also that you are surrounded by a family, a sisterhood of women who no doubt often feel the same way that you do, and you can remind you who you are in His eyes.

 

Ultimately the key thing to remember is that you belong to Jesus.  You are His and he adores you.  Whatever you are going through or feeling, no matter what you circumstance NOTHING can take that identity from you, and NOTHING can remove you from His love.

 

Did you know… 

That you were handmade

To be just who you are

Every hair you have is counted, every tear drop, every scar

Every feature is gently fashioned and finished off by hand

Unique though not unequaled, essential to His plan

No one else can do what you do No one else can play your part

Made in God’s own Image

And loved with all His heart.

xxx