It's my curse.
And, true to form, here I sit, compelled to write song after song about a subject that categorically makes people uncomfortable.
I feel a desire to write lots of lyrics for women who have spent decades being "nice," making good eye contact, showing compliance and politeness . . . and the way that this sort of social docility leads us into unmanageable situations - the way it robs us of our autonomy and our sense of self. The way it invites unwanted attention and makes our beauty seem sinful. Because, ladies - your mysterious, fearful beauty isn't a sin. And you are not responsible for somebody else's sin. Nobody can put that on you. Nobody can tell you that because you're lovely they had to follow you, had to invade your personal space or your personal life. Nobody can hold that over your head.
I was fortunate to marry a man who has NEVER ever caused me to feel this way. But I've known other men who have. And I have to wonder - if I'd felt a little bit less compelled to be "nice" to everyone, would I (could I) have taken a better stand on behalf of myself? It doesn't do to dwell overmuch on the past, but the future is an important consideration.
You know, "Nice" is not a virtue.
We give it out like it's a compliment. We expect it. It's a social convention.
Culturally, we put a special burden on women (traditionally, speaking). We expect extreme hospitality of them. They're meant to be inviting, but if someone takes advantage of this it's "her fault" for not being in control. That's beyond unfair.
To be kind is a complicated thing. Kind is different from "nice" just like joyful is different from happy. It is a kindness to set up appropriate boundaries with others. It is a kindness to respect them. It's nice to listen to and focus on somebody who is speaking to you . . . . but it is not right to allow them to speak to you about anything they want to - sometimes you have to pay attention to your internal warning system and get yourself away! I want our children to understand this.
Several years back, while traveling with my husband, a beautiful photograph was taken. It really was beautiful! We were just walking through the Biltmore gardens with our camera and being silly. My husband took this picture and exclaimed that it was wonderful - and it was! I was sheepish and proud and wanted to show it to my mother. It made me feel like a 1920's femme fatale (not in a bad way!).
It's still a picture that makes me feel a little like a muse, which is not a negative or threatening thing. It's beauty that could inspire creativity or good in the world. And feeling lovely and inspirational is a big deal after you've had children, given your hours and days over to a grueling career, and endured the usual adult hardships and complications.
I put the picture on Facebook (this blog will also end up on Facebook). People commented on the picture and said things to me about the dress. A few people teased me and suggested that I be "careful" about being beautiful. Hold The Phone.
Being beautiful isn't wrong.
Celebrating beauty isn't wrong.
It Came From God.
Did you hear me, girls? It came . . . from God.
God made the beauty that is housed in the temporary dwelling of your human body. God created things as they are for God's own very good reasons. That's my way of seeing it, anyhow. And your beauty is part of that.
Your beauty is not a curse on mankind.
Your beauty is not evil.
Your beauty is not a stumbling block.
Your beauty is not a choice maker. Your beauty doesn't reach out and make choices for other people. Your beauty is powerful, but it's not that powerful.
If your beauty is not any of the above . . . what is it?
Your beauty is creative. Girls . . . women - your beauty is very literally and biologically creative. That's powerful. That's life as we know it. No use denying this connection. It's an awesome connection to our human history and our human future.
Your beauty is also completely separate from your physical self. Did you hear me??? You Can Be Beautiful Because of Your Mind Alone. Your Mind is Lovely. I will never forget reading a message that one of my favorite professors had written about me - it was forwarded to me several years ago when this professor requested my contact information from a fellow student who was a few years behind me. The professor described me as a person "of keen intelligence" who had "a very fine voice." It is ok for you to be beautiful because of your mind, ladies. And it's ok for people to recognize it and for you to let it show.
We cannot control what other people do.
We cannot control how other people respond to things we say or do.
We are responsible for our own actions, yes, and responsible for the reasonableness of them.
But we are not responsible for the way that somebody else chooses to act. Or the way they choose to respond.
I wrote that during my 3rd trimester, waiting for the baby to be born.
I'd been thinking about the life I'd landed in and how healthy it was. Now, I'm not saying that it's perfect. Ask my husband! We're far from perfect. But we're pretty healthy and we work very hard to stay that way - even when things are very difficult . . . and if you're married for any length of time, trust me, some things will be difficult! Anyway, back to the song - I thought of this good life, this healthy life, and then also the many times I could've chosen differently. I thought about years and years earlier when I could have practiced compliance to the nth degree - when I could have allowed a completely different life . . . to just happen to me! It could have been true. Several times over.
It could be true of all of us, really. Our lives are full of important choices.
And I thought, "What message would it be good for girls to hear out of this experience?"
So this is it . . . you are not somebody's only need.
Girls, people will tell you that you are.
Someone might blame a struggle they're having on your loveliness someday. But listen - If your behavior is reasonable and appropriate in a human sense, that's not on you, sister. They alone are responsible for it.
And there is no safe or healthy relationship in which you should become an object or the center of an expectation of perfection.
You don't have to hide your beauty to protect someone from their baser nature. That's not your job. That's their job.
I'll say it again: If your behavior is reasonable and appropriate in a human sense, you're doing just fine.
I'm a married lady. A mom. There's very little mystery here . . . not like it felt and seemed when I was just barely 20. But when those rare moments come - those show stopping, shocking, breath stealing flashes of glory from a photograph? I'll take them. I'll celebrate them. And I won't feel guilty about it. I'll not spend the next 20 years walking in fear of my own shadow because of unreasonable societal expectations or the personal struggles of somebody who hasn't actually taken the time to know me as a human being. I hope you see that as a possibility, too, sister.
As a woman who believes in Jesus I find that occasionally I'm fighting an uphill battle to embrace this reality within the social structure embodied by other folks who also believe in Jesus. There's a lot of strange stuff out there floating around from stories of Eve and women being quiet in church. But I'm encouraged when I read this passage from Matthew 26:
The disciples were indignant for lots of reasons. I love what they chalk it up to - their complaint is so pious . . . I imagine that, because they were human, there were other feelings of distaste in this moment. Socially, this was an extremely awkward event.
I love Jesus' response. She's done such a "good thing."
This woman with her expensive perfume and beautiful jar. And what about the other stories? The way it's recounted elsewhere . . that she used her hair to wash his feet. Her hair - her crown of beauty that, according to her society, should've been hidden lest it cause someone to stumble.
Now - I am not saying that women uncovering their hair is a way to find liberation across the board. That's missing the point.
I'm saying that Jesus sees me and sees you. I'm saying that God's life as a human being was full of precious recognition . . . and the acceptance of beauty and its inherent goodness is all wrapped up in the gospel.
And no, I'm not talking about vanity for the sake of vanity. I'm just talking about understanding that what God created in you, sister, is good. It came straight from the life giver. It's meant to be the way it is. You don't need to fear it. What other people think is up to them, of course . . . but you? You can choose to send some glory to God about this beauty. It's part of the gift of your living.
Go out there and be bold. Be kind. Be healthy. You're beautiful.