There are those Dove models–brazen to be shot beneath studio lights from all angles. And then there’s me, accounting for every ounce that changes on the scale. Single, wiry hairs devoid of color are so commonplace now that I’ve stopped keeping track; I pull my hair up and shift a strand here or there to tuck them quietly away. I have fidgety eye skin that poses unforeseen makeup challenges. Crooked toes. Aging hands and unflattering neck angles that I never thought to expect. Subtle changes–all of them–but kind of like when you guess the ending to a crime drama and spend the rest of the movie arrogantly pointing out the clues, aging can be difficult to unsee.
If anything I want this project to be real, which is why I deleted the Photoshopped version of the picture above–a me made ever so slightly skinnier–and replaced it with the real deal. The image was up on my screen last night and it caught me by surprise because of its beauty. I’m my biggest critic, my husband will attest, so don’t mistake that last sentence there as vanity; it’s anything but that. The surprise came in that I saw not myself in the picture but my daughters. If I could capture them in identical light and pose you’d see glimpses of them in me. The curve of their backs. Cheekbones in silhouette. Hair wisps. On the rare occasions when I see them together I’m struck by their beauty. The mirror, however, tells a different story.
The goal here is authenticity and so I can’t tell you that the surprise of seeing my daughters in this self portrait amounts to a miraculous revelation from which I come away like one of those Dove models. I can say that I’ll tuck it in my pocket and try to remember to pull it out before it goes through the wash.
I said I wanted to leave a bread crumb trail of moments and memories to accurately plot a graph of forty over the space of a year. The physical side seems straightforward enough; it’s what’s underneath that squirms loose. So when I dump the contents of month two on the floor and I see the same shiny pennies scattered in the pile I can’t help but gather them in a jar.
Not how far I’ve come, but how far He’s brought me.
In October of 2015 I was in the middle of this Revelation Bible study and I got up to pee in the middle of the night, one phrase from the evening’s teaching landing over and over like a thud in my heart. Everyone will let you down–everyone but Jesus. I tried and tried but I couldn’t relate. Strongholds are like that sometimes–so perfectly rhythmic a heartbeat in our lives that we don’t even know they’re there. Weeks later I would recall that midnight thought. It would echo against the steel walls of my heart with so tinny a reverberation nothing I did could drown it out. What followed was the most spiritually-defiant struggle I’ve ever faced. There did not exist within me a single fiber–not one inconsequential cell–that doubted this: that if I would be obedient to His will, God would rain blessing on those dusty ruins. Day after day I trudged through spiritual warfare so tangible it caked on my shoes and reeked like rotting flesh on the battlefield. Opposing voices in my head whispered both lies and truth in so fast a succession that by the end of each day I had exhausted mind, body and soul. I would lie stomach-down on the floor with my cheek pressed into the Bible, it being the only solace I could find and even that a fleeting one.
How far He’s brought me.
Through that experience and countless others God has worked miracles. Through fire, He’s refined my faith. Through trials, he’s strengthened my resolve. Through brokenness, He’s revealed His power. Through fear, He’s given me peace.
The obvious tie-in here is the parallel between a body grown older and a spirit grown wiser but this isn’t that. This is just me saying that in month two of the year I turn forty I’m a little bit sad about the physical proof that 1977 came and went a long time ago. I step on the scale and I breathe out a sigh that is neither motivated nor hopeful but only disheartened. I work out longer and harder and although I don’t actually do it the effort poured out for no tangible result makes me want to spit and cry and stomp away. But this is me also saying that He has brought me so far that all of it is really and truly okay–in a it is well with my soul sort of way.
In month two of the year I turn forty I know a God who redeems. And not one single thing escapes His notice. Not one single thing is ordained on Earth or in Heaven without His sovereign hand allowing it. And so little things like loose eye skin and unexpected car expenses and a leak roof in our brand new house can be shrugged away. But what’s really something is that big things–the biggest–lie in the hands of a God whom I believe when He says that He’s working all things for the good of those who love Him.
I can look through struggle and pain and flaws. I let the shadows fall where they may but I frame it just so. The focus is on hidden beauty, a glimpse of something yet to come. That is how far He’s brought me. And if you knew me before, you know how far that is.