For Want of Beautiful

NOTE: If you’d like to keep up with Michele’s ongoing healing journey, you can find more timely (and newsy!) updates on her Facebook page.

I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman I saw.

/ 123RF Stock Photo

She looked old. Unable to wear makeup, dark circles rounded her eyes. In spite of twenty pounds weight loss, her cheeks and lips appeared puffy, swollen. Her skin, chapped red, nose to chest, showed evidence of burns from treatment. Her hair—thinned to half its former fullness—lacked shine and color.

I looked at the rest of her body. The body that used to run half-marathons and triathlons. The body that loved yoga and Pilates and biking the Colorado trails. It showed no signs of physical fitness anymore. What was left was a hollowed out shell of her former self. And everywhere I looked—legs, arms, neck, stomach—scars marked where the surgeons had been.

I didn’t recognize her. And the only word that came to mind when we locked eyes was …

“Ugly.”

In a world hinged so very much on appearance and a human’s capacity to garner attention, it’s not an easy thing to so quickly become marred, unattractive, someone people want to avoid. Every time I leave the safety of my home and dare to go public, I feel the stares of strangers.

Why does she talk funny? What’s wrong with her skin and hair? Where did those scars come from?

These are the questions I imagine strangers ponder. So I talk as little as possible, pull my collar and sleeves to cover my scars. Then I drive back home to hide.

Where is the woman I used to be? God, I don’t want to look like this! I want to feel beautiful! 

Call me vain or shallow, but I miss all those superficial signs of femininity. The hair and makeup. The perfume and  yummy smelling lotions. The clothes and jewelry. I’ve been stripped of these things, and in their absence I’m forced to admit I leaned on them far too much for my sense of worth. Left with the woman in the mirror, I ask a tough question:

Am I beautiful? 

The real “me.” The “stripped bare” me.

Is the un-powdered, un-styled, un-polished, undone me … enough? 

Most of us have wondered this, at one time or another. We don’t need a health crisis to find the person in the mirror lacking. We see every flaw, every scar, every evidence that we are less than what beauty requires. Even if we don’t, we live in a culture that is determined to remind us with every commercial, billboard, and retail advertisement that we are less than what we should be.

Am I beautiful? 

Time to answer. Once and for all.

Yes. I am. And so are you.

I’ve looked at the changed woman in the mirror for three months now. And I’m learning a hard truth that could rock your world as it has mine:

Beautiful is more than a mirror reveals.

Beautiful isn’t a photoshopped image, the contents of a make-up bag or a well-done haircut and highlights. Beautiful isn’t a pant size, nail color, marital status or BMI score. Beautiful isn’t intelligence scores, college degrees, or career achievements.

Yes, you say. You already know this.

Yes, I reply. I thought I did, too.

Until I noticed how we live otherwise.

Time to let the truth sink in, take hold, and change us. 

Beautiful is ..

  • a mind of courage in the face of fear
  • a spirit of confidence in spite of criticism
  • arms that give love away, generously
  • a voice that asks for (and offers) forgiveness
  • eyes that see suffering, and feet that willingly enter in
  • a smile that shines and laughs, even when given reasons not to
  • a mouth that gives thanks, rather than cataloguing losses
  • hands that give generously, even in times of lack
  • a heart that knows she’s loved, completely

Beautiful can’t be washed off. It’s sourced in character, in who you are regardless of make-up and pant size. A mirror can’t reveal true beauty—only real life can.

We must stop measuring beauty on over-the-counter products that disappear with soap and water. Instead, we need to develop eyes that see beautiful beyond the obvious. In both ourselves and others.

My friends Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph said it well in their new book, Nourished:

There’s nothing more beautiful, no more nourishing presence on earth, than a woman who lives loved, who knows her Father calls her Darlin’ and loves to shower her with reminders of His tender caring.

Are you beautiful?

One thousand times, YES. Because there is One who weaved together all the details that make you YOU. He knows the numbers of hair on your head—even when they’re lacking. He sees the un-powdered, un-styled, un-polished, undone you that no one else sees.

And when He looks in the mirror? The only word that comes to His mind is “love.”

Do you ever struggle with feeling beautiful? What is beautiful to you? 

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

46 thoughts on “For Want of Beautiful

  1. What is beautiful? THIS is beautiful. Raw honesty.

    Another thing that is profoundly beautiful to me is how God is capable of redeeming pain and loss in our lives over and over again. Personally, there’s really nothing more beautiful than that.

  2. Michele – at the risk of having your husband slug me or my wife feel a tad bit jealous – YOU ARE, as a favorite aunt of mine used to say loudly, BYOOTIFUL!

    I don’t wear makeup (nor do I intend to do so!) but our inner declarations of who were are in Christ reside in truth, all else fails.

    I admire your inner courage and your inner beauty and will continue to put you in Christ’s loving arms in prayer. Thank you for being so UNDONE so that I (as well as others) can feel at home while being in the same state……your vulnerability is such a breath of fresh air to me!

  3. Beautiful is being in the word of God every single day. Beautiful is our weaknesses, our insecurities, our frailties, our imperfections, our suffering and – by the Grace of God – letting Him use it to make a masterpiece. 1 Peter 5:6-11

  4. This is an amazing truth we all need to not just hear but embrace and live out. No matter your physical appearance, Michele, your beauty is shining bright in your willingness to walk us through our own times of being undone. Grateful for you.

  5. Michelle, you continue to inspire, to encourage and to LOVE those whose lives you touch even when you have no idea who you are speaking to!
    All I can say is “WOW”! God is using you to do great things in the hearts of your onlookers!!
    Thanks (I’m one of them :))!

  6. Michelle,

    You’ve descirbed the feelings so well. I too remember post treatment and feeling so ugly. Before my cancer NO ONE except those living in my home (and even then only for the first 30 minutes of the day) ever saw me without my makeup and hair done.

    It’s funny how a season of nakedness exposes the real us.

    Praying for you!
    Sheree

    PS: I found the clip in hair extensions extremely helpful-

  7. This is the most beautiful, heart touching post I’ve ever read. I almost passed away and have many health issues as a result. The steroids made me gain 80 pounds, in addition to many other imperfections. I once felt comfortable in my body, but no longer do. I am working on it though, and I prayed that I could just love what I am so thankful to have — and then your post arrived in my email. Wow!!!! You are an absolutely stunning woman. You are beautiful – smart – sweet – and caring about others. You have no idea the beauty others see in you. You have touched my life in an amazing way. I KNOW I AM BEAUTIFUL now. We are ALL beautiful. Thank you Father for what you have given to each one of us. -Amen.

  8. I was reading this with tears in my eyes, just longing to run over and physically give you a hug:) And then I read the quote you included from our book, and I smiled… because may God gave you a hug from me this way, today. It is completely disorienting to suddenly lose so much, and of course, you’ll be amazed, very soon, how your physical beauty WILL come back. But there is something here, in this place without the coverings we women depend on for a good part of our self-esteem…. where the beauty of Christ shines brightest in and through us. I am so glad you are taking time to sit with this, tell us about it, like a traveler gone to a foreign country who is writing to us about what it is like in the Land Without Physical Trappings of Beauty. (Because at some point, we’re all heading there…and even on our best days we struggle with being so very far from Victoria Secret Model Material.) To let us know God is there, too. Perhaps even more profoundly. You will be beautiful on the outside again, in a very short time… and you’ll wear your scars with the pride of a survivor… but it will be the beauty within, this treasure you will bring back from this Journey Though Profound Loss & Pain, that will shine like a thousands suns, to the glory of God. I love you, my friend, my Beautiful Sister in Christ.

  9. BEAUTIFUL post, Michele …. and I so agree with Eileen who commented at 8:42am!!!!

    Thank you, Michele, thank you…..

  10. Written to the heart of a women who desires to see that same beauty that God does when He looks down and says, “All beautiful you are, my darling, there is no flaw in you” Song of Sol. 4:7

  11. I am a woman of a “certain age” (63) who looks younger than I am, which is good, because inside I feel 85 or so. Medical conditions have robbed me of my vibrancy. A fe w months ago I found out I would have to have brain surgery.I had just plopped down a lot of money for a procedure on my face. A girlfriend had done it and her skin looked fabulous. There’s nothing like a crisis to help you evaluate priorities. I looked in the mirror and knew the surgery could take away the ability to smile. I asked for my money back. Suddenly I just wanted to feel loved no matter what I looked like and to give love to others. Now,post surgery have a crooked smile and when I talk it’s like I have marbles in my mouth. I drag my left leg. I am counting on God to help mw but even if this is in my plan for me, I have a feeling nothing will shut me or Michele up for very long. :o)

  12. I am thankful for the beautiful person you are, Michele inside and out. I share your enthusiasm for pretty clothes, cute hair and makeup and jewelry! I think your beauty comes from a deep understanding of God’s love for you and from a generous heart. Continued prayers for complete healing!!

  13. The beauty that can’t be washed away, highlighted or dressed up is shining through you more and more each day, Michele. It outshines the former so completely, it becomes unnecessary and trite. Oh how I’ve relied on it too much. Ouch, that hurts to say out loud. Your words makes me ask – Will I put on makeup today? Will I spend more time on my exterior than my interior? At 62, it takes a lot more time to cover the grey – camouflage the age spots – and minimize the wrinkles than it once did! With or without cancer – this body of ours is fading fast. (I never knew we could get wrinkles on our thighs!) Thank you for the reminder that inner beauty only grows brighter and deserves a greater focus.

  14. Thank you for sharing your beautiful life and words…I’m savoring your book like a chocolate truffle cake. I have one chapter left but I’m hesitant to eat the last bite because then it’ll be over…You are such a gift.

  15. I know the truth of your words, Michele. I probably felt my most victorious and beautiful a few weeks after having brain surgery, the Christmas season in 1999. I was 46 years old, had just completely lost the hearing in one ear upon the removal of a tumor, and needed to lose a lot of weight. But I had survived so much that I felt confident and beautiful, even though one side of my head was shaved. The trick came when I went out in public. I soon realized how others saw me. My head was swollen to almost twice its size and I had a Bells Palsy-type droop on the entire right side of my face. Clearly, others considered me to be profoundly disabled, both in body and mind. There is no denying that those reactions affected me deeply, and caused me to reconsider the very nature of the quality of beauty…..Your words reflect my experience so well. Bless you, friend!

  16. Beautiful post. Beautiful you.

    This makes me think how much more aware we should be as we encounter people who are battered and looking less beautiful than they’d like. If we can see and respond to the beauty within maybe they could go home feeling comfortable and even pretty, rather than desperate for a safe hiding place

  17. Oh Michele…what an amazing post! As I’m reading through Undone now multiple times, in between only letting close family and friends borrow it with the solemn promise of returning it asap… still highlighting and taking in the amazing truths and lessons….to see a new written message from you just made me so filled with joy and expectation, as I continue to pray for you. Thank you for continuing to pour out your life, your true, honest, raw feelings for all of us to take in and process in our own lives and struggles. Every testimony you share, as hard as it is, continues to glorify the Lord, which is why we were created….and through everything you have been through you continue to glorify Him!… and in it, you continue to renew our faith, my faith. Remember my sweet, precious friend…..You are fearfully and wonderfully made….right now, at this moment….YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!!! I love you so much. xo

  18. Michelle, thank for your beauty you show through your heart and words. You unravel a beauty that Jesus wants in each one of us. The deep inner beauty of love.

    I loved seeing that same beauty in Undone, and it made me cry right from the get-go. Right from the moment when God ministered to you through the unexpected call from someone who had fallen out of love with your friendship. Isn’t that so like God to show you her call wasn’t a coincidence? Yes, I cried seeing beautiful God care for beautiful you.

    Praying for you today.

  19. Oh wow, Michele. This is beautiful! Thank you for the reminder of where our true, deep, REAL beauty comes from. You are such a gift.

  20. Thank you, Michele. Such beauty and wisdom from your heart—absolute treasures. We appreciate every word. After a bout of poison ivy on my face, I noticed how people stared, then quickly averted their eyes rather than make eye contact. Women shielded their toddlers. Such a minor inconvenience, so please forgive my example, but I learned that even the faintest smile and eye contact meant a lot. We think by avoiding eye contact, we are saving the physically ‘damaged’ embarrassment. Not true. I cried reading your post. Please know how much we all admire and love you for your #10 beautiful, tender, God-squeezed heart.
    Hugs,
    Margaret

  21. I have a feeling that as you looked in the mirror He was standing behind you…smiling, proud, delighted, and in love. So grateful for a Father that REALLY sees us and remarkably, really loves us. This touching post reminded me of that. Thank you Michelle. Continuing to pray for your recovery!

  22. Michele, I knew vanity was a struggle of mine but your post brought to the forefront some lies I believe but don’t really think about. Yes a thousand times, I have struggled with beauty – specifically my own and the women around me whom I deemed striking. But as I read your post the only word that kept emanating from your words was beautiful. I find beauty in you being a women smack dab in the midst of a storm and yet you pen it in a way that draws me closer to truth and the author of it. I find beauty in a woman who has the courage to see beyond the superficial (that I cling to) and pulls out substance. I find beauty in the way you are leaning on God in this midnight season of your life and allowing us to tag along for the ride. Michele to answer your question YOU, MY FRIEND, ARE BEAUTIFUL! I thank you for your very naked and unashamed post. I will be praying for your strength and complete healing.

  23. Michele, such beautiful truth and wisdom here. I cannot imagine how you are feeling, but you have allowed some of us who have not been through what you have and currently are going through, a God’s-eye glimpse into your soul…into His creation. Our Father loves you, His precious daughter, for being brave and beautiful enough to share your heart with us. Thank you!

  24. I just listened to your interview with Colleen Swindoll’s Thomson on her special needs blog. I have a son with autism. The amazing thing is that earlier today the guy who comes to maintain our garden (since I also have a mother and mother in law both with dementia and life is just busy) he asked to talk with me privately. He wanted to let us know that his wife has cancer of the tongue that has returned for the third time. Unfortunately they have also found cancer in her lungs, hip and elsewhere too. They have said it is now incurable. This couple are not Christians. She is 41 and they have a girl 12 and a boy 2. He was obviously devastated. I told him to let us know if there is ANYTHING we can do (for example my husband is a lawyer so if they need legal help, or could we pay for work in advance so they can take a trip etc) but also I said I would be praying.
    I was amazed when I found it was you talking today to Colleen as I went to the website, especially as I normally don’t find the latest new interview until around 8th of the month. (I had actually intended to listen to Andy Stanley, part 2 of a series I started yesterday) this was most definitely God ordained for me to hear today.
    I clicked to come to your blog to find out how you are doing now…also to tell you I will be praying for you. Interestingly the latest post was on the date of my twin girls birthday, 27 last Wednesday! Incidentally, one of those twins is currently recovering from chronic anxiety, OCD and a related eating disorder, while the other is somewhat underweight, although settled in her nursing job, married and with a little boy, born exactly a year after miscarrying her first…a long drawn out process requiring 3 surgical procedures to complete. So I am not a stranger to tough stuff!! My sister in law had anorexia for 25 years then died from related organ failure. My mum is 95 and has dementia. My mother in law, whose husband died from Prkinsons 6 years ago, has LBD which is similar but the dementia aspect is presently to the fore.
    Can i just say that I loved what you said at the end of the interview, and your passion in how you expressed the end of Romans 8 was powerful.
    Please know that I will be praying for you here in Scotland. I would also ask you to pray for this woman, the gardeners wife, that somehow God will speak to her. I did say that I would pray and that if she ever wanted to talk about that, she should feel free to call me. Jimmy, her husband, knows we have many trials ourselves and knows I was not speaking out of a trite position. Somehow the fact that I heard you today really tells me there may be an opportunity… But even if not, you will know there is someone facing this here in Edinburgh who needs your prayers.
    Thank you for your message. I MUST buy your book!
    From Julie in Scotland

  25. Thank you so much for this reminder. I can’t wait to share it with my women’s group and get your book. I can hear God saying “This is my daughter in whom I am well pleased.”

  26. Michele, Amazing!!! As I’m reading I can only answer to you what you had already said farther in your post…the love you have for your husband, for you kids, for your God who so loves you…absolutely no way to be a more beautiful person and child of the Father!! It has been a long time since we have spoken, but the Lord brings you AND your family to my mind from time to time. I believe the Lord has shown me in the past that you exemplify ‘courage’ in your very nature from very early in your life. This post touched a place in my heart that is rarely touched by someone writing. The Truth revealed here is profound! Thank you for making it known to all of us through your journey. Be blessed!!

  27. Thank you for sharing this, Ken Davis. I can’t tell you how much my spirit has been lifted. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing.

  28. Michele, I thank you for being brave and sharing your journey with us, me. Your courage gives me strength to find my courage and to face my journey. I hope to learn about beauty while watching you redefine it.
    You are my Buddha and I thank you for your generosity.

  29. What is beautiful to me? You and your bravery to tell your story! Thank you Michelle. I was at the platform conference a few months ago and heard you speak, riveting! Thank you for walking worthy of your calling

  30. Very beautiful, you must look past the outside cover to see the inner beauty. I think that is why Jesus lives in our hearts. I think all women should read this to understand their true beauty.

  31. thanks for reminding us that beauty doesn’t necessarily exclude physical attractiveness, but is SO much more. holistically we are triune beings that tend to rely too much on our physical well being and appearance for self worth and identity. so let’s get over it young people. that ‘hot’ guy or girl you see is just a temporary infatuation. when you find your true love, he or she will be the complete package! well worth waiting for.

  32. Very insightful and gentle writing is beautiful to me. Like music it shows your capacity for love and deep understanding of Community-needs, but most important a healthy and aware mind.

    It is a significant contrast to what we experience in daily news and public unrest. Opposite to where I found your Blog through Michael Hyatt’s leadership and accountability blog.
    Thanks
    GVR

    • Opposite is meant to present Michael & you in a different contrast to current news and events not you opposite to Michael Hyatt.

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