When she was a senior in high school, my mom was nominated for and then won the Miss Elsinore contest in the little town she grew up in. She went on to get a runner-up slot in the Miss Riverside contest that same year. I remember being agog at the fact that my very own, every day, utterly normal (only in a kid’s eyes!) mom was a beauty queen! I would press her for all sorts of details and was constantly left a little disappointed because she seemed so completely uninterested in it all. She would say things like, “Well, it wasn’t ME on that stage. I had on 10 pounds of make-up!” and “Oh I hated that picture…but you know, I DID get to leave class one day for that photo shoot and that was pretty fun.”
The first time what she was saying to me really started to make sense was when I was a teen. I’d brought the story up again and begged her to drag out the photos and she told me a few details of that week to make me happy. “Mom, were you SO popular then?” She laughed. “Well, I had a date every day that next week!” The thought of it made my toes positively curl with glee. “And did any of them end up being your boyfriend?” “Oh, love, NO. No. They didn’t want to go on a date with ME. They wanted to go out on a date with Miss Elsinore. To say they’d gone out to dinner with the local beauty queen.”
And there, plainly, was the crux of the matter. Mom did not feel like, when she won that contest, it was based on real things. She did not feel that she had been really seen. She didn’t feel that it really had anything to do with who she really was at all. Any real piece of her that had been there for judging had been slathered under pounds of stage makeup.
When I fell in love with my husband, I barely remembered how to put makeup on. It was in 2001 at the tail end of my mother’s first bout with cancer. It had been a grueling year and I felt stripped of artifice of any kind. When we met I wasn’t looking for a relationship at all — I was utterly unprepared to be charming or beautiful or socially acceptable. I was in a stage of my life where I grossed people out inadvertently by just explaining the day-to-day basics of our lives. What we found funny at home other people in non-cancer world did not find funny. When people asked, “How are you?” I couldn’t gracefully tell anymore whether they really wanted to know or if they were just asking because that was how conversation was supposed to go and the next line was supposed to be “Oh, fine thank you! And you?”
I remember walking toward Ryan one night at a little dive we used to go to after coming out of the ladies room and realizing that for the first time of any that I could think of when he looked over and saw me and lit up with a smile, he was smiling at me. All my cracks and dings and rawness were right there in front of him and he was delighted to have me coming over to slide back into the seat across from him. As much as I loved him for so many wonderful things, I loved him for that.
There is something, I think, about being laid bare, recognized for who you are, and loved in the face of it all.
This is, in the end, what makes the love of my Savior so intoxicating and breathtaking when I stop in day-to-day business and ponder him.
Think about it: There are stars in the sky so far away that our very strongest telescopes can only pick them out as specks of light in the vast distance. Yet our physical beings are determined by 25,000 human genes that were not fully mapped until less than a decade ago and are contained in such microscopic detail that no human eye could ever decipher them without powerful aid. Romans 1 declares that what can be known of God has been made plain to men and that His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in the things that have been made. What creation tells us is that our God is unfathomable. He is greater than we can even begin to comprehend.
With the greatest of care and imagination He knit each of us together in our mothers’ wombs. He named us before we had names. He knew us before we could be known by any other being and knew us more fully than we even know ourselves. Every hidden dark place, every decision made wrong, every hatred, every cheat, every selfishness, every slight given was before his eyes when he then chose to love us with a deep, never-ending, fierce, perfect love. He holds back nothing in that love. Nothing at all was too great a sacrifice — not even the cross.
If, tonight, you are needing to feel love — ponder on this for awhile. As unlovable as you may feel you are loved beyond what you can possibly imagine. If you are God’s and springing to the front of your mind is “Yes but you don’t know what I…” — I can tell you that no matter how you finish that sentence, no matter how dark the ending, God knows and he loves you anyway. If you acknowledge him, if you love him, if the darkness of the things you keep tight in your heart make you understand your need for the cross and, therefore, thankful for it then I can assure you that He knows and loves you still with a love that makes all things good and new. He sees you and He has allowed himself to be seen.
I’m just a little bit agog about all of this tonight and so I thought I’d share. Maybe now my brain will quiet down enough for me to sleep.