Today was a long day. By the time I finally cruised into the dollar store to buy cat food at nine o’clock tonight, I’m sure I looked as tired as I felt. I practically zombie walked to the aisle I needed and then went straight to the counter to pay.
At the cash register stood a young girl with a nose ring. Her hair was pulled back, but long blonde ringlets framed her face. There is no telling how many hours she had been on her feet in that store, but still she smiled and asked how my night was going. And then, while I fished in my gigantic black hole of a purse for my wallet, she told me that I look pretty tonight.
Just like that. She handed me that grace. That generous gift to a tired mama who almost certainly doesn’t look pretty tonight.
And I was surprised by how shocked I was.
I was blindsided by my utter disbelief that my version of forty years old is pretty, especially at the end of a very long day in the middle of a small town dollar store. But the word hung there between us, and all I could do was tell her thank you, genuinely grateful for the tender mercy of that phrase falling from a stranger’s mouth: you look pretty.
It’s getting harder and harder to feel pretty in our world. Pornography has changed our standards. Photoshop has created unattainable idols. And, the ordinary women of the world are left stranded in the wreckage, searching for some way to feel like we measure up. Waiting for some sign that we are worthy to be called pretty, that we are good enough in face and in body to be wanted by anyone.
So many lies are shoved into our faces every day–dishonest images from industries who care nothing for our hearts or souls. Imaginary bodies that have been altered to perfection. And we believe in them. We look at our own stretch-marked, acne-scarred, wrinkled selves and we despair. Every lie informs the way we feel about these bodies that God designed, and when someone finally speaks the truth to us–when they see a beauty in us and say so, we simply don’t believe it. A magazine cover of impossible proportions, yes, but a sincere comment from a sweet stranger in a dollar store someplace, no. Can’t you see these bags under my eyes? we wonder. Don’t you realize that my belly is too soft and my hair that was once a shock of vibrant red is growing dull? I mean, look at me.
No falsehoods in this face or body. I am an ordinary, aging woman.
This is real. The lines around my eyes that reveal how often I’ve laughed. The round belly that cradled three babies while God knit them together. The freckles that are like a scrapbook of all the days I’ve played under the big Texas sun. The extra pounds that I picked up over a million meals with the love of my life. The non-manicured hands that have washed dishes and babies and dogs, that have held tiny hands in the backseat, that have picked up lost blankies and matched up lost socks and wiped away thousands of little kid tears.
There is no perfection here.
But there is most certainly beauty.
I wish now that I had told that young cashier at the dollar store how striking she looked standing there, with her nose ring and her blonde ringlets. I wish I would have told her what that moment really meant to me, an exhausted, ordinary mother with a bag of Meow Mix cradled like a baby in her arms. I wish I would have shown her how most of the messages of this world are soul-crushing lies, but that we can’t believe them, we ordinary women who were intricately designed in the image of the one true God.
I left the dollar store and absentmindedly fed the hungry cat. She purred wildly as I stood there, bag of cat food still in my arms. She ate until her belly was round, and then she dropped at my feet in that carefree way that cats lounge. I thought of my own sandy-haired daughters and how hard they will try one day to meet impossible standards of beauty. I thought about how they will soon learn the heart-wrenching truth that there is no way to airbrush real life. And I prayed that they will grow into ordinary women who look in the mirror and see God’s hand.