The Gift

Photo by Wijdan Mq on Unsplash
The Dream
I don’t usually remember my dreams. But on a recent morning, as I slowly woke from sleep, I realized my eyes were wet. I had been dreaming. And in my dream, I had been crying.

I stilled as I fought to recall every detail – peering through the fog to see what had been so clear, so real, just moments before. In no real order images flashed before my eyes, the setting abruptly changing as often happens in dreams.

One scene stood out amongst the rest. I was visiting with a friend who I once described as close. We don’t talk often now, but there was a time we spoke almost daily, her friendship helping to hold me up as I walked through a difficult period.

In my dream we were looking at old photographs. She pointed to a picture of me taken years prior. I was wearing a strapless dress, with hair and make-up fixed just so. “Oh! You look so pretty!” she said easily. Hearing her say these words in my dream was not surprising. She was always generous with compliments in real life, too.

“I did,” I thought to myself as I glanced at the picture. From this vantage point, years AFTER the picture was taken, I easily agreed with her. “Thank you,” I responded.

No sooner had I spoken those words, I was overcome with emotion. Crushed beneath an intense wave of sadness, my heart ached, and my eyes filled with tears. While still dreaming, all the thoughts I’d had about myself on the day the photo was taken had come rushing back. Yes, I remember thinking I looked good that day. But what stood out more was the ease with which I criticized parts of my reflection as I stared in the mirror …

My shoulders are too round.
My arms are too fat.
My clavicles aren’t prominent enough.

The list went on…

In my dream I felt such incredible sorrow for the girl in the photo – sorrow for the younger version of myself. Why had I been so critical of myself – picking my reflection apart, identifying each feature I wanted to change? When I looked in the mirror years earlier, why had I been unable to see then what I could appreciate while looking at the photograph now? Why couldn’t the younger me see her own beauty?

In the dream, tears filled my eyes, silently spilling over as I cried for the younger, broken version of myself. And as I straddled the line between dream and reality, my eyes became wet, and real tears threatened to do the same.

Fully awake, I remained in the pool of sadness a few moments longer before climbing out of bed. Anticipating the inner peace I knew would only result from bringing this dream to Jesus in prayer, I lit a candle and grabbed my prayer journal. I was anxious to record every detail of the dream – each word exchanged and emotion felt – before they once again became cloudy, evaporating the way dreams often do.

My Daydream
No sooner had I finished journaling about my dream, and while still in prayer, God allowed another image to fill my imagination. Not from the dream, nor a real life memory; rather, a daydream – one He has brought to my mind several times over the past few years…

It takes place on Christmas morning, and I am watching my children unwrap their last gifts. I’ve saved the best for last and now am beside myself as I anticipate their surprised and excited reactions. They open their gifts, but the squeals of excitement and gratitude I had expected do not come. Instead, there is silence. I then watch as my children pick up their gifts, examining them closely. Complaints and groans fill the room as my children point out all the problems with the gifts I’ve chosen for them. And they quickly describe the exact gifts they wish they’d received instead. I was crushed.

As I reflected on both my dream and the recurring image that God had painted in my imagination, I heard Him whisper into my heart:
Jen, the disappointment you felt when your children complained about their Christmas gifts ... the sadness you experienced in your dream ... the tears you shed as you watched the younger version of yourself critique and reject her body - that is but a fraction of the sadness I feel each time one of my children rejects my gifts.

My Creation ... and my Temptation
Sorrow filled my heart as I realized my long history of self-criticism didn’t affect me alone. In Genesis Chapter 1 we learn we are all made in God’s image and likeness and are immediately labeled by Him as “very good.” Just 2 short chapters later, when Eve is told that eating the fruit from the tree will make her “like God,” we see the very first temptation – the temptation for Eve to not accept the innate goodness of her own creation.

Each time I criticize my reflection, identifying the parts I dislike and want to change, I am ultimately rejecting the Lord’s gift of MY creation. And although I have no memory of a specific event that triggered my initial unhappiness with my body, I now see that I, too, fell for that temptation – for I have believed the lie that my body was not good enough for as long as I can remember.

His Saving Grace
As I continued to sit with Jesus in prayer, I reflected on all He’s revealed to me over the last few years about my body image struggles:
His initial message that He cares very much about the names I call myself when I am unhappy with my reflection in the mirror,
His repeated reminders that my identity and worth come from Him alone and NOT how I look or the size of my clothing,
His more recent message that He is ready to battle any inner voice that suggests I’m unacceptable because of the number on the scale,
And His current reminder that I am created in His image, and my creation is not only good, but a special gift from Him.

For the second time that morning my eyes filled with tears. But these tears were sparked by a different emotion, one that welled up from within while wrapping around me like a warm hug.

These were tears of joy.

JOY –
A new emotion I’ve only begun to taste these last few years.
A feeling not at all based on what happens to, or around, me.
A feeling not at all based on how I look.
Rather, an emotion that comes from knowing Him and being in relationship with Him.

But as I sit with this a bit longer, I wonder ... perhaps there’s even more to it than that. Perhaps we will only experience the true fullness of His Joy when we are also able to wholeheartedly receive all of the gifts He offers us – and this includes the gift of our very own creation.

So now I ask, what about you? How have you responded to God’s gift of your creation? Do you see only your “flaws” and the things you’d like to change? Or do you see a masterpiece of God’s creation? And a special gift from God?

I’m praying now, that with God’s help, we will all be able to fully receive His gift of our creation, fully appreciate its beauty and goodness, and view it with a grateful, instead of a critical, heart. 

And as always, I’m praying God breathes life into these words...


This post is part of a blog hop by Spoken Women, an online community of Catholic women nurturing their creative callings. Click here to view the next post in this series "Beauty Rises."

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(blessed by these words? feel free to share, so you can bless others.)

Comments

  1. This is beautiful-I was really struck in particular by the image of your children unwrapping gifts.
    This is very timely, because I have to go shopping in a few hours to find a dress to wear to a wedding, and I'm not excited to do that since I'm only 4 months postpartum! What a great reminder of Who I should be focusing on instead of being consumed with what clothes will and will not fit.

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    1. Oh thank you! That image has come to mind several times over the last few years, and I think it's just now that I'm fully realizing ALL He was trying to reveal to me through it! So glad He didn't give up after the first time! LOL Hoping you easily find a dress that highlights your God-given beauty. :)

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