I am surrounded by more voices than I can count. They pour forth from television shows and commercials, Internet articles and ads, magazine covers and top ten lists, movies, billboards, and glances from strangers.
They’re the same voices my grandmother, mom, and sister-in-law have heard, and I know my young niece will hear over and again as she grows up. My girlfriends hear the voices, and more and more men hear the voices. The voices around us try to tell us what’s important and valuable and crucial to our happiness.
And it’s certainly not our hearts.
Even the voice reflecting back at me from my own mirror gets loud. And there is a very consistent message that gets shouted in some way every day:
“Have you seen how you look? You look old. You are wrinkled and sun-spotted and sagging and dark-circled and gray-haired and far from up-to-date with the cool and new and praised. Old is ugly. You’re ugly. Ugly and old are worthless. Old has nothing to offer. Old and ugly are nothing to love. Do something to fit in, dump the ugly, and do it fast.”
And sometimes I buy the voices’ sob story of discontentment. And I buy their fixes: make-ups, makeovers, creams, treatments, practices, preventatives. I buy, try, and it still doesn’t satisfy. Making my face the world’s version of beautiful is a losing battle.
But if I slow down for a moment to ask the One True Voice what he says about me, God tells me a tender story of what he values. His version of beautiful. He even gives me a new picture of myself that leads to worship of him.
I had a passport photo taken in 2001 when I was preparing for a vacation to Italy. I love that passport photo. I’m 40 pounds lighter, I have long brown hair, and, well, it’s over ten years ago. My renewal passport photo and recent family photos … let’s just say I’m not 40 pounds lighter, do not have nearly as much brown in my locks, and it finds me pastier, flabbier, and laden with wrinkles above and below and side to side. It could be an opportune moment for those voices to kick in and for me to start flailing about for a fix.
But if I listen to my Good Father as I look at the pictures, to his words about value and goodness and life, it makes me giggle. And giggling transitions to gratitude. My face reflects over ten years of answering God’s call to live a life I never imagined. It tells the story of leaving a teaching job and students I loved, changing careers a couple more times, moving to a new state, and learning new things. There’s a groove in my forehead that I am sure I can attribute to a “focus furrow” that appeared as I learned, and still learn, how to listen well, ask for help, be vulnerable, receive love, and truly seek God to comfort me in the pain of life.
My face tells the story of new friendships, deepening old ones, and people to love and miss from places like Russia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, Uganda, Romania, Spain, Senegal, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and East Asia. It experienced an international courtship, a house sale, a house purchase and a refinance, a zillion plane flights to California and back to see family. This face had invaluable talks with its mom and dad, and met new nephews and a niece who forced it to make ridiculous maneuvers to entertain them.
It walked through the birth of friends’ children and the loss of friends’ children; it spoke at a funeral for a 17-month-old. It said goodbye to a beloved grandfather and witnessed its niece arriving into the world, live and in person. It uttered encouraging words and it uttered hurtful words it wanted to suck back in moments later. It smiles more broadly than ever as it expresses love and is willing to look ridiculous to bring a laugh that lightens a heart.
Most gratefully, this face is learning to look to its Maker more, to bask in his radiance, and to trust his viewpoint and provision and goodness. And I hear him whisper when I glance in a mirror that my wrinkles make him giggle, too.
God’s warm laughter of delight and love and real beauty. The One True Voice.