In Pursuit of Pretty

IMG_20140831_0006“Tell me, have you been shot recently?” and “Where on Earth did your eyelashes go?!” are probably two of the strangest questions I’ve ever been asked, but also two of the most informative. Both questions informed me that whatever I was doing in my attempt to be pretty… wasn’t working. 

Neither of my parents was great at hair when I was a kid, and what my mother could do never aligned with my ideas about how hair ought to look. Thus, I elected to keep my hair short and wore it down with the same headband every single day. By the time I turned eight, I would no longer let my mother touch my hair, even to cut it, and by age ten, I had long hair and no idea what to do with it. Enter nickname nesthead. Soon after turning ten, I had my first professional haircut: a very manageable bob.

In eighth grade, all my friends began wearing makeup, and, at the height of my quest to fit in, I jumped on the bandwagon, head-first. Having never received instructions on what to wear and how to wear it, my experiments with makeup went very poorly and ended the day Jake Pfister asked me whether I had been shot recently.

My freshman year, I had my first boyfriend and my first eye disease. Months later, with a scarred heart and a scarred eye, I ditched the notion of beauty altogether. Enter sloppy ponytail, t-shirt, and dorky glasses. When I realized that my eyelashes dirtied my glasses, I cut my eyelashes off. Years later, even after rediscovering my value as a person, I decided I was good enough the way I was and began to view girls with straightened hair and smokey eyes as fakes.

I began courting my boyfriend just after graduating high school. Suddenly, I had the motivation to look pretty. When I would see my boyfriend, I would wear my long hair down and wear a dress in his favourite colour. A month later, my boyfriend made a gentle comment about how much he liked it when I wore makeup (at the time, this meant mascara and lip gloss). My first impulse was to feel hurt. Wasn’t I good enough the way I was? I remembered, though, how good he looked when he cleaned up for me. Surely he deserved the same. I recruited my sister to teach me how to be pretty.

The next time my boyfriend saw me, he told me I looked pretty. Success! Throughout the weekend we spent together, though, he made a couple more gentle remarks. I had a tendency to talk too loud. I overreacted to everything. I realized that I had made my face pretty, but my actions still needed work. This time, I recruited God’s word to teach me.

I examined the lives of women applauded for beauty, such as Rachel and Esther, but the real gold mine for me was Proverbs 31. As I read the passage, I came to three conclusions: 1) Beauty refers to both physical appearance and virtue. 2) I definitely do not fit scripture’s description of a beautiful woman. 3) That’s not a problem with me as a girlfriend; it’s a problem with me as a Christian.

I’ll include the Proverbs 31 passage in its entirety below, but here are the highlights:

  1. A beautiful woman is productive.
  2. A beautiful woman is selfless and caring.
  3. A beautiful woman supports her husband and family.
  4. A beautiful woman does not worry.
  5. A beautiful woman speaks wisdom.

Leave it to scripture to reveal even more sin in my heart and show me where the real standard is. Who knew beauty would require sanctification? If the past is any indicator, though, God will not leave me here. Little by little, God is changing me from this anxious loudmouth to a peaceful, humble, wise, loving woman, who is equipped to bring glory to Him. And now, my goal in my quest to be beautiful is not to hear my boyfriend’s words of adoration. My new goal is to be a woman whose heart and actions resemble those of Jesus more and more each day.

Proverbs 31:10-31

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

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Praise GOD, from whom all blessings actually flow

The world is full of dangerous things. I learned this lesson at the age of three when I decided it would be fun to play with a cactus. My opinion changed very quickly, and my parents spent two hours pulling prickers out of my hands. I’ve since developed quite a list of dangerous things to avoid, such as spiders, bears, feminists, and gaseous cyanide. However, I’ve recently identified a danger that took me eighteen years to notice. My comfortable lifestyle is a blessing, but it carries a danger because it makes me numb to God’s showering of blessings.

This hypothesis started to form when I listened to a missionary speak and heard her talk about waking up in the morning, aware of her desperate need for Jesus. Before eating breakfast or even making coffee (!), she was in her Bible, starting the day in communion with God. Why couldn’t I wake up in the morning, depending on God? I decided this question demanded an answer, but I didn’t like the one I got: I don’t rely on God to feed me because the college cafeteria feeds me. I don’t rely on God to give me water because the faucet gives me water. I don’t rely on God to give me shelter because my dorm gives me shelter. Ugh. How could my thinking be so twisted?!

Sometimes I wish I could check out of life in America and head to Uganda for a while to learn to truly trust God. Unfortunately, God doesn’t have me in Uganda; He has me in Kankakee, Illinois, USA. So what am I to do?

1. Turn down the distractions

Sometimes I don’t pray continually. Why? Because I’m suuuper distracted. I wish I woke up, got out of bed, and got on my knees. Instead, I frequently wake up, grab my phone, and see what happened on Instagram while I was sleeping.  I see the wanderlust-awakening photos in my feed and I wake up saying, what I wouldn’t give to be in Germany! instead of, thank you for giving me another day! In my life so full of music, videos, social media, et cetera, God seems off in a corner somewhere, while Snapchat lies only a tap of my finger away.

2. Fight my messed-up definition of ‘need.’

About a month ago, I bought earbuds because the ones I have now don’t always work quite right, and I’ll need some new ones when these ones break. I bought a new travel mug because my beloved green Stanley cup has begun leaking and needs to be replaced. I’ve never actually seen needy children in third-world countries, but somehow I feel the word ‘needy’ does not necessarily refer to a lack of earbuds and travel mugs. Rather, I’m blessed to be able to hear music frequently. I’m blessed to have hot coffee on me at all times. How much more would I praise God for blessing me if I moved more blessings out of the ‘need’ category?

3. Surround myself with people with accurate worldviews.

I’m incredibly blessed to have several people in my life who answer my questions with God’s truth and love. Some of these people are church friends, pastors, parents, or sisters. When I surround myself with people who have Godly worldviews, they begin to affect my own.

4. Praise God throughout my day.

I can develop a habit of praising God throughout the day when I didn’t before. I can thank him every time I use running water, read a Bible that is legal to own, visit the cafeteria, sleep in safety, and fold clean clothes. As I learn to be more thankful, I train my spirit to remember where things REALLY come from.

5. Be part of God’s provision

I can remember who provides for me by helping provide for those who spread the gospel to the world. This is a great way to remember that my money isn’t mine to begin with, and is better used for God’s kingdom than for my own.

As I’ve said before, I so wish that I were writing this post from the other side of the struggle, saying I start every day on my knees and never put my faith in the security of this world. I instead find myself toeing the line of what’s going to be a difficult race, but check back in a couple years, and I pray you’ll see me believing with all my heart that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

*Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1989)

Throwing Away My Personality

IMG_20140831_0002.jpgFun fact: When I was a kid, I got mad at my sister and decided that changing my name to Little Bo Peep ( a character in an American children’s story) would be the best form of revenge. (naturally) The following dialogue became a large part of my daily routine:

Three-year-old Michelle: (to innocent bystander) ASK ME WHAT MY NAME IS!

Confused stranger: Okay, what’s your name, sweetie?

Michelle: LITTLE BO PEEP

Stranger: Okayyy…

Michelle: but ask me WHY that’s my name!!!

Stranger: Why is that your name?

Michelle: because I like that NAAAAAME!!!

Of course. Flawless three-year-old logic right there. At this point, my mother would come running from three aisles over to apologize to the stranger and remind me again to be quiet and not lie about my identity. I would comply for a few minutes, then either return to my new name campaign or begin belting Glen Campbell’s LIKE A WHINESTONE COWBOY as my sisters giggled. It’s a wonder my mother didn’t go grey right then and there.

So yeah. Three-year-old Michelle liked attention. Fortunately, as I grew older, I became a little more subtle. Full-on ridiculosities and tall tales turned to exaggerations and eventually boiled into an ‘expressive and assertive personality.’ I even learned how to turn this into a skill as I entered the world of theatre and competitive musical performance. Success!

Three recent experiences have made me think about the difference between three-year-old Michelle and eighteen-year-old Michelle in a very different light:

Experience number one: I went to a Bible study the other night, and the leader asked us to write a list of words identify us, be it our hobbies, nationality, et cetera. Having been raised in Sunday School, I was ready for this one. I’m a Christian, duh. A daughter of Jesus, obviously! The leader wasn’t going to trip me up with THAT one! I wrote that at the top before moving on to the little things: my happy disposition, my un-shyness, my talkativeness, my chronic quirkiness, my affinity for everything German, et cetera.

Experience number two: I finished the book of Ecclesiastes. In case you haven’t read Ecclesiastes recently, here’s the jist of it: Everything is meaningless, and fools really get on King Solomon’s nerves. Time and time again, Solomon shows how the wise keep their mouths shut until the time comes when they impart words of wisdom, while the fool keeps on blabbing until it gets them killed.

Experience number three: While waiting in the queue to get a salad today, I scrolled through Facebook and saw an article. It was about the sin of attention seeking and what Christians who struggle with this sin can do about it. It was at that moment that these three experiences fell together and clicked into place.

So… let me get this straight, I thought: I attribute talkativeness to my personality, but King Solomon (literally the wisest guy who ever lived) attributes it to folly, and the author of the article attributes it to attention seeking. Huh. So maybe I don’t shout about my false identity in the grocery store anymore, but come to think of it, I’m still able to see the effects of attention-seeking in my life. I see it in the number of stories I tell, hoping to get a laugh out of my audience. I see it in my inablity to take criticism and in the amount of work I put into gaining approval from certain people. I see it in my urge to compete with people who seem to lead cooler lives than I do. Come to think of it, I have to wonder: Do I really love everything German, or do I love telling people about my love for everything German?

I wonder what would be left of my personality if I became completely humbled. If I lost all attraction to myself and pursued God relentlessly, what would my talking to me be like? I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have much to do with constant babbling about past experiences and sizing people up based on the content of their Instagrams.

I wish I were writing this post from the other side of this struggle. At this point, though, after eighteen years, I’ve only just identified the problem. But now that I’ve had my ‘personality’ called out for what it really is, I’m excited for the journey ahead. I pray that the next time you talk to me, you’ll find me quicker to listen and slower to speak and slower to launch into a 90-decibel monologue about that one time at Oktoberfest when…

Did I Just Drop Out of College?!?!

It has occurred to me (and by ‘has occurred to me,’ I really mean, ‘has been brought to my attention’) that maybe, just mayyybe, my last post may have been slightly deficient in background information. Many friends have since met me with follow-up questions such as, what happened to Dietetics? Am I dropping out of college and returning to life as a waitress? Do I hate the University I’m currently at? What does my future look like?

My original plan was to attend a university in Kankakee, IL for four years, earn a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics, complete a Dietetic internship, and pass the RD exam. My new plan is to finish the semester in Kankakee, transfer to a college back in Peoria, finish my nursing prerequisites in the next two semesters (I got a semester and a half done in high school) and start nursing school in the spring of 2019. I will likely do this in either Louisville, KY, or Kansas City, MO because I have family in both cities who are welcoming me into their homes.

So why the switch?

I’m switching from dietetics to nursing because, as a dietetics major, I was placed in some basic nursing classes due to the overlap between the two fields and realized that the subject matter in the nursing classes was fascinating to me, whereas the subject matter in the dietetics classes was interesting, but not enough for five years of it. Nursing is also a more useful degree than dietetics in terms of international missions.

I’m switching from Kankakee to Peoria because of my newfound lack of need for a dietetics program, the desire to have the financial wiggle room to go on a short-term missions trip, and issues I had with the university’s beliefs. I was able to find a great deal of good at the university and met some very wonderful people who are very dear to me so I will not elaborate on the issues on my blog. I’m not interested in bashing the university; no university is pure good or pure evil, and this university is no exception.

And how am I feeling?

I’m ecstatic. I’m grieving. I’m terrified. But mostly ecstatic.

I’m ecstatic because I feel such peace in this decision. I’m really confident that this is a wise thing to do. And I’m so excited for a future as a nursing student and nurse! I’m excited for the opportunities a nursing degree offers, both inside and outside the US!

I’m grieving the loss of the friends I’ve made here. I don’t want to leave my roommate, my study buddies, or my friends from church! I’m sad that I won’t get to take more classes from my favourite professors.

I’ve talked to many nurses and nursing students, and the consensus is this: Nursing is a rewarding career, but nursing school is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Not going to lie; that’s a scary thing to hear!

Overall, though, I’m excited about my future. I’m confident that adventures lie ahead!

PS If you’re the praying kind, there are a couple departments in which I could use some prayer:

  • The humility to listen and learn what I can from leaders who I believe have partially faulty theology. It is tempting for me to find a single belief with which I disagree and pridefully discredit everything the person says. Needless to say, that’s wrong.
  • Smooth transitions between colleges and locations (transferring credits, moving from dorm to house to other house, etc.)
  • Picking a nursing school wisely and the strength to make it through nursing school

Connecting When I Know I’m Leaving

If you asked me a month ago how long I’d be living in Kankakee, Illinois, I would have answered about three and a half more years. If you ask me today, the answer is sixty-four days. After December 15th, I may never see Kankakee again.
All the friends I thought I’d see every day for the next four years will be gone in sixty-four days. All the profs I hoped to have again will be gone in sixty-four days. All the black squirrels clogging up my Instagram will be gone in sixty-four days. My church will be gone in sixty-four days.

This decision has changed the way I view everything, and not for the better. Just yesterday, I was thinking through my schedule and seeing where I could carve out time to grab coffee with a friend. It would be a very tight fit in between classes and subtract from my study time for an exam two days later. Ugh. Why even go? Why invest in a friendship that will probably disappear in sixty-four days? After all, I can’t keep in touch with everyone.

It gets even worse when I go to my church in Kankakee. I see people I don’t know and have no motivation to meet. After all, I’m leaving. Gross, Michelle. Not only is this a super selfish line of thinking; it also reveals major flaws in my beliefs about the church: The church isn’t a club. It’s a family. Every Christian in the whole world is my relative. When I go to my Grammie’s house eight hours away, do I ignore her because I know I’m leaving and there is no point in investing in a relationship with her? Of course not! During the few days we have together, we cook, eat, shop, talk, and laugh together! Then, we are apart again, but always eager to be together again! I should be doing the exact same thing with my Grammies in Christ.

So as I go my little “family reunion” on Sunday, I’ll walk in, knowing I have about nine Sundays left with them. So I’ll walk into church and give Rod and Donna big hugs. I’ll compliment the dresses of some five-year-old twin girls and hope I get a chance to hold the new baby. I’ll greet the pastor and his wife, as well as the members I do and don’t know as they mill in the lobby after service. I will bond with them until I leave.

Maybe I’ll see them again on this Earth. I hope I do, but maybe I won’t. It seems kinda sad, pursuing bonding with brothers and sisters you know you have to leave. But Luke 16:9 says this: And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

What does this mean? It means when I get to heaven, I’ll have one heck of a welcoming party!

True Love And Millstones

IMG_20170905_171817192_HDRFun fact: I have a pretty great boyfriend. He’s kind and has the best laugh and is an expert comforter and faithful encourager, I could go on and on, but let’s face it, that’s not why you clicked on this post, so I’ll get on with it.

One thing I love about my boyfriend is that I can be entirely confident that he has no ulterior motives. I know that his intent is to worship God with our relationship and to determine whether I am to be his wife, not whether I am adequately entertaining in the here and now. I am indescribably grateful for my boyfriend’s uncompromising integrity, and I tell him that frequently.

As a girl educated in a public high school, I’ve seen my fair share of guys handing out the classic i-love-you-baby-i’m-gonna-marry-you-someday-will-you-sleep-with-me crap. I hate that kind of thing because while the guy smiles and says the sacred words, “I love you,” his actions are saying, “I hate you.” Ugh. He tricks her, gets what he wanted from her, and dumps her, then on to the next one. Evil, nasty guys.

But what about the girls? I’m convinced that girls are capable of the exact same duplicity, and that it goes almost entirely unnoticed… that is, by us girls.

I realized this the day my boyfriend thanked me for something weird: he thanked me for dressing modestly. Sensing my confusion, he elaborated: modesty allowed him to partake in the relationship without the constant downward pull of sexual temptation. Suddenly, it became clear to me. Just as I would pursue righteousness so much more without the constant hindrance of Satan, so he was able to pursue righteousness without the constant hindrance of visual temptation.

Hindrance isn’t even the right word. The opening to Luke 17 reads: Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.” Leave it to the Bible to put things in perspective. It makes sense, though. The choice to dress immodestly is the choice to help my boyfriend and countless other guys commit offences against the Lord God Almighty. To dress immodestly is hatred, both to God and men.

That’s not what the world is saying, though. Immodesty is liberation. It’s expression. It’s beauty. Sigh. The world can be so confusing. Thankfully, the Bible is very much able to clear this up: Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

These verses provide a wonderful system for evaluating the different versions of ‘love’ the world has to offer. It’s a whole lot different than the others, but it’s designed by God, so why accept any other?

Teach Me Your Ways

2017-10-03 15_27_37-Emily Michelle Hodges (@barefootmichelley) • Instagram photos and videosFun fact: I’ve lived in Central Illinois for quite a few years, but I grew up near Tucson, Arizona. Caterpillar moved my family there when I was one year old, so I grew up in a world without snow, falling leaves, and temperatures below fifty degrees. When we moved to Illinois, a couple things took me by surprise. For one thing, there were no Kokopellis anywhere. For another, my new, 99% white school was comprised entirely of Michaels, Jacks, Hannahs, and Caitlyns. Where were all the Alejandros, Xaviers, Rosas, and Josefinas?

As time went on and I became accustomed to life in Illinois, I gradually went from wondering why everyone was white to being surprised to see someone who wasn’t white. My school was 95% white. So was my church. So was my entire community. This gradually became my normal.

My best friend went to Namibia on a missions trip a year or two ago and met fellow missionaries who are now some of her closest friends. She recently attended a missions conference in Florida, where she was reunited with those friends and had the opportunity to worship in a crowd of several thousand people from nearly a hundred different countries. During each session, she told me, the lyrics to the songs were on one screen in English, another in Spanish, another in French, and so on. I hung on her every word as she described the experience of worshipping in such a diverse setting. Suddenly, a thought struck me. That’s what heaven is going to be like. This realization made me long for the diversity I’d known in Arizona.

Thus, moving to college was like a breath of fresh air. I was placed back into an environment in which not everyone was the same. I made a new friend after we found ourselves talking on our phones with our families in the same dorm kitchen, her in half Spanish, half English, me in half German, half English. We exchanged some kind of knowing smile/soul wink as we listened to each other. Before the week was over, we were hanging out in each other’s rooms and grabbing dinner together. Not long after, we stood over the stove in the same kitchen, her mixing up a pot of Chocolate Caliente Abuelita, and me mixing up a pot of Kinderspunch. We sat in the kitchen with our drinks, serving them to passers-by and talking for hours.

These experiences made me wonder: If I long for culture and diversity and the ability they give us to connect beneath the surface, why do I nonetheless build friend groups out of people so similar to me? And while I understand the reality of true cultural appropriation, if I call myself a lover of culture, why do I hesitate to share in the cultures of others? A line from my art teacher in high school came back to me: humans like things that look like us.

Ugh. If I’m going to call myself a lover of culture but maintain that attitude, why don’t I just move back to Central Illinois, where the people are as similar to one another as the infinite rows of cornstalks?

In order to truly love a diverse group of people and connect on that deeper level, I’m going to have to actively remember that 1) I’m programmed to love myself and will therefore be most comfortable with people like me, but 2) that there are a lot of people out there with whom I could connect if I would simply get over myself.

So today, the people manning the Hispanic Heritage Club’s booth at college called me over as I passed through the cafeteria. I’m not Hispanic; They must be calling someone else, I thought. But the man pointed directly at me, yelled, ‘Headscarf! (yes, I do respond to that)’ and motioned for me to come over. I headed on over and met a man named Jose. We talked for a while and tried to get one another to cough up the phonetics of our own languages. (Is Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften really that hard to pronounce?!) It was a little connection, but I left the cafeteria higher on life than I was when I walked in.

So my conclusion is this: Culture is not a sociological phenomenon; it’s a gift from God to help us humans love and connect with each other! So I’m embarking on this adventure of getting over myself to learn how to connect. And I even have an extra incentive: Maybe I’ll get more Mexican Hot Chocolate out of the deal!