I’m nicer when I like my outfit (especially when my daughter picks it out)

I’m nicer when I like my outfit.

I'm nicer when I like my outfit

It’s true. I am. Trouble is, I’m a terrible shopper.

Our daughter Virginia, on the other hand, loves the thrill of the hunt. She knows what works (and what doesn’t), and she’s a firm believer that clothes really do “make the man.” Once, in middle school, Virginia bought a shirt from J. Crew for her boyfriend. Never mind that she did not yet actually have a boyfriend. “I want to date a guy,” she explained, “who would look good in this shirt.”

Anyhow, when Virginia heard that I needed a new pair of jeans (see last week’s post), she jumped in like a first responder and all but ambulanced me to Saks. “They are having a huge summer sale,” she said. “We need to go now!”

I’ll spare you the most painful details, but picture me (or maybe don’t) in a department store dressing room while my girl popped in and out, bearing armloads of clothing that she thought would suit me. “You could speak in this,” she said, brandishing an army-green dress that looked like it could be worn on safari. “And this would be a great going-out outfit!”

I looked at the wide orange pants and teensy silk top Virginia was holding. “Going out?” I echoed. “You mean, like, to the grocery store?”

“Mom!” she laughed – before handing over her bounty and heading back out into the wild.

I found myself alone in the room with five different white tops (Solomon says you can never have too much white), and I couldn’t help it. My mind started to wander. I thought back to when I first realized that Virginia (who was six at the time) knew more than I did about clothes.

In my defense, both Fraulein Maria and Scarlett O’Hara had done it before. I thought my plan to repurpose the curtain that hung in our kitchen – a valance I’d sewn out of fancy French fabric – was inspired. I ran some elastic through the curtain rod hole, sewed up the side, and popped the thing over Virginia’s head.

“What is this?” she inquired, looking dubiously at the green velvet pompoms that encircled her hem.

“It’s…a skirtain!” I said, more than a little bit pleased with myself. “It’s French!”

Virginia is nothing if not confident, and as she headed off to school I told myself that if anyone could pull off The Skirtain, it would be her. Looking back, though, I’m not sure even Scarlett, with her famed 17-inch waist, could have managed that thing. Regardless, it was the last time Virginia let me influence her outfit choices. And by the time she hit the fifth grade, she was questioning mine:

“You’re going out to the bus stop…like that?

(At 7:00 a.m.)

Her scrutiny rankled. Her clothing obsession seemed out of place. And finally, after the J. Crew incident (in which I ridiculed my daughter for buying a shirt for a fictitious boyfriend and she hotly corrected me in the store, saying that he was not fictitious but future), I decided to take my complaint up with God.

“God,” I said, “What is wrong with Virginia? How can she be so shallow? Who cares whether a dress falls above or below the knee level; doesn’t she realize that there are starving people in Africa who would be grateful for either hemline?”

“I made Virginia that way,” God replied. “She is my masterpiece. Her love for clothing and her artistic eye are gifts she will use.”

I knew God was quoting himself, drawing on Ephesians 2:10, but I was not satisfied. “But all that focus on appearance,” I pressed. “It just doesn’t seem very…Christian.”

(Seriously. I was telling God what I thought a Christian looked like.)

It seems funny – or maybe embarrassing – now, but it wasn’t, back then. God was speaking to my spirit, but he might as well have been talking out loud. And he wasn’t laughing.

“Do not mock your daughter,” I sensed him say. “Do not wish she were different. I gave her this gift, and it is one she will use to serve others.”

A tap on the dressing room door brought me back to the present. It was Virginia, with several pairs of good-looking jeans in my size. That were 70% off.

And as I stood there in White Shirt #4, it hit me:  Virginia – the daughter I’d once tried to change – was literally living out 1 Peter 4:10 in the middle of Saks:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

And I – the mom who had once asked God to “fix her” – was the one being blessed.

Use whatever gift you have received, 1 Peter 4:10

All of which is to say…

God’s grace really does show up in “various forms.”

And instead of questioning the way that God wired our kids (or wondering why on earth they would want to do this or that), maybe a better plan is just to release them. To surrender their lives fully to God, knowing that – as Philippians 2:13 so powerfully reminds us – it’s not up to us to change or shape other people.

God’s plans for our children might not look just like ours. Sure, as parents, we want to teach our kids right from wrong (and pray that they’ll pursue the former!), but more often than not, the things I worry about in my children’s lives are actually reflections of my own need for control, or my own desire to look good, based on the choices they make. And when I cling too tightly to my vision for what my children should do or become (instead of prayerfully releasing them into the Lord’s tender care), I risk missing out on God’s plan for their lives – his infinitely more wonderful plan.

In her book, Prayer PortionsSylvia Gunter offers a declaration of release that we can pray over our children, our spouses, or anyone whose life might be tied closely to ours. Read it here, or join me in praying this simple prayer for the people you love:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating _______ as your masterpiece, and for planning good things for them long ago. Please work in ______, giving them the desire and the power to do what pleases you. (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13, NLT)

❤️

P.S. I know this blog is already too long (and I promise not to post again for awhile!), but if you want more info on how to ask God to shape your children and use their gifts, check out chapters 3 (Praying for Your Child’s Gifts) and 17 (Praying for Your Child’s Purpose in Life) in Praying the Scriptures for Your ChildrenHere are a few of the prayers that you’ll find:

And if you got stuck back there in the dressing room and you just want to know what I bought, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I passed on the big orange pants, I got two pairs of the jeans, and I actually did come home with the safari-style “speaking” dress.

Because, to finish the Mark Twain quote referenced above, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” 😊

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do these pants make me look fat?

I broke up with three pairs of perfectly good jeans recently, pants whose only offense was that they’d somehow gotten too small.

“It’s not you,” I sighed, gazing wistfully toward the giveaway pile (and wishing I could just blame the dryer). “It’s me.”

I don’t know when, exactly, everything in my closet started to shrink; maybe the heat from all the candles on my last birthday cake sparked some sort of climate change in our house? I do know, however, that I have never been so grateful for online tools like Biblehub.com, where you can look up Bible verses different translations.

Verses like Isaiah 61:3.

That’s the one where God promises to give us beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, and something called a “garment of praise” instead of despair. It’s an awesome verse in the NIV, but it gets even better in the good old King James. That’s where God says the garment of praise is for the “spirit of heaviness.”

Waaaait a minute. There’s a spirit of heaviness? Now you tell me…

garment of praise

 

Okay, okay. You know I’m kidding.

You have to admit, though. Isaiah 61:3 is a pretty great verse. Because whatever we’re carrying–be it a spiritual or a physical weight–God says he can lift it.

Redeem it.

Swap it out.

God promises to take the ashes of our dreams, the brokenness of our hearts, the shame of our past…and completely remake us. The last part of verse 3 says that we’ll be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

(Great oaks??? My mother once told me that I should be glad I had legs built like tree trunks, since it meant that I’d be able to stand for long periods of time. Maybe I should start claiming Isaiah 61:3 as my “life verse” and just own it?)

Anyhow.

While I was in the dressing room last week, trying to find a new pair of jeans (which is actually Part 2 of this post, and one I’ll hope you’ll read next week if you’ve ever questioned–or been frustrated by–the way that God wired your kids), I began to think about how life might be different if I woke up every day and, instead of thinking about actual clothing, I put on a garment of praise. What would happen if I took time to consciously consider God’s goodness, his power, and his love?

For starters, praise would take my focus off of the to-do lists of the day and make me aware of God’s presence (which is, as Psalm 16:11 reminds us, the Very Place where we find “fullness of joy”).

And then, as I meditated on God’s attributes–he’s our Provider, Protector, Redeemer, Counselor, Deliverer, Comforter, Friend–the problems and needs that clamored for space in my heart would start shrinking in size. It would work like what my friend Jennifer Kennedy Dean called “spiritual chemotherapy,” taking things like worry and fear–as well as those pesky, self-absorbed thoughts (“Do these pants make me look fat?”)–and targeting them for destruction.

That sounded like a win.

There was only one hitch.

What if I didn’t feel like adoring God, or thanking him, when I woke up? What if my first thought came with a sharp pain (or a dull ache) of remembrance, like in the weeks and months of waking up after God chose not to heal my father’s brain cancer? What if I questioned God’s goodness, or his wisdom, sometimes?

What then?

The answer, I think, it that it’s okay. God can handle our doubts and our questions. And if you take another look at Isaiah 61 (which is where the prophet tells us what the Messiah will do), the thing that stands out is that it’s not up to us. Jesus is the one who brings the comfort, the beauty, the joy. He’s the one who gives us the garment of praise. All we have to do is receive it!

I love how Isaiah wraps up the transformation, just a few verses later:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…

“I delight greatly in the Lord.”

Maybe just read that one out loud. It’s such a beautiful phrase…one we could look forward to wearing.

And on those days when our first thought is not one of delight–when our souls don’t readily rejoice in the Lord–let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead, let’s ask God for help. Let’s ask him to do the thing he does best:  Get us dressed in garments that look and feel really good.

Heavenly Father,

Clothe me with beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I can’t leave this post without pointing you toward two of my favorite “praise” resources.

The first is on Instagram. Type #adorationexplained into the search bar. You’ll meet Sara Hagerty (@sarahagertywrites), who tackles some of the thorniest questions we have when it comes to thanksgiving and praise, questions about the real struggles we face. “Adoration,” she says, “isn’t that we set aside our real interior life. It’s that we bring that to God. We bring our real honesty to God and we say, ‘Show up.'”

And the second help is this little devotional book by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, which is where I found that line about spiritual chemotherapy.

It’s called SEEK: 28 Days to Extraordinary Prayer. Jennifer went home to heaven about six weeks ago, and I’ve spent much of this summer moving between grief and gratitude as I re-read her incredible work. I know heaven is rejoicing, but golly. Jennifer:  We’re gonna miss you down here. ❤️

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