When I was in college, I had a roommate who was into fitness. I asked her one day why she exercised so much. Her response was that she thought of her body as a temple of the Holy Spirit on loan to her from God. She felt it was her duty to take care of it.
Her attitude seemed the perfect balance. She wanted to look nice for all the right reasons. She was, and still is, a beautiful person inside and out.
From that day forward, I wanted to approach outward beauty the same way - not as an act of vanity, but as a good steward.
Exercise has always been a part of my life. I've danced, played team sports, run, and worked out at gyms and at home. I joke that exercise is my Prozac. Honestly though, it is. I feel better about myself and life in general when I'm on some kind of regular routine.
I discovered this a few years ago when we dropped our Family Y membership. For years, I had faithfully worked out for three to four times a week. It was habit, and then suddenly, it wasn't. Without realizing it, I stopped working out at all. I entered a kind of funk. I felt fat and ugly, even though I knew I was neither. Having a counseling background, I recognized the negative feelings, but I couldn't stop them.
Early one morning, in an effort to help Mackenzie train for a race, I went running with her. We didn't run far, but when I came home, I felt fantastic. I knew right then and there that those endorphins are a necessary part of my make up.
Since that day, I have made it a priority to exercise. It's actually kind of funny for me to talk about this now since between the awful pregnancy and readjusting to having an infant, I haven't done much of it and it's killing me. I'll get back into a routine soon...I hope. In the meantime, I do things like run up and down the stairs, do squats while I brush my teeth, and attempt a few crunches before I fall into bed (that is, if I don't fall asleep on the floor before I get started).
Staying in shape for me is the biggest part of the package. If I'm not healthy, if I can't keep up with my kids, not much else matters.
The other stuff came much more gradually. In high school I was a natural kind of girl...perhaps the only one in history whose mother would say, "Go put some more make-up on" before I left the house. I was all about wanting people to love me for who I am, not what I look like.
And then came Nelson. I am blessed to be married to this man for many, many reasons, not the least of which is the way he boosts my self-esteem. Nelson is complimentary...all the time. Not very many days go by that he doesn't tell me I'm beautiful or say how great I look in something I'm wearing. This suddenly, but not surprisingly, changed my whole way of thinking.
Add to this equation that my brother started dating sorority girls who looked like a million bucks...all the time. I showed up to my first family day at his UGA fraternity house in jean capris and a cute top. I was stunned when I saw the guys in coats and ties and their gals in skirts and dresses. It was the first time in a long time I thought that it was time to step up ye ole wardrobe.
It took me thirty or so years, but I finally felt like I was working on the whole package. I realized it didn't take any more effort to slip on a skirt and top than it did to put on jeans and a t-shirt. I relegated all t-shirts to the work-out drawer. I don't buy anything I don't love. And I try, though I haven't mastered, to get rid of things I don't love.
Now that I am back to having an infant in arms, it's a little more challenging to try to look better and more awake than I feel. However, I feel like it's probably more important for me to do it now than it ever has been.
This may sound a bit crazy, but hear me out. I have five children, which believe it or not, is not a gigantic family among my close friends. It is, however, to most people I come into contact with outside of this circle. I feel very strongly that the best pro life move I can make is my witness.
If I walk through the mall with all five kids looking like a haggard mess, why would anyone want my life? However, if I look put together and happy, people may think my life looks pretty good. To me, an extra ten minutes (to put in my contacts, apply make-up, and maybe even some jewelry) is worth presenting an image that says, I have five kids and it's great. I love them and my life.
I know this sounds simplistic and perhaps even vain, but whether I like it or not, people do judge a book by its cover and often, the first impression is the only chance we get. I know that my looks and my figure are not what make me truly beautiful, but hopefully they help draw people in so that I can show them it's really about something much deeper.
When I worked with the Missionaries of Charity, I learned what became my favorite prayer. This is the beauty I seek. The beauty that does not come from me, but from Christ within me. The beauty I hope will draw others to Him.
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole beings so utterly
That our lives may be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us, and be so in us
That every soul we come in contact with
May feel your presence in our souls.
Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus!
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, Oh Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be ours:
It will be You shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best: by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You without preaching, not by words, but by our example,
By the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
The evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you.