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I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman I saw.

She looked old. Unable to wear makeup, dark circles rounded her eyes. In spite of twenty pounds weight loss, her cheeks and lips appeared puffy, swollen. Her skin, chapped red, nose to chest, showed evidence of burns from treatment. Her hair—thinned to half its former fullness—lacked shine and color.

I looked at the rest of her body. The body that used to run half-marathons and triathlons. The body that loved yoga and Pilates and biking the Colorado trails. It showed no signs of physical fitness anymore. What was left was a hollowed out shell of her former self. And everywhere I looked—legs, arms, neck, stomach—scars marked where the surgeons had been.

I didn’t recognize her. And the only word that came to mind when we locked eyes was …


In a world hinged so very much on appearance and a human’s capacity to garner attention, it’s not an easy thing to so quickly become marred, unattractive, someone people want to avoid. Every time I leave the safety of my home and dare to go public, I feel the stares of strangers.

Why does she talk funny? What’s wrong with her skin and hair? Where did those scars come from?

These are the questions I imagine strangers ponder. So I talk as little as possible, pull my collar and sleeves to cover my scars. Then I drive back home to hide.

Where is the woman I used to be? God, I don’t want to look like this! I want to feel beautiful! 

Call me vain or shallow, but I miss all those superficial signs of femininity. The hair and makeup. The perfume and  yummy smelling lotions. The clothes and jewelry. I’ve been stripped of these things, and in their absence I’m forced to admit I leaned on them far too much for my sense of worth. Left with the woman in the mirror, I ask a tough question:

Am I beautiful? 

The real “me.” The “stripped bare” me.

Is the un-powdered, un-styled, un-polished, undone me … enough? 

Most of us have wondered this, at one time or another. We don’t need a health crisis to find the person in the mirror lacking. We see every flaw, every scar, every evidence that we are less than what beauty requires. Even if we don’t, we live in a culture that is determined to remind us with every commercial, billboard, and retail advertisement that we are less than what we should be.

Am I beautiful? 

Time to answer. Once and for all.

Yes. I am. And so are you.

I’ve looked at the changed woman in the mirror for three months now. And I’m learning a hard truth that could rock your world as it has mine:

Beautiful is more than a mirror reveals.

Beautiful isn’t a photoshopped image, the contents of a make-up bag or a well-done haircut and highlights. Beautiful isn’t a pant size, nail color, marital status or BMI score. Beautiful isn’t intelligence scores, college degrees, or career achievements.

Yes, you say. You already know this.

Yes, I reply. I thought I did, too.

Until I noticed how we live otherwise.

Time to let the truth sink in, take hold, and change us. 

Beautiful is ..

  • a mind of courage in the face of fear
  • a spirit of confidence in spite of criticism
  • arms that give love away, generously
  • a voice that asks for (and offers) forgiveness
  • eyes that see suffering, and feet that willingly enter in
  • a smile that shines and laughs, even when given reasons not to
  • a mouth that gives thanks, rather than cataloguing losses
  • hands that give generously, even in times of lack
  • a heart that knows she’s loved, completely

Beautiful can’t be washed off. It’s sourced in character, in who you are regardless of make-up and pant size. A mirror can’t reveal true beauty—only real life can.

We must stop measuring beauty on over-the-counter products that disappear with soap and water. Instead, we need to develop eyes that see beautiful beyond the obvious. In both ourselves and others.

My friends Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph said it well in their new book, Nourished:

There’s nothing more beautiful, no more nourishing presence on earth, than a woman who lives loved, who knows her Father calls her Darlin’ and loves to shower her with reminders of His tender caring.

Are you beautiful?

One thousand times, YES. Because there is One who weaved together all the details that make you YOU. He knows the numbers of hair on your head—even when they’re lacking. He sees the un-powdered, un-styled, un-polished, undone you that no one else sees.

And when He looks in the mirror? The only word that comes to His mind is “love.”

Do you ever struggle with feeling beautiful? What is beautiful to you? 


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