Early in our relationship, Bill, who had no experience with the female psyche, having had three brothers and no sisters, discovered that I felt insecure about what I looked like. Or, as one of our sons said when he heard this story, “Dad found out you were a girl.”
I could tell this fact about me disturbed him. He mulled it over for a few minutes and offered a solution:
“Kitti,” he said, his earnest blue eyes ablaze with confidence, “I felt that way once when I was in high school. It was in the locker room after football practice. So I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, ‘Murray, you’re not the best-looking guy on earth, but you’re not the worst-looking either, so you might as well be content with who you are.’”
I promise he said this exactly the way you’d tell someone, “Oh no, you don’t have to put quarters in that parking meter on the weekend. You’re all good.”
Every single time I tell a woman this story, she laughs.
But this really is how my husband solved his one episode of insecurity back then. And yet, to his dismay, it didn’t solve anything for me.
Once, somewhere around our first year of marriage, we spent a weekend at the Texas panhandle with another couple. That Friday I had an “ugly day.” I think you know what these are. Partially objective (hormonal bloating, breakouts where no make-up can hide them, humidity-wrecked hair) and partially subjective, the ugly day is simply a fact of life for most women I know. Well, on this trip I experienced a relentless string of ugly days, and I’d yet to learn a thing about taming what they did to me on the inside. To add insult to injury, we were at the beach where every other woman looked not-ugly. I don’t remember anything I said or did that weekend. I just remember what Bill said somewhere between the clean beach towels of our first day and the sandy flip flops of our last: “You know, Kitti, when you obsess over this, you’re kind of are ugly.”
Every decade or so I need a shock to my system like this from the person who loves me more than any human alive. He has earned the right to tell me this kind of truth. And, man, do I need to hear it sometimes.
So did I look in the mirror and finally give myself that locker room pep talk? No, not really my style. I walked on the beach alone and told God I wanted to get my heart in order and didn’t know how.
The truth is, I still don’t know how. What I look like is only one in a bucketful of insecurities that have surfaced in the intervening years, insecurities that threaten to turn my countenance truly ugly. I still don’t have that game-day confidence that I am no more or no less than I need to be. Actually, I’m pretty certain I am not all that. Almost everything about me is laced with some form of insecurity.
But here’s what I’ve come to appreciate about my insecurities: they drive me to take a walk down the beach. The symbolic beach I find in my closet or my den or my car, the one where I gasp for a breath of grace when I’ve totally forgotten grace even exists. And when I take that walk, I discover what I knew all along: I am loved with an everlasting love and this love is enough to fill up the insecure holes, no matter how big or silly they are.
Somehow, someway, these walks have made me just a little more secure than I was that awful weekend at the Texas panhandle.
On one of my last visits with my dad before he died eight years ago, I took my iPod nano and a little set of speakers to his hospital room, and the two of us listened to music together. The song “Blessed Be Your Name” was new then, and Daddy sang along to the words with a smile on his face, even the part that says:
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord blessed be your name…
The smile was really something, considering that by this point we all knew he would surely be taken away from us soon. I remember his strong index finger ticking back and forth, his eyes closed listening. Pure sweetness. We kept getting interrupted by people dropping by to visit.
Some I knew and some I didn’t. They came to offer thanks, each bringing stories of ways my dad had loved them. Practical ways. Creative ways. Genuine ways. Jesus ways.
I said, “Daddy, I love seeing how you have impacted your world. It’s amazing.”
He looked at me and said something I’d never heard him say before, “It’s just that I’m really insecure.”
He said it with a sheepish grin, which I took to mean that, yes, he loved people, but that love, like the whole of his heart, had impurities in it. In case I didn’t know that. He wanted to be loved back. He wanted to impress. He was human. A human who knew how to walk down the beach toward a love more pure than his own.
“Me too, Daddy,” I said, “Me too.”
And then I remember God’s own words, “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Songs 4:7, NIV).