Beauty: The Race We’re All Losing

andrealucado.wordpress.com woman-looking-in-mirrorIf beauty is fleeting, why do we chase it?

I was fortunate to be told by loving parents again and again that I was beautiful. Their compliments came naturally, but I took them for granted. Sometimes, I didn’t believe them and many times they even got on my nerves. Great, my dad thinks I’m beautiful, but no one at school does. And the guy in my algebra class was the real opinion that mattered. I wish I could say not believing in my own beauty ended in high school, but scrolling through old Facebook pictures recently made me realize it hasn’t.

Have you ever done that? Accidentally clicked the arrow the wrong way and suddenly you’re staring at a photo of yourself from eight years ago? I continued to click through the pictures of my years in college. All the way through. There were so many. I had done so many things I had forgotten about. Activities, entire sports teams I have vague memories of being a part of. I hope I’m not the only one whose eyes go directly to herself when looking at a group shot. I did this each time and even though these pictures were so old, I had myself under a magnifying glass thinking thoughts like, “I must have been a size 12 in that picture…size six in that one…why did I wear that same t-shirt so much…what’s happening to my hair….seriously, how did I have friends?… I realize why boyfriends have been few and far between.”

I was 27 getting angry at my 20-year-old self for not being more beautiful, for not measuring up to the compliments from my parents and others over the years.

I hate to admit that as a Christian, independent-type woman, I have allowed external beauty to rule, but I have. If I feel ok about the way I look, I feel ok about me. If I’m receiving less compliments or not getting asked out, I assume it is because I don’t look attractive, and I begin to wonder what I need to do to gain back my attractiveness. I don’t know who I am without beauty, or at least the chase of it.

What would we do without this comparison game that consumes our thoughts? It’s my favorite game. I compare my arms to hers, and my ratty hair to her perfect bun, and I think about all of the things I need to do and be doing now and do later that would allow me to achieve all of the things others have that I want.

Of course it’s crazy when I really think about it. If I achieved this, I would have four different types of hair on my head, one long and skinny arm and one muscular one. A big butt cheek and a small one. Short legs and a long torso and different colored and shaped eyes. To look the we “want,” would be to look like an ugly Picasso painting.

And after years of this tiring and endless game, I think I’m starting, starting, to see my mind shift a bit. Like the other day when I was running on the treadmill at the gym and staring at every woman who came into view. I’m sure I looked creepy, but I didn’t care; I was having a minor breakthrough. I studied so many different bodies during my time on the machine. I could tell some of the women were healthy and allowing their body’s shape to be what it was. And some I could tell had worked hard to form a different shape. It’s like we are potters trying to turn clay into a glass table. We have been given certain materials, but we want to create them into things they can never be. No wonder we are exhausted. No wonder we don’t feel beautiful. We have the wrong goal. Our clay will never turn into the beautiful clear glass we are wanting because it is meant to be clay.

Can we change this? I hope we can. I think we can. But first we have to stop the chase altogether. If beauty is fleeting, it will be gone the moment we attain it, so let’s stop trying. Give up the chase altogether. That’s when we will begin to desire the clay, to work with the clay, and eventually one day, we will love the clay.

6 Comments

Filed under Asking the Hard Questions

Ate A Lot Over the Holidays? That’s OK.

Circus_Animal_Cookies

This New Year, I’m trying something different: I’m not going to beat myself up over eating too many sweets during the holidays. You shouldn’t either.

Usually on January 1 I think about all I indulged in over the last several weeks with remorse. Even when it was happening, I anticipated the remorse. I drank eggnog with gnawing unease, knowing I would regret it later. Each holiday treat was consumed with some guilt and anxiety that my pants wouldn’t fit by the end of whatever Christmas party I was attending. A cookie could steal my joy a little. The second cookie ran off with it completely.

Not all women are like this, I know. Some of you eat dessert and you’re all, “Whatever, it’s a cookie.” But if you’re like me, food has not been simple for you in a long time. You have a calorie calculator in your head and you keep a running tab on how many days you’ve exercised that week. You think twice about everything you put in your mouth. Food is emotional, it’s either comforting to indulge in followed by regret and guilt later, or it’s too terrifying to taste and you skip it altogether.

I remember my skinniest year. I had a ridiculous amount of control over what I ate. It’s what I thought about most of the day. I fell asleep at night hoping I hadn’t consumed too much and thinking about what I would eat the next day and how I would avoid all the unhealthy stuff.

When I look back on it, Christmas during that year o’ skinny was so sad. I was home in Texas at my parents’ house, which is always overloaded with edible gifts by the time I arrive. I assessed everything in sight and decided that each night I would allow myself one or two pieces of chocolate after dinner.  It was a hungry Christmas. And although I looked “great” and hadn’t gained an ounce by January 1, I would rather my head and heart never be in a place like that again. It was dark. I lived under the deception of my own control.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar, or you’re experiencing it now. Recent memories of the holiday dessert table haunt you. You are mad at yourself, you don’t like what you see in the mirror and above all, you feel shame. In attempt to rectify, you are now trying to set a really drastic resolution to make up for the damage you did. But you are already afraid you won’t follow through with it.

If this sounds familiar, you’re in bondage. You’re a slave to your appetite and body. It seems healthy from the outside, but the reality is it’s not normal or freeing to care so much about a few Christmas cookies. I know this because a counselor, close friends and smart books have told me so over the past few years.

Anxiety and guilt are strong emotions, so associating them with food gives something that was meant to fuel us, that was meant for us to delight in, much more power than was ever intended for it.

Many articles and blog posts about the “New Year-New You” are simply adding to this overwhelming feeling of body shame. I want this post to be different. I want you feel absolved of the guilt and regret you feel now after having eaten everything in front of you over the past couple of months. And if you’ve been constricting and restraining from the good stuff, I want to give you permission to indulge in the leftovers. It’s ok. Really, it is. You’re not going to die. You’re not going to gain 40 pounds overnight. ‘Twas a season of celebration, and it’s not too late to attend the party.

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Going Home and the Hills that Greet Me

A weekend spent in the city I grew up in is always a string of hours spent remembering the things I had forgotten about home. This time it was the weather so characteristic of a south Texas summer. The dry heat and triple digit temperatures were something I took for granted until recently. I say took for granted because blistering hot and desert dry summers are truly a unique gift, only realized once you move somewhere like Tennessee that seems to have endless rainy summer days and a humidity that actually makes my body swell when I leave the house. Suddenly the jeans that fit perfectly four seconds ago, are snug and my skin is sticky in a way that makes me avoid brushing shoulders with others.

Texas heat and sun framed my whirlwind of a weekend trip this time. Despite the lack of human activity outdoors, I wanted to spend as much time as possible dripping in the air that’s mere feel transported me to summers of childhood and adolescence.

With loyal and understanding family, I trekked to a trail typically buzzing with runners and cyclists and walkers. We were the only car parked at the trailhead, of course.

Trailhead

Yes, that is an eliptigo, in case you were wondering.

It was noon and pushing 100 degrees. Any sane San Antonioan was inside protected by their air conditioning units. Not us, we were walking the dry trail, cut out by dry trees and dry grass every step of the dry way. And I did not feel tired, nor overheated, nor desperate to be back inside once I re-discovered the heat of that noon sun. No, the thing I felt most was comforted and comfortable. I began to remember things I had forgotten. Things that had happened in similar temperatures during Augusts from years ago:

-floating on tubes in the Guadalupe River, the water line so low in places we had to stand up and walk half the way, carrying our tubes over our heads and rocks cutting the bottoms of our feet

-self-inflicted sunburns, deep red due to my reluctance to get out of the water and reapply, and due to my Irish ancestry that blessed me with fair skin

-waking up early for the first day of volleyball two-a-days, preparing to be in pain for the next two weeks before school and season started

Visiting home in the summertime again after so many summers away, made my once normal, regular south Texas upbringing a well of memories in a place suddenly magical with its steam rising off the asphalt in the afternoon after a surprise rain attack that lasted approximately 14 minutes. Fourteen minutes of rain is a most welcome surprise for a city that sees it and feels its relief far too sporadically. My mom and a few others in the restaurant even applauded when it started.

Water and everything it is for us and does for us can only be truly appreciated in a city like San Antonio, in an area like south Texas. The hill country, we call it. Though the hills are low compared to many others and on them the grass is a light brown and the trees struggle, these hills are my favorite. That trail carved by the dryness might even be my favorite type of beauty, not for its aesthetic qualities but for the backdrop that it provided a childhood of more joy than is typical for many children, with its share of confusions and mess-ups and heartaches of course.

Growing up I would look at those hills from my rooftop on nights I was thrilled to be alone with time to think, on nights with friends when we “discovered” a new constellation and named our secret club after it, on another night when we spied on my sister and her boyfriend and I wandered for a long time what it be like to have one. And on a night when I finally did have one and we sat on the rooftop together and I somehow knew that would probably be the first and last time we did.

Those dry hills surviving the summer in such a triumphant way greeted me as I returned just a few days ago, as the old and mature adult that I am now. But those hills know, they know more than anyone or anything that I’m still Andrea, the 13-year-old spending too much time alone on the roof thinking about things she didn’t understand then and still, for the most part, doesn’t. And the real beauty in those hills is not a plethora cedars but their steadiness. That they don’t leave. And that they are always there when I come back.

2 Comments

Filed under Family, Traveling Local, Uncategorized

Lessons for a 13-Year-Old

We are taught a lot of things at age 13 in churches and at our youth groups. I remember nights around the campfire at church camp that were profound and talked about Jesus in a way I hadn’t thought about him before. I remember hearing that who I was was in Christ and not in whether or not boys liked me or what I looked like. Those were the lessons I remember being driven home the most. Because, as I know now, a girl’s worth is one of the hardest fought battles in her lifetime. Our youth leaders knew this, so we talked about it lots.

This weekend I traveled to Seattle to watch my big sister speak at a conference called Revolve. It’s a speaking and concert tour for girls ages 13-18, 6th to 12th grade. I’ve gone to Revolve to see Jenna four of the five years she’s spoken on the tour. Each year, about ten minutes into her talk I always feel this strange mix of fandom-“wow, that girl is cool and knows what she’s talking about”-and proud sister-“wow, that’s my blood up there, speaking truth.” And each year I learn as much from her talk, and others’, as the teen girls who bought tickets to the event.

Anthem Lights at Revolve

Anthem Lights performing at Revolve

But this year I learned extra. It was like the words spilling over the edge of that stage in that auditorium were heavier and whacking me in this almost annoying way. Because I knew it wasn’t new. People had been reading those scriptures to me and over me for years but I was feeling them deeply again and for the first time.

It makes me wonder, what does it take? Seriously what? For these lessons to stick once and for all? And to be so sticky they can never be scraped off? How do I keep it on me? How do I make sure it stays on the girls in the youth group I volunteer with? I see it bouncing off of them all the time, as much I try to put it back on nice and neat.

For truth being what it is—singular, God-breathed and, well, true—it is incredible how resistant our spirits are towards it and how thirsty they are for it. I’m dying of thirst, but don’t give me water, but give me water, but don’t.

the girls backstage

Backstage with Jenna (middle back), my mom (arms around my waist) and little sister (front right) and some of the other speakers/friends on the tour–Christine Caine, Kari Jobe and Christa Black. OMG

I think confessing and recognizing our thirst is a continuous, conscious effort. I guess the 8th grader sitting behind me at Revolve is just as in need as I am. In fact, I feel needier now than I did at that age. Even though I feel like I should “get” it by now. But believing Christ and comprehending grace is not a one-time event on your knees; it’s a lifetime of “getting” it. If we got it all right now in one moment, we would probably swell up with too much knowledge of the beauty of truth—think blueberry girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, rolled away quickly to avoid explosion.

We just can’t handle it all at once. But we would die without it in small doses.

9 Comments

Filed under Asking the Hard Questions, Family

The Houses We Build

My balcony

my new balcony

I moved again, into a place that this time is mine. I own it. The whole thing. Both bedrooms, the kitchen, the balcony, all of it. The fridge and washer and dryer and everything else in the laundry closet and the cabinets. That is a lot of stuff to fall under my possession so suddenly.

Since I’ve moved in, I’ve become a little, or maybe a lot, obsessed with making it look good. Exactly the way I want it. I care about it all. The colors on the wall, the brass hardware (gross), at which position this lamp should be on this table and how the chair in the corner is angled. Now that I own something, I want it to reflect me accurately. And I especially want the giant mural over the fireplace in tribute to the great state of Tennessee gone asap, as well as the faux-painted marble columns in the dining room. No, I’m not making either of those things up.

A few days ago, I spent all day working on my balcony. Several hours spent working on about 20 square feet of space. I got pretty carried away and looked at the clock just in time to get ready for my friend’s birthday party.

Why am I doing it? Pouring myself into project after project, corner after corner of each room– why do we care so much about our houses? I say “we” when I may be in the minority, but I know there are others of you out there: you nesters, decorators, shoppers, ottoman-scavengers, just like me. It makes me wonder what we’re decorating and arranging and re-arranging, what we’re actually making look nice.

I’m no psychologist but I did take one semester of psychology my freshman year of college so you should probably write this down: I think when we rustle about in our homes, setting them up just so, we are wishing we could do that with ourselves and maybe even believing we are doing that with ourselves. We wish that inside of our souls, in the dark parts, we looked as nice as our freshly painted kitchens with the silent-shut drawers. If we cannot create perfection within our confused and sinful selves, we strive for it within the houses we build.

I’ve seen it in my condo obsession and I’ve seen it in my interactions with others. I like to know the right things to say to whom and when. The things that will make me look good and, above all, make that person like me. If I don’t know the right thing to say then I try really hard to figure it out, and if I can’t, I’m lost until I can. The work is tiring and endless. The work of perfectionism.

When I looked at the time after working so hard on brainstorming what type of hanging plants to purchase for my balcony, I had to tell myself, “Just quit. The work could always keep going. You have places to be. Take a break.” I was speaking truth to myself. The work of perfection is never-ending; there is always more to do, and I wonder what places it is preventing us from being.

4 Comments

Filed under Solving Life's Mysteries

Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? Part II

unrequited love

A little over two years ago I wrote a post entitled Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? It is consistently my most-read post. When I visit my handy dandy WordPress dashboard, that tells me I haven’t written a blog post in months and 14 people viewed it last Tuesday, I see that one of the most common search terms bringing people to English Lessons is a variation of that question: Why do I love someone who doesn’t love me back?

This has fascinated me for these past two years. People Google that. A lot of people Google that. Unrequited love is a mystery we are asking a search engine to solve for us. I think I get why. Loving someone who doesn’t seem to return our feelings is painful, and when God doesn’t make the pain go away when we ask Him to, we ask Google. And then we land in places like my blog that do not wholly answer the question or heal your pain, but they do make us feel less alone. The power of this, this realizing your problem is shared by many others, can not be underestimated.

Two years ago my answer to the posed question was that this type of love mirrors the Gospel, and we can find solace in that and the fact that sometimes we just love people we shouldn’t and we can’t help it. I talked about my dad making me feel better by telling me, “You can’t help who you love.” Now that I’ve seen how many people responded to that post, needed to read that post, I realize that maybe my dad’s statement was so helpful because he was using the plural “you.” He wasn’t saying, “You, Andrea, are unique and can’t stop loving the person that broke your heart.” He was saying that none of us can stop loving the people we don’t have business loving. And that communal element helps heal us and give us what we need: the strength to move on or the strength to persistently love the unloveable.

I wish I had learned more about this subject over the past two years and had more to say right now. I wonder at how little clarity I’ve gained and how cloudy it remains. But here it is, what Google has to offer you as a result of your search. I hope you’re encouraged and I hope you come back in two years for Part III, where you’ll see that I’ve managed to learn even less about this stuff.

5 Comments

Filed under Asking the Hard Questions

In 2013, I Will Run

running

Running is not exactly a New Year’s resolution for me. I’ve been running regularly for about 11 years. I’m not fast. I’ve never run a full marathon. I don’t do sprint training or wear pretty Lululemon running clothes. But I know running’s rhythm. My body knows it. It’s familiar: slip on running shoes, turn on iPod, lock the door behind me, feet hit pavement, I’m off. I hate the first five minutes then before I know it, more minutes have passed and I’m circling home.

I know running.

I spent New Year’s Eve with friends who know me well and who I know well. A few of us couldn’t say we were the biggest fans of our 2012 and breathed a small sigh of relief when midnight rolled around. We huddled up with our champagne and vowed to look forward.

In the grand scheme, our lives are pretty wonderful, whether it’s the year 2012 or another one. But there are things that can keep a year from being your best, and it was nice to be in the company of those dear to me who agreed we should warmly embrace January 1, 2013.

And on January 1, 2013, I found myself hungering for a good run while I traveled from Austin to San Antonio to Nashville. Sometimes it’s my body that hungers for a run, and sometimes it’s my soul.

So I am confident many days in 2013 will contain a solid half hour of running ahead, even if I’m having a hard time looking ahead. It will whip my eyes in the direction they need to be looking. For if my feet are moving forward, my head will eventually have to also, right?

I’m ok with this not really setting a resolution thing. I’m focusing on the basics, clinging to a familiar routine.

It’ll be good.

5 Comments

January 3, 2013 · 9:20 am