They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.
Psalm 36:8-9

 

Let me take you on a little trip.

You receive an invitation to a huge banquet. The invitation is beautifully decorated and very personal to you. It’s just for you. It makes you feel special and loved, even though you’re not even sure who it’s from.

You check the date in your diary and accept the invitation.

As the time for the banquet draws nearer you start to prepare for it. It’s a very important occasion so you’ll need something special to wear. You go shopping and take time choosing the perfect outfit – dress, shoes, bag, accessories; or suit, shirt, tie, shoes. You really want to look your best.

When the day comes, you might go to the hairdresser’s and have your hair done. You might even have a manicure (ladies, that is…). You’ll take your time getting ready – you’ll have a shower and get dressed slowly to make sure your outfit looks as good as it can be. Guys, you’ll have a shave; girls, you’ll take time applying your make-up.

You don’t have to worry about how you’ll get there. The invitation tells you that a car will come to collect you at 7.00pm. You make sure you’re ready in good time, and at 7.00 sharp the doorbell rings. The driver greets you warmly and opens the door for you to step into the car. You don’t really understand why, but you’re being made to feel as though you’re an honoured guest at this banquet.

Finally you arrive at the location where the banquet is being held. You’re feeling apprehensive. You still don’t really know why you’ve been invited, but you do know that something compelled you to accept the invitation and to come along. Something inside tells you this is a big deal, that you just had to be here. Your palms start to get a bit sweaty. You have butterflies in your stomach – you don’t even know how you’re going to manage to eat anything, you feel so nervous. Will you even know anyone here?

How are you going to make your entrance? Will you just go in? Will you be met at the door? Will you be able to slip in quietly, unobtrusively, without making a big fuss in front of a lot of people?

The driver opens the car door for you and walks you to the door of the house. His smile is somehow reassuring, although your nerves are still there.

Your heart is pounding. You take a deep breath and knock gently at the door. Immediately it is flung open. Your host comes out and throws his arms around you. ‘I’m so glad you’ve arrived!’ he says with a huge grin on his face. ‘We’ve been waiting for you. Come in, come in.’

You’re feeling more than a little surprised. Has he got the right person? Has he mistaken you for someone else? You know you certainly don’t deserve such a welcome. You don’t know whether to feel pleased at being welcomed so warmly, or even more worried that perhaps he sent the invitation to the wrong person. Was the invitation meant for someone else? Are you even meant to be here?

You hang back, wondering whether or not to follow him. He stops, turns round and looks you straight in the eye. ‘Don’t be nervous,’ he says. The invitation was meant for you. I haven’t mistaken you for someone else. I’ve been waiting for you for years. I know exactly who you are, and I know everything about you – yes, everything. I love you so much, and I went to an awful lot of trouble to bring you here. You belong here, and I’m so glad you’ve finally arrived.’

He takes you by the hand and walks by your side along a hallway. It’s beautiful, and so peaceful. You can see a large door at the end of the corridor, and as you approach you begin to hear noises coming from the other side. It sounds like a party, and whoever is there is having a great time!

You come to the door. He pauses and looks you straight in the eye again. ‘Ready?’ he asks.

‘I’m not sure,’ you reply. ‘I don’t know what to expect.’

‘Just trust me,’ he says. We’re going to have a ball! This is a day of great celebration!’

He opens the door and leads you in, still holding your hand. You gasp at the sight in front of you. It’s a huge banqueting hall, the like of which you’ve never seen in your life. It’s absolutely beautiful. The walls are made of precious stones, and it’s drenched in bright sunshine, like a beautiful garden. The room is full of beautifully decorated tables, and people are sitting at the tables.

Running through the middle of the hall, just near you, is a river. The water is clearer and purer than any water you’ve ever seen, and somehow you just know that it is life-giving water. It will refresh you in a way you’ve never been refreshed before, and fill you with all the energy and vitality you need, for ever.

At the far end of the hall you can see a huge throne, and on it you can just make out a figure. You can’t see him properly as so much light is emanating from him – he is the source of the sunshine – that you have to shield your eyes. To the side of this throne is another, slightly smaller throne, but it’s empty, and you just know that the one holding your hand is the one who should be sitting there. That’s his rightful place, yet he stepped down from his throne because he’s so excited about your arrival and he just had to come and welcome you personally.

You’re still trying to take all of this in and make sense of it all when you become aware of voices calling your name. You look around at the people sitting at the tables. They’re laughing and joking together. They’re singing to the figure on the throne. They’re eating and enjoying the delicious food. Somehow – and you don’t really know quite how – they’re doing all three at once!

You realise that not every seat at the tables is filled – there must be more guests due to arrive. As you look around the hall you see your friends and family. They are calling you and waving to you. You can see from the look on their faces that they’re very excited to see you.

You wave back, tentatively, still not completely sure what’s going on. Your host leads you to a place at a table and says to you, ‘Here’s your place. I’ve been saving it for you.’ You look, and there’s an empty seat, where the table is laid ready, and it’s labelled with your name. He draws the chair out for you – an ornate, throne-like chair – and invites you to take your place.

He smiles at you. He smiles with his whole face, particularly his eyes. It’s a smile that says to you, ‘You’re so very special. I’ve been waiting so long for this moment and I’m so excited that it’s finally arrived. I love you so much.’

It all begins to fall into place. He’s been waiting for me. He loves me so much. He’s kept this place for me – a place at his table. He left his throne because he wanted to welcome me personally. I don’t deserve this, yet I belong here. This is my home.

He smiles even more broadly as he sees that you are now beginning to understand. He gently pushes your chair in towards the table and kisses you on the top of your head. ‘Please excuse me. Another of my guests is arriving and I want to welcome them.’

You take a deep breath and look around you once more. Your friends and family realise you need a moment and give you some breathing space – they needed it too when they first arrived. You look towards the figure on the throne. ‘Thank you,’ you whisper in your heart. ‘I know I don’t deserve this, but thank you.’

‘You’re welcome,’ you hear a voice reply. It’s not an audible voice; you hear it in your heart. ‘As I said to you just now, I went to a lot of trouble to bring you here, and I’m so glad you accepted my invitation. I love you.’

‘I love you too,’ you say in return, and you mean it in a way you’ve never meant it before. There’s a new depth to your love that you’ve never been able to experience and express before.

You smile, and sit quietly for a few minutes, trying to take it all in. Then you turn to those around you. They’re looking at you, and they have the biggest smiles on their faces. They know exactly what’s going on in your heart and in your mind, because they’re feeling it too. They felt it when they first arrived, and they’re still feeling it now – the feeling never goes away. It’s a joy beyond understanding, a peace that cannot be defined, and a love that is deeper than any love that can ever be felt.

You smile at them. ‘Hi,’ you say. ‘I’m home.’

 

Nicki Copeland
Author of Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self (http://tinyurl.com/br5yntf)
 

‘Don’t you trust me?’

I stopped and thought. How do I respond to that? I can either say yes, of course I trust you, in which case they’ll carry on doing what they’re doing, which I’m not comfortable with in case it causes an accident (nothing major, just could be messy). On the other hand, if I persist with my request that they stop, is that confirming that I don’t trust them? What effect will that have on our relationship?

In the end I came up with a fairly limp response that tried to walk the ‘Yes I trust you; I just don’t see the point of taking unnecessary risks’ line. Perhaps a little lame, but it was the best I could come up with at the time.

This question, ‘Don’t you trust me?’ is actually very manipulative. In effect, what it’s saying is, ‘You have a choice. If you want me to stop, you don’t trust me and that will have an adverse effect on our relationship. I know you don’t want that, so you’re left with the option of letting me have my own way.’

In the end I challenged the person concerned. To be honest, the whole thing was very light-hearted and a bit of fun, and it was about something so trivial I can’t even remember now what it was. I don’t think they even realised they were being manipulative. I have a very good relationship with them, so we were able to keep it light, but it raised in my mind an important thought: how often do we use our words to manipulate situations to our advantage – and how often do we do it without consciously acknowledging that we’re doing it?

Words are very powerful. We can use them to build up or to tear down. A kind word goes a long way, and can make us feel good for the rest of the day. On the other hand, words can destroy relationships if they are used carelessly, and can damage people. We can all quote the ditty ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ But this is not true. Words can do much damage, and the scars they leave often last a lot longer than physical scars,.

James tells us that ‘no human being can tame the tongue’ (James 3:8). Yes, our mouths run away with us at times. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wished I could put words that I’ve spoken back into my mouth, but it’s too late; they’re out there, and can never be unsaid.

I know I’m guilty of using words to manipulate. My prayer is that God will change me from the inside, and that what bubbles up naturally will be good, wholesome and encouraging. The first step is to be aware of what our words have the potential to do – for good and for bad – and to think twice before we open our mouths. And we need to acknowledge when we get it wrong, and do what we can to undo any damage!

So next time someone asks us, ‘Don’t you trust me?’, or next time we’re tempted to use our words to manipulate a situation, let’s stop and think. Let’s take control of our tongues and our words, and not allow them to control us and our relationships.

 

 

Lady Gaga has criticised the photograph of her that appears on the December cover of Glamour magazine, saying that’s not what she looks like when she wakes up in the morning. ‘I felt my skin looked too perfect,’ she said. ‘I felt my hair looked too soft’ (Mail Online 13 November). In effect, what she is really saying is, ‘That’s not me. That’s not who I am.’

When we hear the word ‘glamour’, a number of things probably spring to mind: beauty, elegance, A-list celebrities, expensive make-up and makeovers, and so the list goes on. For the vast majority of us (including, I suspect, many of those whom we would call ‘glamorous’), it is not a word we would use to describe ourselves.

There is much discussion these days about the way magazine photographs are airbrushed so that the final picture looks completely perfect. I recently watched a short video clip, http://www.upworthy.com/see-why-we-have-an-absolutely-ridiculous-standard-of-beauty-in-just-37-seconds, which showed an already attractive woman being photographed, and then demonstrated the process by which the image was completely transformed: her eyes were enlarged, her lips were made fuller, her legs and neck were lengthened, her skin tone was lightened, to mention but a few. She was almost unrecognisable by the end.

I have to say I really felt for this woman. How must she have felt after this experience? It would take someone with an extremely thick skin not to be affected by it.

The media is presenting an image that many people are trying, and of course failing, to live up to. They are failing because these images are not real. They are manufactured images, portraying a world that does not exist.

So what is the effect of all this? As ‘normal’ men and women (because yes, this affects men just as much as it does women), we’re left feeling that we’re inadequate, we’re not good enough. And it’s not only about what we look like; this extends to our abilities too. Whether we compare ourselves with celebrities or other people that we know, we always seem to fall short. We can’t sing as well as they do, we’re not as fast on the football field, we can’t cook as well as they do, or we don’t think we’re as intelligent as they are, and so on.

I spent far too many years of my life feeling that I wasn’t good enough, in so many ways. I tried so hard to be what I thought I needed to be in order to ‘fit’. Yet it didn’t work. No matter what I did, I still felt distinctly less than adequate. And the reason? Because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin.

Genesis 1 tells us that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God. This means he created us to be like him. Wow! ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31, NRSV). The problem is that it went wrong: the enemy planted doubt in the minds of the human beings, and they stopped listening to God.

Today we still fall into the same trap. The enemy plants doubt in our minds, and we listen. We doubt our own worth; we doubt our abilities; we doubt the love that others have for us; we even doubt God’s love for us at times. But if we stop listening to the enemy and listen again to God, what is he saying to us?

It took me a long time to realise that what God was saying to me was simply that he loves me, that I am good enough, that he loves me just the way I am. Gradually I am learning to accept myself for who I am, and to embrace the person that God has created me to be. I am learning to enjoy being unique, and am beginning to understand that God has created me to be me, and that he has a particular role for me, and only me, to play. If I don’t fill that role, it will remain empty; no one else is qualified to fill it. And if I try to fit into another role, I won’t fit.

We are all created to be unique. That in itself is awesome: think of the billions of people who have ever lived: not a single one has ever been identical to another. Even identical twins have differences, despite sharing the same DNA. I worked for a while in a playgroup many years ago, and among the children was a pair of identical twin girls. Initially I didn’t have a clue which was which, but as I got to know them, I began to notice subtle differences between them, both in their looks and in their behaviour, and I was able to tell them apart (and not only because their mum dressed them in different-coloured tights!).

God knows us and loves us all, individually, uniquely, just the way we are. Let’s listen to his voice, and believe him when he says, ‘I love you. You are beautiful, just the way you are,’ and embrace who he created us to be. Yes, we’re all works in progress – none of us is perfect, and we won’t be this side of heaven. But it’s important to remember that what the world values as beauty and perfection is very different to what God values as beauty and perfection.

My book, Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self, is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

I have read with great interest the article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23276432 about a photographer who is ‘on a mission to redefine the idea of a beautiful woman’s body.’

Jade Beall took a series of photographs of her post-pregnancy body, five weeks after her baby was born, and posted the photographs on her blog. In response, hundreds of women wanted their photographs taken too, and Beall is publishing a book in January featuring photographs of more than 70 mothers.

What’s your reaction to this? Do you find it shocking?

As a woman and a mother, my reaction is one of admiration for these women. I have to confess that I wouldn’t have the courage to put my own body on display like that.

But why? Stretch marks are a testimony to the fact that a woman has borne children. Children are a beautiful gift, so why do we go to such lengths to hide the effects that carrying them has on our bodies?

Fear. Fear of people’s reactions. Fear that people will think we are ugly. Fear that people will think that we are less than perfect. Many actresses, models and pop stars appear to bounce back to their pre-pregnancy shape very quickly. How many of us ‘ordinary folk’ can say that we were able to do the same? The media bombards us with images of the perfect body, and if we don’t feel that we are up to scratch – which, let’s face it, none of us are – we are left feeling inadequate, not good enough.

I spent many years of my life feeling distinctly less than adequate, not good enough, trying to conform in order to fit in – and not only physically. Yet it didn’t work – no matter what I did, I still didn’t feel that I was good enough. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, for many reasons.

It took me a long time to realise that I have been created to be unique, to be an individual, and that there is no one else who looks like me, who has my personality, my abilities, my ways of doing things, on the face of the earth. I tried for too many years to be like other people instead of embracing who I had been created to be, to be what I thought people wanted me to be instead of allowing myself to be me. I was unhappy, and very lonely. Because I didn’t accept myself for who I was, I couldn’t allow other people to accept me either, and I ended up pushing them away.

Fortunately that is not the end of my story. Over a long time, I gradually came to understand and embrace my uniqueness. Bit by bit I started to trust people, to let them in, to allow them to get to know the real me, and to my surprise, they actually liked me! This gave me more confidence to be myself with others, and very slowly, I began to climb out of the cage that my low self-esteem had trapped me in for so long.

I believe many women – and men – suffer from pressure to conform, pressure to be ‘acceptable’, to be the same as everyone else, or to be what they think others want or expect them to be. This pressure may come from others, but ultimately we choose whether or not to bow to this pressure. The media may suggest what it thinks is perfection, but we have a choice whether or not to accept it!

Every single person has been created to be beautiful, no matter what size or shape they are. Part of the beauty of creation is our uniqueness, our individuality. We all have different abilities, strengths, talents and skills. And our abilities and strengths have been designed to complement the abilities and strengths of others. It is no accident that some are good with numbers, some are artistic, some are sporty, some are practical, some are great cooks, some are really good at encouraging others, and so on. The list is endless.

Some may say they don’t know what they are good at. I believe everyone is gifted in some way; everyone is good at something. Think about what you enjoy doing. The chances are you enjoy doing it because you are good at it. If you really struggle to think of something, ask someone who is close to you to tell you what they think you are good at. Their answers might surprise you.

Let’s not allow others’ opinions to dictate who we think we should be. Let’s embrace who we are, warts and all, and shake off the chains that hold us down. I am beautiful. You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Nicki Copeland is a wife, mother, freelance editor and part-time Theology student. She is also the author of Less than ordinary? My journey into finding my true self. It is the story of how she was set free from low self-esteem and crippingly low confidence.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27)

How many of us truly believe that we are made in the image of God? How many of us really accept that we are part of God’s beautiful creation, that He is pleased with what he has made in us? When we consider ourselves as individuals, do we, in reality, feel that God looks upon us with pleasure?

For a long time, although I believed in my head that I was made in the image of God, I struggled to really accept it in my heart. I could only really take it on board as a generic statement – that human beings generally are made in the image of God, and that as a race we have the potential to be all that God created us to be. When it came to me personally, that was a very different story. I couldn’t see the potential that God had placed within me, and I certainly didn’t view myself as a beautiful part of God’s creation.

For many years I struggled to form real relationships of any depth, as I didn’t think that anyone would consider me worth being friends with. I felt unlovable and unloved. I was unable to accept myself for who I was, and because of this I couldn’t allow other people to accept me either. So I pushed people away, but I didn’t realise what I was doing.

It was like living in a vicious circle. In an attempt to save myself the pain of being rejected by people once they discovered who I really was, I kept them at a distance to make sure they never got close enough to find out. This meant I felt isolated and alone, which in turn reinforced my belief that I was unlovable. My self-esteem and self-confidence were at rock bottom.

And it seems that I was not alone. Research suggests that 78% of teachers think that girls suffer low self-esteem, and 51% think boys have low confidence in their body image.[1] What impact is this likely to have in the future? Based on research among women, the Future Foundation has predicted that Britain could lose around 320,000 businesswomen, lawyers and doctors, as well as more than 60 female MPs, by the year 2050, unless young women can be helped to retain confidence in their own abilities.[2]

Many people struggle with poor self-image, low self-esteem and low self-confidence. There is tremendous pressure on us to act, dress and behave in certain ways, and if we don’t fit the mould, we feel like a failure. We find ourselves trying to conform to what we think our peers want us to be, to what magazines, television programmes, social media and billboards tell us we should look like, how we should dress, how we should do our hair, what we should do, even how we should speak.

But beauty is not about what we look like, and being acceptable is not about our appearance. The person who matters, the seat of our true beauty, lies in who we are inside. ‘People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). As people, we need to hear these words and be affirmed for who we are. From there, confidence will grow.

Fortunately, my story was one of confidence reborn. By the grace of God and through the patience of a number of people I am now blessed to be able to call close friends, I began to break this dreadful cycle and build meaningful relationships. It has been a long process; indeed, it’s an ongoing one, but I can now honestly say that I am comfortable with who I am. I enjoy being me!

I felt called to write about my journey in the hope that my story would encourage and inspire other people who are struggling with the issues I wrestled with for far too many years. I hope and pray that it will enable many other people to realise that they, too, can be freed from the trap of low self-esteem and to begin to believe in themselves and in what God says about them.

Remember – Genesis 1:31 tells us that ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ That means me, and it means you! God saw you when he made you, and you are very good! He is very pleased with what He has made! Can you dare to believe him?

 

Less than ordinary? is available in paperback or on Kindle at http://tinyurl.com/br5yntf.

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[2] Research carried out by The Future Foundation. Published in the Mail Online April 2012.