I read a lot of upbeat blog posts, articles, shared/pinned quotes about self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. I even pin or share a few myself.
They sound good. They inspire me for a few seconds. The smarty-pants ones make me smile or chuckle.
But they don't last.
I taught college composition for nine years. Not a semester went by without one of my classes writing an advertisement analysis paper. They would take a list of terms and using their critical eye, dissect a chosen print ad, pointing out all the ways the advertiser attempts to sell a product.
This is not easy for many students to do at first. They have a hard time imagining that an advertiser uses everything from color, to eye gaze, to orientation of the image, to props, to text to manipulate and entice the consumer.
But the more ads we examine a class and in small groups, the students begin to see the truth. That the advertiser doesn't have our best interest at heart. The goal is always to sell something, to sell a lot of it, and keep us coming back for more.
The students also discover the contradictions.
I've always been disgusted by Dove and their "real women" beauty campaigns. Dove will feature a "real woman" (or usually a line up of real women) who are curvy, yet have not an ounce of cellulite, who advertise "skin firming" cream.
The skin firming cream they don't actually need...but actually do need? Huh?
The contradictions in society are never ending. All the stories on the racist rants coming from famous white people (ahem, Paula and Mr. Sterling) and murders of young Black boys, but the Lupita is our most beautiful person and what is Kerri Washington wearing this week?
I've thought a lot about the struggles my children (and I, as their parent) face. Almost everywhere we look, my kids aren't represented, an if they are, they are almost always represented inaccurately or stereotypically.
The odds aren't in their favor, because of their hairstyles (ahem, school dress codes, what what?), because of their range of skin tones, because of their race and sex. There is a never-ending media reel that not only plays on the TV, but resonates in my heart, leaving my mind restless, my soul aching for justice and equality and opportunity.
And I sometimes get really overwhelmed. How am I going to combat all that tries to bring my children down? How will they make it? Am I enough for them?
Yo, self. Take in this truth: I cannot combat it all, they will struggle, and I am not enough for them.
The feel-good messages of empowerment and esteem and confidence and I-can-do-anything attitude are fleeting. They don't last. They come and go. They contradict themselves.
Lately God has gently whispered to me, when I become consumed with worry and distracted by true stories of defeat, injustice, and prejudice, that any time we look to anything but God for our worth, esteem, and confidence, we will come up short. It will slip through our fingers like sand.
The Bible is clear:
John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Proverbs 31:30: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised."
Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
My heart is heavy with the loud evils that infest and infect our society and loom over families of color: racism, colorism, sexism. I'm bothered by the increasingly popular use of the word thug. I'm bothered by all the murders of young black boys. I worry that just because Lupita is People's Most Beautiful, that there are voices much louder than a celeb magazine who seek to squander dark sisters like my middle daughter.
I seek out the positives and rejoice in them. I love reading For Harriet on a daily basis. And MyBrownBaby. And hearing about Because of Them, We Can. And viewing the photos on We Are The 15 Percent. And reading Essence and Ebony. And filling my home and my kids' minds with books on black history. And celebrating fantastic and diverse musical artists like Darius Rucker, and LeCrae, and Jamie Grace, and Ella Fitzgerald. And encouraging my children in their relationships with fellow African Americans.
I love black culture and black history. I love my children. And I want them to be proud of who they are, celebrate their blackness, and feel confident, empowered, and valued.
I'm trying really hard to do the right things in the right time.
Yet I also find myself going back to the place of helplessness, confusion, anger, and frustration. Why can't the world love our family for who we are? Accept my children as children, full of potential and creativity and hope? Why will my son grow up in a world where he's seen, by default, as suspicious, angry, and rebellious?
Because this world is really jacked. Messy. Easily angered. Slow to forgive. Slow to progress.
And our family is an anomaly. We puzzle people. We make others questions their history, their beliefs, their attitudes, their words. We are game-changers, trailblazers, subversive, strange.
And if I'm going to wait on "the world" to love us, accept us, encourage us, or empower us...I'll be waiting forever.
So here's what I know for sure:
Our value comes from the fact that despite all our messiness, Jesus died for us. And not just us, but every. single. person.
We can accept this or reject this.
We can spend our energies fighting God and the truth. Or we can embrace it and thrive in it.
Just because we love God and He loves us, doesn't mean we will be free of tribulation. But it does mean we have the most powerful, unshakable foundation that can withstand any storm.
I'm going to build on that. I'm going to teach my children that they are divine and special and wonderful because they were created by someone who loves them without condition.
The other day, my daughters wanted a "mint chocolate" (York), but there was only one. So my oldest broke the York in half, though the halves weren't even. One side was much larger than the other. She looked at both halves and I could see her hesitating. Which half would she hand her sister?
I asked her to hand her sister a piece.
With tears in her eyes, she handed Baby E the bigger half.
And the tears fell.
And we talked about it. That doing the right thing, the unselfish thing, doesn't always feel good. Doing the right thing doesn't always feel good in the immediate. But what is right doesn't change based on our feelings in that moment of decision.
It's tough for me, as a mom of three littles, to constantly redirect us back to God and the value we have in Him. The bigger half is easier and more pleasant to keep; it's more enticing for sure. At least in that moment.
But the right thing to do is relish in the thing that appears, by the world's standards, to be less significant.
When we hold on to the wrong things, when we think that first and foremost, we need to "find ourselves" in anything or anyone outside of the One True King, it will fail. Every single time.
It all starts with God. It all rests in God.
All things can be done in God...
who strengthens me.
And my children.