Saturday, 26 May 2012

Reflecting Our Faith

Source for this image here.

"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works
". (1 Timothy 2: 9 - 10).

What beautiful warm weather we are enjoying here at the moment!  There is a slight breeze which makes it perfect for being outside - so that is what we have done today!  We visited Grandmama Bear and enjoyed sitting in her pretty garden, and then we walked into the town so that we could do a little shopping there.  While we were there, we went into one of the big department stores to get something for Little Bear, and afterwards, she and I looked at all the different scented toiletries on display in that store.  There were some really beautiful ones - all very attractively packaged with lovely botanical drawings of the plants and flowers they were scented with.  Imagine how delighted we were when Papa Bear offered to buy us some!  We chose rose scented bath creme and talc to match - and oh, they are just delicious!  Little Bear and I are very much looking forwards to enjoying them when we have our baths this evening.  Thank you Papa Bear!  You do spoil us!  He spoiled himself and Cubby Bear too, by buying them a new piece of kit for when they go fishing next weekend, so we were all very happy indeed when we returned home!

One of the nice things about the warm weather is being able to wear some of my pretty cotton dresses and skirts again after having spent the last few months in my darker, heavier garments.  Mind though, I like them too - and by September I shall be looking forwards to wearing them again as well - but by now I am well ready to leave them in the wardrobe and wear my lighter clothes instead!  Most of my dresses and skirts come from thrift stores.  I did use to make a lot of clothes (mostly for myself and Little Bear - shirts for the menfolk are not so easy to do, as the tailoring needs to be very accurate, though I did - and still do - knit for them) and I do plan to make some more - Papa Bear picked out some pretty dress patterns and fabric for me not long ago, but at the moment the vast majority of my wardrobe consists of manufactured clothes, though not bought necessarily from the store on the label.

I have 3 new dresses to wear this summer - and 2 of these are in fact new.  Papa Bear bought them a couple of months ago, but it hasn't been warm enough until now to wear them!  Today I am wearing one of them, which is dark blue with a pink, turquoise, yellow and white floral pattern on it.  It has short sleeves and a sweetheart neckline trimmed with blue ric-rac.  I like it very much - and it feels lovely and fresh when I wear it!  Papa Bear likes it too!   I love to feel pretty and feminine in my dresses, and can't imagine feeling the same way in a pair of jeans or shorts - but it isn't that way for every woman.  At this time of year, you can see people dressed in just about anything - some even look as if they are wearing nothing but their underthings, and girls far younger than Little Bear seem quite content to walk around in public dressed this way without any concern for the image they are projecting to other people.  It frightens me that as a society we have become so careless about the way we look - and that no one seems to think that it matters very much.  But does it?

"Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
" (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20).

It does matter very much how we dress.  In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is saying in the passage above that we must honour God with our bodies.  This means outside, as well as in - we must take care of ourselves physically, and what better way to demonstrate this, than by paying attention to our appearance?  Of course, I am not talking about vanity here - but about dressing modestly and appropriately, in a way that does not tempt or encourage impure thoughts by others and which also demonstrates our willingness to reflect the Holiness of the Spirit that dwells within us.   If we dress in a way that honours God, then we make ourselves a visible witness to others - and that's why it's important that we do care about how we look - it is part of our duty as God's servants - and it's also our duty, as wives and mothers, to ensure that we demonstrate our understanding and willingness to conform to this, that we might serve as a role model to our daughters (Titus 2: 3-5).

But oh, how difficult it can be!  It seems to me as if there are two main ways in which we women fail to honour God through our appearance.  Firstly, by dressing in an impure and immodest way, revealing the shapes of our bodies and our flesh through our clothes, and secondly, by failing to give enough attention to our appearance, so that we look sloppy, or frumpy, and unattractive.  I've posted previously about the need for us to dress modestly, so that we honour our Father God - and our husbands too.  Today I am going to write about the need to pay attention to our appearance and dress attractively - for these very same reasons.
There are several factors that contribute to us allowing ourselves to lose the way when it comes to our appearance.  When our children are young, it is so difficult to find the time to set aside to consider our own needs.  We prioritise the needs of our family first, instead, and we get relegated - like my winter clothes at the back of the wardrobe - so that we're forgotten about!  There always seems to be something more important to be concerned with instead of how we look - and finding enough time to spend getting our hair straight, applying a little make-up - even ironing our clothes and putting together an outfit that matches - seem like impossible goals when there are so many other more immediate pressures.  But it should not be this way.  I know this is how it could easily have been for me - but somehow, there was some wee flicker of motivation that burned deep within me - partly love for our Father God, and partly love for my husband - that made me want to make sure that each and every day, I presented myself to him anew as a gift - the same gift that he had taken ownership of, on our wedding day.  That way, I knew (though I didn't even think it consciously) I would be honoring him - and therefore, God.  So I worked hard to make this possible.  It wasn't always easy, but knowing how much he appreciated my efforts gave me enough motivation to keep at it. 

 These are some of the things that I've found have helped when you are short of time - and probably energy too - to give attention to yourself.

Keep it simple - it is much easier to put together attractive outfits if you only have a small base wardrobe to choose from - in a few colours that all complement each other.  Over the years that you put together your wardrobe you'll know which colours work best for you (I suit pastels and softer colours rather than very deep or bright colours).  Use these as your basis for most outfits, and vary the details, such as scarves, jewellery or shoes.  If you stick to a basic pallette of colours that you like, these will become "your" colours, and everyone you know will come to associate you with them - which will mean that whenever you are given clothing as a gift, you know it will suit you!

Always do your hair - even if you really don't feel like it, I promise that it will make you feel one hundred times better, if you do.  If it is really troubling you to find the motivation to do this, why not try buying yourself a new hair trimming, or a different style?  Even a simple plastic or fabric hairband worn with clean, well brushed hair, will look lovely, and like you have taken some care with your appearance.  I find keeping a small handbag-sized hairbrush available with me means that I can tidy up my hair when I'm at home as often as I like just with a few quick brushes, so it always means I'm reasonably well groomed!  Keep a few pretty hair clips or other trimmings in a place that's easy to get to, and then you can dress up your hair in minutes whenever you need to.

Jewellery - yes, we are not to wear too much (1 Peter 3: 3-4), but a little (especially if it something your husband gave you) will also make you look as if you have spent time on yourself.  Again, if you are really short on time, only make available a few items, and rotate these - or do as I do, and mainly wear gold, which I don't actually ever remove, even for bed.   A pretty, dainty watch, bracelet or chain may be all you want to wear - but this will be enough!  Or have some signature items that you always wear, as I do - you'll probably find that your family may then contribute to your collection quite unexpectedly, when you have a special birthday or anniversary!

Make-up - likewise, we mustn't paint ourselves so we look like pantomime dames!  But a little lip gloss and some mascara take a few seconds to apply, and do make all the difference.  I'm quite pale, so I always make sure to have a little blusher on, even if nothing else.  My whole make-up routine doesn't take very long at all, and I always wear the same make-up as I have a very pared-down make-up bag, but I make a point to wear some, every day.  At the very least just a dab of lipstick!

Talking of routines, having a grooming routine really helps to buy you some time to devote to yourself.  I know (because I felt this way, and still do, sometimes) that it's easy to feel that it is somehow wrong to concentrate on yourself, when your family's needs are more important.  But I promise that if you do give yourself some time, you will feel so much better for it, that your family will benefit from this positively too - so see it as time invested in you for them, and that way it will be a little easier.  I tend to set out my clothes for the next day the evening before - just as I am going to bed (Papa Bear also does this too as it saves him time in the mornings).  I may need to check the weather forecast first!  But if my outfit is ready to put on when I get up in the morning, it makes me feel as if I am organised already, before my day has really even started!  I do everything in the same order - which means that if I get interrupted, then I know exactly where to pick up from and what else still needs to be done.  I've always been in the habit of rising before the rest of the family, and this time to myself is really valuable.  I know it's difficult - and I only succeed in this by going to bed very early, but it means that I feel as if I am starting off the day on the right foot, and therefore my mind is calm and my heart is happy as I begin my day. 

The evenings may be a better time for you to buy yourself some time, and this is when you can take the opportunity to really pamper yourself. Once your children are in bed asleep (I can't stress highly enough how their routines are as important as yours - if you don't have schedules for your children, then you will never be able to organise yourself - this is the first thing we wives need to think about, when we are planning our days!) then you can use the evening to pamper yourself and set aside some time to do some nice things like painting your toenails, giving yourself a facial, having a workout, or even just, as I plan to do tonight, a wonderful long bath with some gorgeously scented toiletries!

These things will certainly make you feel better about yourself.  Just 5 or 10 minutes a day is all you need, and if you combine this with generally trying to eat sensibly and getting some exercise each day, you will certainly be investing in your wellbeing in a way that benefits the whole family.  Having said that, we do feel that it's important not to make an idol of your health.  It's just as damaging to your body and spirit to be too concerned with food and fitness, as it is to not care at all.  As a family, we try to have a wholesome attitude to our diet and health. We don't obsess over it, and aren't interested in cranky diet plans or food elimination regimes.  We also believe that our physical fitness should be incidental, and come from our everyday activities, rather than setting aside time to go to the gym.  For example, we walked into the town today - it took us 45 minutes, so that was our workout today!

There is another reason that some women struggle with dressing themselves in a way that honours God.  It can seem that the alternative to dressing in a worldy and immodest way is to dress like a frump - but that really isn't the case.  Some dear women seem to hesitate over wearing only long dresses and skirts because they fear that they will look less attractive to their husbands than they do in tight jeans or miniskirts.  I can confirm wholeheartedly that this isn't the case - Papa Bear certainly prefers to see me in my dresses and skirts!  But there are some things that you can do, if this is a concern of yours, to ensure you don't go down the "sack" route!

Women come in every shape and size - and we are all beautiful, as God's children.  But we do all look much better if we wear clothes that fit us well.  I'm very tiny - so it's extremely easy for me to look frumpy!  Clothes that are too large look just as unbecoming as those that are too tight.  Don't be ashamed to buy clothes in the right size for you.  If like me you find this quite difficult, for whatever reason, then this is a good motivation to sew your own!  You can make them just the right size for your personal body shape and they will look great because they are personally tailored to fit only you!   Bigger women may tend to look better in larger prints than smaller women, but I don't see why any of us should have to wear dull clothes with few patterns or textures.  Be led by what your husband likes - Papa Bear prefers my clothes to be generally in pastel florals or denims, so that is what I wear.  But your husband might have quite different ideas!  It's lovely to shop for clothes together - so if you aren't really sure what suits you, seek his opinion - you can be sure it will be right!

I also try to put my outfits together so everything matches (shoes, jewellery, handbags etc).  The exception to this is headcoverings.  My headscarves are all block plain colours - this isn't for cultural reasons, but just what Papa Bear prefers, and certainly I think this looks smarter than having a patterned dress on, and a headscarf in a different design.  That way it looks as if I've paid a little more attention to my outfit (though in fact since a lot of my clothes are of a similar colour, it takes far less effort than you might think!).

If your husband permits, wear shoes with heels, such as court shoes or wedge heels.  These will automatically make you look smarter, whatever you are wearing.  I generally tend to although I have to be careful, with my arthritic hip, just because I do feel they finish an outfit and make it look nicely put together.  There are so many different styles around - wedge heels are very comfortable, and you instantly feel smarter and more feminine when you put them on!  I can manage to wear these without causing too much trouble to my arthritis. You don't need to have lots of pairs of shoes - although in truth these days, shoes are inexpensive and so it's possible to have several in styles and colours that flatter you as well as being practical. 

It's fun to start thinking about how we can focus on making ourselves into visible witnesses for our faith - dressed to honour God and our husbands, as His servants and as Helpmeets.   Of course, it isn't just about clothes however.  The world wants us to put our bodies on show in a way which degrades and defrauds, and which does not celebrate our true femininity.  The world says that what is on the surface is all that matters - God says that it is what is in our hearts that is most important.  And when our hearts are right with Him - when we are acting through Godly motivations rather than worldly ones, our countenances will reveal this. 

"Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works" (Hebrews 10: 22-24)

Our beauty will not be skin-deep, but will be expressed outwardly, from within our hearts.  This is our true apparel - our faith.   We have a responsibility to work on this, so that our inward purity is reflected externally - for it is our duty.   If our appearance leads other people to react to us in ways that are negative or immoral, then we are at fault.  We are God's servants, and we must obey God, rather than men (Acts 5: 29), and that means dressing modestly but attractively, in a way that reflects His glory - in all its beauty and purity.  After all, to do so is to clothe ourselves with the most beautiful garment of all -

"Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price
". (1 Peter 3: 3-4).