Yes...that's a picture of 18-year-old me in a tiara.
There's a little bit of an explanatory note at the bottom of the post, in case you're curious.
I had a lot of fun last year writing the “Story Bible Moms” series. This was conceived of as a series of devotions for moms, especially of young children. I had a lot of really encouraging feedback about these devotions – from women of all ages. But when Lydia was born, something had to give, and this (among other things, like dusting and putting away shoes) fell to the wayside.
In the last several weeks, I’ve found myself thinking of what I should write about. To me, this is a sure sign that it’s time to dust off my keyboard and get back into the habit of writing something down! To clinch the deal, on the say day that I was seriously considering this, a friend told me that she just found Wee Warrens, and read through many of the posts. She especially appreciated the devotionals, she told me. So here I am, making a best effort to write some more devotionals – with some degree of regularity.
When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Esther 2:15-17 (NIV)
Our church has been reading through the Bible over the course of a year. We started in September, and have just finished reading the book of Esther. If you haven’t read the story of Esther lately, you should. It’s a fairly short book, only 10 chapters, so you could get through it in a sitting or two. But here’s a five sentence synopsis: The fickle king gets rid of his queen and needs a replacement. This turns out to be Esther (a Jew, but she doesn’t tell the king this), who basically wins a grand, kingdom-wide beauty contest, aided by shameless working of the system, being clever, and quite a bit of gumption. A plot is revealed, where the king’s right-hand man is going to kill all the Jews. Esther puts on her best dress and summons that trademark gumption, and at the risk of her life, asks the king to save her people. He does.
A few months ago, I read an article that a friend posted on Facebook. It talked about how we, as a society, talk to little girls. Our automatic response to girls is to comment on their appearance. “Well, don’t you look pretty?” “That’s such a lovely dress you’re wearing.” “What a beautiful little girl you are.”
You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Since I read the article, I’ve been hyper-aware of this kind of talk. And it’s not only directed at my daughters. I find myself using the same kind of script with other little girls that I converse with. It’s deeply ingrained. And besides, they do look pretty. They do have lovely dresses.
The author of the article argued that we should emphasize other parts of a girl’s character, and not only their physical appearance. She suggested asking little girls which book they’ve recently enjoyed reading. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? But old habits die hard.
When I read Esther, this article came to mind. Esther isn’t just the queen, she’s Miss Universe. She had the right look, the right evening gown, and said the right things during the king’s…um…interview (read: test-run in the royal night chamber). To most folks, including the king, Esther was for the most part, a pretty face. She was the poster child for “Oooohh…don’t you look pretty today in that frilly dress, Esther.”
And then she needed to stand up for something. And she did. Majorly. Enough so that there is an entire book in the Bible devoted to her story, and a holiday (complete with its own special cookies) to celebrate the amazing save of her people that Esther pulled off.
So this gives me a little hope. Because truth be told, Hannah beams when someone gives her a compliment – whether it’s on her dancing, her vocabulary, or her hair bows. And another truth is that this mama outfits her with the fancy hair bows because I want her to look pretty and girly. But the story of Esther tells us that you can be pretty and smart. You can be Miss Universe and negotiate major political deals with heads of state. These are not mutually exclusive character traits. And good thing too, because even though I’ve tried and tried to remember to ask little girls what book they’ve been reading, the first thing out my mouth is still “Gosh, I like your pink sparkle shoes!”
(And just in case you were wondering, I am in no way knocking pageants. Except maybe the “Toddlers in Tiaras” kind. But I think that the real kind, where young women use their skills – including their poise and beauty – to win scholarship and participate in philanthropic endeavors, are a good experience for girls. I participated in this kind of pageant as a teenager, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my high school and college years.)