I am blessed to have wonderful nieces who range in age from a baby to teenagers. As I think of what girls go through with regard to self image and worth, my heart aches for them. My feelings are heightened when I think of all the new types of media with which they will be bombarded--telling them that they are too dark skinned or too light skinned, too fat or too skinny, too tall or too short, and that their features are too small or too big. I want all of them to know that they are precious inside and out. I want them to know how deeply they are loved and treasured by God and by all of us. I want them to know that they are beautiful, and that their uniqueness makes them beautiful. I want them to know that they are far more than what is on the outside and that cultivating inner beauty is a far more lasting and meaningful investment than obsessing on what is on the outside. I want them to feel the kind of confidence that gives them freedom to be themselves, to love lavishly without being weighed down by fear or insecurity, to be true to their ideals, to respect themselves, to ask questions and learn, to treat their hearts and their bodies with wisdom, and to pursue dreams big and small. I want them to know that we believe in them and will always be here to cheer them on. This is my prayer.
These thoughts are the inspiration for the children's story below. I wrote it in honor of my nieces and it is dedicated to them.
Asha pushed open the front door, dragging her backpack on the floor behind her. Mama’s face lit up at seeing her dear little girl after her first day of kindergarten. But quickly, Mama’s smile faded. “Asha, what is wrong?” Mama said. Mama’s words triggered the pool of tears in Asha’s eyes to spill one by one down her soft brown cheek. “Mama, I’m not pretty,” whispered Asha. Mama could not believe her ears! How could her sweet little Asha believe such a terrible thing! Soon tears started to pool up in Mama’s eyes too. Mama kneeled down, wrapped her arms tightly around Asha, and stroked Asha’s curly dark hair. “Asha, why would you think such a terrible thing?” Mama asked gently. Asha looked up at Mama’s clear blue eyes. Mama’s golden eyebrows always crinkled when she was worried. “Mama, today Teacher read us a story about a Pretty Princess with silky golden hair and clear blue eyes like yours.” Asha twirled a piece of Mama’s shiny hair between her fingers. “And then at recess, some girls asked me to play Pretty Princess with them. Sarah got to be the Pretty Princess because she has silky golden hair and clear blue eyes.” Asha buried her face into Mama’s shoulder. “Mama, why can’t I have silky golden hair and clear blue eyes like yours and Sarah’s and the Pretty Princess?” Mama sighed. “Oh, my sweet Asha.” Mama said. “Let us go for a walk.” Mama sang softly ask she took Asha’s little hand in hers and opened the front door. Out they walked. Mama and Asha walked down the steps, through their yard, past the white fence, onto the sidewalk, across the street, into the park, and onto the trail in the woods. The slight chill of fall made their faces pink. Their boots tapped on the ground as they stepped and the branches above them rustled in the wind. Suddenly, Mama stopped. “Shhh” she told Asha quietly. “Look!” Asha’s eyes darted in the direction that Mama’s finger was pointing. “What, Mama?” Asha whispered, craning her neck to see what caught Mama’s eye. “There, behind that tree,” Mama said. “The horses!” Just behind the tree was a field, and in the field were four horses—two smaller ones and two bigger ones. Asha loved horses and the way their manes danced in the wind. Mama exclaimed, “Oh, Asha, see how beautiful they are! One is white like the snow in the mountains we hike in winter. One is brown like the bark on the tree you love to climb in the spring. Another is red like the fire that burns in the campfire we build in the summer. And the last one is black like the night sky we watch from our porch on a crisp fall night”. Asha watched in wonder. Mama asked, “Asha, which horse is pretty?” Asha looked at the white one. How she loved hearing the white snow crunch under her feet as she hiked in the woods with Mama and Papa! Then she looked at the brown one. How she loved climbing on the rich brown bark of her favorite tree in the spring time! Then she looked at the red one. How she loved sitting around the campfire watching the flickering red flames in the summer time! Then she looked at the black one. How she loved cuddling in Papa’s lap in the fall, as they sat on the porch and counted the stars in the black shiny night! “Mama!” cried Asha. “I love them all!” Mama kneeled down and held Asha’s face in her hands. “Asha, your hair is dark like the shiny black night sky. Your hair is curly like the waves that crash onto the shore. Your eyes are deep like the rich chocolate we sip. Your skin is brown like the toasty smooth sand that warms our feet at the beach. Your voice is sweet like the song of the birds that wake us up each morning.” Asha listened to Mama with amazement and thought to herself, “Could it really be true?” Mama continued, “And Asha, like the horses, princesses come in every size and color!” And then Mama leaned in really close and said, “Asha, do you know what makes someone the most beautiful?” “What Mama?” Asha asked, eager to know. Mama grabbed Asha’s hands. “Using your hands to share with your neighbor. Using your eyes to see the lonely people around you. Using your mouth to smile with gratitude. Using your voice to speak the truth with love. Using your arms to work hard. Using your brain to think deeply. Using your feet to run to the aid of someone in need”. Asha looked at Mama. Mama was the most beautiful person Asha had ever seen. And it was true, Asha had seen Mama do all of these things! Mama stood up with Asha’s hand snuggly tucked into hers. They turned back towards home. Asha looked up at the sky, watching it fade from blue, to orange, to purple, to pink, and then to black. She pondered the words Mama spoke to her in the woods. The next day at school, Teacher read a story about a princess in a far away land whose hair was as dark as the night. At recess, Asha saw Sarah crying. Asha ran over to Sarah and put her arm around her. “Sarah, what is wrong?” Asha asked her friend. Sarah asked Asha, “Why can’t I have hair as dark as the night?” Asha hugged Sarah tightly, just like Mama had hugged her the day before. “Oh, Sarah,” Asha said. “Let’s go for a walk….”