Blue Eyes Are Better
Bumping along in a van on a tiny dirt road in Managua, Nicaragua, an intern named Mallory relayed a story about the House of Hope (a nonprofit organization that helps women and girls escape sex trafficking), where we were volunteering. Mallory told us that one night she found the girls piled in one bunk whispering and giggling.
Questioning them, Mallory learned that several of the girls had discovered discarded blue contact lenses from a recent mission team. Naïve to the concept of prescription and hygiene, the girls promptly popped them on their eyes. They desperately wanted blue not brown eyes, because when they were "in the life" customers preferred blue.
Mallory's tale reminded me of Amy Carmichael, beloved Irish missionary to India in the early 1900s who spent her life rescuing orphans destined for temple prostitution. At the bold age of three, Amy decided that she disliked her brown eyes. Taught by her mother that God was the answerer of prayer, Amy knelt by her bed and made one simple request: true-blue Irish eyes. She went to sleep with confidence, jumped out of bed the next morning, and looked in the mirror—into the same brown eyes.
While most folks hearing that story would smirk at the ridiculousness of childish prayers, I commiserated with Amy's longing and disappointment.
Eyes Are Fine, Hair Not So Good
Our struggle with self-image never lets up, does it? No matter what age, continent, or era, we dislike how the Creator put us together.
Since I was a little girl I could recite Psalm 139's poetic prose of how God is wild about the way he wonderfully wove me together. Yet sitting in the back of that van it hit me hard: I have blue eyes, but not once have I thought of them as assets, my ticket to beauty, the better color. Instead, I wanted to change my hair.
I was born with bright red, technically orange, nappy hair. Growing up in the 70s' straight hair generation, a red afro was no asset. Good Southern Baptist that I was, it never occurred to me to pray for lovely straight blonde hair or even mediocre brunette. It was much too seismic a problem.
Instead I took action. My co-conspirator little sister, Beth, and I tried many darkening and straightening tactics. Before bedtime we cajoled my frizzy tresses onto gigantic metal orange juice cans. The Conair blow dryer had only recently debuted and inventors had yet to create flatirons (top ten 20th-century invention, in my opinion). We even attempted ironing my hair on my mother's ironing board. I simply couldn't believe that God may have given me that type of hair for a reason.
Our Maker's Whimsical Brushstrokes
Amy Carmichael's blue eyes request played out differently in her adult life. Because of the risk involved in rescuing children, Amy did everything she could to blend in to the Indian culture, even darkening her fair Irish skin with coffee. Amy began to understand that the no to a three-year-old's prayer was really a yes to a remarkable life designed specifically for her.
In The Gift of Being Yourself, spiritual director David Brenner writes of the sacredness of self-acceptance, "We are all called to live the truth of our uniqueness. The results of God's creative acts are never less than original works of art. You and I are no exception."
That day with the Managuan humidity creating havoc with my hair (yes, my friends shamelessly poked fun), I grimaced. As a teenager I would have been right there with them digging through the trash for something to make me feel accepted.
When I got home from our trip, something triggered inside me. The name-calling of my youth, the "Carrot Top," "Rusty," "Woody the Woodpecker" or the one that stuck, "Red," seemed to come together in an Amy Carmichael moment. I was different, but the tenacity I learned from the teasing in addition to the GPS-like heart I had for oddballs and ruffians had made me the protector and justice seeker that I am today. The red curls were simply one of my Maker's whimsical brushstrokes.
Shortly after we returned I went to my hairdresser, Chi, who asked if I wanted to tone down the red.
I smiled and replied, "No, I'd like to show it off this time."
My friends and I are thrilled to be returning to the House of Hope next spring. And you can bet that the first story I'll teach will be about a feisty missionary named Amy who would have deeply loved them—especially their brilliant brown eyes.
Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women
Blue Eyes Are Better
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