Imagine a little girl, dark wispy hair, big gray eyes. She dances in a black velvet tutu across every part of her life. There is joy in the assuredness of knowing who she wants to be. More than anything, she wants to be a dancer-- a ballerina.
At age 5, she's handed a shirt. It's been so long since then, she can't remember what color it was, but she knows she slipped it on over her tutu and tried to keep dancing. The shirt is too big on her, and it turns her graceful movements into lumbering steps. The big, block lettering scrawled across the front distracts her at first.
"Big Boned" is all it says.
Over the next few years, she is handed more and more shirts. She doesn't think to remove the previous ones, just keeps layering them up.
"I don't want to be your friend."
"If you don't like it, change it."
Layer after layer, she just keeps dancing. But, to those around her, her dance looks more and more foolish as her movements are inhibited by her bulk.
At age 13, she stops trying to dance.
She receives more shirts. Gifts from people who admire her from afar, but can't handle her when they get close. Identities that she silently dresses herself in.
"One emotional outcry after another."
"Why are you like this?"
"You're always having a bad day."
"Why can't you just extend compassion like a normal human being?"
For years, she buys clothes that are too big and too dark in hopes of appearing less. She wages war on her own body for its betrayal of her. She tries to see if wasting away will make her feel smaller.
Those who know her well can see this. They hand her more shirts, trying to encourage her and remind her of who she really is.
"You're perfect the way you are."
"You could never scare me away."
"You're the smartest girl I know."
But they are shirts, nonetheless. No matter how well intentioned, the words are still something she has to either prove false or prove true. Layer upon layer on a body that is already far too large.
Things do change. They do get better. It's not the shirts those dear friends hand her that makes the difference. It's the fact that they believe what they're telling her, and they're still there. It's the new people she meets that can look past all of the layers to see that little girl with the big gray eyes who was made to dance. It's her Maker whispering in her ear...
"No one else gets to say who you are. You are Mine."
She doesn't know how many shirts she's put on over the years, but she knows that she has a choice to make. Sometimes, when she looks in the mirror, she sees grace and elegance flash across her reflection. She could spend her life peeling off and replacing layers of clothes and lies.
Or she could cut through it all and find that black velvet tutu again.
The one with the satin ribbons and tiny pink rosebuds.
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