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I Didn’t Dare to Let Myself Feel Beautiful

Written By Cassandra Yeo, Singapore

All women desire to feel beautiful. Every day, we see hundreds of advertisements for skincare, make-up, clothes and slimming treatments. Even the Bible seems to celebrate a woman’s beauty in passages such as the ones in Songs of Solomon, or when describing female characters such as Rachel (Genesis 29:17).

However, I have never dared to let myself feel beautiful.

I told myself that I didn’t want to go through the trouble of keeping up appearances. Though I kept myself neat and prim, I wore baggy clothes and dark colors. Similarly, shopping trips were only made to oblige friends, or for specific occasions like Chinese New Year where buying clothes was inevitable. It was only recently that I realized the reasons for my reluctance.

In my early teens, I was taunted and verbally bullied for my appearance by several male classmates. They laughed at my overbite, tousled brown hair, and “oversized” ears. Though they called me many different names, what hurt most was being treated as if I were less than other more attractive girls.

There was one time when my male classmates nominated and voted on the ugliest girls in class. They then took a class photograph and used a coin to scratch off the “ugly” girls’ faces in the photo. It came as no surprise to me that I was one of them. I have never felt less than a human than I did in that moment, as I was judged by nothing but my outward appearance.

Ever since then, my self-esteem has suffered, and this manifested in the way I dressed and carried myself. For many years I wore long sleeves, for fear my arms would be called fat. Likewise, I wore dark colors, so that I would not stand out in the crowd. I found a strange and perverse safety in staying invisible.

However, recently God led me to step into the industry of image consulting. My work involves equipping clients with the relevant tools and skill sets to present a stellar corporate image. At first I thought that the change was merely focused on their outward appearance, but I have since learned that the most successful changes occur when there is an inward shift in the individuals’ perception of themselves. Discovering their worth and potential is ultimately what motivates our clients to change their outward appearance.

During my first few weeks at work, my heart was constantly tugged between my personal beliefs and the appearance I was meant to keep up as a professional in the industry. While the world of image consulting celebrated beautiful patterns, shades and colors, my own wardrobe was a sea of black, grey, and blue. It felt ironic to plan courses and programs for clients when I struggled with the same issues myself.

But as I continued to grapple with these conflicting feelings, I realized being put in this industry at this time was an essential part of God’s plan in my life. He brought me into the field of image consulting, not just to provide me with a job, but rather, to heal a part of me that had been dead all these years. God was working to bless and restore the areas where I have experienced hurt. He was working for my personal growth, and opening my eyes to see beauty in a different light.

My daily work has given me opportunities to speak with industry leaders and experience my very own “image coaching” sessions, where colleagues give tips and one-on-one sessions to advise me on my dressing and posture. These experiences have allowed me to see beauty as a form of care and self-respect. The way I dress and carry myself should not be for the sake of vanity, but should reflect a deeper and more profound understanding that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14).

Whatever other people may say about me, I have confidence that comes from knowing God Himself made me. The Apostle Paul urges us to do all things for the glory of God, and surely that involves how we dress (1 Corinthians 10:31). In seeking to honor God’s love for me, my wardrobe collection has begun to change.

Greys and blacks are replaced or supplemented with shades of yellow, green, and orange. Sleeveless clothes become more frequent in appearance. Beauty products and accessories are starting to fill the gaps in my bathroom cupboard.

Initially, any time I tried wearing something different, I was afraid to look in the mirror. Yet positive affirmations from family, friends, and colleagues have helped me move from embarrassment to empowerment. This process has served to remind me that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus I should honor it, in appreciation of whom God has made me to be.

As I myself change from the inside out, my work has allowed me to help transform others both inwardly and outwardly as well. My hope is that God will continue to use me in this field to focus on identity building, and in so doing, provide emotional healing to others.

This transformation in the way I view myself and my appearance has reminded me that our God is a God of restoration, and He desires to restore and heal the deadened and hurting parts of our lives. If you’ve also experienced hurts from the past like me, will you allow God to work in your life?

When A Friend is Suspected of Rape and Murder

6 Mar 2016

I was about to turn in for the night; it was almost 11pm. As usual, I gave my phone a final check. My good friend, Linda, had just sent me a flurry of messages.

What I was about to read was horrific and heart-breaking.

The message read: “Jo . . . something big has happened in Siem Reap and the man’s photo looks like Kosal . . . Kosal is involved in a rape case . . .”

Kosal. Rape. Both words made no sense together. My head was spinning as I re-read Linda’s messages on how she had stumbled on a Facebook post shared by a few Cambodian youth we got to know during past mission trips to the country. It was accompanied by a photograph of a 25-year-old man whom we had known for six years.

When Linda plonked the Khmer text into Google Translate, amid the jumble of English words that came up, the words “rape”, “murder”, “11-year-old girl” and “Kosal” stood out distinctly. She confirmed her suspicions with one of the local church leaders: Kosal was accused of raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl.

It was as though I had received news that my friend had died. Actually, this was worse. I felt sick to the stomach and my heart started to race as I processed what I had just read. Kosal? No way. Flashes of our friend’s smiling face crossed my mind.

We had just met Kosal on our most recent mission trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. That was my fifth trip and Linda’s seventh. Everything was fine then. What could have gone so wrong in a matter of four months? What could have driven him to commit such a horrific act? How was his family dealing with this news? A deluge of questions filled my mind, but there were no answers. I wanted to reach out to my friends in Cambodia but it was too late at night. I felt utterly helpless and useless.

Sleep eluded me that night as I tossed and turned in bed. I just couldn’t believe how someone as mild and gentle as Kosal could be involved in such a heinous crime.

I had met Kosal six years ago—on my very first time to Cambodia—at a Bible study session that our mission team from Singapore was conducting for Christian youth in Pouk village in Siem Reap. Shy, polite, and unassuming, Kosal was introduced to us as the relative of one of the local leaders in the community.

The then-18-year-old was one of the few non-Christians at the session that night. He listened with rapt attention as one of my teammates shared the gospel with him through a translator. That night, he asked many questions which my friend patiently addressed. Months later, we heard that he had received the Lord and had been attending English classes regularly.

Subsequently, we saw Kosal every time we went back to visit and conduct programmes for the youth and children. He had assumed the role of English teacher in the village school and was serving actively and regularly in church. Thanks to his increasing proficiency in the English language, we were able to communicate with him more. He was still shy, but had learned to crack a joke or two and poke fun at our attempts to speak in Khmer.

Meeting him again on our most recent trip was like seeing an old friend. It warmed our hearts to see how much he had progressed. He had become one of the key youth leaders in Pouk village and was popular and well-regarded in the community. During class, his students would actively participate and after class, they would gather around him to play. It was evident how much he cared about them and how much they enjoyed his presence.

That’s what made the news so shocking. Why would Kosal commit rape and murder—much less of his own student, as we later found out? Kosal had repeatedly insisted he was innocent, but the local leaders, who had been updating us regularly, told us that the police apparently had sufficient evidence to prove that he was the perpetrator.

In the days to come, we would learn that Kosal, who was also the girl’s neighbor, was a suspect because he was at the scene of the crime. That day, the girl’s aunt had just come back from the market to find her hanging from a window by a television cable in what appeared to be a suicide. Kosal, who heard the aunt’s cries for help, had run over to help cut the cord. The police arrived at the scene shortly after. After examining her body, they concluded that the victim was raped and subsequently murdered. No details were shared at that point as to how the police had then determined that Kosal was the perpetrator.

All we knew was that he had been arrested on the spot and that a DNA test was to be conducted to determine whether or not he was guilty. The results would be ready only in 10 days, we were told. If he was to be found guilty, he would most likely face life imprisonment.

So we waited. But it wasn’t 10 days. It would be some 10 weeks later before we finally knew the truth of the matter.

Throughout that time, Kosal was kept in prison and we could do nothing but pray and ask the leaders for updates. They had been visiting him in prison regularly and Kosal had maintained his innocence. I thought about how lonely and scared Kosal must have felt, and how distraught the leaders too must have been, having to grapple with the fact that one of their own was suspected of rape and murder. It pained us knowing we could offer no practical help except mere words to comfort and assure them that we were praying for Kosal.

 

21 Apr 2016

Just when everything looked bleak, a glimmer of hope appeared. The DNA results were out and the result was negative! Kosal was innocent. He had been implicated in the case simply because he had been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

A surge of joy and relief filled my heart when one of the local leaders told us about the results. At the same time, I felt anger—over how Kosal had been treated—and deep sympathy towards him as I thought about all the emotional and psychological suffering he had gone through in the past few months. Still, I was thrilled that Kosal’s ordeal would be over.

Sadly, our joy was short-lived.

It wasn’t so straightforward, we were told. Kosal would not be released from prison as the judge had rejected the request to drop his case. Unless the local leaders were willing to pay a bribe, Kosal could spend at least another year in jail for a crime he did not commit.

It was a crushing blow to the local leaders, who had labored tirelessly to prove Kosal’s innocence. They were livid and disgusted. In one of the leader’s words, it was equivalent to “a legal kidnapping and ransom”. Despite the seemingly impossible situation, however, they refused to give in to pressure or to resort to unscrupulous means. They were determined to fight for Kosal’s release in the right way.

Over the next couple of months, the leaders spared no efforts to appeal the case to higher authorities, despite being warned that it would be a futile endeavor. The local church also came together in solidarity to pray for Kosal and his family. And God answered their prayers in the most incredible way: In the midst of this senseless tragedy, Kosal’s parents, as well as his two younger sisters, started going to church.

God had clearly not forgotten Kosal and his family. And that was just the beginning.

                            

2 Sep 2016

Four months later, we heard the news we had long been hoping for. On 2 September, Kosal was finally released from prison. After a six-month ordeal in prison for a crime he did not commit, he was finally free.

That very evening Kosal was released, I saw a photograph on Facebook of Kosal having dinner with some of the key local leaders. He was smiling and looked well. It was a beautiful picture of God’s faithfulness, restoration, and love.

 

It has been two months since Kosal’s release from prison. He has yet to recover fully from his ordeal: he still has nightmares, and frequently suffers from sleepless nights. But there is a silver lining. Kosal’s whole family has since come to accept Jesus into their lives. A few weeks ago, the whole family testified of God’s grace and goodness in church.

As I think back on this entire episode, my heart is filled with joy and gratitude as I see how God had answered the cries of His children. He not only preserved Kosal, his family, and the community through this dark time, but also did a beautiful work in bringing his whole family to Christ. Kosal’s story is truly a testament of God’s faithfulness to His children (Romans 8:28), and is one I will hold on to when I face challenges in my own life.

I pray that Kosal will continue to testify of God’s goodness. To God be all glory!

ODJ: In the End

August 22, 2016 

READ: Eccl. 1:1-11, 12:11-14  

That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty (12:13).

The CEO quickly scanned the email from a company that makes and installs wooden doors. His community radio station needed new doors, but money was tight. Out of a sense of obligation, he hit the reply button and asked for a quote on a set of double doors. Moments later, he got a response. Turns out, Andrew hadn’t read the email all the way through to the end. The company had in fact offered the radio station a free set of doors!

I’ve recently realised how seldom I read an article, blog post or email all the way to the end. Knowing the ending, however, could provide me with a healthy perspective and perhaps a wonderful surprise!

King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes towards the end of a life full of excess. His conclusion was that “Everything is meaningless...completely meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He continued, “Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content” (v.8).

We’d be left feeling pretty defeated if we stopped reading there. But the sum of Solomon’s words were meant to be “like cattle prods—painful but helpful. ...Like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep” (12:11). His goal was not to leave us drifting aimlessly through life. Rather, he urged us to “fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty” (v.13), something we can do only by His strength.

As God leads us in following His ways, it’s good to know what happens in the end. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4). What a wonderful ending provided by God!

—Ruth O’Reilly-Smith

365-day plan: Luke 18:1-14

MORE
Read 1 Peter 1:13 and consider how what it says about the end times can inspire you to live well for Jesus today. 
NEXT
Are you feeling hopeless and weary? Be reminded of what happens in the end! How can you bring hope and joy to others who need it today? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODJ: Starting Over

June 25, 2016 

READ: Zephaniah 1:1-12, 3:14-20  

On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again. I will give you a good name...as I restore your fortunes. ...I, the Lord, have spoken! (3:20).

As part of their training, all new presenters on the radio use a practice log—an exact replica of the live log except for one small difference in the file name. It’s a little like a flight simulator for pilots; you get to make mistakes without embarrassing or devastating consequences. It’s a great system for trainees, but if seasoned presenters accidentally use the practice log to prerecord their radio programmes, they won’t be able to air.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all get a practice run at life, hit ‘delete’ when we mess up and start over? The people of Judah during the time of Zephaniah could relate. God was weary of all the evil He saw and threatened to wipe clean the face of the earth. No, this isn’t the story of Noah (Genesis 6:7), although it certainly sounds familiar.

The prophet Zephaniah lived during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (Zephaniah 1:1). Those in the city of Jerusalem had become complacent in sin that threatened to keep them from a loving relationship with God. The Lord’s passion for His people led Him to call them to worship Him alone (v.5). He threatened to destroy “every last trace of their Baal worship” and save a small remnant of the faithful (1:4, 2:7, 3:13). Zephaniah spoke of a day when the Lord would once again reign in the hearts of His people and live among them (3:15-17).

Hundreds of years later, the Son of God walked the earth, was crucified for our sins, rose again and made a way for us to have a fresh start through Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s grace was revealed in Zephaniah’s day and continues to flow to us in Jesus. What an amazing God, allowing us to start anew in our relationship with Him!

—Ruth O’Reilly-Smith

365-day plan: Luke 5:1-39

MORE
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17 for more on the new start we have in Christ. 
NEXT
Have you experienced a fresh start in Jesus? If not, what’s holding you back? How has God revealed His grace to all people? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)