#ThisIsAGoodBody [What Does Freedom Look Like?]

"The next day as the three travelers were approaching the town, Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: "Go to it, Peter - kill and eat."
Peter said, "Oh no, Lord. I've never so much as tasted food that was not kosher."
The voice came a second time: "If God says it's okay, it's okay."
This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies."
(Acts 10 MSG)

You know what's happening here, friends? Peter is encountering God in a crazy, unheard of kind of way. He has followed the rules, kept himself "clean", and walked this certain kind of path his entire life. Everything he knows about God and God's rules can kind of be contained in this really big one - don't eat certain foods and don't eat foods that are contaminated by unclean foods. At this point in Peter's faith he has been ingrained with this solid fact: some things are okay to eat, some things are not okay to eat, and some foods should not be mixed together. And now God is turning the whole thing upside down. You know why? God's point has so little to do with FOOD - God is almost always talking about people.

Because then along comes the servants of a man named Cornelius - a Gentile, an unclean human being. Cornelius wasn't raised with the rules Peter was. He hadn't followed the same lifestyle, hygiene, and expectations that Peter had come to associate with a holy life. But Cornelius was a thoroughly good man. His HEART was clear. He had been drawing people to freedom for quite some time. So, before his men even reach Peter, God is making sure Peter hears something really important: all people are good people. All people are in. All people - even the ones who wear freedom in different ways - are allowed on this road. 

So, here's Peter deep in thought and the Spirit of God has to kind of shake him awake. They genuinely have to whisper to Peter, "There are three men knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don't ask any questions. I sent them to get you." So Peter goes with them to Cornelius' home. Peter enters this unclean space, he sits down and talks to the people who are sitting there waiting. Now, I want you to imagine a scenario where Peter is confident that there is only ONE way to walk in freedom - and he has it. I want you to imagine that he sits down at that table and starts teaching them how to be Jewish - what not to eat, how to worship, and demanding circumcision. Those expectant hearts, who are already FREE, would be crushed, set-back, and confused. Peter would have taken his own rules into someone else's freedom.

But Peter's heart was soft. He had encountered God declaring that ALL people, ALL food, ALL free hearts were good. GOOD. Not just acceptable, or good enough, or just okay. They were GOOD. After Peter hears Cornelius' story it says that he nearly exploded with good news. His heart was able to receive the GIFT of GOOD. He says to Cornelius, "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer; God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you're from - if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel - that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again - well, he's doing it everywhere, among everyone." After this, everyone listening is baptized in the Spirit and then in water. And then PETER STAYED WITH THEM FOR A FEW DAYS. 

You guys, this is revolutionary. In the presence of God we no longer get to determine what is clean or unclean; what is good or what is unfit; what is free or what is bondage. You know why? Because it was never our call to make in the first place. Every time we try to make these rules to confine God to what looks good to our own eyes, we end up missing the vision. We miss out on the extraordinary revelation that comes from letting Divine Love turn everything upside down. 

I want the vision. Don't you want the vision?

Let me tell you something - we're on a quest to eradicate body shaming. All of it. From every side. We want to be done with listening to the body shaming culture that tells us we have to look like "this", or live like "this" to be thin, pretty, perfect, or GOOD. We want to throw that shit out the door and refuse to be a part of it ever again. For ourselves and for you. We also want to be done with listening to the idea that freedom has to look a certain way. Some of us are Peter and some of us are Cornelius. Some of us have adhered to strict rules and expectations our entire lives - and God is calling us to consume ideas and realities from that lowered sheet - ones that rock our worlds. Some of us are wearing freedom in ways that make others uncomfortable. You might be uncomfortable with what you see your sister doing to reclaim her freedom, but you don't get to judge her. You don't, friend. I know that's hard to say - because it doesn't feel like freedom in your OWN body. And that's okay. 

Listen, there was a time when I was told I had to wear a certain uniform of baggy pants and tee shirts to ensure that I didn't make a boy "stumble". So I did it. Oh, I wore that uniform to death. And when a boy was terrifyingly inappropriate with me, I went to this man with the rules for help. Do you know what he told me? He said, "Have you considered that the problem is what you are wearing or how you are acting?" I sat in stunned silence and thought, "I'm wearing what you TOLD me would protect me." I know now what this is. I know it's the kind of victim blaming that perpetuates control and abuse. I know it's bullshit and has never, not for one second, been God-approved. I've spent years working through forgiveness for things like this.

Would it surprise you to know that i have felt God tugging on me to start shedding layers? I've felt their whisper, their nudge, asking me to stop hiding behind loose tanks in my yoga practice and the photos I post on Instagram. Does that make you cringe a little? The idea that GOD would ask me to do something that maybe doesn't look like freedom to you? I've been obedient and there has been HARD and HOLY work happening in my heart this summer. But it was only today that I realized why. Love reminded me of that experience I lived out all through highschool - of the work I did three years ago to acknowledge it as spiritual abuse and forgive the abuser. This summer has been another layer of relinquishing the bondage of letting other people's opinions and expectations define who I am and how I live. I'm getting free-er, but I would be lying if I said I don't still feel the weight of disapproval. 

I'm sharing this with you, friends, because there is too much pressure from both sides. We have to get our eyes off of one another and onto our own side of the road. We have to start listening to what they are calling US to and not what they are calling someone else to. We have to start championing one another - even if their way looks different, upside down, and crazy to us. Peter went against the grain of his culture and community by choosing to embrace Cornelius and his friends. Lets be Peter for one another. If we want things to change, we have to stop trying to control God and one another. We have to get humble, rise up, and let the vision change everything. 

Come join us on Instagram in #ThisIsAGoodBody

How To Brighten Your Skin Without Makeup

Have you ever noticed that, no matter what you do, your makeup is flaky and your skin looks dull? You're not alone. Skin needs to be exfoliated and moisturized to look bright and clear. You might be surprised to know that you should incorporate this into your beauty routine at least once a week - maybe more depending on your skin type. You get to be your own esthetician as you care for your body's largest organ.

I'm going to go ahead and say it: the first thing you need is lots and lots of water. Compare a dry sponge to a wet sponge. A sponge that is adequately hydrated is supple and soft. A dehydrated sponge is coarse and hard. I know you've heard it all before, but the very best thing you can do for your skin is drink 6-8 ounce glasses of water a day. It's different for everyone, so know your body.

That being said, there are quite a few things you can do after you are good and hydrated to boost your skin's brightness factor.

1. Dry brushing:

There are some seriously awesome benefits to dry brushing. First and foremost it removes dead skin cells (which brightens the appearance of your skin), but it can also boost circulation (double bonus - it warms you up in the winter), rid the body of toxins and boost lymphatic drainage. You can incorporate dry brushing into your daily showering rituals by starting at the ankles and working your way up your legs with long sweeps. Don't move in circular rotations or back and forth - move the brush towards your heart. Move on to your arms and chest (still working towards your heart) and then your stomach. Brush gently enough to stimulate your skin without turning it red or scratching yourself.

Choose a brush that has stiff, but not hard, bristles. A brush with natural bristles (rather than synthetic) is best for dry brushing.

2. Coconut oil:

Everybody and their mother has a coconut oil story. It has multiple benefits and uses. Not only can the lauric acid in coconut oil fight off bacteria, fungi and viruses, but it is intensely moisturizing. Consider it your natural antibacterial oil - keeping you healthy and glowing at the same time.

I think the best way to use coconut oil as a skin brightener is to use it immediately after you shower. Gently dry your body with a soft towel and mix a small spoonful of coconut oil with your favorite lotion. Spread it on, friend. Rub it in and glow all day long. This is especially awesome during the winter months when your skin is dry and chapped.

3. Soft touch complexion brush.

This brush has completely changed my face. It's so soft you will probably doubt that it could actually exfoliate your face. Remember that the skin on your face is drastically more sensitive than the skin on your body. It needs special, gentle care. That's where this brush comes in. This one is Earth Theraputics and is only $6. I've compared it to similar products from other brands - it's the best of the best. It's also gentle enough to use every day. Just wet it with warm water, squeeze a drop of your favorite face wash onto the bristles and then rub your face and neck in circular motions. Rinse with warm water and pat dry.

4. Skin brightening serum. 

I'm a fan of this one from Origins. Okay, I'm a fan of everything from Origins. If you have dark spots, acne scars or sun damage a product like this can greatly reduce their appearance. There are so many similar products on the market. This is just the one I've tried and had success with, but it doesn't make it the only successful product. Get opinions, shop around and choose what best serves your unique skin.

Homemade skin brightening scrub:

This is so easy, you guys. It's cheap and effective - who doesn't love that?

Simply combine:

Coconut oil
Freshly squeezed lemon
Raw sugar

That's it. Mix it up, throw it in a small container and take it into the shower with you. You can exfoliate your entire body in 2 minutes - body and face. You'll step out soft and radiant.

*Do you have a skin brightening trick you love to use? Share it here!

*january 2013

Brighten Up Your Winter Face

This is for those of you who aren't living in a Phoenix summer (i.e. 75 degrees). I'm for you, sisters. I know you're trudging through piles of dirty snow and slipping on icy sidewalks. Winter is a season of deep down - to the bone - cold. I know I can't bottle up sunshine and ship it out (I would if I could), so this is the best I can do. Let's brighten up your beautiful winter face.

These are my favorite brightening products...

1. Watts Up by Benefit:

You guys, this is an everyday kind of thing. It's a fabulously subtle illuminator. It's not too sparkly or glittery - instead its gloriously shimmery. There are two ends to this product. You'll spread on the illuminator and then turn it over to use the blending sponge.

You'll apply your illuminator after your foundation and blush. Use it on the top of your cheekbones and just under the arch of your brow. Blend, blend, blend. Don't leave an obvious smear of product.

If you want an extra boost of shimmer you can add Watts Up to the areas you've highlighted after you HAC (the top of your nose, the low center of your forehead and the center of your chin). Make sure you watch Maskcara's video to get an in-depth understanding of how to HAC.

2. Hoola Bronzer by Benefit:

I may live in the Valley of the Sun, but I am definitely winter white these days. A little splash of bronzer perks up my face and gives me a healthy glow.

I L.O.V.E this product. This is what I contour with. A lot of bronzers are really orange, but Hoola is a sweet, soft brown color. It's also so much more subtle and it's so easy to blend.

3. Bahama Mama Bronzer:

This bronzer is a close second for me. Again, it's not at all orange and serves as an awesome contour. This one is a little darker, so it would be perfect on someone who is naturally a little darker. When you're choosing your bronzer color you want to make sure you consider your natural coloring. Don't try to be something you're not. Work with what you've got to bring out your own beauty.

4. IIID Illuminator by Maskcara:

I was surprised at how much I liked this product. It came with my HAC pack, so I considered it an added bonus, but maybe not something I would use everyday. After all - I'm happy with my Watts Up. BUT (it's a big but) I LOVE it. To apply this illuminator smear a little bit on the back of your hand and use your fingertips to blend it into those key areas (cheekbones and under the brow).

*What's your favorite brightening product?

*January 2013

Freedom Session Basics

One thing I've learned about women who bring their bravery and unique beauty to my camera for the first time is that they are often nervous about how to prepare for their Freedom Session. They aren't holding anything back and that's sometimes so scary. They're investing in something that is meant to coax their forgotten self acceptance from beneath years and layers and mountains of insecurity, fear and wondering if they are even noticed anymore.

I have one thing to say: You are noticed. You are so noticed. More than that, when you release your inhibition and fear to stand strong in front of a stranger's lens you become a hero. What you present with every shot fills the void of thousands of other women battling the same crippling nothingness. You remind us all that we are worth capturing. Our unique, glorious beauty is worth observing and framing.

I know that, for a lot of you, trying to master something like camera ready makeup is like hunting unicorns in neverland. It sounds amazing, but it's truly a fantasy and not a reality. So, let's make it a reality. All you need are some basics to get you there - and everyone can master these rockstar products. They truly make photo ready makeup easy peasy.

1. Smashbox CC Cream:

Maybe you've heard people raving about BB cream and it's all just nonsense to you. Foundation is foundation, right? Or maybe you've been using covergirl for so long now - if it ain't broke don't fix it, right? Except it may be broke. Broke as heck, sister.

I was a die-hard bare minerals fan until I met this CC Cream. She's changed everything for me. Here's a little history: BB Cream was originally developed in Germany and is beyond popular in Asia. It's purpose was to provide a full, yet natural looking, coverage for people recovering from surgery. It is a serum, moisturizer, primer, foundation and sunblock in one. CC Cream soon followed with all of the benefits of BB Cream, but with added nourishing ingredients and the ability to reduce the appearance of skin redness and discoloration.

The reason I recommend CC Cream over BB Cream is that it corrects color. If you are naturally red or have dark or yellow spots, this cream will give you a fresh face in no time. I use this It Cosmetics brush to apply it, but you could easily use a complexion sponge (wet the sponge, wring it out and then dab it into a small squirt of the cream and dab it onto your face. Apply enough to completely cover your face and neck, making sure you blend well).

2. Maskcara Blush in Shortcake:

I understand if you're a little wary of a cream blush. It seems like the kind of thing that requires a lot of skill to master, but it's not that hard. Deposit a swab of Maskcara's cream blush onto the back of your hand and then dab it with your blush brush. Use your brush to dab (not stroke) the blush onto the apples of your cheeks. A good tip is to smile slightly with your lips closed to help you find the apple of your cheeks.

3. Too Faced Better Than False Lashes Mascara:

If you follow me on Instagram you've already seen my before and after with this product (if you haven't seen it yet, come find me @thelittlewaycommunity). This is the PERFECT accessory for your Freedom Session - false lashes without the glue and meticulous application.

This is a three-step process. First you coat your lashes with the mascara (I usually do two generous coats). Follow with the small bottle of nylon fibers. Be generous, but not crazy. Finish up with a coat (or two) of mascara. The nylon fibers actually lengthen and thicken the appearance of your lashes. The best part of this product is it just washes off with face wash. I didn't do anything special and it just came right off. Win.

4. Lorac Lipgloss in Chris:

This gloss is a favorite. My girlfriend, Brooke, went out and bought it after trying mine and even my three-year old always reaches for it. It's the perfect gloss for all princesses and warriors of all ages.

I'm telling you - this is just the right amount of color and shine without getting all crazy. It's perfect for a photo shoot that highlights you in your own beauty.

There it is, friends. A four step process to get your makeup camera ready. All of these products are great investments and perfect for everyday wear as well. In fact, this is pretty much what I wear on the days I wear makeup. Of course you can add to the regime if you want a dramatic eye or a bold lip. And don't forget that highlighting and contouring will change everything about the way you do makeup. Here's an awesome video tutorial on how to HAC your makeup for everyday wear and for your photo session.

What do you think? Are you ready for your Freedom Session?

*Update: I'm only wearing these four products in this Instagram image. Even Daisy is wearing the lorac gloss*

*January 2013

Body Image + Beauty

I read today that "a total of 75 percent of all American women endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies."

Seventy five percent, friends. That's three out of four women.

Seventy five percent of women in our country who are triggered by magazine covers, advertisements, airbrushed movie stars, the explosion of fitness propaganda, and the increasing expectation that they "should" look like someone they weren't created to be. Three out of four women sitting in a room with their girlfriends, co workers, strangers and family thinking about sitting up straighter to look skinner, walking a certain way to distract from their hips, wearing jeans in the summer to cover up cellulite, and wishing they were like the "perfect" friend who effortlessly fits the ideal image of the American woman. The craziest part is that "perfect" friend is very likely one of the seventy five percent. She's thinking about it too. She's dieted, binged, worked off last nights indulgences, cringed at the sight of another "perfect" friend or the latest star who got her body back 3 months after birth. She knows body shame like the rest of us.

My friend, Renee, talks about the scarcity mentality. She says that something happens to a woman when another pretty woman walks in. We immediately assume she's sucked up all the beauty in the room. There's nothing left for the rest of us. But chances are, that pretty woman is feeling the same scarcity deep in her gut.

Our culture values superficial. We airbrush and tuck and conceal in the hopes that we will look like the flawless, carefree California girl. We sing about it, write about it, watch movies and television that glorifies it and we tell ourselves it doesn't strike our souls. We pretend we don't care. We talk like it's nothing.

But seventy five percent of us are manipulating what we eat and how we exercise to try to conform to something that will never bring us joy. We will never feel happy - we'll just keep on feeling scarce. Maybe we'll finally have a moment where we think, "I'm in! Right now, I'm the perfect woman." And then we'll leave our house and walk into another room with another beautiful woman - suddenly, we're back to scarcity. Somehow she owns all of the beauty and we're left with an empty pursuit of what the world keeps promising will heal us.

What will heal us? What will finally set us free from the constant cycling that is stealing our joy?

I don't believe that forsaking beauty is the answer. It doesn't make sense to me that swinging to the other extreme will have a lasting impact on our freedom. Health, and freedom, are always in the midline. Our pursuit is in the fragile space that is neither here nor there. Hating the media won't change anything. Raging against women who naturally fall into the current cultural standard of beauty won't heal us. The effective pushback isn't in our anger (although it may be appropriate to feel a bit of that).

I'm one of the seventy five percent. I've starved myself. I've worked out until I was dizzy. I've gripped the never clear ideal and screamed against my complete hatred of what I am. There was a period of time in my life where I was very sick, friends. These days I'm steadier. I'm much healthier. I'm recovering in the light of community and Jesus. But this is my cross. I will never be done carrying it.

And that's okay.

Carrying it means I'm doing something about it. I'm making the choice to stop bending to the ugly distortion of what will bring me contentment and joy. I'm developing awareness of my mind and heart. I'm learning to embrace my body - flaws and all.

When someone walks into the room and I feel all of the beauty being sucked away like air in a vacuum, I whisper to my old wounds that I'm okay. We're all okay. We don't need to ride the waves of comparison. We don't need to be conformed to someone else's image. The image we're living in is perfectly designed, flawlessly written into our beings.

My friend Brittany wrote a post about her daughter Bella, who has spina bifida. She said the most profound thing. She said that God knit Bella together in her womb, called her "good" and then asked her to declare that in Bella's name. She said that God was declaring the goodness of Bella.

There's a challenge in that, isn't there? It's thrilling. It's so counter cultural - even in the body of Christ. What if, today, we chose to live in the truth of God declaring the goodness of us? What if, despite our manipulated emotions and battered souls, we listened to the voice of the one who knit us together? What if we stopped our thoughts from carrying us into despair and we wrote those words of truth over our minds and bodies? What if we became a culture of strong women; women who sought beauty by finding it first in their own lives? What if our experiences meant more than our pants size? What if our worth was rooted in our love for others? What if we all stood together, in one holy space, and declared the goodness of one another? What if the scarcity mentality had nowhere to land because we were already transparent enough to extend grace rather than assumption and judgement?

What if we changed things from the inside out?

We could do that, sisters. We could do it right now, starting today. We could start speaking love to one another. We could start speaking truth to ourselves.

Because THAT is beauty. It's the kind of beauty that transforms shallow and broken lives. It's the kind of beauty that reaches into the heart of darkness and causes an explosion of light.

It's enough to rattle the world, because if we stop buying the lie, there's no point in selling it anymore.

*What about you, friend? Are you one of the seventy five percent? What has been your biggest obstacle? How will you declare goodness today?

*September 2013