“Whatever comes,” she said, “cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess
For my mom, who never gave up on the princess in me
My mother stayed up all night to watch Lady Diana marry Prince Charles. She loved the dress and the pomp, like anyone. But what she recounted to me the next morning at the breakfast table was not what Diana wore. Rather, Mom noted Diana’s elegance: the way she spoke, the way she conducted herself, the way she treated others. I sat in wonder for the rest of that day, watching clips of the wedding alongside her, taking careful mental notes on what a princess does and does not do.
Being a “princess” began early for me. My father insisted that I was special, calling me “princess” from my infancy. My mother insisted upon my royal heritage as well, focusing on honing my character into that of royalty. She defined this term “princess” almost strictly by behavior: princesses do this, princesses don’t do that.
Years later, we watched Princess Kate walking down the same aisle as Diana. My mother, again, studied the way the new royal carried herself. She whispered, “Her mother must be so proud.”
So proud. I teared up remembering my own wedding day, and how proud she was of me. I don’t know if I ever achieved elegance with a cathedral length train covered in grass stains and frosting and wine by the end of the evening. But I do remember feeling like a princess.
Almost fifteen years later, my wedding dress lays balled up on the floor of my spare closet. After three babies and the stretch marks and extra pounds they left behind, after the faded scars on my arms from depression so deep I didn’t know what my razor was doing, after grief that has hung around my neck and made me feel old and worn out, I watched that royal princess in disbelief. I realized I hardly could remember what it felt like to be a princess. I realized in that moment that somewhere in the storm, when the waves started crashing and would not relent, when I couldn’t keep my head above the water, somehow sadness gave way to shame, and I lost my princess identity. In all of the hurt and the brokenness of those years, I lost myself. And I wanted my Cinderella heart back.
Lately, we’ve been watching a lot of Cinderella in our house. My boys love the mice, especially Jack-Jack and Gus-Gus. But I watch her. I watch her scrubbing floors out of the corner of my eye while I’m scrubbing dishes. I watch her kindness toward the animals as I try to patiently sweep under the kids’ table for the 50th time this week. I watch her endure the harshness of her stepmother and step sisters, faithfully continuing to serve. I watch her when she discovers that every maiden in the kingdom is invited to Prince Charming’s ball. And I watch as she does not hesitate for one moment in her belief that she belongs at that ball.
Now, I know Cinderella is a cartoon, but bear with me here: wouldn’t you hesitate? She had lost her parents, her wealth, and all social standing. She had been stripped of her title as lady of the castle and forced to be the maid. She had been subjugated, reviled, and held captive for years. And, yet, in the midst of years of tragedy and abuse, Cinderella never let go of the truth she held deep in her heart: she was a princess.
So, when her prince came knocking, Cinderella was ready. She didn’t care if she was wearing a decades-old hand-me-down dress trimmed out by mice. She was confident in the fact that she was royalty, and she belonged at the palace. She never allowed her circumstances to change her value.
Looking back, I can see where I lost sight of the fact that I, too, am a princess. I can look back at the day I gave up on being royal, of being special. How could anyone special, royal, be beaten with a hammer this many times? Where was the fairness, where was the King? Is He in charge, or is this just some big, cosmic joke? After all of my failings, all of my sin, all of my brokenness, I forgot I had a place in the Palace with my name on it. I forgot I even belonged there.
Are you there? Has life hammered the princess out of you? Are you in a hospital room right now, wearing faded yoga pants for the 700th day in a row? Are you so tired you don’t even care what you look like anymore? Are you so broken open that nothing—no one—could ever make you whole again? Are you chained to a bed in a psyche ward drugged out of your mind, trying on a new diagnosis? Are you moving back in with your parents after your marriage blew apart?
Yes, I know, sister. I’ve been all those things. And I stopped believing that I was anything special. I stopped believing I deserved good anymore. I stopped believing life could be better. It was just too torturous to hope anymore.
But what the TRUTH is, sister, is this: those broken moments in hospital rooms late at night, those mornings when you just don’t know how you’re going to make it until noon, those days where you’re covered in so many bodily fluids you can’t keep count, those afternoons where you have lost who you are in the needs and caring for others—
These are Cinderella moments.
These are the moments when a whole new batch of queens are being made, refined, and purified. These are the moments when being royal becomes a job description instead of just a title. These are the moments when you grab on to your Godly heritage and you affirm:
I am the daughter of the King. And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18
My father delights in me. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
My father defines my worth. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1
He defines my beauty by the content of my character (not the spit-up on my t-shirt, my faded yoga pants, my tired eyes and grown-out hair cut. Not the scars on my wrists or the 100 extra pounds I’m wearing, my shiny chemo’d scalp or the puffed up Depakote look I’m sporting.) Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4
He will never leave me or forsake me. “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15
He will never stop working for my good. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. Jeremiah 32:40
His deepest desire is to bring me home to Him, to live forever as his beloved. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:3
That is the truth of who you are,
AND YOU ARE GOOD. PERIOD.
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you. It doesn’t matter who you’ve hurt, or if they ever forgive you. It doesn’t matter the sin, the disease, the condition, the station you’ve been wearing as your self-description. You and I are daughters of the king, and our rightful place is in the castle.
He’s going to come knocking. He’s going to restore everything that was lost in your fire. And you will be better, deeper, richer, braver, stronger. You will be a queen.
So don’t give up on who you are in Christ Jesus. He will not give up on you.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:6-9
Lord, restore us. Restore our visions of ourselves. Revive the Cinderella in all of our hearts. Amen.