I grew up with a complete disdain for cheerleaders and cheerleading. In high school these always seemed to be the girls who took on life with ease, seemed to have no problems. Popular, beautiful, always happy, never struggling to know what to say.I hated them. I focused on the simplest judgment of them- that they were only valued because they had physical worth. Beyond that, anyone could pick up a pompom and crow like that. It was not special. These were the thoughts of solace of an awkward girl who was long on brains but short on cute.
I really didn’t give it much more thought until later when I was about 25 or so. I went with a group of friends to a Dallas Cowboys scrimmage, back when they held training camp here in Austin. There was a girl in the group with us who I didn’t know very well, but I liked and respected very much. She was a teacher, smart, interesting to talk to, confident, and lovely. She intimidated the heck out of me. In the midst of the game, the cheerleaders came out to perform for our side of the field and she said “Oh, good, here come the cheerleaders.” I don’t remember what exactly I said, but it betrayed the disdain and contempt I had for cheer squad. She looked at me and said “I am the cheer and dance squad coach at the school where I teach. It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
I felt about two inches tall. But she smiled and began to tell me about the different moves the girls were doing and what was incorporated into a good routine. She handled me with way more grace than I deserved. But isn’t that essential to the idea of grace? That we don’t deserve it?
I don’t think I became a fan of cheerleading that day, but I learned a valuable lesson about judging others. And thinking first about sharing my big opinions. I guess I had never taken the time to get to know a cheerleader before. I was so busy being sure that they would have nothing to do with someone like me, that I had totally missed the fact that I would have nothing to do with them.
What I know today is that my feelings of contempt were actually a secret envy. I was driven to devalue the cheerleader because she represented what I believed that I did not.She was lovely. I was not. At least, that is what I firmly believed. John and Stasi Eldredge wrote in their book Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul “You see, every little girl is asking one fundamental question… Little girls want to know Am I lovely? The twirling skirts, the dress up, the longing to be pretty and to be seen- that is what it’s all about.”
Honestly I never consciously understood myself as lovely until I saw myself reflected in my sweet husband’s eyes. Inscribed inside my wedding ring is Prov 31:20-30 which reads “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” He sees me as beautiful inside and out.
Really though, I began to truly understand my own loveliness- the loveliness available to all women when reading these verses from Psalm 45- “Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your Lord.” Lovely does not come from the judgment of man (or woman). Lovely is not a measure of an external set of features. Lovely is a function of grace. Lovely is a reflection of who you are internally. Lovely is available to all.
There is tremendous irony in my historical contempt (envy) for cheerleaders. I now am the mother of two beautiful daughters. There have never been two more girly girls than these two. There are so many times when I scratch my head trying to understand them. But I always put in the effort and try to “get” them, because I know that the bows and the ribbons and the dresses and the twirling are all a part of defining themselves and declaring
themselves to be lovely. I don’t want them to secretly desire to pursue loveliness. I want them to appreciate their loveliness and not doubt it. And I want them to know true loveliness- letting the King be enthralled by their beauty by honoring Him.
My oldest girl is 6. She is a cheerleader. She started last year, and she loves it more than anything else. When I signed her up, I knew I had come full circle. She is a flyer (that means she’s the one they lift way up there in the air.) When I see her up there, I don’t see vanity, I don’t see pride.I see lovely. She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.