Lisa Mladinich caught her reflection in the mirrored closet doors in her St. Louis hotel room–and for just a minute, she didn’t like what she saw. The declining state of her appearance, she explained, was not really a surprise. She’d seen it already: the skin that had lost elasticity around her eyes and chin, the extra pounds around her middle…. She cut herself no slack as she considered how the years had taken their toll, and the tears flowed freely.
But then, God touched Lisa’s heart. Inexplicably, she felt his presence. As he drew near, he drew her to himself and showed her something she hadn’t seen before, helped her to see herself through His loving eyes. Lisa writes about that moment in her new book, True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life:
“I saw the most important relationships in my life for what they have become–through daily acts of love, prayer and sacrifice, sacramental life, and the extraordinary mercy of God. Through a sort of interior vision, I saw how my family life had been flooded with grace and healing: the sweetness of our words to one another, the many small acts of kindness and forgiveness tht make our life together immeasurably precious.
…The experience of looking into my own eyes and seeing what God saw in me was brief, but suffused with grace. He showed me that I was, at that moment, the most loving person I had ever been and that he was pleased with me…. So in the glow from the lamplight, I no longer saw an aging woman whose looks were crumbling to dust; I saw a woman growing in beauty, even becoming beauty.”
By God’s grace, Lisa had learned to accept the changes that came with maturity, and she saw that through her life she had not only lost a youthful vigor but–and this is much more important!–she had grown stronger, more loving, and holier.
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As I read chapter one of Lisa’s inspiring story, on “Finding Strength in Our Inner Beauty,” I had a sense that her story of self-discovery is repeated again and again, among baby-boomer women and those who have lived long enough to see the fruits of their labors, strong women who have stretch marks and crows feet and laugh wrinkles.
Lisa’s lesson certainly rang true with me, even as I struggle to accept a few extra pounds and greying roots and hands that wrinkle and reveal my advancing years.
A few months ago, I was driving with my daughter in the car and somehow, the conversation turned to what was the “best” day in my life. “Do you know what has been the best day of my life?” I asked her. “No.” “Today.”
My daughter laughed. Noting that the day seemed like any other, she called me a Pollyanna–but I explained that at this point in life, the joy I feel each day is unimpeded by others’ criticism or disagreement. I have learned who I am and what I believe, and am content to be that person whether or not others share my view. I have people who love me, and whom I love immensely. I am not wealthy, but I have all that I need. I have amassed, if not material possessions, then wonderful memories and many facts, both the useful kind and the kind–like the existence of chocolate chip starfish and pink fairy armadilloes–that simply boggles the mind. Each day brings more memories to cherish, more learning about the wonderful world in which we live. And with the reckless wonder and the exuberant joy comes a deep, radiant experience of God, always present in all of creation. Indeed, reaching that point of knowledge and faith in middle age and beyond is a priceless gift.
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Lisa writes about how the poison of 1970s college feminism, with its hatred and misunderstanding of masculinity, had obscured her understanding of a loving God. In a mystical experience she describes in the book, it was Mary who led her gently back, telling her to “Go see my Son.”
And she has come to understand, with the Church, that human beings are a unity of body and soul–not just souls temporarily trapped in flesh and bone, but a true unity that amounts to a single nature. Reflecting on the truth that our bodies will one day be reunited with our souls, raised and glorified, incorrupted for all eternity, Lisa asks, “Won’t we be just glorious?”
What Lisa has learned, and what she shares candidly in True Radiance, is that prayerful, faith-filled women become more beautiful as they age, not less. As a woman matures spiritually, as she grows in wisdom and holiness, she increasingly reflects a radiant inner beauty that touches others in countless ways.