Mandy applied a fresh layer of pink diamond sparkle lip gloss while her friend Karen struggled with mismatched luggage.
“Good morning,” said Mandy with a glistening smile.
“Ugh,” said Karen. “These bags keep falling over.”
Mandy gathered her friend’s bedraggled suitcases and tucked them next to her own perfectly stacked designer set in the back of her car. They drove a bit north and found Pauline and Misha waiting curbside.
Pauline snapped, “Running a little late?”
“Sorry,” said Mandy. “My mom broke her wrist and we were at the hospital until three this morning.”
“You must be exhausted,” said Karen.
“And I brought my car in to the shop this morning for maintenance and by the time I delivered the auction baskets to church I was already running late.”
“Didn’t you take your car in for maintenance a few weeks ago?” asked Pauline.
“You know how I like to take care of my car.”
“What I don’t know is how you do it all,” said Karen.
“Yeah,” said Misha, “and she always looks fabulous.”
“It’s the lip gloss ladies,” said Mandy. “It’s all in the gloss.”
The women laughed because they didn’t know Mandy was serious.
They drove farther north and reached a patch of woods dotted with cabins. There they combined with other women from church for the ‘Free to be Me’ weekend retreat. While the afternoon stretched into the evening the women talked and laughed and morphed from mothers and wives focused entirely on the needs of others to individuals reflecting inward, and remembering—or perhaps discovering for the very first time—who they were. This phase of the retreat brought most of the women tears, but Mandy was not one of those women. She had nothing to morph into. She always took care of herself. She was fine.
The following morning Mandy discovered a gigantic fever blister marring her face. The site was horrific. She grabbed her cosmetic bag and went to work. After forty minutes her hair was perfect and her eyes brilliant. But the beast residing on the outer edge of her lip could not be covered and pink diamond sparkle gloss only made her look like a monster with shimmery lips.
She considered feigning illness and hiding in her room, but she was scheduled to speak within the hour. Every woman at the event believed Mandy was invincible and she wasn’t going to tarnish that impression.
Mandy forged ahead. But when she stood next to the podium she noticed an endless sea of startled looks. No one had ever seen Mandy like this. She had not allowed it. Her heart was in her mouth and she could not remember her message. Something about how she managed to tackle life—an idea which now seemed desperately out of reach.
The room was quiet and Mandy was anxious. She faced dozens of women without a drop of gloss and this made her feel vulnerable. Her mask was gone. She was exposed. A haunting memory shivered through her spine. She was in high school and a tragic event had ripped her soul. She remembered how she was mocked and how no one came to her aid, not even her parents. At seventeen she decided to never put herself in a position to rely on someone else. She would control everything and lean on her own abilities. She’d always smile like everything was fine, even if it wasn’t. That way, no one would be required to help and Mandy would never be let down again.
“What am I doing?” she asked in a quivering whisper. Her façade came crashing down and she dropped to her knees, into the rubble. “Lord!” Mandy cried out. “I am a broken mess and I can’t do this alone.” She wiped dripping snot on the sleeve of her designer blazer and cried, “Lord, I need you.”
Karen was the first to stand up. She placed one hand on Mandy, held the other skyward, and prayed. By this time Misha and even Pauline were doing the same. Soon every woman in the room was connected to Mandy in one way or another. Mandy continued to sob loudly and she experienced a great sense of release. The group prayer was unplanned and frightfully disorganized. But it came from love and the women’s voices filled the heavens with the sound of faith.
The harmony was raw and pure. It was an incense of sweet fragrance to the Lord.
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