Last night, you went to sleep a three-year-old, and I climbed up onto your bunk bed to pray over you just like I do every year.

And today you're four.

Sorrow, Then Joy

I got my first official rejection letter in the mail last night. Like, the actual mail. The one with stamps and everything.

I submitted a hard copy of my book proposal a few weeks ago to an agent across the country. And when I sealed that envelope and dropped it into the outgoing mail, I felt a little swoop in my belly that told me I wouldn't be receiving the response I wanted.

The Story of My Midriff

Since I was a little girl, I have been afraid of my midriff.

More precisely, I've been afraid of what my midriff might influence others to do.

At age seven, a friend's father said my wearing a two-piece bathing suit at his house was inappropriate and unacceptable.

At age twelve, I heard for the very first time that modesty was a girl's work and that showing her stomach would cause good, Christian boys to stumble in their faith.

At age seventeen, I was called to the principal's office after someone reported that when I raised my arms my shirt rose up to reveal an inch of my belly.

At age twenty, I wore short shorts and tight tank tops but judged every girl on campus who dared showcase her midriff just because she felt like it.

At age twenty-three, I married the man who made me feel more secure than anyone and instinctively covered my stomach when he took off my wedding dress.

At age twenty-eight, I spread my legs wide and delivered a ten-pound baby girl to a room full of strangers and covered my jiggly belly when I looked down to see what had been left behind.

And at the age of thirty-two, I decided I'd had enough of being afraid and selected this outfit for our ninth anniversary dinner:

This was brand-new territory for me. I sent messages to my small group and they wholeheartedly embraced the look. I drank a glass of wine while I primped and shaved and lotioned and curled. I danced to my Going Out playlist on Spotify. I reminded myself that this was less about showing off and more about giving a gift: to myself for having been scared of my sensuality for so long, and to my husband who has seen my body in every way possible except like this.

I didn't want to show myself off for the sake of trends or even the romantic occasion. Admittedly, I struggled with the Biblical basis—or lack thereof—for dressing in a way that would more than likely turn a few heads. And I thought about all the times I had been treated as an object simply because I was female and not because of what I was wearing. But I'm not twelve anymore; I know at this point in life that it's not the woman or the outfit that demeans her worth, but the person who chooses to demean.

Shortly after, I realized that even when we decide to stop being afraid, it doesn't mean others do. And, try as we might, we can't always escape their fears.

Dressing in more provocative clothing does not equate to freedom or womanhood any more than dressing in modest clothing does, at least not in the ways that truly matter. But in choosing for ourselves, we confront the things we've been told about our bodies and identities and begin to discover what is actually true and what is actually good.

Since I hit puberty, I have walked a very tight line between pride and shame. I have been over-confident to the point of arrogance or so dogmatic and fear-driven that I bury my head in the sand when confronted with my own sexuality. And, like so many women who love Jesus, I have recently discovered that neither of these options is healthy or a reflection of my Creator. He molded this body with His hands and it is good. It is not shameful or embarrassing. It is full of life and love and passion and tenderness, and when I allow myself to view this body through such a lens I am free to live life without abandon. To make love without shame. To walk through the world as though I have a right to be here, in whatever I'm wearing, and to be treated with dignity and honor.

I hear the words of people online and in conversations saying, "But when women dress to show off their bodies, they dishonor themselves." And my response to that is this: Context matters. And even if the former were true, you are the one declaring her dishonorable. You are the one separating yourself from your neighbor. You are the one who thinks there's a limit to treating someone with honor, even if that person does not choose to do so for herself.

We live life in our bodies. Living is accomplished with hands and feet and every other element of flesh and blood. What a great disservice we do to the world when we try so hard to put a stop to it. What a tragedy it is when, as little girls, shame becomes the driving force behind what we show, or don't show, to the world.

As for me, this is my midriff. It is tucked into high-waisted pants that hide the softness from bearing a child, and it is camouflaged by black. But here it is and here I am.

A mother.

A wife.

A friend.

A Jesus lover.

A sister.

A daughter.

A woman.