Work in Progress

An Unfinished Woman's Guide to Grace


By Kristin Armstrong

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When Kristin Armstrong was in the pit of her divorce, she eagerly read every spiritual book and devotional she could get her hands on out of a hunger to connect with someone who knew exactly what she was going through and how she felt. Now, at a time when society offers so many conflicting messages about what it means to be a woman, Kristin invites readers to discover grace as a way of life.
Using real-life anecdotes, biblical wisdom, and insight born of hard experience, Kristin teaches women the twelve traits of grace, inviting reflection and interaction. Warm, engaging, and practical, WORK IN PROGRESS examines what God has to say about being His kind of woman in the twenty-first century.


Copyright © 2009 by Kristin Armstrong

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

All Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Some materials © 2008 by Runner's World. All rights reserved. Published with permission of RODALE INC., Emmaus, PA.


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First eBook Edition: March 2009

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ISBN: 978-0-446-54454-2


A heartfelt thank you to the good people at Hachette—Meredith Smith, Rolf Zettersten, and Jana Burson. You make work fun and help refine me as I go/grow along.

Thank you to all my girlfriends who share their lives and their love. This book would not be what it is without you, nor would I. You know who you are. I love you.

Thank you, Mom, Dad, and Jon, for covering for me so I can run and write and breathe. Your support and unwavering confidence in me are true gifts. I love you.

Thank you, Luke, Grace, and Bella, for being such fine motivation to become a better woman. My heart is yours.



I used to be one of those women whose list of New Year's resolutions included items like: lose five pounds (or ten), drink more water, eat more protein, eat fewer carbs, exercise five times a week, purge closet and get rid of ugly clothes, drink wine only once a week, drink less coffee, do yoga, stretch more. My list looked more like a diary entry from Bridget Jones than a statement of goals and directions for Kristin Armstrong. Why? I don't have a weight problem. I guess wasting time by focusing on items like these is more indicative of a vanity problem or of misguided social conditioning. Perhaps I was confused about beauty, thinking that the harder I worked at it, the more diligent I became; or the more I deprived myself, this would somehow equate to greater beauty.

My first point of confusion was interpreting beauty as something to be aspired to instead of a reflection of who we are. From the time we are little girls we aspire to be women of beauty. To say that you have never once cared about this is to lie, lie, lie. We all want to be beautiful. But is it right to aspire to be beautiful? According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, the word aspire comes from the Latin word aspirare, which means "to breathe." This tells me something huge. We cannot strive our way into being beautiful. We have to relax into it; we need to breathe.

The world has unreliable standards. Throughout history the definition of beauty has shifted to reflect the mind-set and trends of the current society. Sometimes we should be curvy, other times rail thin; sometimes tanned, sometimes pale; sometimes with long hair, sometimes short hair, permed hair, straight hair, feathered hair (God help us); bright red lipstick, pale gloss; long acrylic nails, short real nails… All right already—I'm tired just typing this. We devote our energies to meeting the latest standard or at least reaching some approximation of it, and we are rewarded by… guess what? Another new mandate to chase after. It's an empty and relentless pursuit. Thank God we have another place to look for standards that are worthwhile and unchanging. Up.

God created each one of us specifically and beautifully. Among all of God's creation, we are the pinnacle, the icing on the cake, the signature on the masterpiece. This means that beauty is innate in each one of us in a way that is timeless and unalterable. Why are we wasting our time creating something that already exists within us? We can't. So what can we do instead?

We can unveil it.

Taking Off the Old

When it comes to beauty, each one of us carries baggage from childhood. Seemingly innocuous moments of our girlhoods are etched into our psyches with a Sharpie pen. (And those really are permanent; remind me to show you my hallway upstairs.) I can remember some of mine, like changing for PE class in sixth grade and figuring out why all the boys loved this girl named Michele. Her body and my body looked like two different species. I changed in the bathroom after that. Or when I was putting on eyeliner in the crowded cafeteria bathroom mirror in eighth grade, and a girl named Tracey said, "That won't help you." Or this bossy boy in fourth grade who always picked me last for teams, saying, "She sucks in sports." (Do I? Six marathons later? But that "fact" about myself kept me on the sidelines until I was thirty-two.) You see? These moments, either painful or dismissive or both, are messages (lies, actually) spoken to our fragile images as we tentatively try to define who we are. I challenge us to understand that just as we didn't create ourselves, we do not have the power to define ourselves (and neither does anyone else). Only God can tell us who we are. But before we are ready to hear what He has to say about us, we have to do a little housecleaning (I probably need Tilex—how about you?) to remove the debris of old, untrue notions about ourselves and our beauty.

For a little spiritual Tilex on the mildew of our past, let's try 2 Corinthians 5:17: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" This verse is so powerful in combating the lies in our heads about our existence and our appearance. It is a Magic Eraser on the past, clearing our slates and removing the misperceptions and misplaced values imposed by ourselves or others. When we take off the old and realize that many "truths" we have built upon are actually false, spoken by voices other than God's, we begin to wake up.

Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength.… Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion.

—ISAIAH 52:1–2

We must pray for God to reveal those things that prevent us from seeing our true beauty. We must ask God to show us who we are and what we look like to Him. Though metaphorical for us, just like when Ananias cured Saul's blindness, we must remove the scales from our eyes.

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.

—ACTS 9:18

We will never learn about beauty by looking at beauty magazines and comparing ourselves to airbrushed objects of so-called perfection. We are real women, in real relationships, doing real work, and our beauty is actively unveiled here, not captured in frozen poses. There is no comparison! I don't subscribe to any of those magazines anymore because if I did, I might begin to subscribe to them internally, and that is not acceptable to me. I have twin daughters, Grace and Bella, and those images are not what I want on our coffee table, permeating their young spirits and providing counterfeit standards. No, thank you!

Being a writer, I default to journaling when I have spiritual or inner work to do. Try it. Make a list of all the lies you have been told or have told yourself about who you are, what you look like, and what you are capable of. Pray 2 Corinthians 5:17 over every statement on your list. Then cross them out. Yeah, baby.

Putting on the New

Once we have prayed our way through clearing the old image rubble, we have more freedom to consider something new. When I say new, I don't mean that we suddenly look in the mirror (with scale-free, crow's-feet-free eyes) and see this glam girl winking coyly back at us. No. I mean an entirely new way of looking at ourselves that may, in fact, not include a mirror at all.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

—ISAIAH 43:19

Just like taking off the old requires a detour through the past, so does putting on the new. Because our new is really not new, it is innate in who we are and has been part of our passion, purpose, and pleasure since our first breath. Think of what you loved to do when you were a child. I loved to fling myself as high as possible on the playground swing set, legs pumping, heart racing, head dizzy. Go back far enough in your memory that you can connect with the activity that made you lose sense of time and place and forget your skin and all your self-consciousness, so immersed were you in the moment of living your delight.

I loved to chase the waves on the beach for hours in my Wonder Woman bathing suit, my braids filled with sand and my freckles multiplying in the squinting sun. I loved to run as fast as possible across the grass, thinking that if I could just get a little more speed, surely I would take off and fly. My parents told me that I could be anything I wanted to be when I was all grown up. "Anything?" I challenged. "Absolutely anything, honey," they replied.

"Okay, I want to be an eagle."

Just as the reality of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy eventually spoils the fun, I learned that I had to remain human, much to my dismay. However, this does not change the fact that there is a tiny place inside me that still feels like I was meant to fly, maybe not meant to be eternally tethered by my humanity. When that tiny place stirs, I can feel my feathers.

What gives you so much happiness that you do not give a second thought to how you look doing it? At mile twenty-five of a marathon, do you think I care that I am wheezing like a dying cow, gimping along with cramping calf muscles, covered in a whitewash of dried sweat scum, and smell like a locker room? No way; I am living a dream, face-to-face with my weakness, on the brink of despair, pushing past every fear of failure and success, totally humbled, totally lifted, totally exhausted, totally invigorated, and totally alive.

For my friend Paige, her thing is riding bareback on a horse, flying at top speed across the pasture, hair streaming out behind her, screaming "Yeeeee-hawwwwww" at the top of her lungs. For my friend KT, it is the trained, timeless, ageless way her body propels through water in the lanes at Deep Eddy pool. For my friend Jena, it is the weightless, bounding joy of her trampoline. For Laura, it is riding her bike and taking her hands and feet off the handlebars and pedals while coasting downhill. For Elizabeth, it's connecting with her inner gladiator, competing ruthlessly on the soccer field and doing a victory dance with every goal (or is it her compulsion to wrench a microphone from any performer onstage and belt out a tune of her own?). Jennifer cannot deny her internal ballerina as her feet inadvertently assume ballet positions while we do bicep curls in the gym mirror. Crystal cannot imagine life without sandy, sweaty beach volleyball. My friend Janie is a black belt. Who knew? Peggy can sew, knit, cook, or create anything, at any time. When I'm writing and I'm on a roll, I forget to eat—and I am someone who has to snack every two hours or I have a mood plummet of space shuttle proportions. What is it for you? What makes you lose track of your age, your decorum, the passage of time, or any constraint? What makes you feel like a kid?

Your assignment: travel down memory lane and reclaim your lost belongings.

If you honestly cannot remember, this is serious. Time for an intervention conversation with your mom, your sibling, or your oldest, bestest friend—because she will remember. Because it is that thing, the memory and the reacquaintance with it, that will clue you in to your beauty. When you are reveling in your passion and living your purpose, you are becoming transparent, reflecting the inner beauty of God. Think about it, when you watch someone doing the thing they were meant to do, aren't they gorgeous?

Well, so are you.

New Eyes

Give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways.


Beauty is not about a reflection in a mirror. It is something God created, the essence of God Himself, and it stems from the heart. Changes in our appreciation for beauty need to come from the heart, not from the way we see ourselves with our eyes. In the verse above from Proverbs, God is asking us to relinquish our hearts to Him. He is the only One who can undo the damage that has been done to our hearts and heal us in such a way that we will have true vision. We have to believe that He can restore and reveal us.

He touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you."


When I went to a retreat called "Captivating," led by Stasi Eldredge, Stasi told us that each one of us has a special name given to us by God. It is something highly personal, incredibly intimate, and if you want to know what it is, ask God and He will reveal it to you. (I will admit, I was highly suspect.) I thought there was no way that the Creator of the universe would have the time or inclination to make up a pet name for me. Nicknames are cool, usually funny and based in love, indicative of close relationship. I figured that Stasi would get a special name, but I might just be Kristin Cate Richard Armstrong, or perhaps an assigned number. Like maybe God has a highly evolved Dewey decimal system to keep track of His flock, noting each one of us by a birth or death date and exact time. Doubting, but a direction-follower, I went outside for a covenant of silence, purportedly to speak to God about my so-called name.

I wasn't getting much in terms of two-way conversation with the Master, and I was starting to get cold, so I pulled my jacket over me like a blanket and lay down on top of the picnic table. I closed my eyes and turned my face toward the sun. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I got a visual of this time I went for a magical run with my best friend Paige, through these picturesque fields in Provence. We ran beside rows of lavender and endless miles of sunflowers. I remember feeling perfectly inserted in a postcard image, totally blessed, totally at home even in a foreign land. Sunflowers… I have always loved the way they turn and follow the sun. Follow the sun, follow the Son; oh, dear God, yes! That's me. That's it. How many times have You given me sunflowers? OHMYGOD (Sir), are you kidding me? I have a name—Sunflower! And I know it's for me, and I know without a doubt that every time I turn my face toward the Son, I am beautiful because I am loved, because I am warm and well-lit.

Those who look to him are radiant.

—PSALM 34:5


On Sale
Mar 11, 2009
Page Count
240 pages

Kristin Armstrong

About the Author

Kristin Armstrong is a mother of three, a runner, a writer, and a speaker. She is the author of Happily Ever After, Strength for the Climb, Work in Progress, Heart of my Heart, and Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run. She is a contributing editor for Runner’s World magazine and writes a monthly column for Tribeza. Her work has also appeared in USA Today, O, The Oprah Magazine, Parent: Wise Austin, and Glamour. Kristin lives in Austin, Texas and Santa Barbara, California with her family.

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