Where We Are

Mt. Rainier sunriseIt’s Tuesday. I got up this morning and read my Bible for the day. I fed and watered Dakota and the cats. Afterwards, Dakota wanted to play. Who am I kidding? She wants to chase a ball all day, every day.

I found a ball and switched on the outside light. It buzzed to life, flickering and humming as it warmed up. The wan light allowed me to walk into the driveway.

I hucked the dirty, pine needle-covered ball as far as I could. My right shoulder is tricky and doesn’t always serve me well. I figured Dakota wouldn’t mind.

She raced after the yellow orb. It bounced around, dodging her mouth. I looked up at the sky. A half moon shone down on us. A few bright stars glowed through patches in the tree canopy.

Life goes by fast.

Heck, sometimes I move too fast. I took a deep breath. I threw the ball a few more times. It skittered off into the grass. Dakota retrieved it and I found the other ball to toss for her. I walked up and down, the real fetcher.

I don’t want to miss the beauty all around us. The picture at the top of this post someone else took. I can see the same view from our bedroom, but didn’t stop to snap a photo. The season is changing. The days are slowly cooling down as fall looms. Our kids are growing up into young adults. I know I’ve said this before, yet I think it bears repeating. Lord, help me not to be so busy I miss the beauty of this moment.

This is the day the Lord has made.
    We will rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24

 

 

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On Mission

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I heard a great message on Esther last night. The speaker outlined the book, starting with the queen’s obscure beginning. Orphaned, raised by a cousin, living as a displaced person in a foreign nation, her future looked bleak. Her attitude of obedience and service, as well as her knockout good looks, propelled her to the front of the pack. King Xerxes was smitten.

“What if God made you exactly the way you are for a reason?”

He was speaking my language. I’ve been banging that drum for a long time now. You’re uniquely suited to a special purpose. To quote the Blues Brothers, you’re “on a mission from God”, whether you know it or not. C’mon, you know you heard it in your head in all its Midwestern accent glory.

All joking aside, you have a place in the story. Nobody can sing the way you can, for better or worse. Nobody can wear that outfit like you. Your perspective on life, similar to perhaps your sibling due to environment, is just a little bit different. You may lose or gain weight, but your structure is original to the manufacturer.

“What if God wove Esther together in her mother’s womb, like Psalm 139 says, and made her curvy and gorgeous? Did He do that on purpose?”

Of course He did. Guess what? He loves beauty. After all, He made pastel sunrises and fiery sunsets. He paints the inside of flowers. Hey, look at Angelina Jolie and Beyoncé. They may have enhanced their appearances, but the basic model is still amazing. Beauty draws us in, for we love to gaze upon it. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” Keats wrote long ago.

You’re beautiful. Or handsome, if beautiful is too feminine a term for you. You’re winsome and lovely and loved, above all.  So let’s decide to celebrate our physical traits, as we are, not as we wish we were or hope to someday be. Let’s get on with the mission, confident in our freaking gorgeousness, ready to go for it. The time is now.

 

 

 

Beauty Pockets

Photo by tap-trip.blogspot.com

Photo by tap-trip.blogspot.com

I stepped outside into the cold.  The thermometer hovered at around 25 degrees.  I pulled my cap down over my ears. I needed this run today.

I chugged out onto the main road. The stars, distant sparkly gems, twinkled above me. The morning, holding onto night, sat still.  No breath of wind stirred the air. Everything under the sky wore a frosty coating.

The dark seemed lighter, somehow. The streetlights shone on my path. My feet, already numb, pushed forward with the momentum of my heart. I crested the top of the hill. I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. The moon peeked between the buildings. It hung in the sky, a pale orange disc suspended in the tapestry of the deep purple sky. I mused on the wonder of it all, God’s creation, the beauty hidden in tiny pockets of this everyday life.

The cold air stung my lungs as I turned for home. I look forward to uncovering more beauty today.

Lies We Believe About Women

Today, Dr. I. brings us part 2 of his series on modesty.  Comments appreciated. Enjoy!
The current push towards modesty in the modern church relies on many false assumptions. Last week I spent some time lining out some of my misgivings about how men are viewed in light of  modesty. This week, I will look at some of the underlying assumptions I see regarding women. Before I do that, though, I do have to put a disclaimer here:
I am not advocating that women or men should be allowed to wear whatever they want whenever or wherever they want. What I am advocating for is that believers extend grace instead of judgment, and congregants to act with acceptance and love instead of control and manipulation.
And so, with that dear readers, let us turn out attention to the lies we believe about women.
#1 – Women’s bodies are a commodity
Commodities are bought and sold. Commodities are valued by what the market will pay for them. Commodities are subject to the law of supply and demand (most of the time). Women and their bodies are none of these. I have a feeling that most of us would agree with this statement. Those in porn or prostitution might disagree, but most women reading this don’t live in that world.
Underneath the modesty doctrine, though, is a lot of this thinking. I have heard women tell other women that if they show too much, they devalue their body. Really? So if supply goes up and demand stays constant, the price must go down, right? If you give it away, men won’t think it has a lot of value. Yep, I’ve heard that one as well. The worst idea of of all is the idea that a woman’s purity is like the pearl of great price Jesus talked about. A man found it and then went and sold everything he had to purchase the field so he could have the pearl. This is how some view marriage, with the woman’s purity as the pearl.
Don’t misunderstand me, I think my bride is an amazing woman and an amazing beauty and I would willingly sell everything I have to be with her, but this line of thinking (attaching a value to women, particularly her body) leads to a great deal of problems in our church and a great deal of pain when trying to apply modesty based on this idea. One of them is:
#2 – Women’s beauty is a zero sum game
I haven’t heard this one spoken specifically, but I can see it in action. For those who don’t know what a ‘zero sum game’ is, it’s the idea that if one item goes up, something else must go down to make all of them add up to zero. If I have  20 $1 bills to give to women and my instruction is to dole them out to each woman according to her beauty, then…my wife wins all and the rest of the women lose. Sorry.
Fine. I will give my wife $10 and then a few other ladies in my church a couple of bucks.
Immediately, you think me harsh. Of course I have to give my wife the most (if not all), but if I give some others out, why do some get bills and some get nothing? What if I change my mind?  What if I want to make it as fair as possible? I have to *take* a dollar from one woman to give it to another. Now, I have to take $9 from my wife to make sure everyone gets $1, assuming there are 20 women.
Don’t think this applies? You haven’t been paying attention. In the modesty debate, there’s this fear that if a scantily clad woman shows up at church, all men will be paying attention to her (if you read that as ‘lust after her’, please read my first blog). If married men are paying attention to that woman, less attention goes to their wives, right? Wrong. Attention is not a zero sum game either. If a beautiful woman walks into the room (even a well coiffed, modestly dressed one), that does not mean every other woman in the room loses their beauty. Beauty is not a zero sum game, either.
The modesty movement fosters this idea of beauty as a zero sum game. I don’t think it intentionally puts this idea forward, but it comes through nonetheless. And while I am on the subject, please allow me an ‘aside’ here.  Beautiful women attend my church. There are women that spend a lot of time on their hair, and it looks great. Ladies, if I compliment your hair, I am not lusting after you (see my first blog). If I say I think you look pretty in that new dress, it does not mean I wish you were not wearing it…or anything at all. If I compliment your smile, please don’t think I am coming on to you. If I compliment you, it means I noticed something I like. I think my wife is pretty as well. I like her hair. I like her smile. I like her dress.
And just because I compliment you does not lower what I think of my wife. Another woman’s beauty has no impact on your own. Beauty is not a zero sum game. Husbands, feel free to compliment my wife; she’s a beautiful woman. She was beautifully and wonderfully made. She spends time taking care of herself. If you compliment her breasts I will knock you out…you know what’s appropriate! Husbands, if my wife looks pretty, feel free to tell her. It would make her day. I promise I won’t think you are trying to hit on her, and I will respectfully compliment your wife and you will assume it’s innocent attention as well. Aren’t compliments supposed to edify the receiver?  Let’s do it intentionally, with joy.
(Oh, and while we are at it, how about we men in the church step up and start complimenting the single ladies in our church. Maybe…if they receive non-sexual compliments from mature Christian men, they would gain a better understanding of what appropriate male attention looks like and wouldn’t be confused about where the line is…I’m just saying.)
OK…back to the topic at hand.
#3 – Immodestly dressed women are trying to steal men
I have heard well-meaning Christian women jokingly comment that the ‘floozy’ is going to steal her husband. This statement may be an exaggeration and it may be true in a small percentage of circumstances, but how many women do you know who would clutch their husband closer when he compliments or pays attention to the scantily clad woman? It’s almost a cliché by now.
Why do the women do this? Because they assume the scantily clad woman is on the prowl. The article that started me thinking about all this suggested that the woman wearing less probably has a reason for her attire other than stealing the attentions  of men in the church, but yet…we tend to treat them this way anyway.
In conclusion
So how do we escape the trap of the zero sum game? Grace and Love, I think. What if a scantily clad woman shows up and gets complimented by women and men alike for things that have nothing to do with what she wears? What if she shows up in something short and tight and sees men and women alike complimenting each other, as well as her, on her sense of humor, her creativity or her kindness ? What if she shows up and witnesses people garnering attention because they are beautiful and unique creations of God and have infinite value in themselves, simply for who they are? Do you think she will show up next week in a short, tight outfit?
Maybe. But in that environment, would anyone really care? If she’s not a commodity, she doesn’t need to sell anything – or give it away –  and nobody else fears her flooding the market with her goods. She’s God’s child, wonderful and special, and her worth is rooted there. Yes, this is how it would be in my perfect world, to be sure, but if we are able to get over these lies we believe about women, I think modesty would come a lot easier us all, and it might not even matter.

Good Egg

I purchase eggs from a church friend. Her chickens produce extra eggs which she sells and delivers.  Usually, there’s a slight variation in color, and a little in size.

Not this time.

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I apologize for the ginormity of the picture, but a smaller image didn’t do it justice.

Ruby spotted the littlest egg right away.

“Aww! It’s so cute!” she squealed.  Then she wanted to eat it.  Not too creepy.

“Maybe if they left it in longer it would have gotten bigger, ” she postulated.

No.  It wouldn’t.  Eggs, once  expelled, don’t grow anymore, I explained as I scrambled all our eggs together. Ruby, a preemie herself, figured everyone should be given the chance to get just a bit bigger if possible.

I cracked the teeny egg into the white bowl.  Its yolk glowed vivid orange like a mini setting sun as it slid to the bottom.  Perfect, yet so small.

If Ruby had gotten bigger, would she still be the same – a mighty mite of a girl, fearless, funny, flawed and all of 48 lbs? I wonder.

I say our beauty is wrapped up in our uniqueness.  We try to flatten it out and make it look like the media force-feed.  We straighten the curls and waves.  We cinch in our belts to be uber slim. We pretend to fit in.  Ultimately, we can’t overcome our genetic code or our wild uniqueness. Our individuality brands us as one-of-a-kind.  We don’t all like Thai food.  Some of us like smelly cheeses.  And some of us come in tiny packages.

The box of eggs pictured above looks nothing like supermarket eggs.  Those pale cousins have been homogenized, possibly colored and sorted to matchy-match in a pleasing palette of white.  But that’s not real life, folks.  We need each other, quirks and all. We need to be ourselves because the world needs us. Thank God.

I apologize for not blogging yesterday, dear readers.  I’m still trying to get used to my new work schedule.

 

Bypassing Boy Trouble

I ran 6 miles today.  I didn’t get much running in this week because Rubious got sick.  She had a fever, then a cough and fever.  Now it’s a cold with a runny nose and cough and sneezing.  She’s spent countless hours watching “Littlest Pet Shop” and playing Minecraft.  I always feel a bit guilty.  I want to engage with her, but she has no energy to play games or create anything.  The best I can do is keep her company and keep feeding her.

I had a revelation recently, probably from the extra TV I watched alongside Ruby.  I realize more and more the extent of  the brainwashing done to our young women.  Everywhere, images of the most beautiful, thin, sexy women abound.  Moms in commercials manage to look put together and svelte, no rolls of fat cluttering their middles. Girls have perfect hair and all their straight, white teeth.  Nobody’s hair is curly, save the very young.  Apparently curly hair is babyish.

The cartoons marketed to Ruby’s age bracket now have  several regular plot lines about boys and girls “going steady”, if I may use that archaic term.  It’s wrong.  Girls appear to have no value if they aren’t attractive.  Keep in mind, Ruby is 8 years old.

I felt myself getting steamed.  I had to say something. I muted one show.

“Ruby, you know you’re just fine on your own.  If you never have a boyfriend, you’re enough.  You’re beautiful, smart and funny.  God made you and He loves you.  You don’t have to earn anyone else’ s love.”

“I know, Mom, ” Ruby said, never taking her eyes off the screen.

I pray she does.

I spent most of my life believing I was no one unless somebody loved me.  Somebody of the opposite sex who was available, that is.  I devoured teenage romance novels.  I completely bought the lie that if a boy didn’t like me, I was worthless.  I was in love with the idea of love – butterflies, magic, flowers, romance, the whole deal.  If white doves swooped down near me, that worked, too.

Growing up white and nerdy, I didn’t date.  Heck, I barely spoke to boys.  Too intimidating.  Also as a Christian, it made the possible pool of eligible bachelors incredibly small.  Not that there were any takers.  I barely spoke at all except to my friends and family, oh, and speaking up for the discussion part of class. Had to get a good grade for that, you know. You could say I had a painfully shy personality.

I don’t want any of that for Ruby.  So far, she seems well-adjusted.  Ruby’s life comes with  a few advantages mine didn’t.  Her parents are still together. Casting no aspersions on my parents there, simply a fact.  She’s secure. She doesn’t struggle with identity issues.  She knows who she is and what she wants to do.  I never did.  Ruby loves herself and manages to love others, too.  I’m working on that.  Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” has no place to land if you don’t love yourself first.  You  have to love from a place of knowing who you are, secure it that knowledge; if not, you’ll find your love riddled with holes.

We all have value because God made us.  Women have value. We aren’t “things” to be used for pleasure or put on pedestals to be worshiped as gorgeous, unattainable goddesses.  True, some of us are more appealing to look at than others.  But then again, I believe that’s part of the cultural brainwashing.  Everyone has a measure of beauty to offer this world – men included.  It might not be in the physical.  Some of the most beautiful people I know have the most loving hearts.  Their eyes shine with kindness and humor.  They offer mercy when no one else will.  They serve without strings.

I believe one of my tasks is to teach Ruby and Zac what true beauty is.  The Bible has much to say about it.  Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. – I Peter 3:3-4 

I have much to unlearn.

Arc of Life

Not this arc.

Not this arc.

Today is amazing.  The sun pours down.  A cool fall breeze, laden with the scent of fallen leaves and pine needles refreshes.  The blue sky dominates against a backdrop of the last trees of fall, ablaze with color.  Mesmerizing!

I took a short walk this afternoon.  I had to get out in it! The poplar trees in my neighborhood resemble half-eaten corncobs, kernels of leaves bitten away by recent storms.  I considered the proposition of death.  I know, morbid.  Yet it seems to me that I might be in the middle of my life span.  We spend so much of our lives trying to get to do more and more.  When we’re babies, we strive to walk.  Then we want to talk.  And on and on.

But as we age, we find that our options start to turn the other way.  Jonathon and I won’t be having any more children.  We’re getting too old.  I already have gray hair.  I don’t need to voluntarily seek more!  One of my coworkers on the shelter project retires next month.  As in, exactly one month from today, he will no longer be employed full-time.  He’s worked for 30+ years and is ready to move on.  I imagine he feels more than a touch of sadness amidst all the joy attached to that event.  We tease him about sneaking out early on his last day.  Wouldn’t you?!

This turn of the tide feels a little like betrayal.  When you’re young, it seems the whole world lies before you, a ripe succulent fruit you can’t wait to taste.  As we live and make choices, time marches on.  Our choices and the passing of time shape our future.  The fruit fades a little.  After all this time, is there nothing more to look forward to?  I see my kids learning more and more skills.  Ruby continues to create beauty out of found objects.  Zac acquires more knowledge in school and conquers his video games.

Even as the trees shed their glorious raiment of leaves and enter dormancy, there is still beauty.  I have to remember that as long as we’re above ground, opportunities to grow and change exist.  We can get a lot out of enjoying each day and making the most of what is before us. We can still pick up new things. We can still “seek out new life, and new civilizations” even at our advanced ages.  New discoveries await and they aren’t age-biased.   Einstein received the Nobel Peace Prize at age 42. Georgia O’Keeffe started painting in earnest at 80. I end up returning to the words of King Solomon, composer of numerous psalms and most of the wisdom books:

There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!” – Ecclesiastes 9:4