Elizabeth Smart: A Hero Of Our Day

I drove home behind a veteran the other day, who had license plates indicating he was a recipient of the highest award for valor: the purple heart.  If I could, I would award one to Elizabeth Smart.  Smart was 14 when she was abducted at knife point from her Salt Lake City home by her kidnapper Brian David Mitchell.   She has now spent three days on the witness stand describing her nine month ordeal.  During those months she was sexually assaulted, forced to drink, use drugs, view drugs and initially she was tethered between two trees to prevent her escape.  She was also given a different name.  All of these tactics would be to break down the inhibition of the captive and to strip them of dignity and identity.  I stand in awe and admiration of her courage to come to court, be in the presence of her tormenter once again, and to tell her story.  I don’t think people realize that having to recount her story is almost akin to being re-victimized.  The one thing you don’t want to do is live it again, not that you can ever really forget.  Yet in order to bring justice that is exactly what has to happen to all victims of rape and other crimes.

When people are living in horrific conditions you always wonder what enables them to survive.  What gives them the will to live?  To go on?  Smart described that she came to a point where she felt utterly worthless, and as if no one could ever want her again.   She reasoned with herself that even prostitutes had a better life than what she was living.  The thought of her family and making it back to them helped her survive.  She fought to keep her connection with them alive.   She talked about her parents with her captor.  She saved a safety pin that was on the pajamas she was wearing the night she was kidnapped.  She bit the lip of her captor when he tried to kiss her.  She tried running away.   I am sure there were many, many other small ways she fought back.  I stand in awe of her courage.  It is worth repeating that she was only fourteen at the time.

I praise God that Smart was found and reunited with her family.  She stands as a living symbol of hope for all those who have been victims of crime.  She deserves a purple heart because she is truly a woman of valor.

Bites Like A Snake, Stings Like A Viper

“Alcohol makes you feel better and then makes you feel worse and then remorselessly very bad indeed, but then alcohol will make you feel better again.  It is the cure for the dog that bit you, and how easily you forget it is also the dog.”

Roger Ebert

Have you ever noticed how things that are terrible for you look SO GOOD?   Scripture says alcohol is like that.  In describing a drink it says “it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly.  Afterward it bites like a snake, and stings like a viper.”   Now I have to fess up here.  I wouldn’t know a thing about it.  It’s not that I don’t have vices, alcohol has just never been one of them.  I figure I don’t need any further help in making a fool of myself by engaging in drinking.   To tell you the truth, I am terrified of the stuff.  My luck, I’d take one drink and be addicted for sure.  So I am a teetotaler and have always been.

The university I attended however, was a party school.   It was a small university town with an inordinate amount of bars uptown.   In fact the Halloween party was notorious.  People came from far and wide to attend the drunken fest.   The University didn’t try and stop it.   They just did their best to “contain it.”  I know for sure I was one of the rare few who attended sober.  I went up with a group of friends.  We went as the “Wheel of Fortune.” My friend was Vanna White and her boyfriend was Pat Sajak.  The rest of us went as letters.  What did we spell?  In a nod to my future home, we spelled “Busch”, as in “Busch beer.”   I did my best to keep the drunken letters together as we wove our way through the sea of people.  I am quite sure most of the night we spelled “schub.”  After surviving the surging, thronging mass of drunken, half-costumed party-goers on Court Street, we made it safely back to my friend’s room.  There her boyfriend, Fred, kept asking me “Do you want a beer Stace?”  He was so courteous in his drunkeness.  I would just smile and politely say “no.”  Then my friends proceeded to throw pumpkins out their second floor windows David Letterman style.   For that, they did get in trouble.  It was a surreal night for sure, made more surreal by being sober.   I don’t know why, but my friends always accepted me even though I didn’t participate in their drunken escapades.

I did enter a few bars uptown with my friends to go dancing.  One night a very drunk guy named Phil made his way to our table.  He kept telling me over and over “You’re beautiful!”  It was amusing.   You know how these stories usually go.   The next day Phil’s friends razz him: “Do you know you were telling the ugliest girl in the bar last night that she was beautiful?”  Then they laugh at him uproariously for his stupidity.  To my surprise Phil remembered me and continued to call me for weeks.  It was good to know his opinion of me didn’t change when he was sober, but I wasn’t really interested in dating a drunk.

Just to show you how corrupt the university I attended was, on my twenty-first birthday an R.A. (resident assistant) nicknamed “Twig” knocked on my door and entered my room carrying a back-pack.  He proceeded to unload all the ingredients to make me a Screwdriver, which is apparently a mix of vodka and orange juice.  I just stood there and laughed.  I lived in a co-ed dorm and apparently some of the guys decided it would be great fun to see if they could get me drunk.   They were sorely disappointed.   I refused the drink and my friend Steve ended up drinking it.

Let me cut to the chase.   Though these stories are amusing, drinking is not.  They just came out with a study that showed that alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack.   “Both in terms of medical consequences as well as societal consequences, alcohol ranks very high in overall harmfulness.”  Just this past year I was in a group with a woman whose stepson drove drunk and wrecked his car into a tree killing his best friend, who was an only child.   It was wrenching to hear her talk every week about her stepson’s life now.  Just this past month another good friend told me about her husband’s slide into alcoholism.  He started drinking when he was a teen.  Now at forty he goes on binges and sometimes can’t reach the bathroom in time at night and pees his pants.  Addiction is glamorous isn’t it?  In America we think we are not drug abusers as long as we are using a “legal substance.” Please.

Here is the end of the matter.  If you drink to excess and do so frequently, you are a fool.  Stop letting the snake charm you.  The truth is you are on the straight path to ruin.  Wise up and turn yourself around and be done with self-destruction.

Adam Levine: The New Elvis

Okay.  I admit it.  I think Adam Levine is hot.   I even admitted that to my husband and he took it well.  I guess it’s because Adam is no eminent threat to him and never will be.  I told him I think he is the “new Elvis”.  He laughed.  I have taken it upon myself to crown Levine the new King.  I am sure I will be disputed.  Bring it on.  Why do I say he is the new Elvis?  I was watching Maroon Five’s new video “Give A Little More.”  As a video, it is terrible.   It’s the usual trashy sex.  Nothing new here.  What mesmerizes me is simply Levine.   He steals the show.  I wish the video were just him, the mic and the guitar.  It’s not only the beautiful falsetto pipes he croons with.  It’s the fact that this guy sings with passion.  He isn’t singing the song to you, he’s making love to you with a microphone.   It is positively illegal.  If someone could seduce with a single look, Levine could do it.  He has beautiful eyes.  He smoulders.  He rocks it.  He is one with his red guitar.  Nobody else but Elvis had that kind of raw sexuality.  Elvis was illegal too.  He worked women into a frenzy with his hip rocking gyrations, his crooning, guitar playing, and suave good looks.  Nobody did it better.   Levine however, is giving Elvis a run for his money.  Look out Graceland.  Levine has left the building.

Hoobastank: The Reason

There are so many worthless songs that have been written, but every once in awhile a gem comes along. Hoobastank delivers. This is a beautiful song. It is achingly heartfelt. It explores the themes of regret, repentance and redemption.

He begins where we all must start, with regret. He admits in the song he isn’t perfect and that there are things he needs to learn. He acknowledges the pain he caused. Some of us need to start there. We need to go apologize to someone today for hurting them. To humble ourselves and admit the truth. The problem lies in us.

He moves on to talk about the universal experience of hurting another human being: guilt Despite how terrible it is to feel guilt, I can tell you to not be able to feel it anymore is worse. I know people like that. They have no remorse. What that means is that your heart is very, very hard. It’s so hard you cannot even feel when you cause others pain anymore. Some people are so warped they even enjoy the infliction of pain. Our conscience is a gift really. Don’t suppress it. It tells us when we need to make amends. Make them. That is repentance.

I think what is particularly moving about this song is that the very person he hurt is the cause of him becoming a better person. Here is the chorus:

“I found a reason for me

To change who I used to be

A reason to start over new

And the reason is you.”

Those are incredibly powerful words. What they translate to is that someone realizes you are a very special person. The thought that they hurt something so beautiful, so lovely, decimates them. Yet it also transforms them. That is redemption. I think often of whether I am that kind of person. Is there enough beauty of soul in me that knowing they hurt me would deeply move a man to redemption? That’s the question. I can tell you that’s the kind of inspirational person I aspire to be.

This song is the gospel really. We begin the process of redemption by coming to the end of ourselves. It begins by realizing how terrible, ugly, hard and evil our own hearts are. With those hearts we have gone out and harmed others in our desperate attempts to find life without God. Yet we learn that God himself loved us, despite the fact that we hated Him. In fact he loved us so much he sent Christ to die to save us. It is by that act of love we are moved. We see how beautiful God is and how awful it is to hurt our own creator. He becomes then the ultimate “reason” to “start over new.” In fact, it’s only through God’s help that we really can.

A Culture Of Voyeurs

I am probably one of the few people who signed up for Facebook without realizing what the heck I was signing up for.  This is how I got suckered into it.   My graduate school sent me an e-mail saying they were going to have “a Facebook page.”  They also said one of the professors had reviewed a book and was giving his thoughts on it.   They gave a snippet, but in order to read the full review, you had to go to the page.  Of course you couldn’t go to the page unless you personally had an account.  Thus I created my Facebook account.  I read the review and moved on.

Then the friendship “requests” started coming.  One woman from my former church sent me one of these such requests.  What I found intriguing was that this woman really had not been a friend to me in real life, and by gosh I sure could have used one.  She couldn’t manage to be a real friend to me while in the church, but she sure was interested in what the heck I was up to now that I was no longer at the church.  Another mother in the community I was trying to befriend would tell me lots of updates about people.  She would say “Oh did you know so and so had their baby?  Did you know so and so just got back from Europe and they returned to a flooded basement? “  I would always say, “Oh, do you hang out with them?”  She’d say, “No, I just keep up with them via their Facebook page. Are you on Facebook?”   I had to admit I was, but I was beginning to feel a little queasy about it.   I realized quickly it wasn’t just a “social networking site” it was also a popularity contest.  I had to admit I would feel bad when I saw other people’s pages who had 356 friends and I had 8.  I began to wonder if this was good for me.  Do I really want to know that Jane is making cookie dough right this very minute and that earlier little Tommy threw up?  Do I want to spend my time reading this or do I want to have a real life connecting with real people?  When I started receiving messages saying that someone had planted a “lil’ strawberry in my strawberry patch” I knew I was in over my technological head.  No one told me I had to maintain a garden if I signed up for Facebook.

I never shy away from calling it like it is.  The truth is we have become a nation of voyeurs.   From reality t.v., to Facebook, and Twitter we have opted out of real life and settled for peering into others.  Americans are notoriously envious despite all our privilege.   One way we can tell if we are “keeping up” is by seeing what others do and have in their private lives.  I think there is a place for social networking.  Facebook can be fun if you use it to keep up with friends you can’t see often.  My problem is when people use it as an alternative to real relationship and spend more time keeping up with their e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook messages than they do interacting with real people.  I realize I have to hold myself to that same standard with blogging too.  One night I laid in my bed and listened to a mockingbird singing it’s many calls.  The wind blew softly through my window as I marveled at the beautiful sound.   Most of us have lost the ability to experience “wonder.”  We need to stop peering into people’s lives and really experience our own.  Then we really have something to share with the world.

How To Befriend A Sociopath

Listen up! This one I have some real expertise on. If you want to meet a sociopath, take yourself to the local library. That’s where I met the one I befriended. What I mean to say is that’s where I met the one who preyed on me. People who have no conscience should be required to wear shirts with a big scarlet letter “S” on them (for Sociopath of course). Then one could know to run for their lives. Instead they invite themselves over. Now one would think it is safe to let someone you meet at a story hour for kids over to your house. Wrong. It’s never safe to let a sociopath in. Oh, but they are so charming! They come armed with flattery. They smile, they wink, they toss their hair! Then at some point they deploy their greatest weapon of all: sympathy. The number one way you know you are dealing with a sociopath? They play upon your sympathy. In fact they play on everyone’s sympathy. They manipulate people like pawns on a chessboard who unwittingly do their will. They lie, cheat, steal, and deceive. They slander, gossip, criticize and condemn with their vicious tongues. They are a whirlwind of harm, always causing hurt, ruin and destruction in people’s lives, including their own family members. Yet they turn on the waterworks if anyone throws an accusation their way. Poor, poor them! They are always the victim and never responsible for anything. I ate many a meal at this sociopath’s table, and I’ll tell you I wish I could vomit up every one. This sociopath was a “Christian” too. If ever I thought of becoming an atheist, it was after meeting her.

In the Bible, the most notoriously evil woman written about is Queen Jezebel. After her evil husband King Ahab has been killed, the new successor Jehu comes to take out his Queen too. As he drives his chariot into town like a madman, Jezebel comes out to meet him. She has prepared for the meeting too, putting on some make-up like a true witch. I can see her defiantly standing out there on the castle wall, her red lips sullenly pouty. As Jehu enters town he shouts out “Who will throw her down for me?” Several people willingly jump at the chance and over the castle wall she goes. Dogs lick up her blood, just as it had been prophesied. I think about that story often. All I can say is that I hope my sociopathic “friend” is putting on her lipstick. God is riding his chariot into town for her and there will be many who will gladly give her a push.

How Not To Marry A Pig

If there is anything we love it is a little marital advice. So listen up boys, because I am going to give you some. This little charmer doesn’t come from me however. It comes from the wisest man who ever lived (being exceeded only by Christ). I am speaking of King Solomon of course. In 1 Kings 4:29 it says that “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment; the breadth of his understanding was as infinite as the sand on the shore.” What an incredible statement of the vast blessing God poured out on Solomon. Yet, if Solomon was known for anything else, it was also women. He had 700 royal wives and 300 concubines. His wives were known to have a powerful influence over him. Despite his vast wisdom, his many wives led him astray. That in itself is a warning. Choose your life partner carefully.

Solomon wrote most of the book of Proverbs and therein contains nuggets of wisdom concerning all of life. I want to focus on one: Proverbs 11:22. It says “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” To be discreet means to “show discernment and good judgment in conduct and especially in speech; capable of preserving prudent silence.” If there ever was a litmus test for women it would be speech. The way a woman conducts herself in speech tells you volumes about her character. The woman may be very beautiful, but if you see she can’t keep a secret, gossips, and tears others down with her tongue then send that girl packing. The idea is no matter how beautiful she looks externally, internally she’s a pig and will always be one. You can dress a pig up, and even put a gold ring in it’s snout, but at the end of the day it is still a gross, stinky, disgusting pig.

I knew a woman like this. She was petite and attractive. She dressed well. She was multi-talented. Yet her tongue made her the ugliest woman I have ever met. If I could vomit up every interaction I ever had with her I would. Take it from me gentleman: run from that pig, run.

What Susan Boyle and Bilbo Baggins Have in Common

“I knew because my mother told me that God had given me a path to follow and I would gradually find out what that was. I liked the idea of being on a special journey that God created just for me. I always tried to remember that other people’s opinions about me didn’t matter. What mattered was the path that God had laid out for me.” -Susan Boyle

I must say one of the highlights of my year was going on You Tube and watching the video of Susan Boyle perform at the Britain’s Got Talent semi-final. When she walked out in that ridiculous outfit and then gave that wiggle I was sold. I loved her immediately. Then when she opened her mouth and blew them away with those pipes I was smiling like the Cheshire cat. Then I read her book: Susan Boyle, The Woman I Was Meant To Be. When I found out that she had some learning difficulties and had been made fun of and bullied a lot of her life I loved her even more. It is so satisfying in life when the underdog wins. She mentioned that this year she was going to perform for the Pope. Take that you wee bullies! I hope that throws you on your arse. Actually Susan didn’t have a bad word to say about those who had mistreated her and seemed to be taking her new found fame in stride. It was very touching to hear how much love and admiration she had for her mother who had cared so well for Susan her whole life. After her mother died Susan was really at a loss and struggling to find purpose. It is exactly at this juncture that she makes the decision that forever changes her life: to try out for Britain’s Got Talent.

In the book she describes getting ready to go for the semi-final. She got up early and put on her dress, finishing off the outfit with black tights and white open-toed shoes. Then she set off in the early morning sloshing through the gray dismal rainy day and getting her feet wet in the puddles. It took six bus exchanges to get her there and though she made it on time they did not have her listed as being a contestant at that time slot. She had to wait many, many hours to get her chance to perform but she was determined to see it through. By the time she got to go out on stage it had been a long day for the judges slogging through very little talent. Apparently Simon Cowell heaved a weary sigh when she told him what she wanted to sing: “I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables.” Not a very auspicious beginning for world fame. Yet that is exactly what it was. It was a great delight to see crabby Simon Cowell beaming at the end. Isn’t it great when we get smacked in the face with our prejudice and come up short?

When she left that morning for the semi-final she talked about how she felt like turning back and going back to bed in her nice cozy home. That is exactly how Bilbo Baggins felt in The Hobbit. He was about to embark on the adventure of his life and all he really wanted to do was snuggle up in his hobbit hole and have a second breakfast with tea. Many times during his adventure which involved dwarves, elves, trolls, wargs, goblins, wizards, a slimy creature called Gollum and of course a fantastic fire-breathing dragon guarding a treasure, Bilbo thought longingly of his hobbit hole. Tolkien describes their journey: “It was a hard path and a dangerous path, a crooked way and a lonely and a long.” Yet both Bilbo and Susan exemplify the axiom: nothing ventured nothing gained. They both pushed themselves out into the wider world and came back with treasure. If that doesn’t give you the inspiration to go for it, nothing will. Who knows? Maybe you will get to sing for the Pope.

Nickelback: If Today Was Your Last Day

It’s true. I’m a hard rock girl. I love it, I always have. So I have to admit I am a fan of Nickelback. Kroeger has real talent and I love his beautiful, gravelly voice. They put out their fair share of trashy sex songs not worth listening to. Yet they really bring an offering with “If Today Was Your Last Day.” It’s a song that makes you pause and really think. Not many hard rock bands do that.

Life is short. One of my high school classmates died at thirty-six of breast cancer. Another high school classmate’s husband died suddenly and she was widowed in her mid-thirties. This song asks you: If today was your last day, how would you live it? Moreover are we living each day to the fullest? One of the lyrics reminds us, “each day is a gift and not a given right.” I know I tend to take my days for granted, sort of always assuming I’ll have tomorrow. One of the other lines in the song asks “Could you say goodbye to yesterday?” I know for me one of the greatest hindrances to moving forward is being drug down by the past. The past sometimes feels like the proverbial albatross around my neck. I think for many the past weighs them down. Included in the past is the forgiveness of enemies. I must say of all the tasks the past requires, that is by far the hardest for me. The song suggests the past is one of the things we must let go in order to embrace today. Another line says “Sometimes that first step is the longest stride.” That’s so true isn’t it? In any endeavor, the first step is always the longest. That first step for many of us is to lay down the baggage of the past.

The song really presses people to “make their mark” and to realize “every second counts.” What I love the most is the refrain. It by far is the most inspirational.

This song really pushes me in a lot of ways. Sometimes I feel very, very discouraged by all that has happened to me. Many things were out of my control and I feel like they just can’t be redeemed. I also get drug down by the weight of my own mistakes. Yet the song practically propels us forward. “It’s never too late to shoot for the stars!” It’s never too late. That is a message of great hope. The weight of the past and lack of forgiveness is heavy, but hope “never asked a crumb of me” says Dickinson in her famous poem. We need to exchange the weight of the past for the unburdened hope of the future. That’s the message for me. Maybe it’s the message for you too.

The Number One Disease In America

There are surely many and numerous deadly diseases out there which can kill you. In America there is one disease that is killing more people than any other. It’s the disease of loneliness. It’s a form of suffering so palpable you can taste it. It can strike you when you are alone or when you are in a crowd. Of all the human diseases it is the one I wish I could most find a cure for. Certainly no song captures loneliness more poignantly than the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.” That song is absolutely gut wrenching. Thinking of a woman putting make-up on for no one, and the guy who is darning his socks alone makes me want to scream. I can’t stand to see someone eating alone in public. I have to fight the urge not to join them. The Beatles haunting question is the question of our time: “All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?” I don’t know, but I surely have been one of them.

I have observed myself and how I deal with loneliness. I always respond to it with “too much.” I eat too much, I work too much, I spend too much, I cry too much. You get the idea. Some people go to darker lengths: they drink too much, take too many drugs, watch pornography.

It’s becoming more rare to find people you really connect with on a heart level. If you find someone like that, hang on to them. You have found a gem. Americans have become a people who are great at making a living and terrible at making a life. Our wallets are full but our hearts are empty. We Facebook, we e-mail, we Twitter, we text, when really we just want someone to touch us in a meaningful way. We long for someone to know us. We want someone to engage us, to stimulate our minds and move our hearts. To do that one must be a person of depth and those are getting more rare too. I know I desire to relieve the loneliness of others. I try to make it a point to physically touch people. I give them hugs. More importantly I try to influence and move their hearts in the deepest places. I try to offer words that encourage and build up. If I relieve the loneliness of one person I consider myself to have made a difference.

What Makes A Woman Captivating?

Captivating. What a word. It means to attract and hold by charm, beauty or excellence. To hold the attention of by fascinating; enchant. An archaic definition is “to capture.” Tony Blair used the word. He said he found Princess Diana captivating. Quite a compliment from the former Prime Minister. It got me wondering. What makes a woman captivating? It certainly means the woman has a “special something” about them. I was always a Princess Diana fan. No doubt she captured the imagination of us all. She certainly was beautiful and glamorous. Is that all it takes to be captivating?

I think it surely must be more. Of course we all notice the outward appearance first. Yet no one could deny that Mother Theresa was also captivating, and she had no external beauty. I think to be captivating you must have internal fire. That spark of passion that runs deep. You also have to have heart, courage and a driving purpose. I suppose there are many individual characteristics that captivate. Some things I find captivating are strong moral character, intellect, imagination, curiosity, humor, passion, ambition, compassion, courage, heart, empathy, being well read, being a great conversationalist, being adventurous, liking to have fun, being glamorous. Is it acceptable to say beautiful eyes, a nice smile and being a good kisser are captivating too?

Do you know a captivating woman? If so count yourself lucky. They are a rare breed.

Washing Other People’s Pigs

Let me ask you. Have you ever had someone come over and help you wash your pig? Believe me you would remember if you did because it is supremely annoying. This is the person who comes over and sticks their nose in your business and offers unsolicited help and advice about how to solve a problem you and someone else are having. Ah, now you know what I mean. We all have the pigs and to the rescue comes the pig washer.

Mine came with her sleeves all rolled up prepared to do God’s will. She slung her hands down in the soapy water and went right to work on the sow. First she explained how she had once had a similar problem (and therefore my problem must be exactly the same). Whap! That pig kicked up some mud with it’s hoof and it landed smack in the middle of her forehead. I never said a word. Then she picked up a sponge and soaked it with water and began to really scrub that baby. She explained my offenses in detail and actually proceeded to embellish them by adding a major sin to the list. I don’t recall her asking my side of the story nor listening to what I had to say. At this point the pig sat down in it’s own poop then promptly rolled around in her lap. I wondered how much bleach it was going to take to get the stain out. She proceeded on undeterred to her conclusion explaining to me what I needed to do to rectify the situation in the only gracious Christian manner possible. At this point the pig stood up buried its snout in the grubs then turned and kissed her on the lips. She smiled triumphantly and stood up very proud that she had served God and scrubbed my pig shining clean. I escorted her to the door and had to physically restrain myself from kicking her behind on the way out. I watched her walk away covered in mud, poop and grubs. Then I turned and smiled at the pig who looked as dirty as ever and we both fell on the ground and rolled in laughter. I sure hope she has a lot of bleach.

“Meddlers are sure to hurt their own characters; if you scrub other people’s pigs you will soon need scrubbing yourself.”

Charles Spurgeon

John Ploughman’s Talk

There is a Sucker Born Every Minute and It’s Usually Me

Our culture is obsessed with beauty and yet ironically we have absolutely no idea what beauty is. Every woman in America finds herself faced with impossible standards put forth by photos in magazines and images on T.V. We have reduced beauty to mere outer appearance and in doing so we have become a very shallow culture indeed. Have you ever met someone who is drop dead gorgeous on the outside, but inside is as vapid as mud? We spend hours working on the outside appearance and virtually none working on our character. Every truly beautiful person I know has worked on transforming the heart.

I find myself face to face with the idiocy when I go to look at all the moisturizing creams that promise to turn back the clock for me and keep me eternally youthful. As I stand there trying to decide which one to buy only one thought runs through my head: “There is a sucker born every minute and right now it’s you.” The claims these products make are downright laughable. “Age defying!” they proclaim. They are defying alright, but mostly to the health of my wallet. One ounce of eye cream costs something like $60. To be honest I think a really great kiss on the lips would do me more good and I know it would make me happier because I like kissing. So put your money in your wallet and go home and kiss the hubby. No one can call you a sucker for that.

“Let your beauty not be external – the braiding of the hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes – but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious in God’s sight.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

“Wisdom walks often in patched clothes, and then folks do not admire her; but I say never mind the coat, give me the man: shells are nothing, the kernel is everything.”

Charles Spurgeon

Me and Rodney Dangerfield

It’s the story of my life, and Rodney’s too. We never get any respect. Respect means to regard with esteem and honor. I am the person whose voice always gets silenced by the more powerful. My thoughts don’t matter. My feelings don’t matter. I don’t matter. When you are the youngest in your family, you can never outgrow the position. Since you are the “baby” you are always treated as one. You are never taken seriously. At school I was the bullied, the teased, the put down. At home I was the “not quite good enough.” Despite bringing home every award in the book, the approval carrot was always out of reach.

In high school I hung with the geeky, brainy kids. The ones who despite their awkwardness were going to go somewhere. There I found some level of belonging. I thought life was good when I dated the future valedictorian. I was crazy about him. He gave me every compliment in the book. I memorized them all. He then proceeded to use, abuse and discard me.

I am definitely the underdog. I am always the one who gets mistreated, disrespected, underestimated, misunderstood. After a while you stop trying to explain because you know no one is going to hear you anyway. Someday I know I am going to be “discovered.” Someone is going to get to know me and go “WOW! What a fantastic person is hidden in there!” Someday that ship of respect will come in. I am standing on the shore awaiting it.

On Being Branded A Loser

Is it possible to come out of junior high without being marked for life as some kind of loser? My entire eighth grade year I sat behind one particular boy whose name just happened to proceed mine in the alphabet. Truth be told, I liked him. Not romantically, just as a person. I thought he was smart, funny and I enjoyed talking to him. He got to know me pretty well that year. He frequently put me down and called me “a hoser” which I assumed meant some kind of loser in general.

One day another guy comes running up to me after lunch. He said, “Did you hear what so and so said about you?” (So and so being this guy who sat in front of me in class). “No. What?” The snitch proceeded: “He said you have a great body if only you had a better face.” I can’t be for sure, but I think I crawled home from school that day. None but a junior high boy can decimate you to that degree. That one went deep.

Fast forward to high school. My high school combined three smaller local schools in one. By that time all the boys were sick of the girls from our elementary school and couldn’t wait to cast us aside to date the “Newport Girls.” My “friend” and I parted ways and I didn’t see him much in high school, but he was chosen for homecoming court to escort one of the “beautiful girls” from one of the other schools. He got to know all those beautiful, popular girls during his four years there.

In the end he had the last word. He wrote one of the most unique messages in my yearbook. Most people just said “Good Luck!”, but not him. He wrote that I was “a girl of high caliber.” Apparently he had learned something in the last four years. Upon reflection it seems he had come to an appreciation of me he did not have earlier. It didn’t make up for his earlier cruelty, but I was glad he finally gave me some respect. Maybe as he got to know all those “beautiful girls” he saw there wasn’t much substance there. It’s a lesson we all eventually learn. Some of the most beautiful people who walk the earth would not turn any heads, and some of the ugliest people are stunning. I’ll take the ‘high caliber.’ It doesn’t fade.

The Anti-Jerry Maguire Girl

It’s the most famous scene in Jerry Maguire. Realizing he has been a fool, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) comes back to apologize to his girl (played by Renee Zellweger). He enters to a room full of women who have been sitting around dissing relationships. All eyes turn to him as he enters the room and asks for his wife. He begins to speak to Renee as he walks to her. She interrupts him and tells him to be quiet then utters the famous line: “You had me on hello.”

How many people I wonder have waited for this ending. I did. I even had the moment. I was a bridesmaid at my high school classmate’s wedding. I am at her reception. I am dressed in an emerald green gown with flowers in my hair. My ex-boyfriend is there. I think perhaps he has come to talk to me. Maybe we can patch it up. Maybe. I wait for him to approach and eventually he does. Instead of words of kindness he speaks to me with cruelty and contempt. He cuts me down and lets me know in no uncertain terms he thinks I am worthless. I try to deflect him with humor, but he would have none of it. He left that day and I never saw him again. I went home and wept. I wanted to be that girl that was worth coming back for. The one where the boy says, “I am crazy to give you up.” Instead I was the anti-Jerry Maguire girl. It still affects me to this day.

Last words are very important. They often define us. Choose wisely. Every single human owns a weapon and that weapon is the tongue. The tongue has the power of life and death. Don’t miss your opportunity to speak words that bring life. Speak with kindness and love. It will be a legacy of untold riches in someone’s life that they can mine for years to come.

“The tongue has the power of life and death and those who love it shall eat its fruit.”

Proverbs 18:21

Edgar Degas: The Tub

What fascinates me about art, is the history behind it.  People go to art museums, look at the paintings, nod and move on.  People who truly appreciate art are moved by it.  They want to understand something of the message of the artist.  Paintings speak volumes if we understand a little about them and the artist.

The Tub by Edgar Degas
The Tub By Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas was an impressionist, known largely for his beautiful paintings of ballet dancers.  Yet he also produced models and paintings of other subjects, one such type being women bathing.  When we look at these paintings today of women washing they hardly seem risque.  Yet at the time they were horrifying to the public.  His nudes depicted simple working girls in the act of washing.  These girls would have been assumed by the public to be prostitutes.  Their portrayal was deemed offensive, specifically because of the different postures used in washing in a tin bath.  The women seem to be unaware of the viewer, which puts the viewer in the position of voyeur. They were thought to be degrading, overturning that “cherished idol” woman by showing her in “humiliating postures.”1

Degas later admitted, “Perhaps I have treated women too much as animals.”2

I have to admit that in this particular instance knowing the history of the painting changes my opinion of the work.  In his effort to pursue an honest portrayal, he pushed the envelope of decency.  We have been pushing it ever since.  His paintings look prim compared to pornography, yet the end result of pornography is the same: showing women in humiliating postures and treating them like animals.  I hardly think of women today as “cherished idols.”  Part of the essence of beauty is mystery.  Degas took the liberty of unveiling, which did not reveal beauty, but shrouded it.  The essence of great art is to magnify and glorify the Creator.  Art which demeans the beauty of the creature isn’t art, it’s selfishness.

1,2 Cunningham, Antonia, Essential Impressionists (Bath, UK: Paragon Publishing, 2000) 185.

Eminem’s Love The Way You Lie

No doubt Marshall Mather’s has influence, whether we like it or not.  He launched his sixth straight No. 1 album; selling 741,000 copies in the first week of Recovery’s release.  Here I need to make a disclaimer: I don’t endorse Eminem. I don’t own any of his albums.   I am not recommending you listen to his music or watch his videos.   That being said, since Mather’s has so much influence I wanted to see how he addressed a topic of great importance to me: domestic violence.  Now here is what I say: if you have influence, do something great with it.  Marshall had his chance in the song “Love The Way You Lie.”   Combining with pop sensation Rihanna, he raps out some intense lyrics about a relationship fraught with domestic violence.   The fact that he and Rihanna sing it gives the song a lot of weight and lends some seriousness to the message.  It is well known that Rihanna was badly beaten by then boyfriend and R&B singer Chris Brown in 2009.  Pictures of her bruised and swollen face were leaked on the internet.   It was terrible to see her beauty marred.  Mather’s himself has had a notoriously volatile relationship with his ex-wife Kim.  He has written very violent, controversial songs about her.  So “Love The Way You Lie” is Eminem rapping a song about himself.  So what message does he deliver?

He begins with a lyrical description of rage which is accurate.  Rage is frightening to see in action.  “As long as the wrong seems right, it’s like I’m in flight.”  Anger has that way of spiraling out of control until you just see red.   He’s right.  Men truly don’t know their own strength.  He has the decency to say that men should feel ashamed when they resort to cowardice to keep control.

He accurately describes how many abusive relationships start out so well.  It seems like the best relationship of your life and you can’t imagine that person ever hurting you.   He goes on to describe what happens when rage takes over and it isn’t pretty.  Pushing, pulling, scratching, biting.  Are we talking about human beings here?  He implies sometimes we don’t get another chance to make things right.  I can tell you from experience, that is true. That girl he watched walking away through the window pane, that was me.

I appreciated that he talked about the reality of domestic violence being a pattern.  Yet he raps: “your temper is just as bad as mine is.”  This is getting close to implying equal responsibility for the violence.  I feel he deeply disappoints here.  Violence is usually about one person oppressing another.  It’s the use of force to subjugate, demean, punish, harm and keep under control.  Violence is never, ever about love.  Violence is never, ever about passion.  That is my main issue with the video.  It alternates between showing people being very passionate and then fighting violently.   It gives the impression that the two are fused.  I have no doubt that in the initial stages an abusive relationship could be passionate.  Yet after years of continuing subjugation, confinement and control you have a woman who is more of an automaton, than a vibrant, passionate, alive being.  There is nothing sexy about violence either.  Rihanna did not look sexy in real life with her bruised face, black eye and cut lip.  Lacerations in your mouth where your teeth dig into your flesh are not sexy.  Thankfully Rihanna did understand that an abuser will lie to try and keep the victim in place, and she got out.  “I apologize even though I know it’s lies.”   Relationships in which there is violence are a lie.

If we are going to make a statement about violence let’s make the strongest, most accurate statement possible.  Violence is terrible.  It ruins lives.  It brings changes that are irrevocable.  It causes divorce.  It causes horrendous destruction that carries down through generations.  Violence is a vicious cycle.  Violence is not love.  Violence is usually about one person oppressing another.  The responsibility of the violence falls on the offender, not equally on both parties.  Violence is not passion.  We cannot say we love someone we murder.  Violence harms children who observe it.  Violence infiltrates every level of society.  Violence is epidemic worldwide.  Violence is wrong.  Violence needs to end.  That’s the most important part of the message and Eminem doesn’t nail it.