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Knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement from a Christian perspective is my goal. I post a weekly commentary, which could be about world events or the events of my week. Other days I might share stories, recipes, homemaking tips, book reviews, political talk, biblical truth, or other blogs and websites I like. This blog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

BETTER TO BE ME

In my younger days I had a terrible habit. I compared myself to other women. No matter what I was accomplishing or how I felt about my appearance, there was always someone I was striving to be like. In the seventies, I wanted to be like a girl in my high school named Kerri. She was so put together. She wore the coolest outfits and had beautiful hair and a perfect smile. She even smelled wonderful. I asked her one day what perfume she wore and then went out and bought myself a bottle of "Ciara". It's still my favorite perfume. Fortunately, today I wear it because I like the smell, not because I want to be like Kerri.

I've learned that comparing myself to other women is just wrong for so many reasons. First of all, God created me to be myself. It must grieve Him when I'm not satisfied with who I am, as if to question his handiwork. It's like saying, "Why couldn't you do better than this, Lord?" When I want that girl's body or another girl's talent, I am coveting something that God gave to someone else. Not only that, but I devalue my own attributes which God chose for me to have.

Women are funny. They really are. I can't tell you how many times I have overheard a woman express dissatisfaction with her looks or abilities, and without realizing it, that same woman who sees so many flaws in herself is admired and envied by other women. I have a wonderful friend who I think is stunningly beautiful. But she must wear make-up to cover up some red patches on her face. This bothers her and she's very open about it. But she doesn't realize that while she's bothered by her imperfections, other women look at her and see flawless beauty they'd love to have.

I guess it's easy to focus on our flaws when we wake up every morning without make-up and see everything that needs work. It's also hard to ignore the constant pressure that women feel to look thin and beautiful like all those magazine covers that stare at us while we lay a weeks worth of food on the check out counter at the grocery store. We live in a society that is absolutely obsessed with beauty. So we get caught up in that obsession and we compare.

If I could go back to high school and do it over again, I wouldn't have wasted so much time wishing I was someone else. I'd go back confident in who I am. I'd remind myself every day of the abilities that God gave me and be thankful for them. I'd spend time improving my talents and being the best I can be instead of wishing for the abilities of others. And I would focus on all the physical characteristics that I like about myself. I'd take a compliment well and not try to shake it off as if I don't deserve it. I would love all the great things about me...my sense of humor, my smile, my brown eyes, my artistic talent, my creativity, and my sense of caring.

As I was writing that list of good qualities above, I almost felt uncomfortable. Why do we feel so uncomfortable in complimenting ourselves and talking about our good qualities yet we find it so easy to think about and talk about our flaws? God wants us to focus on the good, admirable qualities in ourselves and others. But we can't do it when we spend so much time comparing and wishing for things we don't have.

Comparison is just a waste of time. All it does is make us miserable. We need to trust the God who created us and believe He knew what He was doing in making us just as we are. We need to stop buying into the world's view of what is beautiful and what isn't. I think I would have accomplished so much more in high school if I had believed in myself and really liked who I was. I discovered my senior year that while I was longing to be like Kerri, other girls were admiring my good qualities. The things they wrote in my yearbook confirmed it. It wasn't until after high school that I realized what I had going for me. But I wasted my high school years feeling insecure and wishing I was someone else.

Perhaps the greatest gift a woman can give herself is the self-love and freedom to be who she is and never compare herself to anyone. There will always be someone prettier, smarter, or more talented, but there will never be anyone more perfectly suited to be you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

STILL IN THE PROCESS

Just a few moments ago, I was rude to a telemarketer. It seems that every time I answer the phone lately someone wants me to donate to a worthy cause, upgrade a service, or buy a product. Today I couldn't take anymore. First I said, "Not interested." Then he argued with me that I didn't even hear what he had to offer. Then I said, "You're wasting your time." He continued his pitch. Then I hung up on him.

If I'm happy with the service I have, why do I need to hear about the upgrade he has to offer? It's difficult to be nice to someone who will not take "No" for an answer. So why do I feel like I didn't handle it well? You know sometimes I just get tired of trying to respond to everyone in a kind manner. Yes even Christians need to blow off steam at times. We're far from perfect.

I'm told that I'm supposed to be joyful no matter my circumstances. I'm supposed to be patient, kind, loving, forgiving, and willing to sacrifice myself for the greater good. That's not easy. People and circumstances are constantly challenging my patience , my ability to forgive, and especially my all-encompassing joy. So I slip up at times. I'm not as nice as I should be. And since I didn't sleep at all last night, I probably have a shorter fuse than usual.

But you know what I like about following Jesus. He always forgives me. He's always willing to stand by me while I learn yet another lesson about life and dealing with the stress of this crazy world we live in. Christians aren't perfect, but one difference between them and nonbelievers is they know when they've been rude. God's spirit within them causes them to feel badly after speaking to someone rudely. If I could, I would apologize to that guy that was trying to sell me something I didn't need.

God knows I'm not perfect and he accepts me as I am. Every time I mess up, He welcomes me with open arms, forgives me and encourages me to keep following in His footsteps. He stresses how far I've come not how far I have to go. My favorite song right now goes something like this:

There's no such thing as perfect people
There's no such thing as a perfect life
So come as you are
broken and scarred
lift up your heart
and be amazed and be changed
by a perfect God

Sometimes I don't feel joyful, sometimes I complain too much, sometimes I get angry and I don't always focus on the good in people like the bible says we should. Following the teachings of Jesus is challenging because we live in a fallen world. Nonbelievers just love to see a Christian mess up so they can say, "See, you're no better than I am!"

They just don't get it. We already know that we're not better than anyone. We already know that we're far from perfect. That's the reason we seek God. We want to be amazed. We want to be changed by a perfect God. And that takes time and prayer. It's a process that will have its ups and downs. Sometimes we'll have victory and other times we will fail. We'll get frustrated and we might say or do things that don't reflect God's best response.

But God knows we're not perfect. That's not what He expects. He only expects us to keep trying by praying for help and growing in our knowledge of His ways.

Friday, July 17, 2009

TREASURES AND GIFTS FROM THE SEA
Book Commentary

Rarely do I discover a book that can only be described as a treasure. I found one such treasure at a bookstore in Wellsboro Pennsylvania over Memorial Day weekend. Gift From The Sea was a bestseller when originally published in 1955. It was written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh during a brief vacation by the sea.

When I enter a book store, I ask God to lead me to a treasure. With so many books stacked tightly on the shelves, I rely on the title or the look of the book to entice me. Gift From The Sea has both an intriguing title and appearance as it is a small book wrapped in a cover of my favorite color turquoise with shiny silver letters.

The cashier confirmed my hope when she immediately smiled and said, "Oh this is a treasure!" She held the book close to her heart as she pecked the register keys and told me that her mother had given her a copy before she left home for college.

My treasure couldn't wait to be read. I was completely absorbed in it as my husband drove us home from our weekend getaway. And now I'm compelled to share this treasure and all its wisdom.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the mother of five, an acclaimed writer, and a pioneering aviator. She wrote Gift From The Sea during a brief stay on Captiva Island on Florida's gulf coast. Using shells as metaphor for how to live our lives, Lindbergh offers precious insight for women at any stage of life. "Patience, faith, openness is what the sea has to teach," she says, "simplicity, solitude, intermittency."

I love what she wrote about a woman's need for solitude: "If it is a woman's function to give, she must be replenished, too. But how? Solitude says the moon shell...every woman should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week and each day."

We live in a world that doesn't understand the need to be alone. I've often turned down invitations because I needed time alone. But as Lindbergh observes, we are considered rude, egotistical or strange when we say, "I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone." This lack of understanding forces me to create other reasons why I can't attend. I have another commitment or perhaps a dental appointment.

Fortunately, I'm aware of my need for solitude and I feel no guilt about claiming it, but some women feel unjustified in demanding alone time and don't allow themselves that "luxury". Not realizing that solitude is a necessity, women push themselves from one activity to the next until they might fall to pieces. They find themselves in a doctor's office seeking help for stress and anxiety.

Occasional alone time is a justifiable need. I've even resorted to locking myself in a room to get it. As keeper of the home, a wife and mother is constantly on call. When she's at home she's also at work. There are children to care for, meals to make, messes to clean and errands to accomplish. Women never really get a break. They go to work and then come home to more work. "By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class," says Lindbergh.

Quiet time alone is how a woman regains her strength. We shouldn't have to apologize or make excuses for it. "A woman must be still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities," says Lindbergh. She discovered that even the island she lived on while writing held a lesson for living: "Unless I keep the island quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends or the world at large."

As the moon shell teaches the value of solitude, the channeled whelk shell teaches the value of simplicity. Hermit crabs claim this shell because it's simple and can be carried easily. I also prefer a simple shell. I don't need the big fancy house that many women long for. With that house comes bigger bills and more rooms to clean. If women were satisfied with simplicity, they might not need to work outside the home. They could live with less and be where their hearts long to be, at home with their children.

The first thing Lindbergh learned as a beach dweller was the art of shedding. How little one can get along with, not how much. She suggests shedding our big wardrobes for a simple selection of clothes, simplifying our homes and shedding our need for absolute tidiness. By shedding pride and not worrying about impressing others we can choose as little furniture as possible. We can even shed the false friendships we've accumulated over the years. "I shall ask into my shell only those friends with whom I can be completely honest," says Lindbergh. Imagine how we could simplify our social lives if we only accept invitations from people who truly enrich us, those with whom we can be completely honest.

Sometimes life simplifies itself. When children grow and leave home, mothers can learn much from the argonauta shell. The mother argonaut isn't fastened to her shell, it's actually a cradle for her young. When the eggs hatch and the young swim away, the mother argonaut leaves her shell and heads for the open seas to start a new life.

This ebb and flow of life is what the argonauta teaches, but intermittency is an impossible lesson to learn claims Lindbergh. "We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb."

I don't deal with change well. Yet life is constant change, so why do I resist it? Like the ocean waves recede and then return to shore, our lives are forever changing and moving. But we fearfully cling to the familiar and can't accept even the natural progression that relationships must take.

How may women become depressed when their children leave the nest, believing that their life's purpose is gone when they could be celebrating the opportunity to discover new purpose, new interests and new passions.

How many women leave perfectly good relationships because that giddy spark of romantic love has grown into a deeper more dependable flame? But the passion is gone, so they search for a new partner only to find than even passion must eventually ebb toward something else, something more calm.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life. One of the hardest lessons I've learned is to live in the moment, to enjoy the season I'm in and stop longing for that next great hope on the horizon. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy or too impatient says Lindbergh. We shouldn't dig for treasures she claims. That shows greed, impatience and lack of faith. Then she closes that chapter with a thought that is more about faith than ambition: "One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea."