Faith, Life, Personal Growth, Philosophy, Reflection

Books and Covers

Books and Covers by judy and ed on flickr

It was one of those church concerts you so often just stumble upon in European cathedrals.  A visiting Welsh girls’ choir was performing, and I nipped in and grabbed a pew just as the choristers filed in.  They arranged themselves on the sanctuary steps and very shortly a divine sound echoed into the cavernous reaches of the church.

As an old choir girl, myself, I was interested to see how some of the choristers employed techniques for improving resonance and maintaining pitch (including opening their mouths widely to let the sound out, and smiling to prevent the notes from falling flat) – but, in spite of the general professionalism of the group, a few girls looked as if they just weren’t trying.

One girl in particular drew my eye.  She was plumpish and round-shouldered, and she carried a neutral – almost sullen – expression on her face.  She barely opened her mouth when she was singing, made no eye contact with the audience, and seemed altogether uncomfortable.  I kind of wondered why she was there at all.

I was surprised when I saw her step forward at the end of a song.  I figured that somehow she had been chosen to introduce the next piece, and I wondered if she were going to mumble an introduction the way she seemed to be mumbling the songs.  I watched as she took a deep breath.  The piano started with a few bars – and she began to sing.

Though many years have passed since my serendipitous discovery of that concert, I still remember the sweetness of that girl’s solo.  Her voice rang out, clear and true, and the audience was transfixed – none more than me.  I sat, awestruck, stinging with my own ears’ rebuke of my prejudice against this girl: the one with the angelic voice.

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As I ran along the waterfront towards home, the sun shone warm above me and salty breezes buffeted the buggy.  In the marina, the sailboats’ rigging lines sang in the wind.

I came upon a carpool of construction workers exiting a beat-up old van at their worksite.  Two of them were burly, with bellies hanging over their belts where their fluoro vests stopped short; another was rangy, with two days-worth of ‘five o’clock shadow’ and a ciggie hanging, unlit, from the corner of his lips.  We called out good-morning greetings as I approached, and in the background I could hear that their music was still playing loudly – as you’d expect.  What you might not have expected, though, was their choice of tunes.  Strains of Tchaikovsky spilled out of the passenger-side door and mingled with the cries of the gulls overhead.

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A global study on happiness was conducted a number of years ago (not ‘The Happiness Project,’ which is somewhat skewed towards richer respondents).  They looked at affluent societies, industrial communities, aboriginal groups, families living in the most abject poverty – in short, the researchers covered a great diversity in living situations.  And they came up with some surprising findings.  What they discovered was that some people living in poverty achieved a greater sense of contentment with life – happiness – than others in far superior circumstances.  I remember seeing an interview with a group of people in a slum in India following the release of this study’s results:

“Yes, we’re happy,” said one woman, “Because we’re together.”

“Together” meant eight adults living in a one-bedroom shack.  Together meant eating their meagre portions of rice in shifts, because they didn’t have enough bowls for them to share their meal at the same time.  Together meant taking turns to sleep, too, because there was only half as much space as they needed to all be stretched out at once.

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“You can’t judge a book by its cover”

We all know this expression, don’t we?  And yet, how often do we heed the truth of it?

A plain exterior can conceal exquisite talents.  Rough edges can hide tender interiors.  Financial poverty can obscure the fact of the wealth of a life shared.

Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.

-John 7:24

Again and again, I am reminded to suspend my knee-jerk judgement and look deeper for the truth.  People are so much more than they appear to be.

This seems an especially apt topic for me to cover right now, as I’m going through a bit of a ‘Common Dowdyfrau’ phase.  I look in the mirror, and all I see is what’s wrong with me – overweight, insecure, unattractive…  I know that this is how others might perceive me, too.

And yet, I also know that there is so much more to me than that.

I am a beloved child of God, for starters – no matter how unworthy I feel, I cannot dismiss the worthiness this gives me.  I am a mother – not always a good mother; not always an accomplished mother; but always, always a devoted mother.  I am a wife – loyal, loving, committed.  And I am a writer, an editor, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a niece…  The mirror tells me one thing, but the Bible tells me to look deeper.  My value – and the value of every other human – is contained in who I am and WHOSE I am, and not what I look like.

How much money you make, what school you went to, where you find your friends on the social ladder, who designed your clothes, and how many ‘Likes’ your facebook statuses get – those things don’t define you.  What defines you is who you choose to be on a day-to-day basis, and whose you are (because, whether you recognize it or not, you were lovingly created).

So let’s get past those covers and start delving into the stories inside.  Let’s stop believing that we’ve got other people all figured out because ‘we can just tell by looking at them.’  And let’s each try to be an open book and invite others to know us better so that they can move beyond appearances, too.

Let’s look inside.

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Faith, Life

My Simple Superpower

Smile by Jason Csizmadi on flickr

You’d never guess it if I kept it hidden, but I’ve got a Superpower.

With the slightest effort, I can transform myself.  With a tiny bit more effort, I can transform the world around me.

Can you guess what my Superpower is?

Give up?

It’s my smile.

 

Now, my smile isn’t the straightest around.  It’s not the brightest.  It’s not the whitest.  The corners of my mouth don’t curl adorably upwards – when I smile, I just kind of end up with a wider mouth with thinner lips.  My full cheeks swell out and my small eyes squeeze smaller.  You wouldn’t think it would work for me; it’s decidedly not the stuff of supermodels.

And yet…

And yet, without the whiteness or the brightness or the dazzle or the glamour, my smile transforms me.

I cannot count the number of times people have commented on this.

Friends laugh about how constant my smile is, in spite of all the crazy in my life – the noise and mess and delight of having four little boys, travelling and moving, etc…  Those I haven’t met yet but who’ve seen me at school have referred to me as ‘the girl who’s always smiling’ or ‘the smiley one’.  Total strangers have stopped me in the street to remark on my smile.

And I can say this entirely without vanity, because I know that the reason people notice me smiling is not because of how it makes me look – but because of how it makes them feel.

In this distracted, busy, hectic world, we are simultaneously over-connected and not connected at all.  We know everything about everybody but we don’t know each other’s hearts.  I could document my friends’ meals and outings, name their children, remember their birthdays and anniversaries, and yet be completely oblivious to their personal triumphs and struggles.  I could walk past a thousand people in the city centre and never truly see a single one of them.  So I have to choose to connect; I have to consciously acknowledge other people with eye contact and a smile, or else I risk passing them by without reminding them that they matter.  And we all need to be reminded that we matter.

Yes, my smile transforms me.  But the thing that you might not know is this: so does yours.

You have a Superpower, too – the power to transform yourself, and the power to transform the world around you.

A truly warm smile is simply an outward sign of the joy contained within.  I believe that this joy – God’s gift, freely-given – is meant to be shared.  I see smiling as a way of sharing my heart with others – and, more importantly, a way of sharing God’s heart for them.  Quite simply, if there is anything whatsoever remarkable about my smile, it is that God’s love for others can shine through it.

So smile, and spread the joy (it is truly contagious).  Show the people around you that they matter.

Transform the world with your smile.

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Church, Faith, Grace

Loving the Ugly Bride

St.Thomas Chapel by Josh on flickr

It’s not done – it contravenes the most fundamental social conventions – to criticise the bride. Whatever her dress looks like; whatever way she wears her hair; whatever lipstick colour she chooses; whatever a ‘bridezilla’ she may have been in the days or weeks leading up to the ceremony – the bride is generally understood to be above reproach.

It would be in extremely poor taste to point out any faults you might spot or otherwise speak negatively about the woman in white.

The bride is generally supposed to outshine all others present at a wedding (including, sadly for him, the groom). Indeed, there is almost always some special magic that happens to a girl on her wedding-day; there is a particular radiance exuded by a bride. And this shouldn’t be surprising. Her wedding a pinnacle of keen and joyous emotion in a woman’s life; it is also a celebration for which she has usually prepared herself diligently – ask any bride of her regimen in the weeks and months before the nuptials, and you will be treated to a litany of careful grooming procedures, dress selection and fittings, and the like. The bride puts forth great effort to be at her very best for that momentous occasion.

But what about the ugly bride?

Ah!” you cry, “It’s not possible! Every bride is beautiful on her wedding day!”

But I’ll tell you that there is one bride to whom you and I probably haven’t extended that same generous courtesy. There is one bride whose faults are seldom overlooked and whose beauty is rarely celebrated.

The Church is the bride of Christ.

Oh, we are quick to malign this bride! Critics of the Church scoff at her traditions and values; they scorn the idea that there is anything different about those within versus those outside the embrace of her fellowship (excepting, perhaps, a more general air of piety and judgementalism); they reject the rituals, the ‘religion’ – those things that they deem to be relics of an archaic belief system.

The Church is an anachronism, some argue. The Church is for the weak. The Church is full of hypocrites. Even those who belong to her membership must admit that the Church has her flaws and her weaknesses.

Nevertheless. The Church is the chosen bride of Christ.

The Church was chosen by Jesus himself to be his partner in bringing people to faith in God and nurturing them in that faith.

As much as we swoon over an ideal partnership and gush that it was ‘meant to be’, we must understand that this relationship, more than any other on earth, was truly ‘divine destiny’ – ordained by a God who is, above all, about loving relationship.

The Church is the beloved bride of Christ.

Beloved by the world, most certainly not – but loved by God? Undoubtedly.

Why is this – does this mean that God loves committees? Does he love watching us engage in the politics and practice of church life? Well – perhaps not always. And maybe he doesn’t love everything about how we do what we do – church politics, in particular, can occasionally become mired in human sinfulness (arrogance, ungentle thoughts, selfish motives) – but nevertheless…

I believe that God blesses the messy machinations of his Church as a means to a beautiful ending.

God’s work needs to be done in the world – by Him, through us – and he loves to partner with the Church (in all her imperfections) in this effort. Christ loves the Church in spite of her many flaws, as a loving husband overlooks the faults of his bride.

The Church is the holy (sacred) bride of Christ.

The Bible uses the Greek word hágios for those in the church; this word means holy or sacred – literally, ‘set apart’ or, more elaborately, ‘made different by association with God’. The Church is the holy bride of Christ – sanctified by God as his partner. Perfected in spite of her imperfections, the Church can move boldly to do the work of Christ in the world: loving the unloveable; healing the hurting; breathing life into parched souls by teaching and living the Word of God. Noble work, performed by shaky, feeble, but committed hands.


One of the most cutting things you could say of a bride is that her husband ‘could do better’ – implying, of course, that the bride is vastly inferior to her groom.

Well in this case, to be blunt – it’s true. This perfect groom could ‘do better’ than this ugly bride, with all her flaws and weaknesses. He could do better. He could have made membership in the Church somehow exclusive; He could have required everyone to pass rigorous tests to prove their merit; He could have weeded out the weaklings and the self-interested and the gossip-mongers and the lazy. He could do far better than us.

But he doesn’t.

He makes strength of the weakness and champions the interests of others over our own selfish needs; he gives us better things to talk about and noble work to do. He does better with the Church than the sum of her parts would suggest – he makes beautiful a bride who possesses few aesthetic merits of her own.

This bride is privileged to stand firmly beside her holy groom. She is chosen. She is beloved. She is sacred.

The Church has been chosen by Christ as his partner; she is beloved by Him in spite of her flaws; she is set apart by her relationship with the groom, and made holy by her union with Him.

So who are we calling ugly??

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Motherhood, Parenting

Glamourmom

The Glamourmom is a rare type of bird with attractive plumage.  Some say its origins date back to the time of the Egyptians, in which pigments and powders were used to great effect in creating an attractive display.  There are those who claim that this bird no longer exists (see Dodo), or indeed that it never has (see Unicorn); but, in truth, examples of this exotic species may be found throughout the world.  One may find a Glamourmom by nosing out its heady cloud of perfume or by following the envious glances of the Common Dowdyfrau (this latter species exists in abundance around suburban areas, in particular).  A theory exists, although as yet unsubstantiated, that (under rare circumstances) the Lesser Gymbunnikus (itself an exotic) may in fact transmogrify into a Glamourmom with some considerable pain and effort, but that – should it take place at all – this transformation is temporary, at best.

–          Excerpt taken from A.Kratt-Rick’s A Rare Bird, Indeed

I saw a Glamourmom with my own eyes the other day.  She was dressed in a crisp flight attendant’s uniform, the snug jacket and short skirt neat on her slim form; she wore heels and bright red lipstick (no smudges!), and she was waiting for her Kindergartener to emerge from class.  I must admit, I stared a bit.

There are plenty of pretty Mammas around our school – many of them neatly dressed, even when conforming to the West Coast uniform of motherhood; yoga pants (crusty toddler-prints optional) – and I would never disparage the natural beauty of these lovely ladies.  But the Glamourmom is altogether another breed.  This is the woman whose hair, when long, is smooth and lush – never lank and frumpy; when she wears a short style it looks pixie-ish – not mannish.  Her makeup is always impeccable and she may even go to such lengths as applying false eyelashes and having regular manicures.  Undoubtedly, inside those stylish heels, her feet are also uncalloused and her toenails well-groomed.  In short, this is a woman who Takes Trouble.

Me, on the other hand?  Well, I remember a time when I used to Take Trouble – although I never achieved the kind of cool elegance of a Glamourmom.  To begin with, when I went through phases of being especially careful about my appearance, I didn’t have any kids.  The last time I flew internationally (just over a year ago), I was packing up all the necessities for the flight – and I had to chuckle at how times had changed.  When I was kid-free, I’d include in my carryon: Breath-freshener, Visine, moisturizer, make-up remover, make-up, eyecare stuff, perfume, hair-styley things… (the list goes on).  But with kids, it has been all about Gripe water, Tylenol, kid snacks, breast pump, bottles, Rescue Remedy, extra outfits, entertainment and novelties for the boys, etc. (another long list – but almost none of it for me, and especially none with the aim of improving my appearance before disembarking).

Before I’d go away on holiday (holiday? Ha!), I’d spend weeks exfoliating, layering on self-tanner, moisturizing, waxing, grooming and otherwise preparing to look my best in all the vacation photos.  These days, if we do get away, I expend more energy on finding co-ordinated outfits for the boys (easier to organize, and cute in photos) and preparing them for the inevitable upheaval from their regular routines than I do on my appearance.

So, life has intervened: four kids, a recent shoulder surgery (putting paid to any efforts at fitness during my convalescence), and general exhaustion have taken their toll – and I have discovered that I have now become a perfect specimen of the Common Dowdyfrau.  Things just got a bit too tricky, and I forgot to care.  Until I have a night out, that is – and then I scramble around, trying to figure out what fits and what I might have worn to the previous night out (so long ago it was) so that I can just throw that on in a pinch.  The last time we went out I settled for a silky tunic with microsuede leggings (supposed to look like real suede – wishful thinking) and threw on some earrings, which I promptly snatched off when I realized that they looked clunky next to my decade-old glasses (my contacts are bugging me, but I’m not ready to bite the bullet of replacing them) – I was not going to spend the whole night squinting at West through red, rheumy eyes.  So it is clear that I am no longer practiced at looking my best.

However (and this is a big however), we birds are a resourceful bunch.  I have looked in the mirror (as it were – I *obviously* don’t often actually look in the mirror) and realized that I have let my plumage fade.  It’s time to fluff those feathers and make some changes.  Now, don’t go expecting any miracles – my life isn’t an episode of ‘What Not to Wear’ (sadly) – but I think that a few tweaks are in order.  Decisions need to be made:

Hair – too long to be flattering (on me), but just long enough to stick in a ponytail.  So maybe just a touch-up on the highlights and leave it at that

Makeup – yes (that one’s easy.  Have lots, just need to apply)

Clothes – will be ruthless in culling old maternity things from my wardrobe (even if they are ohsocomfy) – keep transitioning into leggings; not ready for pants with zips

Shoes – polish/replace/consider a heel (considered it – not happening)

Self – smile more (doing that) and do a bit of running again (have begun.  Just need to keep going.  Maybe tomorrow)

OK, so maybe not big changes.  Still, all my boys want at this age is a Mamma who can keep up with them and give them cuddles.  That might be hard to do in heels and tailored clothes – right?

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