Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Numbers Game

I hand-wrote (!) this message yesterday during some down time at work (days before holiday weekends are generally very slow).  After talking with my relatively new artsy-nerdy friend Emily over coffee this morning, I felt it very important to post this today.  I am certain that there are a lot of women, and probably a lot of men, who are dealing with the same feelings as me, and this is something that needs to be addressed right away.

As I inch (literally) closer to my weight and health goals, I realize that I have reached a very dangerous place.  It has nothing to do with BMI or blood pressure or Daily Recommended Allowances.  It has everything to do with identity and self-image.

I have come to the jarring realization that I am on the brink of defining myself almost exclusively by my appearance.  And that terrifies me.

It's hard for me to admit this because I am a huge advocate of teaching the next generation, young women in particular, of the value of inner beauty.  It would be easier to pretend I was not having this struggle, to simply smile and say "thank you" when people notice how different I look now.  I hate what the media does to the value of womanhood.  I hate that we, as a culture, accept the cheapened version of femininity - the image of women as sexual objects, the condemnation of stay-at-home moms and working moms alike.  I hate that, as I myself eye my scale, I have begun to base my worth on how low the number dips.  The lower it goes, a little voice tells me, the greater my value.

I know this way of thinking is wrong on multiple levels.  First and foremost, it's shallow.  To assign a value to any person based on appearance alone is thoughtless, foolish, and often cruel.  How do we learn such injustice?  Look to Hollywood, full of scripts in which the well-meaning loser guy gets the gorgeous girl, but rarely the reverse.  Look to magazines, full of countless glossy pages of women so airbrushed they hardly look real.  (Can I also say here how much it pains me to see spreads in which the "affordable" clothing pieces top $400?  That's neither here nor there, of course, but man, that gets me riled up!  Moving on...)  My heart sinks when I think of all the truly talented, hard-working people who will never attain the "success" they desire because they don't have the right "look".  We are often chided not to judge a book by its cover, but it's something we do on a daily basis, often subconsciously.

And it hurts.

Another reason that this line of thinking is wrong is that it's simply untrue.  The Bible says that every person conceived has value, and nowhere does God indicate that any person is more important than another because of appearance alone.  In fact, 1 Samuel 16:7 indicates that God is speaking through the prophet with these beautiful and encouraging words: "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him [a brother of David]. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  That's pretty darn clear that, although he designed our looks, they don't indicate value before God!  We don't have to think, act, speak or look a certain way before he gives us his love!

Yet another argument against these thoughts is a less profound, but equally important one: it robs me of my joy.  Instead of enjoying a hearty meal, I find that I eye it warily, mentally calculating the "damage" it may cause.  I have been, without even realizing it, labeling myself a "good" or "bad" girl depending on the amount of calories I've consumed and expended each day.  Why have I been punishing myself with insults when a chocolate craving attacks me or I don't count out each and every tortilla chip in a serving?

I don't exactly know.  In fact, the thing is, I absolutely know better.  I have both Bible verses and other words of encouragement to speak over myself.  I have a husband, family, and friends who loved me when I weighed almost 170 pounds and they'll also love me when I reach my goal of 126 pounds.  I'm not a model or an actress; I'm not in the public eye and therefore required to look a very specific way.  (I mean, come on, people, I wear scrubs to work.  Comfy, but hardly glamorous.)  I'm not trying to "shake my thang" in a bikini on a beach to drop jaws.  Even in regards to signing up for the Great Race, I am not trying to win - just to finish.  So why is this obsession getting the best of me?

I wish I could say.  All I know is that I am not alone.  While I do not have an eating disorder, I am aware that I don't have a healthy relationship with food right now.  I do wonder - would I feel the same way about myself if I'd been born tall and lanky, with a boyish figure?  Or with dark skin and kinky hair?  Or even shorter than I am now, with golden skin and almond-shaped eyes?  Do all women truly compare themselves to others?  Worse, do they compare themselves to those magazine models who don't even exist?  Are we all "just 10 pounds" or "just 4 inches" away from accepting ourselves as beautiful?

If my experience is any indication, I'm going to say that no, we're not.  You don't automatically gain self respect when you lose weight.  Oh, you find yourself more confident, more comfortable, but if you've developed negative habits before you lost the weight (or kicked smoking, or left an abusive relationship, or made whatever life change you needed to in order to be more healthy), you'll hang onto those habits until you realize they're hurting you more than the unhealthy conditions did.  Emily told me this morning that the things that wake her up at night aren't reminders of the physical abuse she had suffered - although that hurt, too.  She says what troubles her most are the psychological effects - including her own self-image, damaged by relationships that were not right for her.  

As with many of my more pensive posts, I don't exactly presume to have an answer.  I just wanted to be vulnerable and put this out there.  I strongly desire to be a good role model for the young ladies in my life - my friends' daughters, my nieces, the girls in my church's youth group.  And, when the time comes, for my own daughter (as bleak as things look right now, somewhere in my heart I still believe I will have a little girl someday).  It's the humanity of people who seem to be invincible that makes you realize no one's perfect, and although I don't claim to be a hero, my writings have brought me a lot of comments along the lines of "you're so strong".  

I don't feel strong right now, but I do feel like it's okay to admit that.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Generally, when I hear about a political or religious scandal, breaking, ultra-controversial news story, or tragic shooting  or earth-shattering arrest or trial, I try to reflect before making my opinion public.  In fact, there are some issues (such as the Trayvon Martin case) on which I really have no public comment – mostly because I either feel that my opinion doesn’t matter, or, more likely, that I don’t have enough information to go spouting off my thoughts.  I know I don’t have thousands of readers right now, but my blog is my platform, and it’s a reflection of me in every way.  I have passionate convictions, but I refuse to waste my time and talent by commenting on every single story that bubbles up on the news and social media feeds.  There’s much more to life than the media would have us believe – and a lot of it is actually wonderful. 

But “wonderful” doesn’t really sell very well, does it?

The recent news in regards to Clarion University’s ugly budget cuts, however, has me in an absolute rage.  I don’t want to hear any more before I share my opinion.  It might be too late if I wait.

Let’s start with why this cause is so dear to my heart.  I began school with the desire to be a secondary English education major, but before my first classes even started, I switched to English and Theatre, with concentrations in literature and acting, respectively.  I was not – and still am not – a drinker, but I spent a lot time hanging out with the guys who would later be my “brothers” – the big boys of Phi Mu Alpha, the music fraternity.   They were musicians and singers who worked on many – if not all – of the theatre department’s productions.  I liked these guys and, quite frankly, they were less intimidating and more intelligent than a lot of the other frat boys on campus.  They were a decent bunch to hang with – and they were talented.  They were dedicated.  They practiced their art and they cared about it.  Many of them were perfectionists in regards to their musical performance.  In fact, a lot of them were more professional than my own peers – the theatre majors, who were awesome people, but who (like me) sometimes waited ‘til the last second to learn lines or master accents. 

I was an insecure person in college, but my experience in music and theatre helped bring me out of my shell.  Many of you cannot begin to imagine me as shy, but my teenage years were full of reasons for me to become quiet and reserved.  Almost immediately following me religious rebirth at 16, I experienced a rebirth of expression in college.  Little by little, the demands of vastly different roles began to pull from me ideas, attitudes, and expectations I never knew I had.  Although I’m not proud of every role I played, I am proud that every role stretched me in some way, whether it was physically, mentally, or emotionally.  Working as an actor taught me discipline; it also taught me that there is a great deal hidden under the surface of every interaction in our lives.  Working as a director gave me a deep appreciation for “the big picture” and for how all working parts come together to form a complete machine.  Working as a designer  showed me how to bring imagination and creativity to life and blend it with practicality and purpose.  Working as a writer reinforced my first and foremost love of words and the knowledge that they carry more power than most of us ever realize.  Working with (sometimes) finicky musicians, (often) needy actors, (usually) demanding directors, and (occasionally) moody techies taught me how to deal with people in “real life”.  It taught me how to swallow my pride and be part of a team.  A greater good.

I wrote a lot.  A lot.  I read.  I acted.  I sang.  I directed.  I danced.  I designed.  I was utterly in my element.   I came alive.  Granted, my faith has and always will play a large role in my success; that is what I believe and it’s who I am.  But my time in college gave me the opportunities to spread my wings, shake my tail-feathers, and throw back my head and crow. 

Clarion is now denying that joy to future generations.

My heart is broken.

I know the decision is based on the budget.  I won’t pretend to understand all the intricacies of the decision.  I also won’t assume that the decision-makers are heartless, blood-thirsty and money-hungry, slashing at the arts purely for pleasure’s sake.  I genuinely don’t believe that.  But can I say something here about arts funding, please?

There are at least two (and probably dozens of) kids I’ve worked with in the past year who have told me that music is their life.  They’ve both been through some things that no teenage girl should ever have to deal with, but when they are dancing, singing, and playing music, they feel free and alive.  They don’t feel hurt or ashamed anymore.  Music heals them. 
I know a recently-divorced young mom who is supplementing her income by painting beautiful, commissioned artwork.  She studied art in school.

And, yes, since I am a Christian, I’m even going to bring my beliefs into this – you can say it undermines my argument, if you like, but that’s never really worried me before.  The Tabernacle, which was created to be God’s “mobile temple”, was full of finely-crafted utensils and decorations.  It was the carpenters who measured out the wood, but it was the artisans who wove the beautiful curtains and the silversmiths and goldsmiths who hammered metal into tables, basins, and lamps to glorify God.  In addition, many of the temple musicians were mentioned as being hand-selected.  These artists are actually named in the Old Testament.  God felt so strongly about these people's talents that he saw fit to name them in his Word – this is significant because there are central characters in Bible stories (The Good Samaritan, Lot's wife, etc.) who aren’t even given names in the Bible, but these artisans are.  (See the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles and Exodus in particular, for details.)

Do you even have any idea how often music and musical instruments are mentioned in the book of Psalms?  David himself – one of Israel’s greatest kings - was a musician.  Deborah and Miriam were musicians, leading crowds in victorious songs when enemies were defeated.  Music was a way of life, as intertwined with daily living as was eating or tending to livestock.    

I can’t understand why any university – or any establishment at all, for that matter – would allow such a vibrant and creative limb to wither and die.  Worse still, that anyone should willingly and painfully sever that very limb far before its time. 

Ars Gratia Artis, Clarion.  You don’t teach Latin, either, to my knowledge, so allow me to translate: “Art for art’s sake.”  That was the motto of Sigma Alpha Iota, an organization of which I was a part, and it is a way of life.  Not art for profit’s sake, or government’s sake, or even our own sake.
I'm still reeling over this recent explosion.  I really feel like a part of my identity has been shaken - challenged.  It wouldn't surprise me if this had been in the works for over a decade - as evidenced by things noticed by other alumni.  Marwick-Boyd, the music and arts building, was never finished or remodeled, even as new buildings were erected on campus.  In spite of numerous awards and honors collected by the faculty and students, I now have the vague and unsettling feeling that accolades from the highers-up were mere pats on the head, rather than triumphant victory laps.  

This all leaves me questioning my faith in higher education in general.  Coupled with the government's ridiculous policies regarding student loans (my husband works in financial aid; trust me, I've heard every excuse imaginable and every lame policy explained through a poorly-written script), I'm thinking that I may have been better off skipping college altogether and heading to New York or California, if I really wanted to be onstage.  Yes, I would have missed out on a lot of friendships and experience, but I also wouldn't be enduring the pit-of-my-stomach, bone-chilling heart-rending disappointment I'm trying to swallow right now.  I wouldn't be feeling like a loyal friend has turned on me.  I wouldn't be feeling like the college to which I pledged honor and a whole lot of money, that I talked up to incoming freshmen, that I even two weeks ago was still lauding, would be taking my hard-earned degree and treating it with indifference.

Do you see, indifference is often worse than hatred?  Apathy can be far more damaging than disrespect.  Hatred and disrespect, while painful, still move us to react.  Indifference and apathy teach us that our talents, beliefs, and identities are invalid and that our voices are powerless.

But I won't fall for it.

I am a person.  I am the arts.  And I have a voice.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fighting Fire with Fire. Kind Of.

No, this isn't a deep, spiritual post.  It's not about the fires of Hell or Holy Spirit fire.

It's actually about oily skin and how I happened upon a freakish but wholly natural solution.


Image courtesy of
Now, I am NOT a crunchy lady.  If you don't know what the vaguely derisive term "crunchy" means, well...basically, it means that you're deeply into organic, holistic, and otherwise "clean" living.  For me, the word conjures up images of young mothers with unwashed hair and babies strapped to their organic cotton maxi-dress-clad bodies, while they guzzle sour-sweet kombucha tea and contemplate the evils of canned chef Boy-Ar-Dee with their other crunchy friends.

Granted, this is a pretty narrow-minded view, and I'm aware of that (I'm sure that similarly narrow-minded images appear in others' minds when I say "I am a Christian").  I have friends who are "crunchy" and "semi-crunchy", and I actually have a blog in the works about what I am learning from certain aspects of "going green", but that's for another time.  This blog is about how my complexion has literally been transformed by an organic "recipe", and how I am deeply grateful for it.  

I came across the blog of self-styled "Crunchy Betty" when my husband and I were looking for a solution to our clogged drain.  We found one (baking soda and white vinegar), but instead of closing the browser window, I started to poke around a little more.  Betty had lots of interesting views about organic living, some clever recipes for making your own earth-friendly cosmetics, that sort of thing.  She also suggested using homemade kitty litter, but I think I'll leave that to her.  Say it with me: "Ain't nobody got time fo' dat."

What really intrigued me was the segment on the site about the oil-cleansing method.  At first, I assumed it was some sort of insane fad diet that involved consuming pure, organic, coconut oil with every meal in order to blow any toxins out of your body, but it turns out, it's actually a skincare method. 

And it works.  Oh, boy, does it work.

You can click on the above link and read the details yourself, but I'll offer my shocked and awed testimony here.  Having had acne since I was, oh, about eleven, I've tried almost everything you can think of to clear up my skin.  Big-name commercial products, store brands, exclusive mail-order brands and yes, prescription medication from a dermatologist.  Nothing really worked.  I mean, not on a grand scale.  Everything worked for a little while, maybe clearing up a few individual blemishes, but nothing kept my skin clear - especially when my hormones raged during my cycle changes and my skin broke out with a vengeance.  Plus, the prescription medication was dangerous for pregnant women, and, to my knowledge, using it before I knew I was expecting may have even contributed to my first miscarriage.  I will never know, but you can bet I will never use it again.

31 and still dotting Clearasil in my pimples, I figured that trying this new method couldn't really make things worse.  The science behind using oil to clean your face is similar to the idea of "like driving out like" or "fighting fire with fire".  I don't really understand how it works, but it's opening the door for me to be at least a little more open to the idea of "naturally" curing some of the ills we humans face daily.  I'm not throwing my ibuprofen out the door, but I'm definitely interested in reading more about how hibiscus tea might help my high blood pressure, or how dark chocolate is full of wrinkle-fighting antioxidants (yes, please - more articles like that).

Apparently, different types of oil should be used, depending on the type of skin you have.  As a person with oily/acne-prone skin, it's suggested that I use a combination of a carrier oil (castor oil) and jojoba and grapeseed oils.  Organic, of course, and a little expensive (actually, the castor oil I used was NOT organic and I still enjoy great results).  I also use the suggested astringent of witch hazel mixed with dried thyme.  I initially balked at both the idea of cleaning my oily skin with oil, and also paying $7 or more for a small bottle of oil.  

Image courtesy of
Once I got started though, I realized that it was worthwhile for two reasons.  First, it worked.  I've been washing my face this way since about mid-February and, other than the few times when I returned to using a commercial cleanser (out of laziness), I have discovered that my skin is smoother and I have very few new blemishes - one or two a month, I'd say, maximum.  Plus, they never get as big or painful as they did before, and they disappear much faster.  Second, the oil and witch hazel bottles have lasted me until now.  The initial investment seemed steep - about $25 for all the oils, and maybe $9 for the thyme and witch hazel.  But they've lasted 6 months now, and the astringent still has at least 2 more months remaining.  That actually averages out to considerably less than I was previously paying to try one or two new products every month.

So - I save money and I have clearer, happier skin.  The extra bonus - which, for others, might be the primary reason for this technique - is that it's earth-friendly.  I admit, it's kind of nice to know that the stuff that it helping me regain confidence and healthy skin is not full of chemicals and fake fragrances and stuff.  That's pretty cool.

Anyway, no - I'm not turning "crunchy".  Not really.  But I didn't think it fair to keep this to myself because it's been so successful.  I should also note that I am receiving absolutely no endorsement of any kind for this blog.  I'm not into that stuff.  I promote what I believe in, whether it's my faith or the talents of my friends, or a recipe, website, or idea I admire.  Rest assured that my posts always come from my own experience and I am not into being paid for promoting someone else's agenda.  Maybe this is why I'm not a professional writer yet?  That's a post for later, too.  At any rate, if you've been struggling with troubled skin, it's something to consider.  Cool thing is, it's not a "girly" product in a neon pink tube or anything like that, and I would guess it would work equally well for men.  

Plus, the grapeseed oil smells like nature at its warm, toasty, nutty manliest.   Ooh.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Approaching Jericho

My aunt and uncle sometimes mention that their house is on the small side, but I remember that, during my childhood, I was more excited to go to their place than even my grandparents'!  Maybe it was the infrequency of our visits that made it special; maybe it was the pool table, or my aunt's exotic perfume collection (how could a ten-year-old resist opening every single beautiful bottle for a sniff?!), or visiting little Joey (their late, great, sweet-natured pup).  I think a lot of it had to do with their beautiful screened-in porch!

When Ross and I were visiting recently for a summer picnic, I noticed a simple sign above their back door.  On it was Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Initially, I thought, "Ooh, that's pretty intense.  Don't most people just have a nice, happy, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" print on the wall instead?  My Uncle Brent explained that he and Marianne were married on June 23 (6/23) and wanted to honor that day and God alike by making the verse part of their home.  I loved the idea - and, frankly, although it's not the most cheerful verse in the Bible (it's got that nasty word "death" in it), it's a very, very true one - one that is central to the theme of Christianity itself.  

Naturally, I got home that night and began pawing through my Bible for a verse for Ross and myself (our wedding was on January 9, 2010).  I am in no way into numerology, but I know that the Word is full of symbolism - including that of numbers.  I found 2 Samuel 1:9, "Then he said to me, 'Stand here and kill me!  I'm in the throes of death, but I'm still alive.'"  Yikes.  (That story was about the violent demise of King Saul, by the way, who was severely injured by a woman.)  I also found Ecclesiastes 1:9, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."  (True, yes, but vaguely depressing.  Thanks, Solomon.)  There was also Leviticus 1:9, "You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar.  It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord."  (A recipe for sacred barbecue.  I was getting nowhere here!)  I moved into the New Testament, which, as a reflection of Christ's first coming, was naturally more filled with encouraging and forgiving verses.  I read John 1:9, "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world."  (Yay, Jesus!  But still not exactly the verse I wanted.)  After that is Hebrews 1:9, "You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy."  (Wow!  Beautiful and powerful...but still not quite right.)  Back to the Old Testament for some really poetic stuff, I thought.  Song of Solomon 1:9 reads, "I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh's chariot horses."  


I was thinking that maybe I should just, you know, use the whole Bible as my marriage verse when I found it - the granddaddy of them all.  

Image courtesy of

Nailed it!

This verse, so tiny, is so powerful because it contains three significant parts.  It starts with a reminder, includes a command, and ends with a promise.  Before we dissect it, let's return this verse to its historical and scriptural context: the book of Joshua.  The situation is tense: Moses, the humble man of God who led the Israelites out of Egypt, has died before they entered the Promised Land.  The people are restless and - we know from reading the books of Moses - very, very fickle and prone to violence.  There are a few more challenges ahead before the Hebrews are able to enter their new home.  God has chosen Joshua as their new leader.  Can you imagine the burden that was placed on this man's shoulders?  To step into the shoes (er, sandals) of the greatest leader within living memory?  To rally and restrain a vast sea of people whose track record for obedience is practically non-existent?  To hear and obey God when thousands of voices - of both men and of spirits - might be telling you to do otherwise?  Joshua's new role - given to him because he had previously been faithful to the Lord where others had not - was a very difficult one.  God himself assigned him the role, but with it came a list of instructions.  

In his first chat with Joshua, the Lord tells him to "be courageous".  That word means "valiant, tenacious, plucky, brave, resolute, heroic, and undaunted".  It doesn't necessarily mean "unafraid".  The implied meaning is that you're going to follow through with a task, no matter how scary or challenging it might be.  We can be courageous in sharing the Gospel when we think we'll be rejected.  We can be courageous when trying something new, either spiritual or secular.  (For example, I know several people, both women and men, who have made courageous efforts in losing weight and getting healthy.  They've been brave to face their situations, and undaunted in their efforts to change - even when they have made mistakes, they have wiped the slate clean and started again right away.)  We can be courageous even in something as simple as sticking to our daily reading plans.  Courage is something that is so important to God that he reminded Joshua of it three times.  (The verse above included his third reminder.)  The Lord "ENcouraged" his chosen leader.  The prefix "en" means "to enclose or encircle, to include".  God's words alone infused Joshua with the very bravery he would need to complete the goals ahead of him!

The second portion of the verse addresses the specific challenges that were facing Joshua.  as I mentioned earlier, Joshua's posse was full of doubters, nay-sayers, the discontent, and whiners.  It would be very easy to be afraid of their reactions - especially if they didn't like the fact that Joshua was now their leader.  God specifically tells Joshua to keep his spirits up and not let anxiety overtake him.

The third part of the verse is the sweetest promise God has ever given mankind.  "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go."  That promise alone makes the previous commands easier to follow.  If you know you're never alone, you can be brave, valiant, and courageous.  If you realize that God is on your side, you can take on giants.  You can lead a murmuring, complaining people to victory.

And you can overcome the sorrow of miscarriage.

Had I rediscovered this verse earlier in my marriage, I don't think it would resonate with me the way it does now.  Freshly wed, my husband and I were starry-eyed and eager for our future.  Most newlyweds are.  We made the promise before God and man to take care of each other no matter what storms blew our way.  Now that we've waded through floods, languished in the desert, and have been nearly drowned in disappointment and sorrow, Joshua 1:9 applies to us like it never could have before.

It's a loving but firm reminder from the Lord.  "I've told you before to be strong," he is saying,  "Don't let fear rule you; let me.  I promised I'd have your back forever.  Let me prove it."

This verse is already the background on my phone.  I'm excited to put it up on my walls - for it to be the first and sweetest encouragement of my morning, and the final promise before I close my eyes.