Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Quit Looking at Me!

 

A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. — Roald Dahl

It goes far beyond the makeup, ladies.

There’s a movement afoot reminding women that we don’t have to paint our faces to be beautiful, and that’s a great start, but there’s a much more important question that needs to be asked by women everywhere, and men as well:

Who gets to define beautiful?

At a luncheon recently I heard two women chatting about their hair. The first, who had a lovely mop of naturally curly locks said, “I’ve always wished I had straight shiny hair like yours.” The other replied, “I hate my hair, I wish I had your curls.”

Why, when we look at ourselves, do we want to see someone else? And worse, why do we go to such lengths to change what we have for the sake of fitting someone’s definition of beautiful?

I read an article about the Lahwi women of Thailand, who put coils on their necks to enhance their beauty. These coils, which are rarely removed, weaken their neck muscles and deform their clavicles to make the neck appear longer. In another article I read that Chinese women used to bind their feet (beginning at age 4!) to keep them small and ladylike. The process involved repeatedly breaking the foot at the arch and letting it re-heal in a bell shape. Do you think that’s crazy? Well you’re likely doing something similar. According to the Spine Health Institute, 72% of American women force their feet into high heels, taking their hips and spine out of alignment and putting excess pressure on the knees—just for the sake of appearance.

Why can we not be satisfied? It’s nonsense, the way we stare at ourselves with such criticism and question God’s design. It’s like looking at the painting of the Mona Lisa and zeroing in on her receding hairline. We must get past appearance altogether if we’re to truly see ourselves the way God sees us.

When I was a teenager, I was ashamed of my crooked nose and the dime-sized brown spot on the side of my chin. My friend Tanya had three birthmarks in the middle of her cheek that formed a division sign, and she loved it! Guess which of us smiled more. Today I don’t give them a thought.

Consider international supermodels, Cindy Crawford and Lauren Hutton. If moles and gap teeth matter, how does one explain their success? In France, people with gaps in their front teeth are actually considered lucky, and in Ghana, they are beautiful. In fact, in many cultures, physical features that deviate from the ordinary are held in high esteem. They mark a person as unique, not ugly. Why then, in our Western culture do we buy into the lie that we are anything other than Created in the image of God?

…Which might make one wonder, what does God look like? I propose that He has buck teeth, ten thousand freckles, and radar-dish ears. It doesn’t matter. Since we cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty by describing physical features, we must instead draw from what we do know about God’s image. We know God is love, light, and peace. And I can assure you, when you get that first glimpse of Him, you won’t see physical features. You’ll see beauty, perfect beauty.

And to my new friend Maude: I haven’t met you face-to-face, but I know that if I ever do, I won’t be staring at that gap in your front teeth you fret over. Instead, I’m quite sure I’ll be drawn to the light in your eyes that I know is there, because the love in your heart for hurting young women comes through the phone like a beautiful beacon.

noseys

Because what’s important is not what we look like, but what we might become…

If you want to work on something, work on your health, on your mind, and on your thoughts toward others. Keep yourself physically fit for whatever comes at you, and mentally prepared to have meaningful conversations. Look for ways to shine your light in this dark world by caring for others and spreading joy. If you do these things, you will be considered lovely indeed.

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” — 1 Samuel 16:7

Happy Birthday to Joe; Lessons Learned from a Sparrow’s Journey

Sparrow in prison book cover

Still a Good Summer Read!

This week we celebrate a birthday, of sorts, as my baby, “Caged Sparrow” is officially one year old. I suspect that’s about 20 in book years, judging by how much of my energy went into raising it.

Although completing one book hardly qualifies me as an expert in anything, I would like to share a few lessons I’ve learned over the past few years, because I know my dream was just one in a sea of dreams still to be fulfilled in the world.

It’s been two and a half years since I walked away from my “day job,” a job that paid quite well, where I loved my co-workers and needed to invest only three more years to qualify for retirement benefits.

But I couldn’t shake the pull to write full time.

I tried to ignore it, working 8-hour days during the week and spending my nights and weekends juggling responsibilities as wife and mother. Stories and characters filled my head until I thought I might burst. Every once in a while I’d have to steal away to a quiet corner and dash off a few pages of one project or another. Rarely did I finish anything. I did create a collection of short stories, but had no idea how to market them.

My one annual indulgence was to escape every May to attend the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference near Asheville, NC. Although I felt like a phony there, a pretend writer surrounded by real writers, I couldn’t stay away. Something about the creativity flowing through everyone I met wrapped around me like a lasso of possibility and just kept tugging.

This IS where I belong.

I drank in the writing seminars and workshops, basked in the warm writing talk at every meal, and left the conference on fire to keep writing, even though nobody wanted to read my short stories.

“Short stories just don’t sell,” said the experts.

Then “Caged Sparrow” fell into my lap in a most unconventional manner, during small talk in a lounge area at the writers’ conference with two women I’d never met. When I mentioned I liked to write people’s stories, the first, Linda Rondeau, became quite animated.

“I know someone with a story!” She then described this former undercover cop who had been framed and sent to prison among the very people he’d been putting in jail for nearly 20 years. As she finished telling me about Joe Tuttolomondo, the second woman, Diana Flegal, leaned over and said, “If you write it, I’ll take a look at it.”

She’s an agent! Who knew?

The rest is history. I started planning my departure from the typical work force almost immediately. Most of my co-workers expressed incredulous encouragement. I couldn’t blame them for the incredulous part, as I felt the same.

Am I really going to do this?
Why yes, I really am.

Today I’m barely making a living, editing documents and writing short stories to cover the cost of gas and groceries so I can write my own stories on the side. Both family cars will need to be replaced soon, the front porch is falling down, and there’s this barely perceptible drip, drip, drip coming from the pipes above the kitchen ceiling. But I’m not worried. As with everything else over the past two years, somehow, the Lord will ensure those issues are taken care of.

joe

Who could say no to someone filled with this much joy for the Lord?

I may go back to work at some point, but I haven’t regretted leaving for a minute, because Caged Sparrow is an actual book, available in book stores. And because Joe is so gosh darned tickled pink to have his story in print, it makes me giggle inside. And because I am a “real” writer and have been since I was 14. (To anyone who feels the same as I did during my early writers’ conference years, know that you’re a writer because you write, not because you sell.)

 

I will wrap up by telling you some of the advice I heard along my journey:

 

It’s irresponsible to quit your day job for a dream. To that I say, humbug. If it’s really your passion, you’ll find a way to make it work. I’d trade 12 “safe” years for two years of living on the edge while doing what I love. Oh, wait, that’s what I did.

Nobody reads memoirs. Humbug again. These are real stories about real people. Memoirs can inspire, uplift, encourage, and enable others to dream. Perhaps if we could get our young generations to read more memoirs, we’d need fewer animated cartoon heroes. Oh, and did I mention, at this year’s writing conference, it took first place in the 2016 Selah awards for best memoir, and overall director’s choice for best non-fiction book of the year! Not bad for something nobody wants to read.

Self-publishing is risky business. So is crossing the street. Sometimes, however, self-publishing is the only way to go. Although Ms Flegal did take on my book, she met up against a brick wall of “nobody reads memoirs” publishers, so I took it back. I’m glad I did, because Joe’s story needed to be told. Of course, if you’re planning to go this route, ensure your book is professionally edited, make sure you’re linking up with a reputable company, and get yourself a kick-butt cover designer, but then, by all means, go for it.

Without a publisher, you can probably hope to sell about 300 copies. To that I say, 1,300 copies later, wait, what?

If you’re going to autograph your books with a reference, make sure you memorize it. Okay, this I have to agree with. I chose the encouraging, hope-filled verse from Proverbs 16:9, which states, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps,” because it’s the story of my life. However, somewhere around the 30th copy I noticed I was referring people to Proverbs 19:6, which is NOT my life verse at all. In fact, it states, “Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.” No doubt, the recipients of those autographs are still confused. (NOTE: If you’re one of those lucky few, consider yours a special “error copy,” which will no doubt be worth something one day.)

So here I am, about to release my second book, “From the Remnants,” and still clutching my collection of short stories that some expert has told me won’t sell. Considering all the advice I’ve received recently, what do you think I’m going to do with these?

You are correct…which is why I’m now resuming work on “The Perfect Parent, Parables for the New Believer.”  Details coming soon.

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A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God – Ecclesiastes 2:24