Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Praying For Each Other

“…pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” 
(James 5:16, nlt)

There are many things about prayer that are still a mystery to me.

But it doesn’t matter. I do it anyway.

I enumerated some of the reasons why here and here.

I believe that without the power of prayer, Katherine never would have left the ICU. I would not have been able to get up off the floor in her room. Jay would not have been able to function on a few hours of sleep per night. On and on and on.

We were fueled by the intercessory prayers of people around the world. There was a force-field of grace surrounding us. We swam in it during those long, desperate months of touch-and-go.

Those prayers were faithful and consistent. They still are. I hear from people all the time who say, “We still pray for Katherine daily.

I wish I had that kind of selfless devotion and consistency. But I’ve come to understand that we’ve all been given different gifts. And we are not all called to specialize in the same ones. In I Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul refers to “different types of service” and “different types of working.” Using the analogy of the parts of the body, he makes the point that we can’t all be eyes or arms. Someone has to do the walking and the talking and the hearing.

When someone asks me to pray for them, I do it then and there. And I might stick a post-it up somewhere to remind me in the days ahead. But because I have ADD and am, shall we say, scattered, consistency and perseverance are challenges. I forget things. At this point, I forget almost everything…car keys, sunglasses, wallet, children’s names, best friend's names, how old I am, where I’m going, what I’m supposed to be doing, my mind…

That is why I’m asking for your help. I used to berate myself for my lack of constancy in intercession for others. Although, with extra effort, I am getting better at it, I’ve realized that intercession may not be my particular gift. I believe that we should all pray as “unceasingly” as possible…almost like breathing. A continuous conversation and communion. But there are those among us who have been given a special gift for prayer.

I know that many of your hearts have been moved by the stories that others have shared with me. When I’m having a hard time, I try to think about what some of the other earthquake survivors might be going through that day, and send up a prayer for them. I hope that some of you, too, have been remembering them in your prayers. Perhaps more consistently than I.

So this is what I’d like to do: I’d like to have a place where people could share their prayer requests with all of us. And anyone who feels moved to do so could pray for them.

There was no easy way to set this up, because comments cannot be left on Blogger Pages. (Long story, but that is why there was a pre-dated January entry, when I didn’t start blogging here ‘til May.) The little prayer icon on the right (picture of Medieval lady praying) should open to a Blogger post where comments may be posted. We can use the comment forms as prayer request cards. Feel free to respond to each other.

I can’t tell you how much it meant to us during the worst times to know that people all over the world were praying for us. I hope that this will enable some of you to experience that as well.

I welcome your suggestions, comments, ideas, etc. on how we can make this work.

Now somebody click on the praying lady and give us something to pray about!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Weight of Tears

 "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8)

Sometimes, the sadness is so heavy that I feel it as a palpable weight around my neck. I have a physical sensation in my chest, as if my heart were heavy-sodden with a monstrous weight of unshed tears. The heaviness tethers me down to the hard, harsh ground of an earth unredeemed. Then the unbearable chasm between what is and what should be opens wide. I feel myself plummeting down into its nether depths.

With age, layers of loss accumulate like thick barnacles on a shell long tumbled by the tearing tides. Life gets heavier and heavier.

Carrying all that weight is exhausting.

On an hour-long drive the other day, the heaviness made it difficult for me to keep my arms up on the steering wheel.

I put in some old R.E.M., the complex melodies and lyrics a welcome distraction from my own thoughts. I think Michael Stipe is sometimes deliberately obscure, his existential yearnings laced with many layers of meaning.

Negotiating the country curves, I was arrested by this refrain

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Combien, combien, combien de temps

Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion

Although the song is ostensibly about hunger and poverty issues, the religious symbolism was striking. It reminded me of something I already know.

We are not meant to carry the weight of the world on our own shoulders.

Or the weight of unshed tears.

We can’t.


(Okay, I know this serendipity thing has happened two Sundays in a row, but I can’t not tell it. I’m really not making it up about God’s timing.)

The service the next day was about freedom. I felt anything but. I felt weighed down like a ton of bricks. Glued to the pew.

In the scorching Georgia summer, we get even more casual at our church. We shed layers of all kinds.

Children gleefully danced in the aisles during the music. The sanctuary buzzed with love and contagious joy. At first I pretended, but gradually I started to feel a bit lighter.

And then we did something different.  To my knowledge, there has never been anything quite like it at this church.

The scripture was the whole of Galatians 5: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free…” (For some reason, I had just emailed that passage to my daughters three days earlier.) It addresses the internal conflict between man’s spiritual and selfish human nature. It enumerates the manifestations of living only for one’s selfish desires, which lead ultimately to terrible bondage, in contrast to the joyful life of freedom in the spirit that God desires for his children.

As the list of the forms of bondage was read, our pastor brought out a long chain with each one written on a link. It stretched the length of the sanctuary.

Then he encouraged anyone who wanted to participate to come to the front and write down whatever specific struggle kept them from experiencing full spiritual freedom.

In the meantime, they had brought out a large wooden cross, tilted over on its side.

The pastor suggested that you might find someone who could act as a burden-bearer to come up with you. No man (woman) is an island. I found a close friend who has helped me bear many burdens over the years.

She came up with me, and she nailed my heavy weight onto the rugged cross. Then I nailed one for her. And we knelt and prayed.

When we finished praying, we saw that the cross had been lifted up. The sins and struggles and sorrows and burdens of the congregation had been nailed to it. The heavy chain of bondage had been draped around it.

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.

There is only one who can.

…who did.

Leaving the sanctuary, I felt as light and free as a butterfly emerging into brilliant day.


“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross
 so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.
By his wounds
you are healed.” (I Peter 2:24)

Isaiah 53
 1 Who has believed our message?
 To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground. 
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.

3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. 
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
 And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, 
a punishment for his own sins!

5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole. 
He was whipped so we could be healed.

6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
 We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
 Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.



Several new things coming soon...Melanie, please check back tomorrow, and I'll try to have that link up, along with some other stuff.

Plus...Margery's getting ready to go on a trip. Do ya'll want to come?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Only Thing

Many thoughts and emotions have been roiling around in my head for the past few days...like rambunctious puppies rolling around biting each other's ears. Sometimes, there is too much to say. 

So, instead, I will say the one thing that keeps coming back to me over and over again in answer to every difficult dilemma and unanswerable question:

"...The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:6, niv)

The only thing.

Now I must discover how to live that out. 

I'm going to chew on it for a while.


Any ideas?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Casting on the Waters

"Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you."

(Coldplay, Fix You)

There are certain songs I try to avoid these days.

This is one of them.

I thought I’d selected a different playlist on the iPhone, one that would get me fired up about the arm machine I’d been dreading. Just as I grabbed that instrument of torture, the slow, melancholy organ music started, accompanied by Chris Martin’s plaintive voice: “When you try your best, but you don’t succeed…”

Tears streamed
Down my face…

Not really. But they glistened.

People looked at me funny. “Is the woman that upset about having to do the arm machine?”  I decided to stretch out and go home instead.

I know I’m not alone in being deeply affected by music. All kinds of music. The first stanza of a song has the ability to vividly evoke the emotions of another time and place, transporting me back to a different me.

That song by Coldplay takes me back to the time when I still thought I could fix people.

Now I know I can’t even fix myself, much less anyone else.


Alone at the lake the next day, I grew maudlin, scribbling,

Silence screams
from walls that used to
echo with the calls of voices
long since gone so far away from here.

I sip a beer out on the porch,
and hear them still,
calling from the dock.
Boombox blaring 90’s music
back up to where I rocked,
unseen, behind a dappled screen of trees.

And laughter danced among the leaves.

It lingers still.

As I said, maudlin.

I haven't had time to do the empty nest thing yet.

Coming back into the cabin, I noticed a book lying out on an end table. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean. It is a beautiful book; sparse, but rich with meaning and metaphor.

I love to read books more than once, if they’re worth it. I started out just skimming through, but finally gave in and started over at the beginning, savoring each word. Maclean’s lovely prose washed over me like the clear Montana waters of which he writes.

The story of two brothers, sons of a Scotch Presbyterian minister and avid fly fisherman, tugged at my heart. Brothers so profoundly different, yet bound by a deep, unarticulated love.

Maclean is tortured by a desire to help his younger brother Paul escape his demons. He grapples with the question of how to intervene in the downward spiral that ultimately will lead to his brother’s destruction. He writes:

“Sunrise is the time to feel that you will be able to find out how to
help somebody close to you who you think needs help even if he doesn’t
think so. At sunrise everything is luminous but not clear.”

But the awkwardness that comes between men prevents the brothers from open communication. They avoid certain areas of conversation like loaded mine fields. Instead, their feelings for each other come out in subtle nuances and implications.

When Maclean’s idiotic brother-in-law comes to town, the women of the family force the Maclean brothers to take him fishing. The brother-in-law separates from the group in order to get drunk instead. The brothers have this exchange:

“Do you think you should help him?”
“Yes,” he said, “I thought we were going to.”
“How?” I asked.
“By taking him fishing with us.”
   "I’ve just told you,” I said, “he doesn’t like to fish.”
“Maybe so,” my brother replied. “But maybe what he likes is someone
 trying to help him.”

I still do not understand my brother. He himself always turned aside any
offer of help, but in some complicated way he was surely talking about himself when he was talking about Neal needing help. “Come on,” he said, “let’s find him before he gets lost in the storm.”

Later, when Maclean brings the brother-in-law back to the house, naked and sunburned, he and his wife have words.  Finally, things resolve in a truce.

“Tell me,” she asked, “if my brother comes back next summer, will you try to help me help him?”
It took a long time to say it, but I said it. I said, “I will try.”
Then she said, “He won’t come back.” Then she added, “Tell me, why is it that people who want help do better without it—at least no worse. Actually, that’s what it is, no worse. They take all the help they can get, and are just the same as they always have been.”
“Except that they are sunburned,” I said.


I had the gift of time to reflect on these ideas at the lake. As I watched sparkling waves undulate toward the setting sun, I wondered, How do we really help those we love?

The hints I’d gotten were timely, as always. A call interrupting the peacefulness of the woodland setting confirmed that someone I love needs help. There are several people in my life that I want to help now. Desperately. Want to fix.

I suppose that’s why the Coldplay song had the effect that it did.

I’ve been in this place before.

There was a time when I felt as if everything and everyone were crumbling at once. A stretch of crisis after crisis left me depleted and frantic. I didn’t know which hole in the dam to plug first. People for whom I care deeply were going through painful circumstances…some of their own creation, some not. I allowed myself to get down into that place of pain where you act out impulsively. Instead of waiting and receiving peace, I jumped in there and frantically tried to fix everything and everybody. My manipulations just made things worse. And made me sick.

I won’t go there again, with God’s help.

But, still, Maclean’s questions echo.

How do we find them before they get lost in the storm?

Can we?

Should we even try?

My prayers that night were full of anxious fretting.

Yesterday morning, we got up early and came back to town in time for church. We were surprised to find that the guest speaker was a Scotsman. With a charmingly thick brogue, he spoke of his love for his native land and his great surprise that God had called him to leave it for missions. As he told stories about Scotland, with it’s beautiful lakes, rivers, and mountains, I pictured the Scotch Presbyterian minister in Montana teaching his two little boys to cast a fly. A River Runs Through It is full of illusions to the art of casting. Rife with symbolism about it. As I was drifting off into reveries about the book, something the pastor said re-centered my attention on him.

He asked, “What are you carrying that you should be casting?”

I knew he was talking to me.

As he read the beautiful words of Psalm 55, I saw what I needed to do. Cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you. I realized that in trying to help bear another’s burdens, I was clinging to them and attempting to carry them in my own strength. I know as well as anyone that you just end up crippled that way. The pastor encouraged the congregation to be real with God. To acknowledge that even in our worship, there is an awareness of pain. He reminded us that we don’t have to be strong, because in our weakness God’s strength is made perfect.

I had a mental picture of casting my concerns and cares high up in an arc over the tumultuous waters.

And then I went down to the altar and lay them down.


“It’s not much, is it?” “No,” I replied, “but you can love completely without complete understanding.” “That I have known and preached,” my father said.

Once my father came back with another question. “Do you think I could have helped him?” he asked.

“It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and run over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.

from A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean


Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5: 6-7)


Does anyone else share these concerns voiced by Maclean: “How to help somebody close to you who you think needs help, who doesn’t think so?” 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Picky Eaters

My grandson James will eat the following things:

 1. French fries
2.        2. Bacon
3.        3. Peanut Butter sandwiches on a certain type of bread.
4.        4.  Anything in the candy or cookie family.
5.       5.  Certain types of berries.
6.        6.  An occasional yogurt. (If you kind of sneak it in on him while he’s watching a DVD.)

His mama and her younger sister would eat anything remotely resembling a food item that was set before them. Their baby sister was pickier, but nothing like her nephew.

He is a health-freak’s worst nightmare.

I tried to be so vigilant with my first two.

Sugar never polluted their mouths.

Katherine had never tasted it until her first birthday. Somewhere (I hope) there is still a 1983 video showing her doing a Mexican hat dance after her first piece of birthday cake. She was like a Mexican jellybean on speed. Sugar frenzy.

The result of all my diligence was that when they went to the homes of my more nutritionally liberal friends, my dainty little girls completely cleaned out their cookie drawers.

Years later, we all died laughing about the lengths to which the hostesses of play groups were forced to go when the Arnold girls were on the invitation list. Even the mothers of ex-boyfriends have told me horror stories of how they had to make a special trip to the grocery store if they knew one of my girls was coming over.


I guess.

So anyway, it has been a shock to have to contend with the Ultimate Picky Eater.

Forgive me, Lord, for how I used to judge other mothers. I assumed that you could just put something before a child, and if they didn’t want to eat it, they could go hungry.

Right. Especially when you’re got much, much bigger battles to fight.

So we sneak nutrients in through the milk, through gummy bear vitamins, through the diarrhea-producing berries. And save our energy for those larger battles.

Coming from this environment, it was quite a shock last weekend to be around a Perfect Child.

I mean, I thought that my grandson had to be the cutest baby on planet earth, but this one gives him a serious run for his money.

The daughter of Middle Child’s college roommate, she is the quintessential Gerber Baby. Only prettier and more feminine. And happy all the time.

This extends to the dining table.

We thought it was a mistake when the waiter brought over a plate of barely steamed veggies. I started to redirect them, when Baby’s Mama said “No, those are for her.”

The angelic little one-year-old grabbed a carrot started munching away.

She cleaned her plate. By the end, I was photographing her eating a crispy stalk of asparagus to send back to James.  The only thing remotely similar to a vegetable that he’s managed to swallow is a veggie chip.

The next day at lunch, I put Perfect Baby to the test. I innocently handed her the lemon from my tea. We had the camera ready to catch the grimace that would surely come.

This is what we got:

 Then she grabbed the lemon out of my hand and started sucking on it.

Her mother came up and we laughed about it.  She took it out of her mouth to see what would happen.That baby seized it and popped it back in her mouth. (Don't worry, we wouldn't have let her choke on it as Middle Child famously did on one. That's a story for another day.)

I thought about it later.  (Of course.)

What makes some of us so open, so willing, to experience new tastes and textures? So reluctant to reject a new experience out of hand simply because it is unfamiliar?

Is our level of discrimination something wired in from birth?

I can see advantages to either end of the spectrum. The more discriminating child might be as reluctant to jump into harm’s way as he is to trying broccoli. The more open child probably wouldn’t cry when you dropped her off at camp.

Who knows? Every child is unique.

But there was something very endearing about that beautiful baby's innocence in trusting that everything coming from her mother’s hand was good for her. And receiving it with joy.

Oh, for a child-like trust that everything coming from the hand of my Father is good for me.

Even the lemons.


I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the conversation in the last several days. I love it when we can share our hearts. A couple of people have asked if any offense was taken in what they wrote. Please let me assure you that none was. When I saw that some of the comments on "Beautiful Brides" were headed toward a discussion of issues that can lead to denominational disputes, I felt it was necessary to interject that it is important to me to keep the 'main thing the main thing,' as someone said. I want everyone who's interested to feel welcome here,  and not be put off by doctrinal differences.

Now, onward and upward!  Anybody got any good ideas about how we can expand James' palate?

Is this a precious face, or what?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First Things First

Dear Friends,

Well, I suspected that this day would come:

‘Margery’ might inadvertently mention something that might provoke controversy.

Let me assure you, that is the one thing…the main thing…I have hoped to avoid with all of my heart. But I see that it is probably unavoidable if we are to have the honest and vital conversation for which I’ve long wished.

Please let me assure you of this: I am not speaking for any others who happen to share my particular faith. I am not speaking for a denomination. I am not espousing any outside causes. I am not representing anyone or anything…other than myself.

I am not a theologian, a pastor, a psychologist, or in any other position of spiritual or emotional authority.

I am just a very faulty, flawed human being who is trying to tell her personal story the best that she can. In the hope that I may, in some little way, have an opportunity to “comfort as I have been comforted.”

I’m sorry that I mentioned specifics in the “Beautiful Brides” posting that evidently got us away from the main point.

The reason I shared the prayer story is because I thought it illustrated something important: The unconditional love of God ministering to a hurting heart. I felt that the idea of God’s spirit revealing to the young woman that she was the opposite of how she felt was transformational. It was an example of the tender, extravagant, supernatural love of God that is so much greater than our love even for ourselves. She received a feeling of acceptance and validation that no mere human being could transmit.

Let me reiterate that I am not any kind of an official “prayer minister.” This was a situation that just popped up. I was faced with a choice of whether to respond to the need, or to play it safe. As I said, the whole thing was a leap of faith that took me way out of my comfort zone.

There are many points of theology that will not be unanimously resolved until heaven. Frankly, it sickens me to think of all the fighting and wars and destruction that have resulted from disunity. I think it sickens God even more. Grieves him. Because of that, I do try to keep in mind Paul’s recommendation to avoid “senseless arguing” at all costs. That’s why I’m so mad at myself. I suppose I would have been more vague and guarded if I had thought that there were any chance that my reference might have the effect of not keeping ‘first things first.’ It just didn’t dawn on me because it was a peripheral detail.

The last thing I want to do is offend anyone. But we must admit that we all have our personal opinions, and they are not all the same.

This reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to say for a long time:

I hope (and pray) that I am not just “preaching to the choir.” It would delight me to know that I have not chased everyone else away. (“Oh, no, the woman’s quoting scripture…I’m outa here!”) I have assiduously tried to avoid as much 'God-talk' or 'Jesus-speak' as possible. Still, the original blog was born out of a major miracle. World-renown men and women of science referred to Katherine’s case as miraculous from Day 1. There is no rational explanation for why she survived her severe brain rupture. The supernatural* has been an essential element of our story from Day 1. It cannot be avoided or denied due to embarrassment or fear of misinterpretation. I feel that this is a major theme of my writings: Those moments when the miraculous invades the mundane. When the supernatural supersedes the natural order. In ways both large and small.

I would like to think that there are still some out there who are free enough to listen to opinions not their own. To hear other voices. (Don’t anybody even think about taking that the wrong way! You know what I mean.) To respectfully learn from those who are different from us.  To be able to be challenged by differing opinions and world-views. To be teachable and open-minded. (But not so much that our brains fall out, of course.)

In other words, just because I happen to be a middle-aged white Southern Protestant Christian woman, it doesn’t mean that I hope to limit my readership to clones of myself.

Not a Christian? You are so, so welcome here! It is an honor to have you visit.

Not Southern? Please keep reading! I’ll try not to be too overtly provincial.

Not Protestant? Yay! Some of my most awesome spiritual experiences have been in Catholic, Russian Orthodox, or Greek Orthodox churches. And I had a pretty amazing time at a Bat Mitzvah once. Fascinating and moving.

Not white? Thank God! He absolutely adores diversity!

Not middle-aged? Good. I wasn’t always. Help me to remember it.

NOT A WOMAN???  Ding! Ding! Ding! You win the booby prize! (Really…just kidding.) You have shown yourself to be graciously open-minded in attempting to glimpse life through a woman’s eyes. We are the same species, after all. And you were most likely birthed by a woman, may give birth to a woman, love a woman, marry a woman…so it can’t hurt to be familiar with a woman’s mind. Consider it research.

The point is: I don’t think we need to be afraid to learn from others from a different demographic. We are all students in the school of life.

 C.S.Lewis said, I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through.”

Oh no…I just realized that that quote may be greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted. I give up. (But am leaving it in as illustration.)

It is hard for me to put a filter over everything. I’m afraid that if I do, the writing will dry right up. If I weigh how every chance reference may affect each person reading, there will not be much to say. Because everything offends someone.

If my writings confuse you, frustrate you, or anger you, then the solution is quite evident: PLEASE DO NOT READ. Remember, no one is twisting your arm. It will take 15 seconds to find someone whose world-view you can more easily stomach.  There are something like 10 million blogs out there.

But I want you to know that you are all welcome here, whether we agree on every dot and tittle of theological detail or not.

As a precious Jewish friend whom we met in ICU said, “We are more alike than unlike.” We all experience the human condition. We are all related.

I referred earlier to “putting first things first.”

This is my priority:

 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-36)

This is my desire:

 “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-20)

OH NO….the woman’s quotin’ scripture again! Run for the hills!


1.of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena.
2. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or attributed to god or a deity.
3. direct influence or action of a deity on earthly affairs.


All that said, I do want everyone to know how very much I appreciate your comments. Other bloggers think I’m crazy for leaving the “Anonymous” option open, but I did it so that people who are afraid to expose themselves may still have a voice. (A first name would be nice, though. Even a made-up one.) I don’t want you to think that I welcome only those opinions that echo my own. But because we were drifting into theological debate, I thought it necessary to state clearly that that is not my intention. Still, I loved seeing the interaction of the various comments. It was a conversation! Yay!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A little p.s.

After reading yesterday's post, Katherine remembered that she had written about beauty in the fall of 2008. She had decided not to post it at the time, but thought it appropriate to publish now. Go to http://www.katherinewolf.info/ if you'd like to read.

Thank you for posting your thought-provoking comments yesterday. I hope other voices will continue to be added to that conversation. I believe it is an important one.

I do want to clarify one thing: Please note that I was not condemning others, but questioning why external appearance is so important to so many of us...including me. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beautiful Brides

We’ve just returned from a gorgeous beach wedding. The daughter of dear friends was married in the church of her mother’s childhood. The service was extremely meaningful and sentimental… not one of those “let’s-rush-through-the sacrament-so-we-can-get-to-the-party” affairs. It was a time of joy and forgiveness, everyone there united in their loving support of the new couple.

I cried. (Big Surprise!) Forgot the tissue, as always.

We (husband, Middle Child, and I) had arrived at the destination earlier in the week for some R and R before the Big Event. It was sweet to return to a resort we’d visited several times when the children were younger. We have friends who live in the area, and happened to run into some college friends who were there for another wedding, so it was a time of reunion in addition to being a celebration of union. The connection with the place actually goes back even further: my parents, the grandparents of the bride, and the parents of another friend attending the wedding had made yearly trips there together for 22 years.

Special place. Special people. Special time.

Old friends and new ones. I particularly loved being with some young friends who identified themselves as Margery readers. (Hey, y’all! Thanks for reading!) Their words of encouragement were a true blessing.

We all wanted to look our best for this black tie event. Women discussed what they were going to wear. We tried to figure out how to keep our hair from frizzing in the humidity. Tried to get a little sun. Worked out. Did our nails. I don’t have a lot of time these days to spend on personal upkeep. I have to let things go…forget to schedule hair appointments, get pedicures only when my feet are covered in barnacles, rarely work out. So, just for fun, I really wanted to try to fix up and look my personal best. (I didn’t. Hair frizzed, makeup dripped. Oh, well.)

In the days preceding the wedding, there was a lot of time for observation. That is what I do. I suppose that’s one reason why I’ve discovered this latent ability to write: I have always been an observer of people. (I must have inherited it from my mother, who says she could happily sit in an airport for hours just looking at people.) People really are fascinating to watch. I guess I try to figure out what makes them tick. Why do we make the choices we make? (For instance: Young man by the pool, do you really think that rose tattoo around your nipple enhances your appearance in some way?) I have to check myself in the judging-by-appearance category sometimes.

Anyway, there were plenty of interesting people to observe at the resort. I’ve never seen so many who appear to have eating disorders, from young girls in teeny weeny bikinis, to much older ladies. I witnessed several exercise addicts in action at the gym. One in particular fascinated me. Judging from her face and hair, she must have been at least 80. No exaggeration. Ask my husband. But the body looked like it belonged to a severely anorexic eighteen-year-old. She was on the elliptical for an hour; then she hit the weights, lifting like a man. I left the gym, but later came back through. She was still there, fiercely rowing on the machine as if her life depended on it. I couldn’t help but wonder what her motivation was. What force drove her to exercise until there was nothing left but bone covered with sinewy muscle and tissue-thin skin? What fear?

Taking a walk on the beach, my friend and I witnessed cases of implausible (and unfortunate) plastic surgery. Almost self-mutilation. Back by the pool, people baked in the sun for hours and hours, their backs splotched brown and bright red  where skin had already peeled off. One woman applied sunscreen obsessive-compulsively to her face. Over and over again until it was completely white. Dear Lord, I thought, the lengths we go to trying to look good.

Attempting a nap one hot afternoon, I thought about it. Why do we care? Why is the physical covering of our spirits…our true selves…so important? Much, much too important for some of us.

I believe we have an innate desire for beauty. To observe it, to absorb it, but also to be it. To be beautiful.

Humans come with an inborn need for love. Obviously, we think that the prettier the package is, the more affirmation and approval…love…we’ll receive. Scientific studies have proven this out. People who are perceived as more attractive are also perceived as more of everything good…intelligent, trustworthy, etc. (Sorry, but they’ve also proven that blondes do have more fun! Thanks, Clairol.)

In addition to a need for love, we also have an inborn need for beauty in and of itself. A congenital sense of aesthetics. For instance, a baby will reach for a shiny object over a dull one. I don’t think anyone has to be taught that a brilliant sunset over a frothy sea is beautiful. We just know.

As I said, I was dreamily thinking about these things, but also kind of asking God about it. Lord, why do I care so much about looking good? Why do I compare myself to others, and feel lacking? Why do we as a society put so much emphasis on it? Obsess about it?

Revelation dawned slowly. God created us to be beautiful; He created Beauty itself. All of His creation is beautiful. (What we’ve done with it is another thing.) Perhaps we are just trying to get the outside of the package, which is heir to the imperfections of a sullied creation, to match the inside: the essential self, created in the beautiful image of God.

I remembered a time when I found myself over my head in a prayer situation. Healing prayer is an integral part of our church in Athens, Georgia. A wise and wonderful member (who happens to be a therapist) has introduced the teachings of Dr. Francis McNutt to our congregation, and classes on healing prayer are taught. I had taken Level One. That means first grade. Still, here I was praying with a young woman who was going through a nightmarish time of betrayal. Emergency prayer. (Like, I don’t know how else to help you, so let’s pray. Gotta do something about this pain.) Following the precepts from the prayer class, I asked her to describe how she was feeling. She said one word: Insufficient.  She felt utterly negated in every way. Then I took one of those terrifying leaps of faith. I asked God to tell her how He felt about her. As soon as those words were out of my mouth, a word clearly formed in my mind.


I was expecting “Loved” or something like that. But the word was Beautiful. It came with a particular type of chill that I have come to associate with confirmation. There was no way I was gonna tell her, though. She wouldn’t have believed me. Outloud, I said, “Please tell her, Lord. Speak to her inmost spirit. You tell her.” We sat there for what seemed like an eternity. I kept praying silently, sweating bullets. Tell her, tell her, oh please tell her very clearly, Daddy. Minutes passed. Now, “beautiful” was the last thing in the whole world that young woman felt at the time. She had been absolutely decimated. Completely stripped of self-esteem. So I asked her, “Is there a word that has popped into your mind, but you are afraid or embarrassed to say?” She nodded imperceptibly. “Tell me,” I begged.

More minutes passed. Then she tearfully whispered a word. I leaned down to make sure I heard right. I asked her to repeat it. She cleared her throat.

Beautiful, she whispered.

For some reason, the description of the lady in heaven from Lewis’ The Great Divorce has come to mind:

"I cannot remember now whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my mind the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.

But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face." (The Great Divorce, chapter 12.)

Something occurred to me, during this sweet and sentimental wedding of a gracefully beautiful bride:

In God’s eyes, we are all* beautiful brides, coming down the narrow aisle of life straight into His waiting arms.

You are beautiful.


“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes…” (Song of Songs 4:9)

“As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7)


*Note: I don’t mean to imply by the next to the last sentence in the post that I am a universalist. I’m referring to His desire for us. We are still given the gift of free choice in deciding whether or not to put on the ring.


 So that this may become a conversation: Why do you think appearance is so important that people are willing to go to extreme measures in order to “improve” it? I’m interested in your thoughts. Just hit “comment” and tell me what you think. (Please.)