Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Day in L.A.

 106 degrees.

No air conditioning.

No lie.

As the (dry, but still) heat started to climb, I realized that James and I were gonna have to get the heck out of Dodge… and in a hurry. (Mommy and Daddy had gone to the doctor, and then to run some air-conditioned errands.)

It reminded me of when we had to flee Malibu when James was 4 days old, the strangely prophetic flames chasing us down the mountain to the sea.

I grabbed bathing suits, a juice box, and a change of clothing. Then I jumped in Jay and Katherine’s car to pick James up from preschool.

I need to tell you about this car.

Once upon a time, it belonged to my husband. He bought it when our then-High-Schoolers shamed him into trading his businessman sedan in for an SUV.

He wasn’t in love, so he deeded it over to the newlyweds before they headed west to pursue their dreams. My eldest and her husband are not into cars. That old SUV has been their only vehicle ever since. It is riddled with the battle scars of LA traffic. (Why would you ever take it to a Body Shop, when it’s just going to be dented again the next day? People would probably key it just to make it fit in with the other bumper cars on the road.)

I am definitely not one to point the finger at anyone else’s vehicle. At one point early in our marriage, one of my husband’s friends recommended that he purchase a dog pen on wheels for me, so he could just hose down the filth periodically.  I had the exact same fender-bender 4 times in my college car. (A very cool, very fast, dark green 1970 Camaro. My mother actually cried when my indulgent father bought it for me.) Even now, my husband is hesitant to send the 50th-Birthday-Mom-Finally-Got-A Nice-Car car to the shop for fear that a fresh scrape or dent might appear the day after it was fixed. So we leave the souvenirs of past indiscretions to serve as future warnings.

Bottom line: We are not car snobs. If the house and the individual are decently presentable, that’s enough.

So, back to the story:

I was off in the Blue Bomb II* to get James and high-tail it to Santa Monica, where 6 miles means at least a 10 degree difference in temperature.

Stopping at a major intersection, I looked to the left. There was a tiny speck of a car heading my way from a long way off.  I turned a respectable right into the right lane, not screeching on two wheels, but not at a snail’s pace, either.

I hear a loud, angry, insistent horn coming from the left, where the tiny speck has morphed into a black Mercedes SLR McLaren Roadster,**headed my way at about 100mph.

But that’s not my problem. I am going the speed limit. Mr. Mercedes roars right into my rear end, and hugs it. When there is about 3/4th of a car space between the car in the left lane and me, he defies physics and squeezes around me and in front of me.

…where he decides to forcibly apply his brakes, while brandishing a middle finger toward the sky.

I have a millisecond where the dark side wins. Where I brandish back. Where the stress of the past few weeks and the abnormal hideous heat and the nasty sinus infection I’m hosting win out over every other consideration. I have a flashback of Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes: “I’m older and I have more insurance! Bwaahaahaahaa!!!” as I slam into the back of his beautiful, unmarred, expensive car in the battered, beat-up Blue Bomb II.

But I find myself doing the opposite. I slam on the brakes instead, causing all the fragile items on the front seat to crash to the floor. The contents of my purse spill out and roll along the floorboard.

As I lift my hands up toward the driver looking in his rearview mirror for my response, I find them heading to my mouth.

And I start blowing him kisses.

I know it’s insane. I know I’m losing it again. But then I start laughing so hard I almost cry.

It drives Mr. Mercedes, glaring at me in his mirror, absolutely crazy.

He exaggerates the original gesture, almost pounding his roof with his fat finger.

And that makes me laugh even harder, until I do cry.

I think, Darlin’, you don’t even know what trouble is.

And then the action turns into emotion.

I feel so sorry for him. He has no clue what the future holds, when every one of us is eventually humbled. He doesn’t realize that one day he will have much larger problems than a grandma turning in front of him when he’s in a hurry.

So I let him think he wins. After the next light, he roars off to tailgate the next victim.

Soberly, I catch my breath. Deep breathe to slow down the accelerated heart. Have an attitude adjustment. I think about things having to do with turning the other cheek and heaping burning coals on someone’s head.

And then I go pick up my favorite little guy and head for cool waters.


Does anyone else ever struggle with road rage? Do you think it is difficult to handle it in ways that reflect your world-view? Anyone have any stories to share?


* Blue Bomb I, a story for another day
**This was determined only after meticulous research

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Whole Story

Long-time readers have probably figured out by now that I use humor as a coping mechanism to deal with sadness.

It’s not the main coping mechanism.

(Prayer is.)

But the ability to exercise the laugh muscles in the face of paralyzing fear and despair seems a bit like spitting in the Devil’s face. You will not prevail. Joy will come, in spite of you. We refuse to become your captives.

The last two posts were attempts to find a little levity… lightness… in the dark cloud of heavy despondency.

But the sadness is still there, a subterranean river of raw wounds. Questions. Anxieties. Aches. Loss.

“What if’s…” “Why’s?”

Katherine told me not to read her latest entry yesterday, as I was already feeling down. So I saved it for this morning.

If you haven’t read it, it’s here.

I’m glad that I'd spent some employing my main coping mechanism before I read it. Her words made me cry.

But I am so grateful that my persistent Pollyanna can get some of this heartache out. Her bravery and faith are momentous… awe-inspiring. Nevertheless, her precious mother’s heart is broken each and every day in a thousand different ways.

This whole story is a mixture of hope and despair, joy and anguish, the miraculous and the mundane.

Today’s looking pretty grim.

But I am going to look really hard for something to smile about.

I know it’s there somewhere.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Prize-Winning Performance


I don’t want him to notice me typing.

I am in the fight of my life.

We’ve declared an extremely uneasy truce. I am treading very cautiously. Pretending to be light, unencumbered, and interested in other things. But my heart is practically racing.

This is after The Meltdown.  At Target.  During the ride home.  And for a good while after I put him down for a nap. Resumed after the nap.

(The issue is potty training.)

But I feel like something bigger is at stake. Like personal character. Or the development of a law-abiding personality. Or national security.

As most of you know, I raised three girls.

Potty training occurred at an early age with all of them. Everyone was pretty much an easy push-over for Big Girl Barbie panties.

One lure, and that was the end of it. (Almost) no accidents from that point forward.

But this is something completely different.

It’s not only a whole different ballgame, but an entirely different sport. Being played on a different planet.


Obviously, we missed our opportunity. There was a time when he was slightly interested, but there was too much inconsistency and commotion around him. Here, there, and everywhere. This grandmama, that grandmama; this or that auntie or cousin in charge. It was just easier to stick with the diapers. Anyway, all my friends who had boys assured me that they do it much later than girls. Don’t rush him, they advised.

Which was just fine… until he started preschool and we learned that potty training was kind of a prerequisite.

New Flash: Oh my gosh. We just had a false attempt. I was actually dancing around the table, doing a spontaneous rap. I’m not sure I can duplicate it, but it went something like this:

You can do it,
You can do it!
Just gotta put your mind to it!
You can peepee in the potty
‘Cause you are such a hotty.
Now put your body
On the potty
And peepee like a man!
Mimi knows that you can!!!

Sadly, it was all a ruse.

Standing up, the Naked James revealed a bone-dry bowl.

Yes, he’s naked now. Sitting at the “dining room” table, watching a movie on Mimi’s Ipad.  Baby potty on the floor beside him.

Waiting to go.

I feel like I’m in a hospital Waiting Room again. Nervously awaiting the outcome.

Because, you see, I’ve put myself on the line. If I cave in, he’ll know that my authority is a sham.

Violating many of my theoretical parenting policies, I am resorting to a bribe. I have purchased a precious prize at Target. He got to hold it in the cart. Then he had to relinquish it back to me… until such time as he wins it.

It is a talking Spencer train.

Even though I thoroughly explained the rules of the contest beforehand, the actual touch of the prize was too much for him. He started to rip it out of the carton the minute he laid hands on it. This delayed gratification thing is hard for all of us.  He wants it NOOOOOWWWW. (That is pronounced with two syllables.)

But I think this lesson is critical. He’s got to learn to stick to a bargain. He needs to understand the concept of earning something so he won’t grow to adulthood hindered by an Entitlement Mentality.

What if it doesn’t work? What if it backfires? What if I’ve made a terrible decision that will scar him for life? What if he’s on Dr. Phil one day talking about how his grandmother screwed his head up?

Dear Lord, please let this end well. Please help James go potty*.

How am I going to get him to sleep tonight if he doesn’t win the prize? Will he just scream all night? What if he

I did it, Mimi.”

Gosh. I was so wrapped up in the worst-case scenarios that I didn’t notice he’s gotten out of his booster seat and sat himself down on the potty.

“I did it, Mimi.”

Okay, I’m going to check. I’m not holding my breath. He claimed to have accomplished the task last time. It’s probably another trick.

Let’s have a look, James. Show me what’s in the potty.”  (I start to yawn. This has been a long day. It’s getting late. It’s…)


Oh, happy, happy day!
Now James can run and play!

You did it,
You did it,
You won the potty prize!
I ain’t telling you no lies
Cause you’re the Potty King
You make Mimi sing!!

High fives!!! High fives!!!

Whoop! Whoop!

Doing our special crazy dance around the house, James’ face was pure joy.

“I did it, Mimi!”

I felt as proud as if he’d just played The Hallelujah Chorus on a Steinway.

Spencer slept in the bed between us.


Postscript: I’m sure you will be delighted to know that James was able to repeat the performance this morning. When I picked him up from school, he was wearing the same clothes he started out in!  This is nothing short of a miracle.  His mommy was so proud when we went to the hospital to pick her and Daddy up. Home after six days!

*(Yes, I pray for parking spaces, too. I believe that God cares about all the details of our lives.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Substitutionary Atonement

Deep psychic exhaustion.

Fear and dread and stress and hope.

Detachment from the whirling world around.


Familiar smells and bells.

Florescent lights. Machines.

All oddly familiar.

Seasoned veterans, we easily slip back into Hospital Mode.

Everything else suddenly ceases to be. Other cares are instantly back-burnered.

Just do the next thing you need to do.

Here and now are all there is.

Oh, and pain.

Unrelenting pain. Crying pain.

Barely muted by morphine.

Helplessly, I witness.

Feigning levity.

Busy-ness. Distraction.

If only it could be me instead. I’m older. I’m used to it.

I deserve it more.

But it doesn’t work that way.

That is not for you to do.

That was for me to do for you.

For you all.

Once and for all.

We’ve been here before.

I remember the moment.

And the song.

But now I know how to do this:


Maybe the lesson is learned better the second time around.

Another reminder of how far we've come:
Til We Have Faces

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Let The Healing Begin

I've got some major prayer requests today, for those who are so inclined.

We flew back out to LA yesterday. Our daughter, Katherine, is facing a very complicated surgery tomorrow. I'm sure my son-in-law will do a better job explaining the details on KatherineWolfInfo, but it involves removing part of her thigh muscle and transplanting it into her face. To call this procedure "intricate" would be a wild understatement. They've told us that she will probably be in the hospital for 5 days. (That's pretty long for this era, in case you haven't had to go lately.)

Based on her previous facial surgery, I am assuming that it will be very painful. Please pray for her. Pray for her physical healing, pray for her spirits. Pray for the surgeons and other medical personnel. Pray for a result that is nothing short of miraculous.

As you other parents know, there is just about nothing on earth worse than witnessing your child in pain. So please pray for us, as well. I am feeling slightly sick to my stomach. And of course for Jay, who will be sleeping in the room with her.

Hey, and while you're praying, throw James in there as well. He's really sick. We're going to the pediatrician in a couple of hours.

Thank you for letting me share our burdens with you. Your faithful support means more than I can say.

Unrelated, but related:

This song has been playing around in my head lately. I guess it expresses part of what the community of faith means to me.

Sometimes healing is about more than sewing broken body parts back together.

This won't appeal to everyone, but if you're interested in the context of the lyrics, one of the band members talks about it here:

(Just don't let the hair in the eyes distract you.)

Finally, thanks for all of the book suggestions! If anyone else wants to recommend anything, please keep adding them to the previous post’s comments. BTW, I'm inhaling The Liar's Club. Almost can't put it down.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Desultory Conversation About Reading

It’s pretty cool to have lived so long that the world of one’s youth has become the subject of (Ancient) History books. I feel a tinge of pride that I’ve retained a misty visual of that first American spaceship blasting off from Cape Canaveral. I get a thrill every time I watch Mad Men, frequently yelling things like, “My father had that ashtray in his waiting room!” or “My mother had that apron! (frying pan, toaster, necklace, purse)” or “I wore Sally’s dress in 3rd grade!” Or “We had those curtains! The exact same ones!” The modern conveniences of my childhood have become the archaeological artifacts of today, providing a glimpse into the kitschy Moderne World of the early ‘60’s. (Side note to coddled offspring: No, our schoolrooms were not air conditioned way back then. Think about Georgia in early September. You had to unglue your legs from your seat before you could walk up to the board to try to figure out the terrifying math problem.)

Anyway, anyway. On Sunday, I had an opportunity to step back in time for a second. My childhood church had a big open house to celebrate a wonderful new addition. A while ago, the church had purchased the building next to it, a historic 19th century structure. The addition is situated between the two, uniting them into one sprawling entity. We went on a tour, which was like following a labyrinth. I had flashbacks of myself (age 6? 7?) hiding in the dim regions that formed a kind of tunnel underneath the front steps of the church. Sneaking over an old spiked wrought iron fence to climb on the gigantic church bell that was too big for a steeple.

My husband and I tried to remember how things had been when our children were growing up there. Turning a corner, we went up an unremembered old stairway and found ourselves in the front hall of the house (formerly) next door. At one point, we'd had many adventures co-teaching the High School Sunday School class in that building. But a glimpse of the massive old carved handrail brought back an even earlier memory.

When I was a small girl, the house had been transformed into the town library. Even fifty years ago, it had acquired an olfactory patina of age. Old books crammed into old bookcases in old rooms. Sunday, even though the paint was still fresh in the beautifully redecorated house, the delicious musty scent of all those venerable volumes came back to me.

One of the most exciting aspects of the summers of my youth (and there were many) was getting to go to the Athens Regional Library. I would fly up those steep dark steps to the second floor, anxious to return a foot-deep stack of books and amass another. I have no idea how a scrawny thing like me managed to do that. Adrenalin, I guess. We got some kind of reward for each book we read. Was it little apples? We pinned them onto a board, I think. (Help me out, old Athens natives.) All I know is that, come September, I wanted to win the reward for having read the most books.

Of course, I realize now that the reading was its own reward. I am so grateful to have been given the privilege of a love of reading from a very early age. (I believe it is why I was able to fake my way through Emory University with all the smart kids.) I tried to teach myself to read before kindergarten, but, for some reason, it was frowned upon back then. (“Don’t want anyone getting ahead of the class”? “It’ll make them weird”?) Whatever. By third grade, I’d read Little Women seven times. I could quote the whole first chapter. (Much less, act it out with my BF. I always wanted to be Jo.)

Growing up, I read the way an alcoholic drinks. In secret, under the covers with a flashlight. In the bathtub. In my tiny closet. In a tree house I constructed out of cardboard boxes. In a moving car until I threw up.

I didn’t realize that this was strange until I had daughters of my own. In spite of the fact that I read to them in utero and for as long as they’d sit still afterwards, none of them developed the addiction. I found…gasp of horror… stacks of Cliff Notes hidden in their closets. I have one child who may have graduated from High School with the distinction of never having actually finished a single book. May have. Can’t prove it beyond a shadow.

In Junior High (the “Middle School” of my generation), I had read practically everything worth reading in the fluorescent-lit room that served as library. Bored and hunting around for something new, I spotted a pretty woman in 19th century attire gracing a book cover. Thinking it might be some juicy historical fiction, I checked it out. It was Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

I was 12 or 13. It changed my life. It made me question the meaning of life.

Forty+ years later, it remains my favorite of all time.

One reason I treasure the privilege of reading so much now is because I was deprived of it for more than two years. (Complications from herniated disks in my neck.) We tried every device and contraption that’s been invented, including one with mirrors that enabled the reader to lie flat. Nothing worked. Finally, I gave up. A sweet friend brought me the New Testament on tape, and I lay flat in bed and listened to that. For weeks and weeks. (A story for another day…)

I was in the final stages of emerging from that dark and painful period when Katherine’s AVM erupted, radically changing everything in our lives. Reading became pretty much impossible for other reasons then. (With the significant exception of the most important Book of all. I hungrily wolfed down those words… chewed on them, sometimes swallowed them whole. It was how I lived…sustenance.)


Thank you for allowing me this long self-indulgence, those of you who’ve read this far without coming to a point. (Which actually is a point: not everything has one.) Sometimes desultory conversation is a nice thing. It also reminds me of my childhood, when people actually had time to sit around and chat about nothing in particular. Chew the fat, as we used to say in the South. Just for the pleasure of each other’s company.

But if this must have a point, I guess it’s this:

Walking up that century and a half old staircase took me back to the place of awe I felt as a child for the gift of the written word. That awe is becoming increasingly extinct. The radical advance of instant-gratification technology over the past 50 years has blunted our appreciation and shortened our attention spans. Life is faster and busier now. It’s hard to sustain a prolonged interest in anything.

 A recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts found that 53 percent of Americans surveyed hadn't read a book in the previous year. According to another study, 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. That stuns me.

Writes journalist Justyn Dillingham, “Reading, as the great critic Harold Bloom has said, requires us to "look inward," and our world relentlessly discourages us from looking inward. The franticness of our lives, the blaring exhortations of advertisements, the constant pressures of the social world - all are engaged in a loud, unthinking conspiracy, of sorts, to keep us from sinking into introversion and self-examination. Obviously, an America whose citizens all read for pleasure would not be a perfect America. But it would be a better country than the one we live in now, simply because the values instilled by reading - imagination, skepticism, the capacity for thought - are also the values of citizenship.”

I am so very grateful to be able to return, at last, to one of my first loves. It has enriched my life beyond measure.


My trip up the stairs of Memory Lane has inspired me to turn in a Summer Reading List to you. May I have some apples, please?

So here it is… The Great, The Good, and The Everything Else:

Pride and Prejudice*, Jane Austen
Enchanted April*, Elizabeth Von Armin
Oblomov*, Ivan Goncharov
Ethan Frome*, Edith Wharton
A River Runs Through It*, Norman Maclean
Sonya, the Life of Countess Tolstoy*, Anne Edwards (after watching “The Last Station” with Helen Mirren)
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller
Mennonite In a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen
Winter Garden, Kristin Hannah
Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Alison Weir
Life After Yes, Aidan Donnelly Rowley
Imperfect Birds, Anne Lamott
French Women for All Seasons, Mireille Guiliano
Bleak House, Charles Dickens
Lit, Mary Karr

(* Re-reads)

If you’d like a recommendation for one, I’d pick The Prodigal God. Deep, deep liberating stuff, but you can read it in a day.  If you’d like two, I’d go with Lit, a raw, real story of addiction and redemption. Lushly written… no pun intended. I’ve just started her prequel, The Liar’s Club. I’ll let you know.  Mennonite had parts that made me embarrass myself laughing out loud. The Help was accurate and moving. Enchanted April is charming and beautiful, with a lovely message equally as pertinent today as it was when it was written.    

A note about the Classics listed…yet another benefit of the Expensive Gadget! Most of you probably already know this, but thanks to the Gutenberg Project, you can download over 23,000 Great Books for free. Almost anything worth reading, as long as it was originally published before 1923. You can even get them on your Iphone! I re-read Pride and Prejudice while going through the car wash, waiting in a doctor’s office… even while stopped in LA traffic. (Probably illegal, so I don’t recommend it.) But this is another way that I can make the technology a blessing instead of a curse. Right now, I’ve got Tolstoy, Dickens, Austen, Dostoyevsky, and the Bible… all on my phone! (IPad’s definitely better for aging eyes, though. I take it to the gym and balance it on the elliptical. Makes it somewhat more bearable.)

Are there any other bookworms out there? Anyone else want to share a Summer Reading List? Or recommend something wonderful? Reminisce about the Good Old Days? I love hearing from you.

And I do want to thank you for taking the time to read my words. Some of these posts are, notoriously, as long as a book. So you must like to read! (Or you’re very patient and loving.)

(p.s. I know I need to update the Books page. Soon?)

The hallowed library of my youth.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fighting Giants

Sometimes I feel as if I’m battling giants.

I wish I could grab a slingshot and knock them out with a boulder to the head.

But the problem is that the giants aren’t approaching me from afar; the battleground is within. Those giants are sneakier and harder to deal with than the external kind.

Maybe I could just grab a boulder and smash my own head in. I’d like to every now and then. Just tell everybody in there to SHUT UP.

Too bad it’s not that easy.

I know I’ve got to suit up and get ready for battle. Because if I don’t fight the giants, I’ll become their slave. I’ve got to do it the right way, with the right weapons, or face certain defeat. The giants are bigger than I am. They’re bullies. And they don’t fight fair. They use espionage, infiltration, and psychological warfare. They whisper lies. They break the Geneva Convention. They even resort to torture, isolation, and brainwashing techniques.

Little ole me is no match for them without my magic armor. I feel weak, small, worn-out, beat up. Tired of fighting, but not willing to accept defeat. Sick of hiding out in trenches, cold and hungry.

So I drag my weary old bones over to the magic sword and gingerly take it up into my hands. Instantly, I feel stronger. Because of that, I’m able to pick up the heavy shield. Eventually, I get all… or at least most of it… on me.

Still trembling a little, I head out to do battle. Feeling small and alone.

Facing the giants, I do not see the thousands of battalions behind me, covering my back.


 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:13-18)

I believe that most of us face giants at one time or another.  Giants of habitual sin or fear or depression or despair. Monsters of memory or anger or unforgiveness or addiction or self-loathing. Unhealthy thought patterns, low self-esteem, or pride. Fantasies, compulsions, negativity, judgmentalism, legalism. The bellowing loud voices of these giants try to keep us from being truly free. If you are battling any of these… or others… know that you are not alone.

How do you battle your giants? How can we help each other?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gracious Goodness

 My mother is a good cook.  Not an innovative chef, but a good old-fashioned Southern casserole kind of cook. My kids would begggggggg to eat over there when they were little. No Meal-In-5-minutes pretend-cooking at Manda’s house. No spaghetti with a jar poured over it. No chicken breasts just floating around in watery mushroom soup. (At least not without at least 5 or 6 other ingredients mixed in.)

She could throw quite an elegant dinner party in her day. Or a bridge club luncheon. Or a little cocktail party with fancy hors d’oeuvres. She was even on the Cookbook committee of the Junior Assembly in 1962 or ‘3… smack in the middle of the ultra-chic Mad Men years. (Jackie Kennedy even sent in a recipe from the White House. I’m sure it was hand-written, too.)

Anyway, my mother has received a fair amount of praise for her cooking over the years.

But I have never heard her accept a compliment without a caveat.

If someone said they liked the green beans, she’d respond, “Oh, I’m afraid they were a little too salty.”  If she heard, “Amanda, that pie was divine,” she would say, “Well, the apples weren’t very tart.”  If someone commented that the casserole was delicious, she’d counter with, “Oh, I hope it was okay. I thought it was kind of dry.”

Or, better yet, she’d head you off at the pass. Before you even sat down at the table, she’d warn you. “This isn’t very good,” she’d say, while removing the dish from the oven. 

Oh, yummy, we’d think. But then it really would be. Absolutely yummy.

Growing up, I thought that this was just how polite women were supposed to respond to compliments. To show that you weren’t proud or conceited… the deadliest of sins.

“I love your dress.”

“This old thing? It looks like a sack on me.”

“You look great.”

“No I don’t. I look like death-warmed-over.”

“Your house is gorgeous.”

“It’s a wreck.”

“You’re so pretty.”

“No, I’m not. You are.”

Self-deprecation was learned along with the Greater Catechism.

This irritates me now. In myself and others.

I wonder if it is some kind of generational bondage, passed down to women through their mother’s milk. Maybe it’s a cultural thing that will die out with my generation. I don’t hear Kate Gosselin putting herself down all the time. Or P. Hilton or LiLo or the Kardashians. Au contraire.

Perhaps it is strictly regional. For instance, you would rarely, if ever, hear a native Southern woman refer to her “absolutely maaarrrrvelous” parsnips, as Martha Stewart inevitably does. Then again, maybe it’s because we don’t eat many parsnips down here. But Martha also compliments herself on her faaabbbbbulous flower arrangements, her hand-knit hats with adorable earflaps, and her precious placecards made from pinecones. So I don’t know.

Maybe it’s okay to brag on yourself if you’re from the Northeast. Social mores do differ from region to region. All I know is I try to avoid Martha whenever possible. Self-aggrandizement gripes me just as much as its converse.

I started this piece a good while back. It was one of the 50 or so unfinished masterpieces lingering around in Documents. Some are just a few sentences or two. Ideas that never hatched.

But a couple of things made me go search for this one.

First was Marianne’s wonderful post, Beautiful Love. (Read it... second one down; won't let me link directly for some reason.) Marianne’s son, who has Downs syndrome, told her that she is beautiful. And she told him that he was wrong.

The second thing was the post I wrote clarifying the previous one. Trying to make sure I wasn’t misunderstood.

Now the two things seem unrelated. But I think that something on a spiritual level connects them, albeit tenuously.

A spirit of self-consciousness.

The issue is a concern about how we appear to ourselves and others.

Whether defending or degrading ourselves. Taking credit and/or blame. Whether it stems from low self-esteem or false modesty. Or even pride.

Marianne’s post made me think about how self-conscious I am. How I can’t accept a compliment (or a criticism) graciously.

How every time someone says, “Kim, you look good today,” I usually respond: “No, I don’t. I’ve got bags under my eyes.” Or, “I'm bloated.” Or, “I’m having a bad hair day.” How I always counter, “It wasn’t very good,” whenever my son-in-law compliments my cooking.

And I thought about how many, many women I know who do the same thing. How a friend will make excuses for the gift as she offers it. How another will tell me “she’s a ‘bad friend’ because she didn’t do xyz.” How some will just completely reject any positive comment about their appearance. Or anything else. How my mother always argues with you about the casserole.

Self-consciousness (unconsciously) disguised as modesty or humility?

It occurs to me that this is a bad thing on many levels. We are taking credit or blame for things that we were given. We make it all about us.

When it isn’t.

“For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” (I Corinthians 4:7)

What if we were less conscious of ourselves, and more conscious of the gifts we’ve been given?

Because each of us has been given unique gifts. What if we embraced them gratefully and joyfully, instead of disparagingly? What if we truly understood that God made us exactly the way we are for a reason? What if we more consistently recognized the true source of our identity?

I wonder if it hurts His feelings when we disdain and belittle the gifts He’s given us… whether it’s abilities, attributes, or even possessions. Because everything He made is good. He doesn’t give us useless junk.

I’ll make you a promise.

The next time I get a compliment, I am going to make a concerted effort to respond graciously. I am going to try to stifle that self-effacing Southern girl, and recognize that the speaker is acknowledging a gift I’ve received from my Father. Even if I don’t recognize it as such.

I am going to try very hard to simply say

thank you.


Does anyone else struggle with this? Do you think it is a generational/regional phenomenon, or is it more universal? What do you think it stems from? Does the Media Ideal of perfection enter in? What are your thoughts?

(p.s. anyone who mentions this post to my mother is gonna be in some deep doodoo.)