What Is Woman?

“The dark-haired Freda, who united the fearlessness and independence of a woman with the frankness and gaiety of a child, had won his heart.” – The Dragon and the Raven, by G.A. Henty

Every once in a while, a passage in a book leaps out at me and demands attention. “Look!” it says, “I’m just what you’ve thought so many times but couldn’t quite put into words. Here I am, all put together for you.” That’s just what this sentence did. In 24 words, it completely and eloquently states everything I ever aspired to be as a woman. The best of both worlds, as it were. To be a strong, confident woman, yet still open and vivacious like a girl, that is what I want to be.

When I was little, I always said I wanted to be a woman, but never a lady. I was something of a tomboy and this was the only way I could say what I meant. To me, “lady” meant being prim and proper, soft and sedate. I have long since realized my mistake – that a woman can indeed be both strong and ladylike. But it was a mistake in word usage only, never in the meaning behind the words. My thoughts made sense to me, but I never found the right words to express those thoughts. Mr. Henty, writing 129 years ago, has done it for me.

In today’s gender-confused world, it can be difficult to know how to truly be a woman. Or how to be a man, for that matter. In G.A. Henty’s day, the lines were more clearly drawn between the sexes. In 1886, there were very specific rules that governed the way a woman should dress, act, and think. I have no desire to return to such a restrictive arrangement – and I don’t think he thought too much of it at the time either. In writing Freda, the romantic interest of The Dragon and the Raven’s protagonist, he leaves no doubt that she is all woman. Yet she is both free-thinking and free-spirited. In today’s world, it is both easier and more complicated – easier because we are encouraged to be ourselves, more complicated because we have to figure out what that means on our own. I certainly haven’t figured it out yet, but every day I learn a little more and become a little better. But that’s life, right? Always learning, always growing, always striving to be a better person.

woman

MacGyver, All-American Hero

macgyver5MacGyver. Just his name is enough to make me smile. Everybody loves MacGyver. He’s not a dashing hero, he’s not an action hero, he’s not a superhero. He’s just an ordinary all-American guy with a good heart and some impressive skills. He can make a bomb out of anything just as easily as he can diffuse the most sophisticated of explosive devices. And he can do everything in between. Resourceful and quick-thinking, he always manages to get himself – and others – out of whatever impossible scrapes the writers dream up.

And he’s constantly helping the little guys and fighting for “lost” causes. Firmly planted on a strong, I would even say unshakeable, moral code, he always does the right thing. And he never ever gives up until the bad guys have been soundly beaten. Most important, he cares. Cares about other people and cares about doing the right thing for its own sake. He’s not in it for the money or power or glory. He is always there to help and do good. And he’s not afraid – but not because he’s the biggest, or the strongest, or the toughest. Because he knows that in the end, good will always triumph over evil.

Boyish charm and a winning smile make him an even more likeable guy. I think MacGyver/Richard Dean Anderson was my first – no, second – celebrity crush. (Come to think of it, there are quite a few similarities between Mac and Roy Rogers, my first celeb crush. But that’s a story for another day.) Simple and sweet and unpretentious, like an overgrown kid, Mac’s charm could melt any heart. Let the other girls swoon over the “bad boys;” give me a good guy like MacGyver any day. A soft heart and strong character – now that’s a sexy combination. Forget about the cute or rich or popular guys, I just want to find me my very own MacGyver.

What Is Honesty?

What is honesty? We tend to think of honesty as what it’s not: not telling lies. And while yes, this is true, there is a much bigger picture here. So what is honesty? Telling the truth is the simple answer. But that’s really only another way of saying that it’s not telling lies. Is there a deeper answer? A more powerful meaning? A hidden truth? To utilize an over-used cliché, honesty is like an onion, with layers of meaning that need to be understood individually to grasp the whole truth of what honesty really is.

So let’s start with the simple answer: telling the truth. A statement that is deceptively simple. Ironic, right? But what is truth? If you say, “The sky is blue,” you are telling the truth. Some days the sky is gray and overcast, or even black with storm clouds. But still, the blue sky is up there, we just can’t see it. Lies are like those storm clouds, hiding and obscuring the truth. How many people can honestly say that they always tell the truth? No one. Even those who so seldom tell lies that they have a solid reputation for honesty are few and far between. Why do we tell lies? To avoid getting in trouble? To impress our boss, or our coworkers, or our friends, or our girl/boyfriend? To get something we want? Basically, we tell lies for 2 simple reasons: fear and desire.

But let’s go a little deeper in our study of the honesty onion. What is the next step of being honest? Doing the truth. How can one do the truth, you ask? Are you telling me that you never did something to cover your tracks so no one suspected what you had done? Even if we never actually say a falsehood, doing something to throw another person off what we’re really up to is a lie just the same. Think of the kid who hides in the pantry with the cookie jar. While our methods may become more sophisticated as we grow up, deceiving another person through our actions is every bit as wrong as telling an outright lie.

The third layer of honesty is living the truth. This one is less about deceiving those around us and more about being honest with ourselves. Every single person carries a truth in his or her heart that no one else can hear. The truth of who you really are and what you can do. Most of us can’t even hear our own truth and even when we do, we talk ourselves out of believing it. We convince ourselves that we’re not pretty enough, not smart enough, not talented enough, not good enough. That we don’t deserve that or can’t do this. So we settle for less than what we deserve, for less than who we are. We give up, stop trying, let life carry us where it will.

And now we arrive at the core of what honesty really is: being the truth. When we find our center, we also find the center of truth. And when we do that, then living, doing, and telling the truth just kinda flows naturally. And there is no longer any room for phoniness, either in ourselves or in the people around us. When we are real and genuine and true, we walk in a light and peace that no one else can touch. We can also see right through the phony charades deceitful people play. Even if we can’t clearly articulate it, we can sense when someone is not real or genuine. And real people don’t have time for deception. Some of us are blessed with inherent honesty; some of us have to work for it. Either way, I have one piece of advice for you: trust your gut. It is always honest, even when your head is not.light of honesty

Finding Neverland

finding neverland-neverland-11985156-351-450“It’s magical. Thank you.” So says Peter Llewelyn Davies to J.M. Barrie about his play Peter Pan. And so say I to the creators of Finding Neverland. This movie is a beautifully sweet and riotously funny look at the man behind the “irrepressible spirit of youth.”

Although he’s already a renowned playwright, Barrie’s latest creation is a flop. Then he meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her 4 fatherless boys. He finds himself drawn to them, especially Peter, in whom he sees perhaps a reflection of himself. He spends nearly every afternoon all summer with Sylvia, George, Jack, Peter, and Michael. They dress up and play pretend – pirates, explorers, cowboys and Indians. Uncle Jim, as the boys call Barrie, is really just a boy himself and he teaches them to soar on the wings of imagination.

Sylvia, beautifully portrayed by Kate Winslet, is a wonderful mother. Fun, loving, and perfectly imperfect, she is adored by her free-spirited sons. Each of the 4 boys is perfectly cast and wonderfully played. Genuine, authentic, innocent, and fun, they are a joy to watch, especially Freddie Highmore as Peter. Johnny Depp, as always, is magnificent. He so totally inhabits his role, it becomes difficult to remember that he’s ever played any other character. His James Barrie is fun, creative, imaginative, cheerful, innocent – in short, the total opposite of the story’s 2 stuffed shirts. Mrs. Barrie is a shallow, self-centered creature who married James because he is a famous author, not for love. Their marriage is therefore rather strained. The other disagreeable character is Sylvia’s mother, Mrs. Du Maurier (superbly portrayed by Julie Christie). The friction between her and James, however, does not stem from self-centeredness, but rather from love of her daughter and grandsons. It is this capacity for love that, in the end, turns her into a sympathetic figure. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Barrie’s producer, Charles Frohman. His dry humor and wit is unmatched.

In conclusion, Finding Neverland is a magical, beautiful, and poignant portrait of life, love, family, and imagination.finding neverland

Mama Is – A Mother’s Day Tribute

In French, it’s maman; in Spanish, mamá; in Italian, mamma; in Greek, màna; and in English, mama. The most beautiful word in any language and one of the first every baby learns to say, “mama,” “mom,”and “mommy” mean so much more than just “an informal name for one’s mother.”

Mama is . . .

. . . the one who carries us for 9 months in her body and for a lifetime in her heart.

. . . the one whose love for us is immeasurable, no matter what we say or do.

. . . the one whose love is a shelter from the storms of this sea called life.

. . . the one who kisses away the hurt when we fall and scrape our knee and when we fall and break our heart.

. . . the one who always stands beside us; who laughs when we laugh and cries when we cry.

. . . the one who shows us the meaning of courage, strength, and selflessness.

. . . the one who makes any house – big or small, humble or palatial – into a home.

. . . the one whose work is never done, yet she never complains or shirks.

. . . the one who can both comfort and scold without words.

. . . the one who never gives up hope for or loses faith in a wayward son or daughter.

. . . the one whose prayers follow us wherever we may wander.

. . . the one we should love best and honor most in the whole wide world.

 

So, on this Mother’s Day, I just want to tell you: Thank you, Mama, more than words can say. I love and miss you.

Mama's Love

10 Songs of Comfort in Grief

My second-to-last act of love for my incomparable Mama was to prepare the music for her funeral service and visiting hours. With input from the rest of the family of course (Daddy in particular), I put together a CD to play in the background during viewing hours. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most beautiful. And although it is difficult even to write this, I do so with the hope that these songs may bring comfort to another who may be in a time of grief and loss.

  • 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) – Matt Redman – Opening the playlist on a positive note, this song is about worshipping the Lord for his goodness. Even when our world may be crumbling.
  • Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) – Chris Tomlin – Mama loved this version of the classic hymn. Incredibly beautiful, it both soothes and comforts.
  • Be Still – Kristene DiMarco – By one of Daddy’s favorite singers, this track reassures that “He who placed the sun, the moon, and stars is here with me.”
  • How You Live (Turn Up The Music) – Point of Grace – Advice on how to live a beautiful life or a tribute to one already lived, this song is perfect.
  • Better Than a Hallelujah – Amy Grant – The idea that God hears a melody in our tears and our brokenness is a great comfort. Like it gives our grief permission to express itself, knowing that we will be okay.
  • Blessings – Laura Storey – Even though we prayed for healing, we can still know that He loves us and sometimes His blessings come through raindrops.
  • In Better Hands – Natalie Grant – Although we miss her dreadfully, we can rejoice knowing that she is in better hands now. And it is “like the sun is shining when the rain is pouring down.”
  • In Christ Alone (Medley) – Phillips, Craig and Dean – A declaration of unshakeable faith, this song defines who my Mama was.
  • In Your Presence O God – Paul Wilbur – One of my earliest memories is of Daddy singing this as a solo in church. It is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. His presence truly is a source of strength in times of grief and sorrow.
  • There Is Nothing Greater Than Grace – Point of Grace – “There is no valley, there is no darkness, there is no sorrow, greater than the grace of Jesus. There is no moment, there is no distance, there is no heartbreak He can’t take you through.”

 

Bonus Tracks:

  • Even If – Kutless – We almost included this one because of how perfect the lyrics are, but we ended up deciding against it because the musical style didn’t flow with the rest of our selections. I wish we could’ve used it, as this song puts to music everything my Daddy told us on the day Mama died.
  • Be Thou My Vision – 4him – The opening song for the actual service, this was Mama’s all-time favorite hymn. The last verse breaks my heart every time.
  • It Is Well (Radio Mix) – Bethel Music/Kristene DiMarco – The closing of the service. “Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You. And through it all, through it all, it is well. Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You. And it is well with me.”grief like rain

Green: Color of Life

color of lifeGrass, Peter Pan, key lime pie, fresh herbs, Yoda, clover, Tharks, Shrek, trees, Robin Hood, kiwi fruit – all have one thing in common. The color green. In my opinion, green is the color of life and vitality. When spring comes, and creation awakens from the cold sleep of winter, everything becomes green and the world is once again vibrantly alive. It’s the most beautiful event of the year. As spring morphs into summer, green is everywhere we look. Green is the official color of summer; it’s a happy time and a happy color.

Green is also life when it comes to food. Fresh herbs will liven up just about any dish, and most green fruits will wake up your taste buds – limes, kiwis, green grapes, Granny Smith apples. Key lime pie is a dreamy concoction of lively limes in a creamy filling. And the list of green vegetables is nearly endless. Most studies and nutritionists agree that green vegetables are more densely packed with nutrients than other vegetables – and what are nutrients if not life for our bodies’ cells?

Green seems to be the color of choice for lively, energetic fictional characters as well. Who is more exuberantly alive than Peter Pan, the boy who won’t grow up? Or Yoda, the little green guy with a light saber? How about the 4-armed giants of Barsoom (Tharks), the Scottish-accented ogre with a gentle soul (Shrek), or the longbow-wielding hero of Sherwood Forest (Robin Hood)? They’re all enthusiastic, energetic, forceful, flamboyant – ALIVE. And their attitude is infectious, which is why we love them – and their trademark color of life.

Overcoming Fear

Fear is a funny thing. It seldom makes sense. It certainly isn’t the strongest emotion we feel. I like to think of it as our most persuasive emotion. While others are stronger, fear sure is the best at convincing us that we are completely in his power. Sometimes the things we are afraid of are real and actual threats; sometimes there is no reason to be afraid. Yet fear so often holds our soul captive and we feel powerless to act. Overcoming fear, especially irrational fear, is one of the biggest challenges we face in life. And yet, if we want to live our lives to the full, it is something we must do.

Most people perceive me as one of the bravest and toughest people they know. What they don’t see is the inner struggle. I have wrestled with deep, almost paralyzing fear since I was – well I don’t know since when. As long as I can remember I guess. Unfounded, irrational fear. Overcoming fear is a familiar feeling for me. And yet, perhaps that is true courage. To look fear in the eyes and to still keep on doing what needs to be done. Not the absence of fear, but the defeat of fear. Or maybe that’s just the coward in me talking, trying to make me feel better. I don’t know.

There are 3 things that are stronger than fear. Three ways of overcoming fear. The first is anger. This is the easiest way, but it is also temporary. Unless it is possible to always be angry, but I don’t think it is – nor is it advisable. I have plenty of experience with using anger to beat fear. It is good in extreme situations, but will never be a permanent solution. Another way of combating fear is through willpower. For strong-willed people like me, this is a good option. Or at least, it has served me well for years. I also have a contrary streak, which probably doesn’t hurt. It’s like daring myself to do the things I’m afraid of. Every day, I push the limits of my fear, making my comfort zone ever bigger. But the best and strongest adversary in the war against fear is oh so simple: love. When we love deep and pure, fear dissipates like smoke in the wind. And suddenly, overcoming fear is an anthill instead of Mt. Everest. It is a beautiful, amazing, incredible experience.overcoming fear with love

Sandra McCracken Concert

Sandra McCrackenThe only thing that gets me as excited as finding a new favorite author is finding a new favorite artist. And I scored big with this find. Sandra McCracken recently did a concert not far from where I live and a good friend invited me to go with him. I had never heard of her but I am so glad I went. She is absolutely amazing. I could listen to her voice forever and her songs are achingly beautiful. Even had me in tears at one point, partly because the music touched my soul so deeply and partly because I knew that my Mama would’ve loved Sandra. From the moment she stepped on stage, she held me captive, mesmerized by both her voice and her passion.

The Welcome Wagon opened the show. The husband and wife team of Monique and Thomas Aiuto Vito, they were pretty awesome too. Their sound is unique, like nothing I’ve ever heard. And I loved it. Simple yet beautiful melodies with a folksy flair – at times toe-tappin’ fun, at other points quiet and thoughtful. I found their music to be refreshing and sweet.

One thing that I absolutely loved about this concert was the venue – a small Presbyterian church that held maybe 300-400 people. More intimate than an arena or even a bigger church, it was like she had come to sing with old friends. Sandra McCracken obviously loves music, but I got the feeling that she loves her fans just as much. She talked some in between songs and it was so natural and free, like having a conversation with a friend. I didn’t want the concert to end.

She sang a good mix of songs – some from her newest album Psalms, some older ones, and a couple kids’ songs from her Rain for Roots project. Although they all were first-rate, I think the song I loved best was “Thy Mercy, My God.” With words written by John Stocker in 1776 and music supplied by Sandra McCracken herself, “Thy Mercy, My God” is the first track from her 2005 album The Builder and the Architect. Of course “God Makes Everything” (a Rain for Roots tune) was lots of fun; everyone sang along during the chorus. And all the songs from Psalms were home runs: “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” “My Help, My God,” “Send Out Your Light,” “Have Mercy,” “Flourishing” was particularly good. In short, the entire concert was fabulous and I am so happy to add Sandra McCracken to my list of favorite singers.

Writing for Mama

writingThis is harder than I thought it would be. I mean, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize how difficult this could actually get. I considered giving up on this blog and my writing dream when Mama died. She believed in me and my writing before anyone else did and I didn’t know if I would be able to carry on without her support. Then too, there would be the issue of trying to write without being overwhelmed with thoughts of her. I ultimately decided that continuing on with this and every other aspect of my life is what she would want me to do. But it sure hasn’t been easy.

It’s like the words are stuck. It’s weird, because writing has always been easy for me. The words would just flow with little effort. Quite often, it was a struggle to get them to stop. Mama always said that I have a gift. Now it’s like I’m groping in the dark to find what I want to say. My hope is that by putting this down in black and white, maybe I can beat this. I may not even publish this; I don’t know yet. Writing has always helped me work through problems I needed to solve or decisions I needed to make. But I’ve never had trouble writing before. How can writing save me this time, when it’s a fight to even put this on paper? I feel like I’m lost. Maybe I’ll try telling a story.

It was almost a year ago that I first started this blog. It was her idea of course. “Have you ever considered doing a blog?” Out of the blue, her question jolted me. I had never thought of blogging before. “Just something to think about,” she said and that was the end of the conversation. So I did think about it for several weeks. Even as I went about my normal life, it was always in the back of my mind. Every once in a while, I’d ask her a question. What would I write about? Would anyone read it? Who could I get to help me set it up? Could I do any good with a blog? Every step of the way, she was there to help and encourage. When I finally launched in May of ’15, I think she was more excited than I was. And when I had to give it up a few months later, she was so disappointed.

Between work, life, and taking care of her, there just wasn’t time for extras. So I did what I had to do. And I didn’t mind, not really. We would talk about it every once in a while. She encouraged me to keep writing as I had time. Even if I didn’t publish what I wrote. She didn’t want me to give up on my dream. The re-launch in January was her idea too. Life was stabilizing and she seemed to be doing okay. “New year, new start,” she told me. So I did. Three weeks later she was gone. And this blog is all I have left of her. So no matter how hard it is, I won’t let go. As long as I have this, it’s like she is still here with me. And I think I’ve worked through my writer’s block. Thanks, Mama.