Friday, December 31, 2010

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful

All my regular readers have probably noticed by now that I post on Saturdays. Last week I didn't (Christmas etc.) and this week, it's going to be a Friday post - mostly because I want to reflect on something I learned in 2010, and write about 2010.

I have discovered a very simple truth and have thought about it time and time again this past year. When I created my Facebook Year In Status, I noticed it was one of the first statuses I posted in 2010. I pondered it again this fall, and it soon became the inspiration for song lyrics (stay tuned!) The truth was solidified yet again as I walked through the mall the other day.

I'm sure many women and girls have experienced this plight:

You're walking around the mall. The din of voices puts you into a slight trance. There's so much to look at, your eyes glaze over a little. Too many lights, too many products, too many people...but of all the shoes, tops, earrings, leather jackets, bags and other things to observe at the mall, aren't the other people the most interesting?  Here's just an example: your focus zeroes in on a girl with, let's say, gorgeous, thick, long, sleek, shiny jet black hair. You think, "I love her hair. Her hair is beautiful." You then think, "I wish I had her hair," believing that if you had gorgeous, thick, sleek, shiny black hair, you'd be beautiful, too. You then realize that you could pop in to Shoppers Drug Mart, buy a box of black hair colour, some extensions, a hair straightener and some product that promises to turn dull hair full of breakages into perfect, shiny locks...but...would you actually look good with that kind of hairstyle? Probably not. This leaves you feeling substandard because it's improbable that you would achieve the same hair success as that girl. You wouldn't look as good as that girl, if you had her hair. Then, all of a sudden, your own hair is really terrible. This is depressing.

There are many variations of this same experience. Women are on a quest to be beautiful - and there are so many parts to it, this can be exhausting: hair, skin, eyes, body, clothes... I wonder: how many people have been subscribing to this faulty logic? I have, for years.

During the time I was at the mall, this kind of logic may or may not have woven through my brain several times, without me trying to dissuade it, until I realized that all the girls I noticed beautiful things about were all very different from each other. Whatever does this mean?

There is more than one kind of beautiful. In fact, there are many kinds of beautiful.

There are SO MANY kinds of beautiful.

You have your body, your hair colour, eye colour, skin colour for a reason...don't fight it!

My skin is VERY fair. For years and year, I fought it. I was determined to be tanned. I got sunburns when I was younger. I remember, when I still lived with my parents, I would run outside in the summer if I had ten minutes to spare, just to get in the sun to "darken up." I tried desperately to be outside in the sun each day to "build my tan." Why? Because every single girl in magazines, movies, advertisements, commercials on TV - they were all tanned! So again, I reasoned, "if I'm tanned, then I'll be beautiful."

Looking back, being fair-skinned, this was a hilarious thing to do.

Thank goodness for the recent skin cancer awareness and the even more recent Twilight craze. Now it seems that many more girls are desperately trying to look like the porcelain Bella Swan, or one of her vampire friends. This craze has been very good for me. I don't even have to try! (haha)

Even so, I have to confess that it was only just this past summer, in 2010, in my 29th year for goodness sake, that I finally decided to stop fighting it. I have fair skin. My body has no idea what "tan" means. I will never be tanned. But this can still be beautiful. In fact, I actually wore sunscreen every day this summer, even if I wasn't going to be outside for a long time, and I didn't get one sunburn.

There are SO MANY kinds of beautiful.

I'd like to encourage you to be your OWN KIND of beautiful. Don't try to be like someone else. Being your own kind of beautiful is what makes you so beautiful. Your personality, your character, your passions - these qualities all shine from the inside of you, making you a beautiful individual inside and out. Hold your head up high because you are you, and you are beautiful. You are a wonder.

OK. You might think, This is nice to read. But we ladies need to hear this, REGULARLY. It's amazing how one compliment can fuel your self-esteem for days. If the cashier at the grocery store tells me she likes my hair, I think, "Yes! Take that, girl with sleek, jet-black hair!" The cashier's compliment pushes my shoulders back and my chin up, and makes me feel lighter. Being told you are beautiful has a profound effect on you, doesn't it?

As today is December 31, I have my New Year's resolution in order: I'm going to tell people they are beautiful (or one of beautiful's many derivatives) REGULARLY, in 2011. We need to hear it - it helps us believe it. A little compliment goes a long way. It's not hard to do.

Oh, and a little P.S. for male readers: I know men don't have the same need to be told they are beautiful as women do...but men need to know how important it is to tell the women in their lives they are beautiful. I also understand that men need compliments, too...just more in the "handsome/strength/capability/gentleman/protection etc.etc." kind of department, so this also part of my New Year's resolution.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Back to the Stable

Over the past couple of days, my Christmas thoughts have travelled back to the stable: where it all began. Sure, we don't know exactly what time of day Jesus was born, or even exactly which day he was born, but either way, it happened. Our Saviour was born, and we celebrate his birth at Christmas.

We know that a pregnant Mary, along with Joseph, travelled to Bethlehem to comply with a Roman census. We know that when they looked for a place to stay, the inn was full, so they were given the stable.

In my mind, probably like most, I picture the nativity scene - Mary and Joseph gazing adoringly at their little new bundle of joy, the Son of God, in a stable.

I started to wonder about some details. Sure, I'll never know about these things, but it's still fun to ponder them:

I wonder if before Mary and Joseph set off on their journey, Mary's mother gave her some woman-to-woman advice: "Now, Mary, when it's time to give birth, you'll feel contractions...and they will HURT. When those contractions are really close together, like less than a minute apart, you are probably going to be ready to push." Or, "When you're in labour, remember to breathe in with your nose, out with your mouth." Or, "You'll have to check to see how dilated you are, and when you are close to 10 cm (or whatever their unit of measurement was!), start to push like you've never pushed before!"

Was Mary afraid? Probably not. God was with her - knitting His Son being together in her womb - how could she avoid feeling an overwhelming sense of peace?

Did Mary have a long labour, or a short one? I can only assume that the labour wasn't all that bad - the Son of God must have made things easy on her. What about Joseph? Did Mary tell him, "Joseph, you have to check to see how dilated I am! CHECK!" I wonder if Joseph, in an I-have-no-idea-what-to-do manner, ran to the innkeeper for help when Mary was in labour. Did they collect some women who were staying at the inn for assistance? I can just picture a plump, matronly mother of eight marching to the stable and taking charge - sending volunteers in all different directions for hot water and clean linens, and wiping Mary's forehead with a cool cloth. Maybe the stable was buzzing with activity.

 I bet the birth was straightforward (Jesus probably wasn't a breech baby) and I doubt there would have been any complications (of course God made sure that His Son was born without difficulty!) Who cut the cord? I wonder if Joseph did. I wonder if he was excited to cut the cord, or a little nervous.

What about the animals (the "friendly beasts")? Some people argue that animals have a keen sense of the spirit world, unlike most humans do. Did they sense that something supernatural was happening within their stable? I mean, the Son of God in human form was right there, in the cow's manger. What was their reaction?

Wow. Can you imagine being there and witnessing this glorious event? Wow.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wonderful Christmas - Dichotomies and All

This past week, I came across some Christmas poetry I have collected over the years. It seems that every Christmas, I am overcome with its mystery and its meaning. Every Christmas, my current emotional state of mind has combined with thoughts of the season, and out comes some sort of poem.

This year, I was struck by the dichotomy of Christmas. We yearn to get to the place where we can reflect and wonder, relax alone in a dimly-lit room pondering what Jesus' birth means for all the people on Earth. We can't wait to spend a wonderful time with family and friends (and according to pop culture's holiday songs, it ain't Christmas if you aren't stationed in front of a warm, crackling fire, out skating on a frozen body of water or jingling some sort of bell).

Ironically, nowadays, in order to get to that place, society demands that we race around the mall, around the clock, buying the latest technology or toy, decorating the house with endless Christmas paraphernalia (although I have to say I kind of like driving by those huge lawn snow globes with Rudolph, Frosty or a random penguin trapped inside), organizing get-togethers with everyone we know and everyone we haven't seen in ages--over and above the usual daily responsibilities we have--it's exhausting. It seems like we have to undergo a hectic couple of months in order earn the pleasure of executing traditions and enjoying quality time with the people we love. We suffer a nightmare before Christmas to make all our dreams come true. We have to speed up so that we can slow down. We buy gifts for the ones we love to celebrate the Gift that God gave us - which is really the only Gift anyone will ever need.

It doesn't surprise me that in one sense, Christmas has transformed over the years, while at the same time, traditions have still held steadfast. For example, as I walked into the Superstore today, I was greeted by a recording of the Glee cast singing "Deck the Halls" on a portable CD player on the floor of the entrance - old has been incorporated with new. Nativity scenes are stocked next to Santa decorations. We madly shop for the best gifts to give on Magical Christmas Morning (or if you're Dutch, Mysterious Christmas Eve). Some things change (as the world ages) alongside other things we try desperately to keep the same (traditions).

This year, don't let the means become the end. Take some time to enjoy the "saturated" feeling that December brings. Our homes, offices and stores alike are full of decorations. Christmas music (old and new songs alike) soundtracks your everyday errands. The ground is (hopefully!) covered in snow, insulating everything. We as people are saturated with almost an entire year of events that have occurred, and we are only a couple weeks away from starting a new, fresh year. Take some time to appreciate the quiet, simple, glorious aspects of Christmas, before it's gone for another year. Remember, thanks to God, you already have all you need.

Below is a little piece I wrote in reference to my "Dichotomy of Christmas" theme this year:

2010: The Dichotomy of Christmas

The table is set; the candles are lit
                                                We fight for a parking spot only to lose
Mom beckons to everyone, “come in and sit.”
                                                There’re too many smart phones – how ever to choose?

Turkey is savoured, trimmings devoured
                                                I conquered the lineup – only to find
Faces are smiling; not one soul is sour
                                                To my dismay, I left my wallet behind

Loved one join hands, and in one great voice
                                                Heart races as I try to race against time
Old carols are sung; the people rejoice
                                                To decorate, shop, wrap and tag, wine and dine

Later, alone, I’m sipping my cider
                                                Where did I put the Nativity pieces?
Reflecting on Christmas, my smile becomes wider
                                                Where are the Mary and Joseph and Jesus?

The lights in my heart blind the lights on the tree
                                                Why do I feel like I need to pretend?
For Christmas—it no longer mystifies me.
                                                When did the stressful means become the end?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Balance: Mind and Body

I was running down the stairs this week in response to Emmett crying in his playpen. I was in the middle of putting my socks on, and I had one sock (a heavy slipper sock) on, and one off. You would not believe how discombobulating and dizzying a feeling it is to run down the stairs with one socked foot and one bare foot. I could hardly keep my balance. My brain was completely confused.

As soon as Emmett was cared for, I put my other sock on. Why? Because apparently it's a liability for a klutzy person like me to be running around the house with only one sock on. Also, because people wear two socks...obviously.

That dizzying feeling I had reminded me of having a migraine. Any migraine sufferers out there? You probably know exactly what I mean. The odd time I get a migraine, I get that terrible visual "aura" that involves half of my vision being blurred away. When I look at my face in the mirror, I only see half of my face. When I look at my hand, I only see part of it, and it doesn't even feel like it's attached to my body. With that weird feeling going on, I can hardly walk straight. So what do you do when you have a migraine? You take something, shut out the world and lay down until your balance comes back.

When I was thinking about these things, this is what I wondered:

OK. Obviously when our bodies feel "out of balance," like in the circumstances I described above, we immediately rectify the situation. We don't function well when our bodies are out of balance, so we fix it. I feel like it's almost redundant to say this because it's so obvious.

What about our minds? What about our lives?

We all know that the key to life is balance. As soon as your life tilts out of balance, everything seems to go awry. If you work too much, your home and family suffer. If you don't spend enough time with God, His peace seems further away and less able to calm the storms of a busy life.

To let your mind (especially if you're a worrier) or your life (especially if you have many responsibilities) get out of balance is easy. To realize that you haven't experienced real balance of your mind in several months is not uncommon. Sometimes we are so busy that we don't even have time to recognize the imbalance of our lives!

I wondered at how simply and quickly I put my physical body back into balance...but why have I neglected my mind...why have I neglected my LIFE?

I let my sock experience be a reminder to me that on busy days, when I'm running around trying to accomplish too many things, my mind is just sitting there, having its own migraine. (Ironically, those are the days when I'm prone to getting an actual, physical migraine.) My mind is just waiting for me to "take a chill pill," shut out the world and just "be"...because we are much more capable of handling life's challenges and enjoying life's blessings when we can "walk" straight!

If your life is full of the one-sock-on, one-sock-off kind of days, I implore you to put the other figurative, fluffy sock back on! Walking the tightrope of life is impossible without balance--physical and mental balance.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Smell Memories

You may have heard before that the sense of smell is the most powerful sense to trigger memories. In writing, it's also an extremely powerful descriptor. If you read about the way something smells, more than anything else, the idea of the scent can really make you "experience" what the writer described. For some reason, the sense of smell provides such a vivid experience - it really "takes you there."

I remember a while back, I caught the scent of something (I don't even remember where, or the context, or anything) - and I couldn't place what it was...but the scent was so powerful to me that it brought me back to such a vivid, specific place. The smell was a food smell, and it took me back to the house I grew up in. I remember the beige brush strokes on the kitchen cupboard, and the dark red, cylindrical cardboard container it came in. From that I remembered what it was - those Sun-Maid raisins that came in the dark red container with the dark red lid. Isn't it interesting that the scent of something can take you to where you remember smelling it before? To me, the raisin smell is somewhat...comforting...maybe calming? (even though I don't really adore raisins - they are just OK).

I have the same thing happen to me every year when the Christmas decorations are unpacked. The smell of the wreath, the old tissue paper protecting all the breakables, the pine cones - the scents themselves - trigger memories of Christmases past and create that much more enjoyable and reflective a decorating experience.

Here's where it gets really interesting. Everyone has their own opinion about smells, of course (for instance, consider all the different kinds of perfume or cologne out there). We all consider different smells in different ways, which makes the sense of smell that much more complex. What do our preferences say about us?

The variety of perspectives on smells can get even more complicated because smells are connected to memories. Everyone has different memories, so smells can mean one thing to one person and something else to the next person. Wow. For example, even though we all prefer certain types of perfume/cologne, there are only so many out there, so think of all the different women who wear one type of perfume. One guy might hate that perfume because it reminds him of a horrible girl, with an outrageous temper, whom he dated in college. Maybe he loved that perfume when he loved that girl, but then he had no choice to but to hate the perfume when things went sour in the relationship because of how closely connected the smell was to his perception of the girl. Another guy might love the perfume because it is the most vivid memory of his mother, who passed away when he was a boy, in a tragic car accident. Wow. So smells are powerful emotional triggers, too.

Wow. Who knew that this whole smell thing could be so interesting?

Since I learned how powerful the sense of smell is in describing things and triggering memories, I've made a conscious effort to use it in writing...(and, of course, I figured I should write a blog about it as my tribute to the wonderful sense of smell! However, I didn't always think that way. For me, for many years, the sense of smell sat on the back burner. Music/sounds and visual pictures always seemed to take the forefront. Why? I wonder.

For those of you who love interesting/useless facts, here's a site I found and some fun facts about the wonderful sense of smell:

Sense of Smell Facts