Monday, September 24, 2018

A Beautiful Calling and Highest Privilege

Absolutely zero cause for concern, but I'm having a hysterectomy, next week, and so I've spent more than the usual amount of time in the girly doctor office as of late. You know the offices, where they have the feminine floral prints on the walls and pictures of newborn babies and labeled charts of body parts, that only we have, adorn the exam rooms. Where the older men in the waiting room, who drove their wives to their appointments, look like they wish they could dig a hole under their chairs and crawl into them. And good luck to them trying to find some reading material there with the tables laden with old issues of Parenting, Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Living, and American Baby. There's just not a lot provided for their entertainment, which is why they usually look down at their hands and pick the lint off of their pants. Anything to avoid eye contact.

I sat there, today, and noticed the wide range of women waiting. A young mother with a little baby, a couple of older ladies, and a handful of pregnant women. And me. Right in the middle. Somewhere along the way, looking at fingers, toes, and little beating hearts on the ultrasound screen has turned into just looking at strange looking middle-age formations that you wouldn't want to put in a onesie and bring home in a car seat. But, I'm not yet being driven to my appointments either, so there's that bit of good news. But, I guess signing the acknowledgment, that I understood this procedure (along with so many, many, many other things) prohibits me from ever having any more children, has had me thinking about what it means to be a woman. And maybe what it doesn't.

Aside from being a Christian, I can't think of any other box that I check for which I'm more thankful than the female box. Being a woman is not dependent on marital status, children or no children, or career or stay at home choices. It has nothing to do with education or background or ethnicity. It's much deeper than that. It crosses all lines with its intuitive and sensitive nature. What a privilege it is to have been created as a woman. The gender, who's largely naturally equipped to nurture, love, encourage, communicate, and connect. To empathize, sympathize, humanize, and socialize. Not that we have a monopoly on those things, but we're pretty darn good at them. It's a blessing to be wired toward building relationships. To be given an appetite for connecting and reaching out to those around us. To enjoy the freedom to express ourselves. It's something that ought to be used for the good of others. To mentor. To raise. To teach. To build up. To walk alongside.

Womanhood. It's what kept my mother up at night until we were all home. It's what made my grandmother take her mother in and care for her lovingly in her elderly years. It's the thing that makes some of my friends, with no kids of their own, love and encourage other people's children like nobody's business. It's what made my mother-in-law welcome, love, and respect me as the wife to her son. It's what nudges your girlfriends to pick up the phone. It sings lullabies. It's not afraid to cry. It shows affection without hesitation. It's what kept Mary at the foot of the cross when it would've been much easier to be somewhere else. It goes and goes and goes until it collapses with exhaustion. It's a desire to be everything to everybody. It's a gut feeling to reach out to a certain someone. It's in the homemade quilt, the pear preserves, the caramel cake. It enjoys being treated like a lady because it's seen as a sign of respect. It's the grandmother raising her grandkids. It's that touch that makes the holidays special. It's the warmth and light in a home that you can't buy in any store. It's what makes men weak kneed even after years of being together. It washed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume and dried them with her hair. It's the teacher staying late to help a child who needs her. The sweet nurses, who cared for my Daddy as he was dying. It's what kept Ruth from leaving Naomi. It makes a mother delay life saving treatment so her unborn baby can live. It's in the lines of a handwritten note she writes. It's in the tears that roll down her cheeks when no one else is around. It would run into a burning building. Give its last dime. Take a bullet. Absolutely anything it had to do to demonstrate its love. 
There are some things that it shouldn't do, though.Womanhood should never be used as a weapon. It shouldn't threaten or destroy. It shouldn't be used vindictively. It's not crass or crude. It's not an angle to be used to get ahead. Its influence shouldn't be used to lead anyone awry. It shouldn't be flaunted to lure men away from their families. It shouldn't be claimed as a handicap to access special treatment. It can't be applied surgically or medicinally. It's not to be worn as a costume or knit into an obscene hat for marching in the streets. It's too high a calling to refer to it as "nasty". It shouldn't set out to belittle men. It's not a political tool. It's not a trap that should be set. It's not a disadvantage. It doesn't entitle anyone. It shouldn't put a chip on anyone's shoulder. It's holier than vulgarities written on poster board signs. It doesn't get in your face. It doesn't tear down those who disagree.    

God said man needed a helpmate when he made the woman. He needed someone who was strong where he was weak and he needed someone he could be strong for in the places where he was gifted. Of course, that doesn't mean we can't be a whole person without a mate, but there was nothing ever derogatory or demeaning about that plan. Nothing that should cause us to walk around fighting mad. Neither was anything abusive or controlling intended. It's a tragedy and disgrace any time a woman is abused in any way. It happens every day, though. Physically. Emotionally. Sexually. It's disgusting and should never be tolerated. And I'm certainly not trying to be political as I have no knowledge of the facts, but I will simply say that it would also be an equal tragedy and disgrace to ever think a woman would use her beautiful calling and highest privilege of womanhood to destroy a life and reputation without justification. Inflicting either type of these abuses is unacceptable, repulsive, and shameful and a civilized society should stand for neither.  

So, I guess with all the talk I've listened to, lately, about hormones and the parts that "make" us women, along with the news cycle being like it's been, womanhood has just been on my brain. Feeling a little sentimental, I guess I just wanted to celebrate the wonderful privilege we've been given by our Creator as women. To be daughters, mothers, aunts, godmothers, nieces, girlfriends, wives, mentors, foster mothers, friends, teachers, and on and on. I can't think of anything better. But, as a mother of a son, I hope we also stay aware that, as with any other privilege, responsibility comes right along with it.

It's so very good to be a woman.

I may be back before the week is over and I may not. You know how it is when you're getting ready to be out of town or out of the loop for a little bit. When Mama's goin' down, she's got to get some things sorted out so, you know, no one is left helpless, dying, or without basic essentials. I'll get back just as soon as I feel peppy enough.....or if the drugs provoke some really deep, incoherent thoughts that I, unadvisedly, feel the need to share.

Either way, we'll talk soon!



Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What the Heart's Been Missing

Well, first of all, I went for my regular checkup at the dermatologist on Monday and, while I was there, she spotted the steamer burn. You'll be relieved to know that she informed me that, as long as I don't expose it to the sun, South Carolina should fade with time. I assured her that it had been 27+ years since the area between my bosom and my hips had seen the sunlight, so I didn't see that being a problem. I knew this must have been weighing heavy on your minds and I just wanted to put you all at ease. My underwear modeling career will not be affected by this unfortunate incident.

This past weekend, a couple of friends and I went to beautiful Newnan, Georgia to visit our friend, Jan, who moved away about 3 years ago. I think I've talked about the women's Bible study I belonged to for so long. Over a decade. We called ourselves the Bad Girls. Long story, but I'm sure I've mentioned this. Well, Jan was in that group and we just needed to see her as we all became so close during those many years and she was such a big part of us.

Jan has always been one of my favorite people. If I had to describe her in just a few words, I'd say she's a very warm and gracious southern lady. And she hosted us as such. Such a lovely time with her and her hubby, Dicky. Their daughter, Cara Lea, lives next door to them and, as a teenager, she and her friends would come to our house to visit my little kids when I was just a young mother. Now, I got to see her as a wife and young mother of 3 beautiful children and, yeah, there's nothing like being slapped in the face by your age like that.
All the way home, we just kept talking about our visit and how good is was to see them. Sometimes, you just don't fully realize how much you miss someone until you see them after a long time and your heart is suddenly reminded of what it's been missing. There's nothing quite so beautiful as the face of a friend who's been gone for a while.

Come to think of it, I guess I'm just going to have that kind of week. On Monday, I had lunch with my Michelle, while I was in her city seeing the dermatologist. Well, you already know how far she and I go back and she's about to be a grandmother, next month. Her same child, who was two years old at my wedding, is about to have his own child. We've gone all the way from playing store to picking out grandmother names.

On Thursday, I'm having dinner with a couple of friends from high school. Our kids are grown and, between the three of us, I'm the only one with a bird still in the nest....and he's got one leg hanging over the side, so I'm not sure he really counts. We decided to get together, once a month, since we seem to have a little extra time on our hands now. It's all new and none of us are really sure how we feel about this nest emptying thing just yet.

And, on Friday, an old hometown friend is stopping through with his children on his way home to Atlanta. We were good buddies in high school and college and I don't get to see him much. I'm looking forward to meeting his kids when he comes to show them around the town where he grew up and reminisce a little.

There's nothing sweeter than an old friend. To look into the face of someone who's been around your life for a while is good for the soul. Maybe, you're not near them much, but, when you are, it's still there....the warm familiarity of shared history with someone. No matter how many months or how many miles stand between friends, nothing can take away the sweet investments you made in each other. Some people will just always be part of who you are.

It's going to be a good week with old friends.

It already has been.

Happy Wednesday to y'all!    



Thursday, September 13, 2018

Instruction Booklets and Knuckleheads

Every time I get out of the shower and look in the mirror, I see it. I had a nasty burn on my right side, a couple of months ago, and it's left a mark. I have no idea if it's permanent or not. My bikini days are over, so I don't guess it really matters. It kind of looks like a birth mark. In the shape of South Carolina. For weeks, I looked at it, every day, and knew the shape reminded me of a state and then it dawned on me, one day. South Carolina. I have South Carolina branded on my right side just below my rib cage.  

Joni, how in the world did you burn yourself under your rib cage in the shape of South Carolina, you might ask? Well, I have one of those small, personal steamers, you see. I just love it. Actually, I hardly ever iron anymore. I just steam everything. Well, the steamer instructions state in bold print that you should never steam an item of clothing, while it's being worn. Clearly, that warning is in there for amateur steamers. For steamers, who aren't clever enough to know that you can hold your shirt or dress far away from your body and steam it while wearing it if, say, just the bottom portion is wrinkled.

Pshhhh. Don't steam clothing while it's being worn. Whatever you say, steamer instruction people. You're the same kind of people, who tell us not to operate a letter opener without safety goggles and not to use Q-tips in our ear canals. Don't insult our abilities to figure out ways to use your products without maiming ourselves. I mean, we're the generation that rode our bikes down steep asphalt hills at 40 mph without a helmet and our mamas put their arms out to catch us in the car, because the seatbelts were stuffed somewhere deep down in the seats...unseen for years. We know how to survive, ok?
Well, during all my years of wrinkle eradication, I'd become quite a pro at steaming while wearing. I only really did it when I'd already gotten dressed and noticed some crease on the front of my top that needed a little attention. Not for big jobs, of course. Just quick touch-ups. I've also been known to squat way down and spread the front of the shirt I'm wearing over the top of the ironing board, but that's an ironing story and this is a steaming story day. We'll save that one.

Anyway, on this one particular day, I was running late and noticed I had a wrinkle on the front of my top. I had my hair and makeup done and just didn't have time to take off my shirt and tend to it, so I, once again, engaged in the "risky behavior" of steaming while wearing. I held my shirt way out and steamed on the left side and then down at the bottom and then I saw a little wrinkle on the right side.
Well, somehow in the transfer from one hand to the other, the steamer got away from me and fell against my side.

Oh, the pain. It blistered and throbbed and hurt every time my clothes would rub against it. After two or three weeks, it finally healed, but I still have the silhouette of South Carolina to remember the whole unpleasant experience.

Every time I catch a glimpse of my "scar" in the mirror, I can't help but think about sin. God gave us warnings about things we shouldn't do. He spelled them out in black and white for everyone to see. He gave those to us to protect us from the painful effects of sin.

Some of the instructions, well, we wouldn't dream of murdering. The chance of me murdering someone is about the same as the chance that I'll sit in a bathtub of water while drying my hair. Now, that's a warning label I'd never ignore. Somethings, we're just not ever going to do. The deed is too inconceivable. Our sense of right and wrong would never allow it. The consequences would just be too great.

Other behaviors, deemed off limits, don't seem quite as bad, though. I mean, if you handle them right and don't get too careless, you can convince yourself that you can get away with ignoring the warnings and keep from getting burned. As long as you know what you're doing, right? Like me with the steamer.

When we ignore God's instructions, there will be a time when we'll feel the consequence of that behavior. It may or may not happen the first time we stick our foot over the line, but, eventually, there will come a time when we'll be hurt by our sin. Sometimes, we feel like we "get away" with disobeying and, other times, the consequences can change our lives forever or someone else's. There may always be a scar that remains with us even after the pain is gone. No matter if we feel the full effects of our sin here on earth or not, we'll all have to answer for every one of our words and deeds, one day.

The little man sitting in his cubicle at the steamer factory thought about all the possibilities that could occur with his wonderful invention and wrote out specific instructions and warnings to the consumer, so that we'd know how to navigate the use of his product without injuring others or the shape of South Carolina or other states of the Union. He wanted us to safely enjoy all the advantages and conveniences of the product, but within the safe confines of the instructions.

God, the creator of the universe, did the same thing when He wrote out His instruction manual. He wanted us to get all the benefits and blessings from this life that He lovingly designed without experiencing the painful repercussions of ignoring His warnings and directions. He knew there would be plenty of knuckleheads, who'd think they could handle overlooking parts of the manual and would end up with the Palmetto state forever burned into their torsos.


We all mess up. Thank goodness He had a plan B for the knucklehead in all of us.

"He gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people....." Titus 2:14    

Y'all have a great weekend!            



Monday, September 10, 2018

There She Is

I'm a little short on time, tonight, but I wanted to talk Miss America for just a minute. I went to a Miss America viewing party, last night. It was an enjoyable evening of friends getting together to watch the Super Bowl, if you will, of "pageantdom", while eating fatty foods, the likes of which those poor girls hadn't tasted in months.

It's been years since I've watched Miss America. Probably the last time I saw it in its entirety was when they still had the swimsuit competition and a score would appear across the bottom of the screen after they'd paraded around in it. I suppose something about that was too comparable to the system they use down at the stockyard or something, because they've done away with all that.

Anyway, my mother was a big fan of the show when I was younger and we'd always watch it together. She kept notes on their talents and answers, so she could remember who was who. Rarely, did the judges pick our choices and all of her notations would be for naught, but I remember it being an enjoyable evening of viewing pleasure.
From my Sunday night viewing of this year's Miss America, I have composed a quick list of top 10 things for future contestants to bear in mind as they prepare for next year's competition.

10) Always pray you follow the poetry reciting girl and not the opera singer in the talent competition. Coming after poetry memorization will make you look way more talented than stringing along behind a prima donna's aria. You'll come off looking like an ogre if you play your ukulele after something like that.

9) Perhaps the hardest part of not making the top 10 is that they still require you to stay until the end when all you really want to do is go order everything on the menu at Taco Bell to make up some of your lost caloric ground...and for what?

8) When dress shopping, always vest yellow isn't a good color for anyone or any skin tone. As a general rule, colors used near road work should be avoided.  

7) When choosing a song for your dance, avoid numbers that are associated with the commercials, "Beef, It's What's for Dinner", or the audience will just see you as a dancing waitress from the Western Sizzlin'.

6) When you reach your hand into the bowl, always hope it's a question that can be answered with your prepared oration about world peace. If not, at least, make mention of world peace, regardless of the question.

5) Never choose a song from the radio. They only sound good in the shower and your rendition, without the ceramic tile enclosure, will only leave the audience feeling like they're at ladies' karaoke night at Joe's Pop-a-Top.

4) Always accessorize with earrings large enough to require you have earlobe reconstruction performed after the pageant. Anything less will simply not show up on such a big stage.   

3) Sometimes, your parents will pay for years of lessons and buy you lots of new dresses and you will still go home without so much as a case of Rice A Roni. It stinks, but it happens.

2) If you don't win, don't worry. If Bert Parks isn't going to sing "There She Is, Miss America" to the winner, well, what's the point of any of it, anyway?

1) And no matter what happens, your Mama will always think you should've won. She will go to her grave telling everyone so.

You make sure your crown is straight and get out there and have a good Tuesday.