To Missy: Keep the Coffee On for Me

 I’ve violated one of the cardinal rules of blogging here, in making this so long. But it’s from the heart and I won’t apologize for its length. Below is a repost from another blog I own. I moved it here, because it’s a part of my soul– a tribute I originally wrote over two years ago, after the death of my best friend, Melissa (Missy) Ridings. RIP, my dear.  I still miss you every single, damned day. missy and I (2)


Your daddy said that we had to tell you, “It’s okay to let go.” I failed at that at the hospital. In fact, I did the opposite, standing there and begging you, relentlessly. “Hold on, my love. Don’t leave us. Don’t leave me.” It was selfish of me.  On life support after a sudden stroke, stricken down way, way too young. No. You’d not have liked to live like that. Your dad was right. But those must be the most horrific, devastating words a parent can say about their child.

 I thought there was a moment of clarity in those last moments with you, that maybe  you realized I was there. God, I wish I knew that was true. Now, I’m stuck on this side of heaven, wondering. There’s so much more I wanted to say.

I failed at the funeral to say these words, too. Your sister spoke about you and there wasn’t strength in me at the time to follow her beautiful eloquence. I had only stunned pain in my heart that day, numbing me like a fog. But now, I can get the thoughts out through my writing, which you always were so supportive of. It seems fitting to use written words as a permanent mark to celebrate what you eternally etched into my soul.

We have traveled together long enough and now you are going ahead of me.  You always were an individualist, walking to your own beat, following your own path and creating your own rules. I’m not surprised that between the two of us, you went first, given this free spirit mentality.

I just ache horribly that it has to be so terribly soon.

Last night I found a Christmas card you sent me from 2010. (Only you could find an Elvis Christmas card…btw.)  You wrote, “Thank you for being my best friend. I love you more than you’ll ever know. Together we can make it through 2010 and love every minute of it! Merry Christmas.”

It was one of many cards you sent over the years to me. Me? I’m the nut job who fails at conventional stuff, forgetting to mail cards or neglecting to buy a stamp until its several months past the event.

You, in all the years we were friends, never missed a holiday or birthday. Not once. And you never commented that I was lacking social graces in this matter of sending cards or gifts at appropriate times. I hope to God I didn’t disappoint you with my stupidity.

If I had overs, I’d shower you with cards every damn day of all twentyish years I knew you.  

You never complained that the loner in me would flake out and cancel at the last minute often, because I couldn’t “do” people on that particular day. To me intimacy is a steel trap and when it gets too close I bolt from the confines, unless I can control how much I let people in.

But you didn’t try to “fix” me when I struggled with relationships or when I let you down.Sometimes, you’d flake out too and cancel on me, but I never attributed it to “getting even”– simply just a shared flaky gene.  I still remember you playfully warning guys I dated that I had “that look” in my eye which meant I was going to turn into “hit and run girl” and suddenly leave him in the dust.  You made me laugh at the thing I’ve struggled with all my life, because you knew and understood how much pain it had brought me and your teasing wasn’t hurtful, but born out of a kindred soul sharing.

You were my wingman in Prada, complete with a purse that cost as much as a compact car.

Miss, I’m not sure how I’ll be without the “together” part in the years to come. Together we made it through nearly two decades that encompassed my cancer, your medley of ongoing health problems and our mutual marriages and divorces and career ups and downs, each with our share of praises and tears. Over the years, we took turns sitting in the hospital, keeping watch or visiting when one or the other of us was ill or we had sick family members. Even when you were in ICU years ago over Christmas, we still laughed together because you had that gift for spreading joy, no matter the crappy circumstances.

My kids and your precious nieces grew up during our friendship, our parents started checking out retirement plans and we got a few wrinkles (gasp) along the way. We shared numerous New Years, took a few glorious trips together and went out and partied a bit (okay, more than a bit). But it was the day to day stuff that you and I celebrated most.

Over the years, we semi-stalked a few ex boyfriends and laughed at our own antics. Because together, we’d learned, “Gee. Not everyone is what they say they are.” A realization we found both painful and incredibly humorous at times.

I remember the night I operated on gut instinct (and goaded by you) and trailed one of my soon-to-be ex’s on a bitterly cold night in January. You stayed on the phone with me the whole night during the stalking episode, when we together found out he wasn’t “home sleeping” (alone) like he had told me…oops. And, even though my heart was literally breaking in half– you made me laugh over the craziness of the situation– standing there in that driveway knee deep in snow, phone in hand giving you a minute by minute breakdown of the events, whilst watching my guy kiss and grope another girl and contemplating his impending doom and potential places to hide his body.

That was the beauty of you– my love. You understood me at the DNA level of my soul. Had there been an actual boyfriend body to get rid of, you’d probably have been GPSing a place to hide it and showing up with a shovel and a thermos of coffee. 

Our phone call that night and thousands of others kept me sane in an insane world.

There was the night of the 200 dollar bar tab when we (you) insisted on buying drinks for every human being in the sleazy dive of a place we were in. It was all great fun until we realized that the dive was a cash only bar and we had to empty our purses and throw a pile of change and a tattered personal check on the table and slink out the door before we got arrested or beat up for not paying…So glad we didn’t get hauled off to jail. We both look awful in orange.

There were the shopping trips where you bought up every expensive, crazy, dog outfit for “Junior” your beloved, spoiled micro-pooch, who despised me (and almost everyone else, except your dad).  Hopefully, all dogs don’t go to heaven.

When I did bite the bullet and opted to get engaged and attempt a second marriage, you knew me well enough to offer this matrimonial advice, “Don’t fucking do it,” and your sage words for the happy couple also included, “What the fuck are you thinking?”

In the end, you were loving enough to support me wholeheartedly when I foolishly went ahead with it. You even talked some random  older-than-the-hills guy to strip down to his boxers at my bachelorette party right in the bar and had some other guy text messaging us pictures of his privates from the bathroom—all so I’d have a “memorable” night. OMG. It was memorable, especially as I look at the pictures and recall how you flashed the “girls” for the camera in the bar, too.

You were there at my wedding to celebrate, both you and Vicky (our other dear friend and wingman). And when that second marriage crashed almost within days, you didn’t give me an, “I told you so” (which I REALLY deserved) but instead a warm shoulder. (Although you did tease me about the marriage lasting less time than it took to have a pedicure, and it honestly did.)

I can’t even imagine how many hundreds of changes in hair colors or styles we’ve had too—some of which were fodder for years of laugher… You do remember the drunken dye job that Vicky and I did? The one that bleached my hair so pale, it turned clear and you could see my entire scalp? You literally peed your pants laughing so hard. 

Then there was your own hair crisis, when your bangs that melted  and fell off your head during a straightening event, which resulted in an emergency fix. (Forever called, “The Weave”) And we laughed and laughed, while lesser women would mourn these events or hide in a closet till their hair grew back.

You never forgot anything I told you. You remembered with that sharp brain of yours and kept up to date with my life—whether we talked fifteen minutes prior or two weeks had lapsed between conversations. You never betrayed a confidence and you never looked at nutty me and told me I was a wacko, even though I am excessively, schizoid and wacky. (It’s taken years of therapy to be semi-functional, so it’s true. I am nuts).

You adored me for me, even in spite of me.

In the sea of the humans we meet, it’s rare to find one that can love you as you are. It’s even rarer to love that person back just as much.

You had my back, through thick and thin and you were always “in”… You were the gift I got in life through an unexpected turn of events and I was always grateful for that.

Melissa, you will forever be the person that best embodied life as a strong and visible force to be reckoned with.  You didn’t just go to places or events, you “owned” them, with that wonderful personality of yours. Every stranger was your friend by the time we left. That was your special gift and it was amazing to behold.

It was my great honor to be included in your life and that vicariously of your family, whether through texting, coffee breaks, phone calls, visits, or trips away. I looked at my phone bills from February and March 2007 and estimated that we had about 600 minutes between us in those two months alone. I don’t even want to think about how many text messages and land line minutes there were on top of that. Egad. 

That’s the funny thing about our friendship. You and I didn’t have to be physically in the same space to share things. Yeah, we did spend time together, but our friendship was the sort that was connected in larger ways. Almost telepathically, girlfriend, you knew when I was hurting or going through something “huge” and we stayed intertwined in spite of busy, conflicting schedules and chaotic events that kept us apart.  We often said that it didn’t matter how long it was since we laid eyes on each other, we could pick it up instantly when we were together again. And over nearly two decades we did just that.

I’m really hoping that even though you’ve gone to heaven, there is still that connection here. That I feel you near or when I hear a song or have a story to tell, somehow I know you are “there” with me. I think my life will lose so much joy without your wonderful story telling and your priceless expressions that cracked me up, but I can endure it if I just feel you nearby.

The human, selfish side of me can’t imagine a world without my phone ringing and you on the other end with some crazy drama, inside jokes, gossip or truly, hysterically funny event.

It’s inconceivable that you won’t ever call back and make my life better, via a combination of collective brainstorming, plotting, laughing or tears.

It’s impossible for me to think I can’t send a 911 text to you anymore. Period.

To use your own words, “un-fucking believable.” And Melissa, you really were my life raft. You literally saved my life more than once.

I wonder, as I write this, if my unlimited cell data plan includes coverage to heaven? If you were here, you’d crack up at that last comment and you’d counter with some outrageous statement back. I also wonder if you’ll be the sole person in heaven with a smart phone, keeping track of everyone up there and texting St. Peter and telling him what his schedule is for the day, while getting your nails done.

I suspect heaven will be a lot livelier with you present. There might be some real hell raising, (pardon the pun)…I wonder if you’ll have a karaoke bar, a heck of a big dance floor and a replica of Graceland up there. If there isn’t such a thing already in heaven, my guess is there will soon be, complete with Elvis, serenading you daily.  On an alternate note, I could also see you ensconced in an upscale dog clothing store, shelling out frilly dresses and personalized leather jackets as part of the heavenly reward for deserving canines. I know it’s irreverent of me to say so, but it’s hard for me to imagine you keeping your mouth shut for an eternity without a few colorful, well-timed adjectives, one liners and jokes.  Heaven won’t be the quiet place it was only a few days ago. (Just don’t cook for anyone up there okay? We don’t want a rash of food poisoning amongst the heavenly beings).

You were such an eclectic mix, Miss. A self described redneck with roots in the hollers of Kentucky, who dressed like a fashion model, (with perennially perfect nails) and the sharpest mind of almost anyone I’ve known. You related to everyone you met, regardless of their background, age or gender. People didn’t just like you— they adored you because of this quality.

You idolized Loretta Lynn, belting out Coal Miner’s Daughter on almost…every…single…road trip.  (It was also your favorite movie) OMG. On the day you were buried, I listened to a mix I’d made of your girl, Loretta, and found the tears streaming down my face unchecked. You’ll be pleased to know I actually like her music now, because it’s one of my last ties to you on this Earth.

Elvis was your sovereign king and Graceland was like holy ground to you, too. I’m making a trip there this spring, sweetie and I promise to swoon at least once, just for you.

You’d call yourself a “fat girl” and I never saw it. No one did, Melissa, because all anyone that knew you could see was this beautiful, beautiful woman inside and out that held herself like a class act, but could turn bawdy in a heartbeat or light up a room like no one else I’ve ever known.  You took on the roles of aunt, sister, daughter, healer, friend and consummate professional and did each to the best of your abilities with no holds barred. What was yours to give– whether time, energy, effort or resources– you gave and gave freely.

I can’t imagine another human being as full of life, as openly honest about some areas, yet so painfully vulnerable. You often hid large pieces of who you were from those closest. We all knew you only gave us a sliver of the total picture, but the fragments we were blessed to see, were more than enough for us to know we had a rare gem of a human being in our lives. I respected how much you struggled with your own issues and overcame them, and more so, because at times you gave us a glimmer of brutal honesty with these areas. And even tiny glimpses of your inner pain sometimes took my breath away. But you’d bounce back again and again, flashing that ten million dollar smile.

I know you struggled over the years trying to reconcile your overflowing (and sometimes shocking) personality with the “classic” Christian persona. I think God has always loved the Melissa he made, each aspect of you and who you are. You weren’t a “classic” Christian, but you were intent on protecting those you loved, spreading joy around and unselfishly doing for others. I think those things count for God, just as much as sitting in church or joining a Bible study. I think you’ll find the harmony you so desperately sought in life up there in heaven.  I think Jesus wiped those tears away with his own hand and you are at peace at last, but somehow still vibrant and sassy.

Keep the lights on and the coffee warm for me. (Can you make sure it’s not that dreadful mocha/latte/skinny/double/ disgusting mixture you called “coffee”?) When I get there, we will have a heck of a lot of catching up to do. 

I had always hoped that we’d be like the ladies in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, toting our emergency Vodka and coming to rescue each other into our old age, you, me and Vicky. But God has a different plan and I can’t be selfish. I will wish forever though, that I spent more time with you. Forever, I will wish I answered that last text message only an hour before you fell  suddenly and fatally ill. I can’t undo these things. I hope you forgive me for my failings. I hope you know my heart was always with you.

In life, you’ve laughed much, but you’ve also cried volumes of tears, my love. Your big heart was tender and you were wounded often by life, deeply so. Where you are now, there will be no more tears, only the infectious sound of your laughter for eternity. You –more so than anyone– have earned forever joy. You spread laughter, joy and love here. Now it’s your turn to receive even more than you gave, only God can do that much.

Till I can see you face to face, I will keep you in my heart each day of this journey. I will laugh like a crazy fool at private jokes that only you and I shared while in public places. I’ll buy a stupidly ridiculously expensive purse in your honor and I’ll try to embrace some of the joy of life you imparted.

I’ll never be the same without you, but I’m a better person today and every damned day because of you.

All my love,

Your forever friend and sister of the heart.

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The Rock and the Hard Places: Obama, Putin and Syria: Why We Are Exceptional People

Just yesterday, The New York Times published an Op-Ed piece by Russian President, Vladimir Putin, asking the American people to refuse military action against Syria. I read this piece and find it rather amusing that Putin, who has long been selling billions in arms to Syria, while also opposing peaceful U.N. strategies, would suddenly implore the American people to find a peaceful resolution to the unfolding Syrian crisis.

Yeah. Well, the pot calleth the kettle black.

As recently as May 2013, three of the most powerful statesmen in the western world: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,  British Prime Minister David Cameron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu all implored Russia to cease providing Assad with arms, missiles and yes…weapons meant for offensive, rather than defensive strategies. As TIME magazine correspondent, Simon Shuster, stated succinctly, “The U.S. and its allies have done just about everything short of getting down on their collective knees and begging Russia to stop delivering weapons to the Syrian government.”

Presumably, according to statements issued by the Russian government, these weapons were meant to defend Syria against potential Israeli strikes, not for conflict. But in the hands of Assad, who can really say where or how he’s using or will use them? Clearly if Assad is willing to victimize and attack his own people, through bombs, bullets, rapes, tortures, imprisonments, executions and chemical weapons, it seems plausible that enemies of Syria might also someday be attacked offensively the same way.

Explaining the rationale for these arms sales and deliveries, Russian diplomat Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the foreign-affairs committee in the Russian parliament, told TIME magazine, “When we see these bombings taking place in Syria, which seem by all accounts to be coming from Israel, we realize that a sovereign government has the right to self-defense,” he said. “In our understanding, these deliveries do not violate any international agreements. Rather, they forbid any aerial attacks against Syria from taking place with impunity.”

To that, every last man, woman and child on the Planet should be asking, “Where is the self-defense when chemical weapons are used?” “Why are we allowing impunity for actions that may one day impact the entire world?”

The diplomatic strategies available by the U.N. Security Council, that might have lessened some of the fighting, (such as weapons embargos) were vetoed by Russia and China in every attempt in the past two years. In fact, these vetoes in U.N. Security Council have virtually rendered the Council powerless to stop the escalating violence.

In a press conference on September 09, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “Two and a half years of conflict in Syria have produced only embarrassing paralysis in the Security Council.”

In the Op-Ed, Mr. Putin, even stated, “No one wants the United Nations to suffer the same fate as the League of Nations.” If that is the goal, then peaceful actions should not be repressed, as these make the Council useless.

While I am certain the American people respect Putin’s words asking for peace–make no mistake.

We Americans are a bruised, rather divided lot, given to quarrelling among our own these days—but we aren’t stupid or terrible people.  In the end, we are a rather amazing Nation. Not the bullies some suggest, but the leaders of freedom and democracy.

However, tie our hands at peaceful strategies, refuse weapons embargos and sanctions, arm those opposed to peace, and render impotent the very Council that could have limited this violence in Syria and we’ll find alternative ways to protect the world from dangers that threaten lives and freedom.

In 1962, the world waited for 13 long days, in the coldest cold sweat of the Cold War. The thought of violence and the ramifications of nuclear warfare was enough to table what might have turned into WWIII.

In 2013, the thought of violence and the ramifications of chemical warfare might just be enough to turn the tables on what might have turned into WWIII.

We are keenly aware that our actions or inactions today, most assuredly will affect the future. And so, in recent weeks, we Americans have learned about the people of a tiny country half a planet away.  Their customs, demographics and methods of waging war and avenging causes are widely discussed and evaluated on social networks, in Congress and the news.

I’d be willing to bet most of us didn’t know the name of Syria’s ruler three weeks ago, given how little Americans are current on foreign affairs.

But suddenly, all these events and distant people and places do matter.

The truth is– they have mattered all along. We are a global society and hostile people in other lands do have a way of impacting us, whether through direct attacks on our nation or attacks on our allies or simply by waging a cold war chemical weapons shell game. Deep in our hearts, each of us knows this.

Twenty-eight months ago, when Assad took a hard left turn and began the widespread bloodshed, we should really have paid attention. Repressed people have a way of getting angrier and angrier. Crazy and evil dictators have a way of becoming yet more insane and evil. Things escalate.

But our nation is paying attention now.

And what’s more, through President Obama’s wise stance, he’s made the world pay attention, as our other peaceful attempts have been foiled.

Like Mr. Putin, we don’t want bloodshed. But we also don’t want impunity for chemical weapons.

A peaceful way to solve this has always been our Country’s goal. It has been our President’s goal. Regardless of how each member of Congress votes on this topic, peace is their goal, too.

Hopefully, without strikes, attacks and escalating violence, this can be resolved.  If that strategy includes removing every last bit of Sarin, as well as other deadly chemical and biological weapons, we welcome Russia or any other country to take that away and destroy it. Please go get it and you have our collective blessings.

In the NYT article, Putin stated that there are few champions of democracy fighting in Syria right now. If that’s so, why provide either side with billions of dollars of weapons?

Any country that wants peace should also cease arming those that wage wars of terror.

Any country that truly wants to be known as a global leader of peace should ensure that peaceful actions by the U.N. are not blocked or stymied.

And one more thing:

Mr. Putin stated at the close of his article, that we (Americans) were not an “exceptional people.”  To quote his words, “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

Rather eloquently Putin stated, “There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

I beg to differ with some of that reasoning. We are damned exceptional as a Nation.And for that matter, we have an exceptional leader in President Obama. What makes Americans extraordinary People is that we see all people as exceptional, unique and guaranteed certain inalienable rights- whether they live in the United States or in other regions of the world.

All those unique, diverse exceptional people of the world have just as much right to self-defense against future chemical weapons attacks, as a “sovereign government” has a right to self-defense from enemies. Future chemical weapons attacks must be prevented to the best of our ability, so that all people on this Planet can be assured they are created equal and all lives have the same value. No government is more worthy of sanctity than its people.

We agree on this—all nations must act together to keep peace.

That, Mr. Putin, is how we roll.

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No Escaping the Dark Side

At a certain historic festival in Northern Indiana today, on a near idyllic afternoon—I had another trek into the dark side.

Apparently, there is no escaping, even in such a venue. Either God is just putting these people on a path in front of me, or He’s teaching me patience or alternately, giving me an opportunity to squelch some of these negative waves I so recently wrote about.

After sampling some wonderful festival food, I paused at to watch a silversmith at work. The man was drawing a crowd as he explained about pewter crafting, while conducting a live demonstration.  But his demonstration was really a tea party government lesson.

The craftsman couldn’t wait to tell the audience about how terrible and unnecessary OSHA’s rules were. Several jibes were inserted about how people hundreds of years ago did this, without the government overseeing their work. So many, that I started counting. In roughly a ten minute chat, he got in at least fifteen stabs at our government and it’s “too heavy” regulations, including talking about how children learned this trade for centuries and “no government watchdog was standing over them telling these children it was wrong.”  (Forget the fact that children were the number one source of fatalities, injuries and mistreatment on the job pre-laws to prevent this.)

I heard the same tired lines I always hear from this brainwashed group of people, “If it ain’t broken, it shouldn’t be fixed.” (In context, this was meant to tell every last man, woman and child listening that it would be a better world if things were like the good ol’ times, before we had the EPA, OSHA or Child Labor laws.)

“We’ve been recycling forever,” he said as placed left over pieces of metal into the melting pot, “Don’t EVER let your government tell you this is a new concept. People have always done it. No one needed the government to make them recycle.”  (Who needs the EPA anyway?)

And he concluded with, “So you see. We don’t need all those rules. People can be safe without Big Government and OSHA standing over them.” This was just prior to him telling people not to drink out of “old” pewter cups, because they probably had lead in them.

It could be pointed out, that without government laws for occupational lead, a great many of our workers would be over exposed to this deadly product on the job. Prior to government funded testing and research, a lot of those folks living two hundred years ago had no clue that it was lead that made them sick. It could also be pointed out that all types of metal work have long been wrought with a variety of health problems. Inhaling many types metal fume at too high concentrations still makes people sick, which is why there are laws to prevent this.

I could have listed by rote, the numbers of people dying in the decade of the 1960’s, (prior to enacting of the OSH Act) and compared those for him to present day.  Should you wonder, in the 1960’s we had about 14-16 thousand workers dying each year. Contrast that to present day, when the number of fatalities has been steadily declining for years.  In 2011 occupational fatalities were roughly 4,600—and we have a larger workforce than in the 60’s.

We don’t have to guess if all those laws, rules and requirements are working—we know this is fact. We can even point to the accidents and fatalities that have occurred and demonstrate that over 80 percent of them were due to lack of training, or inadequate procedures which violated known safety standards. Those dreadful things called, “regulations” and “laws” have kept millions safe on the job. Our loved ones usually come home from work each night alive. Gone are the days when parents daily worried if their children would be injured or dead on the job.

Instead I stood there. Waiting for him to finish. Stewing.  Watching the faces of the children and adults gathered around the craftsman, wondering if they realized they were getting faulty information and brainwashing.  Hoping not everyone there was buying into this garbage.

When the crowd was dispersing, I told him, “You have an interesting view of OSHA.” And then I dropped the ball and let him know what I do for a living. There is something delightful about seeing a grown man, turn beat red and stammer for a few minutes.  I told him, “My views of this country are entirely different. I see these things as positives. Before you bash all these areas, you might want to do a little research into how many lives have been saved by the laws you seem to hate.”

And turning on my heel, while he still was reeling, red-faced and actually somewhat shamefaced—I told him, “This is the greatest country ever. And there is nothing that needs fixing, except for our people, who have a general lack of respect and appreciation for these things that separate us from a third world country. Personally, I think it’s really anti-American to be so negative.”

I didn’t get angry and I did this all with a smile.  (Positive vibes, man. Positive vibes.)

I’m sure I didn’t change his mind. But given his response, maybe he’ll think twice about widespread bashing of this country the next time a crowd is gathering. Maybe less people will get subjected to brainwashing at the local silversmith.

I dunno. Maybe one way of countering this ugliness is to politely point out that you find that sort of negative talk “Anti-American.” The last thing a “patriot” wants to be called is Anti-American, right?

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Fixing What’s Broken in This Country: Rebooting the Christian Mindset

One hundred and thirty comments into a post on a friend’s Facebook page the other day, I had to walk away from my computer. I was exchanging viewpoints with two Christians and when I stepped back, I felt a sudden kinship with Jesus looking out over Jerusalem. I wasn’t angry. I was saddened by how incredibly jaded and paranoid some of us have become. In the last eight years, this has often been my experience when I discuss politics with my fellow Believers.

Let me first say—I am a born-again Christian. I was also ultra Tea Party conservative before conservative was “cool.” It looked just as ugly on me back then, as it does on many of my brothers and sisters in Christ right now.

I am far from perfect—and I sin. Constantly. Daily.  And I still struggle with some of the items below. But I cannot stand to see Christianity become as warped and twisted and yes…sinful, as it has become.

In my opinion, many of us who call ourselves Christians have become a prideful, money-hungry, ignorant, suspicious, self-centered, angry and complaining lot. I wouldn’t blame God for wiping every one of us off the planet.  I’m rather shocked each day to wake up and find us all still here and not millions of piles of smoking DNA in place of our bodies. God really has tons of patience.

We reek of sin. Collectively, we need a hard reset to wipe all the data and reboot. Pronto.

As far as I’m concerned that reboot is needed if we are guilty of any of the following:

1) Ungrateful Hearts

We are called to be thankful in all things. This includes our nation. This does not mean you have to like or passively accept everything going on in this country. But if you are of the mindset that America is mostly broken and a wreck, you should be shipped to some other country where complaining or worshipping or owning a Bible lands you smack in jail and/or killed. Then get back to me on how broken it is here.  We still have the greatest country on the planet. Stop being ungrateful and be thankful.

It can’t be such a terrible country, the government puts up with you.

2) False Witnessing and Slandering

Not a one of us can read a man’s mind. Therefore, not a one of us should judge a political leader or anyone else on their “hidden agendas” or motivating forces that they have not openly expressed. Observable behavior– actions and words–are the factors we should use to form an opinion. It’s okay if you don’t like someone’s statements, actions or voting record. But thinking you know a person’s heart or motivations, and judging them on these merits is sinful and a tool of Satan.

If we say, for example, “Everything my congressman says is a lie,” or “The President doesn’t really mean that. It’s all part of his secret agenda,” We are sinning.  We become the liar, because apart from peering into a man’s heart, a perception or opinion is not fact. Accusing a person of wrong doing based on lies is false witness. And in this age of viral videos and social networks, we can judge and destroy a person’s reputation without a jury via false accusations.

This is such a taboo for us, God made it part of the Ten Commandments when He said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And in the Old Testament, the punishment for such evil was profound and certain. It is no coincidence that false accusations are a big part of Satan’s work in this world. The word, “Devil” is derived from the Greek word diabolos and means “accuser” or “slanderer.” [i]

Don’t be the devil’s tool.  Speak no evil.

3) Consumed with Pride

If we believe that only Christians should be trusted or are better, we are consumed with pride. Ick.  Those people you avoid or mock because they are not “born-again”—are simply, human. Like us, they probably love their kids, care about this country, have a moral code and want a peaceful co-existence. Hard pills to swallow for some of us, but people with different religious beliefs aren’t more or less moral or sinful than Christians. Those of us in the Shepherd’s flock, do not own family values.  There are good and bad examples of every demographic of human being, including Christians. We are prideful and sinful if we think “our kind” is a better lot.

Salvation does not mean superior.

4) Paranoid and Fearful

As Christians, we are promised persecution and suffering in our lives. But to become paranoid about this and assume every law, agency and elected official has a secret vendetta against Christians is robbing you of the life you have been granted. We are not called to live in fear. If you are afraid of FEMA, unmanned drones, healthcare reform, the NSA or the United Nations, you are a puppet for Satan. He’d like nothing more than to make you fear every dark corner and expend your energy on anxiety.

Even if this does turn out to be the end times, true persecution won’t be hidden. It will be quite obvious. And there is nothing we can do to prevent this. Trust God. Relax a little. Live every day as if it was your last. Be empowered, not fearful. Do you want to tell God you spent your life afraid of monsters under the bed?

Satan doesn’t really need government agencies, laws or the United Nations to enslave you, when your own mind is already doing that.

Take off the tin foil hat. P.S. God wins in the end.

5) Money Hungry

I hate having conversations with Christians that revolve around taxes and costs. Jesus gave us one answer to this and we should tattoo it on our foreheads as a reminder, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.”Of course we can vote to support our causes, but apart from that we really should shut up. I’m fairly certain the Roman Empire wasn’t using tax money for all good and Godly purposes either. Yet, Jesus didn’t pitch a fit over taxes. He paid them and focused on other things (namely feeding the poor, healing the sick and preaching the Word).  We should follow his example in this to avoid being money hungry. God provides our wealth. We should not be so attached to our assets that it makes us hideous people.

Stop whining like a child because he thinks he deserves more allowance money. Your Father gave you more than enough to share.

6) Unholy

The Bible is pretty clear about what we supposed to fill our heads with.  God knows we are a rather weak creature and can easily be swayed by evil. In Philippians we are told, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Taking our world information from sources that make us fearful, angry, disrespectful, suspicious and generally unhappy with our lot in life is sinful. Yes. I really believe that.  Those “conservative pundits” and well-meaning church members and friends that incite ungratefulness and contempt are not our friends if they cause us to sin.

There is a direct correlation in people’s unhappiness and discontent in the last eight years, to the rise of certain (tea party) groups. I believe this dissatisfaction does not stem from events in the world—but from within us.

Garbage in. Garbage out. Listen to junk that exudes negativity and fear and you’ll be equally as negative and fearful.

While I agree there are many political issues that merit a Christian’s attention and concern, we should base our world view on facts, and statistics and make our own comparison with the Word. Like a good researcher, include all viewpoints. Go to the source. Fact check. Get things in full context.

Do not let ANYONE spoon feed you “truth.”

Don’t enter into lawlessness in your heart and become ruthless, hateful, judgmental and unholy.

We’d have a better world if Christians shut down ugly behavior in fellow Christians with a simple reminder, “Please stop. If I continue to listen to you, I may fall into sin.”

If enough people did that, coupled with ample prayer, we could just turn out to be the light-bearers we supposed to be.

That spiritual healing we claim we want? Yeah. It starts with our hearts. Not in Town Hall meetings and not in Washington.

Judgment begins with the House of God. How will we stand on that day?

Suggested Reading:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. Romans 14:10

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 3:1-7.

 Suggested Listening: (It’s impossible to be negative when you listen to this)


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Body Apathy Vs Acceptance

This is the third part of a series I’ve written about beauty. It’s the hardest one for me to write, because I know I need some serious work in this area.

I’ve learned a lot about beauty from my family and friends. I have four daughters and one soon to be daughter-in-law, all of different body styles and sizes. Each of these young women is beautiful and for each, fitness is a key part of their lives. Individually, my girls partake in roller derby, rugby, weight/gym workouts, swimming and distance running. Overall, this is a group of young women that would rather hike and canoe in the wilderness, than troll the malls.  And when I look at photos of them, the health that comes from a physically fit body, yeah—it’s damned lovely, regardless if they are curvier or leaner built.

Like most women, I find the too thin, anorexic model appalling. Women who torture themselves to become an emaciated stick figure are not beautiful. And it pleases me to see women like Tyra Banks embracing her curves versus the days of modeling when she semi-starved herself. She’s a gorgeous woman, inside and out.

But universally, physical beauty is equal to health. This is a huge bone of contention for me on both the too thin and the too heavy side of the scale. If your weight or lifestyle triggers real or potential health issues, follow your doctor’s advice.  And for over 30 percent of American women, that advice will include weight loss and exercise—not to be like a Barbie doll or to be untrue to your “real” self—but to live longer and healthier.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. A significant risk factor in cardiovascular disease is obesity, as are lack of exercise, diabetes and smoking. While it’s fine to celebrate your curves, asking for acceptance of factors that might contribute to your premature demise is another thing altogether.  Why should we as a society accept a third of American woman slowly committing suicide by lifestyle? That’s just wrong. There is no beauty in that.

Again, it doesn’t mean you need to be stick thin or depressed because you have an amazingly curvaceous ass, but it does mean you should follow your doctor’s directions to be a healthier you.

In writing this series, I became struck with some areas I’d like to improve on health wise. I’m not as fit as I’d like. I should walk more. A mere 30 minutes of walking a day will cut your heart disease risk factor by half, according to this article on WebMD. I have a few other less-than desirable habits that I need to abstain from, if I want to live long enough to age gracefully and beautifully.

I also wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I do think women should love their bodies, but it shouldn’t end there. Treat your body like a fine car. When you love it, you take care of it. I want my daughters to love their bodies, but I also want them to be healthy women for a lifetime, not plagued with preventable or potentially fatal illnesses. I should want the same for myself if I, too love and accept my body.

Some of the best writing I’ve found on this topic came from Sparkpeople Blogger, Nicole Nichols, who said, “It’s a virtuous cycle that feeds on itself. You exercise. You feel good. You take better care of yourself. You appreciate your body. You lose weight, or maybe you don’t, but either way, you feel good about yourself, so you keep on going. Eventually, the weight takes care of itself.” She goes on to say that for her, loving herself was the key to losing weight.

Accepting your body does not mean apathy. A woman should love her body enough to treat it with care.

To answer an earlier question I posed, I think its okay to accept yourself when you are on a path to health, because with that comes true beauty and confidence. We become role models for other women’s health and our positive lifestyles impact future generations. There is nothing as attractive and beautiful as an inspiring, confident and healthy woman.

You can read the other related posts here and here.

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How Do We Perceive Beauty?

Just what is meant by physical beauty? Is it perfection? And how do people perceive what is beautiful? Is it really in the eye of the beholder? Women, in particular, have done some pretty strange things in a quest to be more beautiful.

In his provocative essay, philosopher Roger Scruton said, “Beauty can be consoling, disturbing, sacred, profane; it can be exhilarating, appealing, inspiring, chilling. It can affect us in an unlimited variety of ways. Yet it is never viewed with indifference: beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend. If there are people who are indifferent to beauty, then it is surely because they do not perceive it.

While speaking about art and music, Scruton’s words do apply to the beauty of a woman, as well. He equates beauty as a virtue and apparently, we humans are wired to seek the beautiful. We look for it every day, (often subconsciously) around us and in each other.

For starters, while we seem to focus on conversation, in our brains it’s actually the physical cues that give us readings on people. In fact, more than half of our initial opinion of people comes from body language and visual stimulation. We are generally, more visual creatures than we’d like to think. Long before we can appreciate a person’s inner beauty, our minds are making opinions about attractiveness based on what we see.

Huffington Post recently covered a study in which scientists examined facial beauty perception. There is some definite facial symmetry to the beauty equation our brain makes, for example. Based on respondents perceptions of beauty, scientists have produced formulas to determine the most physically attractive feature placement, which means certain spacial distances between eyes and mouth for the “ideal” facial beauty.

Yet, surprisingly, many of our celebrities we find beautiful lack such perfect symmetry. (You can look at what I mean here.) To this end, Karl Lagerfeld once said, “I don’t like standard beauty – there is no beauty without strangeness.”  So apparently, while there is some symmetrical equation our brain makes to judge a beautiful face, it’s not seeking perfection.  That slightly crooked smile of yours? It’s probably more beautiful than you think.

And our minds also develop beauty images based on the averages of what we encounter. That means culture counts toward your perception of beauty, too.

While beauty is really unique and also somewhat cultural to each of us, other factors affect how we perceive attractiveness. Among the traits that affect beauty are sexual dimorphic cues.  In fact, early cultures inherently knew this long before scientific studies validated the findings.

Target areas like bigger eyes and fuller lips, are feminine sexual dimorphic cues. Thus, eyeliner, shadow, mascara and false eyelashes create contrast in this area and increase attention to one of our cues which attract the opposite gender.

That might explain why eyeliner and lip color have had such a place of historical importance in so many cultures. Along the way, some chick a few thousand years ago figured out that men noticed her eyes and she enhanced the feature with whatever was on hand– ditto with fuller lips, which are amplified by the use of gloss, stains or lipsticks.

This trend continues today with our booming makeup market. My friends, there is science about why we wear makeup. We don’t just do it to be trendy. We are responding to natural behavioral patterns to increase the attention of the opposite sex.

Apparently, our laws of attraction haven’t changed much, and these sexual dimorphic cues aren’t all that different from earlier civilizations. Beautiful eyes, full or pouty lips still mean physical beauty to most of us, even if it’s subliminal. And yes, science seems to show much of this is subconsciously noted by the brain.

The Huffington Post even cites a study in France where female servers wearing red lipstick received bigger tips from male patrons, as well as an earlier study demonstrating women who wore makeup vs. no makeup got more substantial tips.

There’s also a separate study from Gettysburg College, which analyzed the contrasting of facial features and how young or old it makes us appear. (Low contrast, dull skin, faded lips creates an older look, while high contrast, brighter skin, pinker lips equals a more youthful appearance.) According to the study, even a minor change, (like slightly pinker lips) will make you appear younger. 

So—provided it’s applied properly— there is scientific evidence you are more attractive to people in general (but especially the opposite gender) when wearing makeup.

Likewise, skin care products full of glycolic acids or retinol which reduce the effects of aging complexions by boosting luminosity, reducing sun damage and fading dark spots (thus creating a higher contrast) will create a more youthful facial appearance. Youthful people are seen as vigorous and energetic. Aren’t those qualities we all should want to exude?

If that doesn’t matter to you, then stick with your comfort zone.

But given that confident body language is yet another cue that makes us more favorable to others, you might feel more confident wearing makeup and/or taking care of your skin–especially knowing that others will consciously or subconsciously perceive you as attractive.

Maybe you shouldn’t go extremist and rub dung on your head or soak your face in toxic products to look beautiful, or go under the knife 200 times to change your nose, but still—does it make you shallow to want to look your best or to be beautiful or youthful? As long as appearances aren’t your total life focus, I don’t think so.

If there’s one thing we all seem to agree with, confidence is beautiful. Impress them initially in the first few minutes, and then blow ‘em away with your inner beauty as they get to know you. I don’t think it means sacrificing one for the other.  I also don’t think there is a reason to give in to age and throw in the towel, ladies.  We have some tremendous role models for aging gracefully about us daily.

I leave you with a couple of quotes you probably know, by two physically beautiful women who still found room to be ladies of real strength, substance and inner beauty.

Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical. – Sophia Loren

The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years. – Audrey Hepburn

I think all of us can be slightly imperfect– yet beautiful, inside and out. 

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The Quest for Beauty: Is It Too Much?

It was Kahlil Gibran who said, “We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.” Perhaps it is the soul’s longing to find splendor in the world around and within us that spurs the endless market for beauty products. Maybe it’s just vanity and the refusal to give into aging. But whatever it is, we humans are obsessed with beautiful people and products to improve our physical appearance.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, mind you.  And it’s not one belonging exclusively to Americans either. According to some industry reports, worldwide sales in the cosmetic industry alone reach about $170 Billion dollars a year. Europe (at 60 billion) and the Americas (40 billion) lead sales, but other regions’ markets are quickly gaining ground. Fashion is another dynamic and thriving industry, with similar demographics.

I don’t think this obsession is entirely bad, though it’s been a noteworthy and oft bizarre path for appearance-minded females.

Ancient Egyptians ranked makeup application as an art form, while Greeks discovered numerous vile concoctions (including arsenic) to lighten hair, as even then—blondes apparently had more fun—(until they prematurely died from the practice). Throughout history, we women have used all manner of disturbing and gross materials/practices to attain beauty. Ingesting tapeworms for slenderizing a figure, applying lead for eyeliner, and grinding up insects for a rosy cheek/lip tint—you name it, we’ve tried it.

For the sake of beauty, depending on your culture and time period, you might have spent idle hours scooping dung for a facial mask or collecting (somehow) camel or lion urine to soak your tresses.

Given our perennial quest for physical appearances, it comes as no surprise that a stocking shortage during the 1940’s spurred our grandmothers and great grandmothers to become inventive fashionistas.  These matriarchs made regular treks to pharmacists (chemists in England) who concocted formulas to paint their legs. Eyeliner was used to draw back seams on the pseudo-hose—a practice that required a steady hand and plenty of bathing before bedtime.

Collectively, we’ve plucked, bleached, dyed, straightened, curled, braided, shaved, cut or grown our hair into (often) bizarre lengths. For centuries our faces have been painted garish white or fake-baked into colors rivaling a Florida orange crop. Along the way, we’ve doused our skin with bugs, herbs, berries, animal byproducts and toxic chemicals. Plastic surgery takes this beauty quest to a new and sometimes disturbing level.

Meanwhile, fashion has promoted footwear that caused us to totter on platforms, endure throbbing from stilettos and even, in centuries past, painfully bind feet. Add to that the seemingly endless clothing styles that have made us equally as uncomfortable and self-aware.

We’ve proven we’ll do a lot for beauty over the centuries. Is that all wrong? Does a quest for beauty make us vain or insipid vamps? Shouldn’t we mature women rely on our inner beauty?

As the years tick closer to fifty, I ponder a bit more about physical appearance and inner beauty. It seems to me there are two distinct viewpoints on this topic.

One camp embraces over the top physical alterations—(Michael Jacksonesque)—in fervor to prevent aging or make (scary) changes.  I had a college professor whose eyebrows were locked in perpetual surprise, an expression that never changed once in an entire semester, thanks to some ill-administered Botox. It was mesmerizing to sit in classroom lectures and try to ascertain a fleeting glimmer of movement on her brow. I retained nothing she taught me, but I do remember her constant deer-in-the-headlights expression.  As a further example, we all know an 80 year old grandma with harshly dyed, coal black hair who refuses to age gracefully. And instead of a youthful appearance, Grandma ends up looking like an extra from the Walking Dead.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those that seems to scorn changes altogether. Sometimes, it feels as if society is telling us that we must shun the outside and concentrate solely on the inner person’s beauty. Folks in this group seem to think anything suggestive of becoming fit, losing weight or embracing a more youthful appearance denotes lack of acceptance for the real woman.

These opinions can be so at odds that, after years fighting discrimination against bigger, curvier women, now there are authors and speakers fighting reverse discrimination and lack of acceptance for skinny, athletic chicks. I’m a small person and I can tell you there is some truth to the discrimination that thinner females face, but I’ll get to that on a later blog.

In the meantime– how did this get to be such an issue that we must pick a side or go to these extremes?

When is it okay to be okay with yourself?  What is beauty anyway?  Do appearances still matter to the over 40 crowd? Should mature women stop focusing on the outside and concentrate on inner beauty?

This is the first in the series I’m writing to explore this topic. You can read the rest here and here.

In the meantime, here’s a little poll about our beauty regiments:

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