Monday, October 25, 2010

Pretty Things

Sometimes I just like to look at pretty things. Ok, that didn't sound creepy at all.

What I mean is... I like pretty things. I like to wear them, I like them in my apartment, I like to see them in museums, and on postcards, etc. Yeah, I'm all girl, all the way. I think I have totally feminine taste, and I'm not apologetic about it.
It's awesome being a woman! We get to wear all the good stuff, like vintage jewelry, and cashmere sweaters in fruit-pop colors, and headbands with feathers on them and russet colored suede pumps. Guys get what? Khakis? (In all fairness, you guys get ties - and ties can be so pretty and fun, and sometimes I envy that you get to wear them, and I hope that if God ever brings me a husband, he'll let me buy ties for him, even if he never wears them, but bonus points if he does.)

Till then, this is the ring that made me sigh with the contentment of being a woman who can enjoy pretty things. It's a style dating back to 1890, and is Amethyst, which is my favorite gem (used to be garnet, but people change). Vintage is awesome. Rings are awesome. Pretty is awesome. And being a woman - well that's super awesome!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts On Hope, Faith & the Fine Art of Panicking!

Hope versus Faith has been a huge intellectual and spiritual journey/battle for me this past year. As I've come to terms with a lot of let-downs, things that I've wanted for my life that have not happened, I've been wrestling with the smoky, hard to catch notion of hope and trying to balance it with the idea that faith is tangible, in its own way, and never a let-down.

As I've been thinking and praying and reading on this concept, no good answers have come to me, till last night. Last night, an old verse hit me in a new way, and I found my answer in something that feels like it was always in front of my face. Romans 5:4. It was there all the time, I just didn't see it, even though I read this verse in my quest for answers, many a time. Maybe I just wasn't ready.

See, Romans 5:4 says "And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts, by the Holy Spirit, who He has given us." Well it's more like verses 2-5 but....

.... You see, every time I had read it this summer, I was focusing on the whole building of character through sufferings and perseverance, and how the outcome is hope. But the question I was asking myself, nah, the statement I was cynically telling myself, is that when we suffer, and persevere, our outcome is empty, because hope is empty. What good is suffering if the reward we get is an empty hope, a promise of "Maybe"? I was skipping the next part, verse 5 where we are told why hope doesn’t disappoint, because I didn't want to believe that hope could comfort me. It is after all an intangible. Hope, for me this year, has been nothing but a big, fat let-down, so it's no comfort at all!

I turned 35 this year, and it was a difficult birthday. I've had to come to grips with the fact that I'm pushing 40, and the only thing I've got going for me is that maybe I can still pass for 29. I've wanted things in my life, heck I've wanted my life to look a certain way, and it has ended up looking and being so very different than what I could have ever hoped for. This here is my life - the life of a plain jane, a loudmouth, a single woman who toys with the idea of cats, but is too allergic, who's nice enough to be everyone's friend, but not pretty enough to be anybody's true love, who can't keep her foot out of her mouth or both feet on the ground, who must be content to hold other people's babies, and sing other people's children to sleep at night, who is frightfully unemployed, and can't find a job I'm excited about that wants to hire me, for my life! Who writes one heck of a run-on sentence! Where is the hope in all of this? This is not what I hoped for in my life.

For months I've been ignoring verse 5 and stubbornly looking God’s word in the face and saying "No God, you're wrong, hope does disappoint, because I am disappointed that the things I have hoped for have not come true." In my mind and heart, I’ve been able to be honest with myself, and say that faith always comes through. But that’s only because faith is something that I’ve believed to be grounded in God alone, unlike my three-wishes-from-a-genie misinformed notion of hope. Nowhere in the bible are we told to put our faith in the things of this earth that we want. We only put our faith in God and His goodness, as verse 1 of Romans 5 starts out by telling us. The only reason faith ever pans out is because it's always in God, and not in the things that we think will make us happy. Unlike what I’ve believed hope to be.

And that has made all the difference. You see, last night, as I was reading, I realized that the reason hope really doesn't disappoint, is because the hope we are called to have has it's basis in God, and the pouring out of His love in the Holy Spirit, into our hearts. Hope, as the bible explains it, isn’t for things. And it’s certainly not in things other than our heavenly Father. Paul doesn't say that we should have faith in finding love, or having babies, or getting a great job, or just not being a loser. That’s not what faith is. Nor does he say that we should hope for these things either. Really, in this context, the only thing he is saying about hope is that it’s born of suffering, is the result of great character and won’t disappoint because of God’s love. We hope, because we have seen His goodness. We hope because He's strengthened our faith. We hope not for things, but in Him.

You'd think this would have been pretty obvious to me at the beginning of this year, of this quest. That I could just read the verse, and get it. And maybe you readers have had this figured out the whole time. But I'm not the brightest light on the tree when it comes to this hope thing, or deep spiritual issues in general. It’s a good thing I can hope in a beautifully caring God who will never let me down, even if I do end up a crazy cat lady – I need all the help I can get! But the fact is, because I had been hoping for things, and not hoping in Him I just didn’t get it. I was looking for a magical wish granting quality, something to give me what I want, when truly, the thing I’d been looking for is a result of not getting what I want, it’s the beautiful result of a suffering heart. In which case, after the rejections and disappointments and failures of this year, well frankly, even of the past 35 years, I might be first in line in 2011 for a big heaping spoonful of hope.

So now I think I can go into whatever comes next with a changed, and better, perspective. Yes, I still hope everything turns out alright. I still hope to have my life slightly resemble the white picket fence vision I always wanted it to be. But I am not placing my hope in hope alone anymore. Hope is no longer than end, but more the means to get there. As for the end, well last night I saw God change my viewpoint and strengthen my faith through providing me much desired answers. I can rejoice today in a God that loves me enough to show me His goodness and how to walk with Him. And I know that He will be faithful to continue to do so.

In any case, this coming new year (yes, its right around the corner folks!) will be a life-changing one for me. I took a huge leap of faith yesterday, and the surface water of this step was, at first, exhilarating and exciting. But this morning I ended up in the deeper waters of panic! You see, after months and months of being unemployed, and after the past few weeks plunging me into a very real bout of depression over the state of my life, I realized I couldn't just sit still waiting for something to happen anymore. So I took action and did something to move forward and realize a dream of mine. I applied at a local college, for full time classes starting January 10th, and am going to go back to school to get my degree to be a High School English teacher.

It's a long story how this all sorta came about, and I could blog about it.... but let's just say for now, that taking this step was the rope that was thrown to me as I wallowed in a great big pity-party for the last three weeks. Funny, how if I look at it, the rope was there all along. This action was borne from meeting with a friend this week, who is, in a real and tangible way, letting God use him for His Kingdom. He's someone who, after being unemployed for only a month, himself took a leap of faith and decided to go into full time ministry, and now is support raising. There I sat, across from him in Starbucks, feeling horribly convicted, and asking myself "What am I doing to serve the Kingdom of God? Or even to make my own life better?" I go on job interviews, I wait and I hope. But I wallow in the pity party that my all too long list of life failures has thrown for me. And I wanted to be more like him, more like the active, dynamic and seeking daughter I know God wants me to be.

So, I remembered the goal I set for myself, that if I hadn't found a job by the fall, I'd go back to school and do what it takes to pursue something I really loved. And there's not much I love more than high school kids and books and writing, so it seems like a natural fit. Plus, I want more than anything to impact the young people of today for the Lord, and to drive them towards His goodness and a closer walk with Him. And 18 years ago, a wonderful woman by the name of Diane Martinez was my High School English and Journalism teacher, and she impacted me in such a way that almost two decades later, I'm still inspired to follow in those footsteps.

But I gotta tell you this is one great big leap of faith. I’m gonna need a whole lotta faith that God will provide, and give me the means to provide for myself. Things that weigh on my mind, even on day 2 of this decision are student loans, financial aid, and the fact that I’ve never been the best student. I may tease a dear friend about his 7 years of college, but after this move, I’ll have him beat with a whole lot more than that! I'm downright panicky today, and I know that I will have many more days like this to come. About four years of them.

I am scared. But I have hope. And a new understanding of it. I have hope that God will come through and take care of the details that strike fear in me. I hope that He will make me a good student, and an even better FAFSA applicant. I have hope that no matter how crazy a step this may seem, that He will honor my desire to do something better with my life than sit around watching Dawson’s Creek reruns and hanging out at Jon & Michelle’s all day. And that sometime during these next few years in my life, as I seek a new career, I hope that in His goodness, He might see fit to fulfill some of those other hopes and dreams too. And even if He doesn't, I have a stronger sense of hope, and faith, that my life will still be alright. After all, in His faithfulness, through the pouring out of His love, by the Holy Spirit, for the first time in months, I can say that I have hope, and I'm darn glad about it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Art Of Hospitality

This weekend begins the first incarnation of the Art Of Hospitality class at Faith. And I'm crazy nervous about leading it, but so fired up that I can hardly wait. I can't wait to share all that God has put on my heart with an amazing group of lovely women, all who bring joy to my heart in one way or another.

I first learned of the Art Of Hospitality class when a friend of mine taught it at my old church. She asked me to guest-teach one of the cooking sessions, and a few months later I was leading the class with her, and eventually took it over from her when he schedule got so busy she couldn't do it again. She had developed a curriculum that touched on the subject, but never really got in depth about it spiritually.

Since that time my understanding of the true nature of hospitality has grown exponentially. This isn't the same old lesson plan I taught years ago, about setting a nice table, and preparing a nice meal, and having some nice people over, with a few scripture references thrown in for good measure. Hospitality, I've learned in the time since, is a dirty deed, but somebody's gotta do it. And that somebody is the Bride of Christ.

You see, our culture, both secular and contemporary Christian, tries to tell us that hospitality is the same thing as entertaining, and that they are for all intents and purposes interchangable. This paints a picture of lacy tablecloths, and folded napkins, having your friends over for dinner and making sure the guest room has fresh sheets. Which maybe on some level hospitality includes. But when I say that hospitality is a dirty deed, it's because what it truly means is making ourselves vulnerable as we minister to, and care for, the physical needs of others. Others who may be on the fringes of society, undervalued, marginal, and lost. And yet, isn't that what we all have been spiritually, at one time? Sinners, fallen and forsaken, lost and alone. Yet taken in, and accepted into God's heavenly family.

For nine years now, I've been alone in a strange city - say what you want, coming from the warmth of a Latin-infused culture, the frigidity of the midwestern/Swedish experience can be really be intimidating at times. I've learned through both personal experience during that time, and through research as my passion on this subject grew, that true hospitality is the opening, not just of our homes, but of our lives, to others, and in an encompassing, nonjudgemental and generous way. This includes not just having them over for dinner, but having them become part of our lives, baggage and all.

As I've lived here, without family of my own, I've made friends, all of which I'm grateful for. But one couple in particular stands out in my heart and in my life, as being truly accepting, generous of heart, spirit and home, and have embodied the true spiritual nature of hospitality to me. They have truly become family to me - The J's. They've taken me in when I've had nowhere to stay. They've put up with the fact that I leave books and shoes and clothes everywhere, I come in late and I sleep in later. Yet they've given me a warm bed to sleep in, a hot meal, and a long hug, at the times I've needed it most. Some of the most meaningful, loving, and comforting moments of my past few years have been sitting with PJ, in her breakfast nook, just chatting about what God is doing over a cup of her delicious coffee. She and her husband have welcomed me, like my Father has welcomed me, into their family, and into their lives and have shared with me what they have. And in that, they have painted a warm, candlelight-glow-picture of spiritual hospitality and of my Father's heart. They've brought to life a concept that goes beyond entertaining, and includes so, so much more. That includes love.

As I get ready to teach this class again, I want to impart this message to the people who would honor me by showing up on a Saturday morning: That hospitality isn't about making the best or fanciest dishes. It isn't about knowing which fork is the salad fork, and where to put it when setting a table. It's not about just opening up your home on a Sunday afternoon. It's about opening up our lives to those who need their dignity and worth recognized, and who could use reassurance, love, respect and some physical, creature comforts. If there is anything I hope God graces me with being able to share, it's that.

And if we happen to make some killer Beer Cheese soup, or a phenomenal example of Beef Wellington in the meantime, all that much more fun. But this aspect of hospitality, making delicious food or making things pretty, I believe ministers to us. Sharing those dishes with others and experiences with others, is what we are truly called to and is what ministers to a lost, and hurting world in need. So, though it may not be much, this is my small gift, and I hope that when faced with someone who too is alone, lonely, hungry, cold or hurting, I can answer with a prompt and heartfelt "Here am I, send me". And then I want to send them home with some homemade Chicken Noodle Soup. Cuz true hospitality, the kind that the J's showed me, that our heavenly Father has shown us every day, is like Martha Stewart says "a good thing".


Style = Perception + Confidence + Risk.

In a million years I would never consider myself a "pulled together" person, with great style. Unfortunately, some of my friends seem to have this perception of me, and I swear to you, I'm not spouting off false humility here - I really don't know what I've done to deserve it. (But thanks, friendsies, for the compliments, I really do need the ego boost now & then) Really, I just think I'm a gal who thinks about clothing a little more than I should.

I also find it hilarious that the other day, while shopping for dishes at a local high-end retailer, not one, not two, but three women approached me and thought I worked there, and asked me for fashion advice. Not "What aisle are the over-the-knee boots on?", mind you, but "So, do you think I should try over-the-knee boots this year, and which ones are your favorites?" type of questioning. I blush!

Because, you see the thing is, I've been obsessed with fashion since I was a little girl. I remember my favorite thing to do, in third and fourth grade, was to make my own paper dolls, out of the cardboard inserts that came in my mom's pantyhose packages, and make them colorful, inventive little outfits out of computer paper and colored pencils. But for a girl who's mom dressed her till I was in the sixth grade, there wasn't a lot of fashion actually happening in my life, as much as in my imagination.

All throughout junior and senior high school, I definitely marched to the beat of my own drum. I look back now and I see that what I thought was "classy" and "elegant", by high school standards was probably really grandma-ish. And then there was the infamous "Elvis Costello" glasses incident. I distinctly remember being in the 8th grade, and seeing a pair of glasses in a Vogue magazine, and thinking they were top bananas. That year, at my annual optometrist visit, I begged and pleaded with my mom to let me get a pair just like them, and I did. Years later, I can see that for 2 long years in middle school, I looked like a miniature female version of Elvis Costello. Not hot. Imaginative and innovative, but not hot.

It was that imagination and risk that fueled my desire to be a fashion designer, well into my early twenties. After more research into the profession however, I let the growing insecurities of youth rob me of that dream. I realized that without a natural talent, and a fierce competitive drive, I'd never be able to hack it. And looking back, I can see that I believed I just wasn't that girl - the kind who was good enough to make it.

So, my history and love for fashion has been deep rooted my whole life, practically. Yet, even now, thirty-some odd years later, I still would never label myself as fashionable, or stylish, despite my slight obsession with it. That being said, every season, I always try to stay on top of the latest trends, while still utilizing what clothing I have in my closet. Yet, inevitably, I get drawn into one or two looks, and try to make them work for my annoying body type.
Every once in a while something works, and then, well you could say I'll run with it.

This season, fall, has got to be my favorite though. You can cover up!! You can layer!! Boots! Cardigans! Tights! Hats! YAY!!! Yet, it's still warm enough that I'm not limited by the confining fashion choices that Minnesota winters offer ("Do I want to wear this huge parka today, or that huge parka today?") This fall, I've decided to take a risk on skinny jeans, and let me tell you, it's one that has definitely paid off. I love them! What did I do before them? They look great with tucked in boots, and the proportions of them are perfect for the flowy, blousy kind of tops that hide all my insecurities and imperfections. Plus, I really do believe that maybe my legs are best bodily asset, so why not show them off?

In any case, taking risks on items, such as skinny jeans, isn't something that comes naturally to me, and so for inspiration I hit up all the good magazines, like Lucky, Glamour and Vogue (a perennial favorite since youth... I'll probably be 60 & still reading Vogue... thank you Anna Wintour, I love you!) for pictures of outfits that I can just copycat. And this season, one store/ad campaign has hit ALL the right notes for me. Piperlime.

For those of you who don't know, Piperlime started off as Gap, Inc's shoe affiliate, and only recently started venturing into fashion/clothing options as well. And OMG do they do it so well. I'm totally obsessed with their entire fall campaign, and am copycatting all the outfits in the ads, to phenomenal and bliss inducing results. So this, a huge shout-out to the Piperlime fall campaign, is the real reason for this rambling post. Just to say this one thing really - I love Piperlimes fall ad campaigns, and yes please sir, I'll take one of everything!!!!

Sidenote: The whole point of their ad, dubbed the "Let's Get Dressed" outreach btw, is that no one should have to schlub it in public, so for goodness sake ladies, put away the sweat pants, say goodbye to the ratty old tee-shirts, and class it up already. It's a fiery cry against the over-casualization of our nation! And frankly, I couldn't agree more! They've been getting a lot of flack for this "mean girl" approach to fashion too, mind you. Some recent tweets by the brand include "If the frienemy sees you out in public in your TV watching clothes, then the frienemy wins", and my personal favorite "Every time you wear sweatpants in public, a single guy leaves New York". Bahahahah!!! A little harsh, maybe, yet I can't say it didn't crack me up. One website actually went so far as to call their campaign bitchy, but admitted, that hey, it works. Bitchy, mean, whatever, it's definitely imaginative and hilarious, and really, there is a small hint of truth behind it.

Now, admittedly, this is a motto I only half-heartedly follow, being someone that twice in the last week has been out in public all day long in her Vikings sweatpants, a plain white tee shirt, a baseball cap and flip flops! The me of 20 years ago would be mortified at this laziness and probably throw a double-thick fall fashion issue of Vogue right at my head, and rightly so. But in my own defense, I think my reluctance to get completely on-board the "dress it up or just stay in" train is that after six months of being unemployed, I'm getting quite used to wearing my ratty old tee-shirts and sweat pants all the time and have become so accustomed to their comfort factor that I forget I'm actually in them before I make that Target run. And it is Minnesota, where let's face it, the fashion standards are way more lax than in my gloriously put-together hometown of LA. Still, I know that deep down somewhere in my soul there still resides a woman who believes you can be attractive at 7 in the morning, who knows that there are no ugly women, just lazy ones, and who longs to dress up every day for work, or dinner, or somebody or something. .

Sidenote to the Sidenote: Matter of fact, this morning, even though I was wickedly tired from a late night party, body parts aching and kinda crabby, I still managed to throw on my favorite skinny jeans, a pair of black buckled boots, a black cardigan, a plaid scarf, a headband, my favorite black military inspired coat, a fresh coat of lip gloss and go meet a friend in the wee morning hours to return his key thingie. As he pulled up to the meeting spot, still in what looked like his pajamas (unless he's taken to wearing wife-beaters in 50 degree weather for the fun of it), the first words out of his mouth were "Well at least one of us looks cute". The me of 20 years ago would be so proud. At that moment, the me of right now was kinda proud.

Anyways, back to the whole reason for this post - I digress. For those of you who've not seen any of the fall Piperlime ads, I'll be addenduming this post with some pics from the campaign. Read 'em and weep!!! (Hopefully you'll weep out of sheer emotional inspiration, and not because your sensitive little feelings were hurt by the blunt honesty of their ads). For now, just remember, those ads are mine to rip off, so don't copycat my fashion copycatting!!! Seriously. And one more time, for good measure - Oh how I LOVE PIPERLIME!