Friday, April 30, 2010

Cool to be Hot–or Tragically Unhip?

Painting: Turner, Steam ship in an ice storm

A few years ago—all right, decades—Huey Lewis and the News sang “It’s Hip to be Square.” The point of the rock ‘n roll song is that he now lives a more sedate life than in his youth.
I used to be a renegade, I used to fool around
But I couldn't take the punishment, and had to settle down
Now I'm playing it real straight, and yes I cut my hair
You might think I'm crazy, but I don't even care
Because I can tell what's going on
It's hip to be square

Now he’s more mature than sophomoric, he’s looking at fitting in with what’s “normal,” and that means changing his tastes, how he dresses, and how his favorite bands (who have also aged) now dress in business suits.

In this society, it’s cool to be hot. To be “hot” is to be the ultimate in cool. But in most cases, it’s used to mean sexually desirable. Sex sells. It sells products, and it clinches the deal when a couple is even slightly attracted to one another.

What are the differences between "beautiful" and "desirable"? I am the former, but evidence and experience say I'm not the latter. I figure that if I were desirable, there’d be something to show in the way of a dating past. Either men don’t ask me out, or when I work up the courage to ask them out, they’re suddenly very busy being busy, and are very regretful that they’re leaving town. I’ve been praying for the Lord to take those withered, atrophied places in my heart and make me whole again.

Where I feel weakest, the most vulnerable, is that no matter how I improve my mind, or develop my talents and skills, no matter the quality and quantity of my work product, no matter how I treat other people with respect or compassion, no matter how well I dress or groom myself, I am apparently not "enough" to satisfy my father (who says he’s disappointed in me), or my former boss (who made work life extremely difficult), and certainly not a potential boyfriend. I’m always the friend, but never the girlfriend.

I'm never going to be slim or athletic or be able to take back the accident that disabled my knee. I'll never be able to join the bubble-headed flirty girls' club because I have integrity. I find it impossible to be silly or superficial.

I feel like I'll always be the sisterly, platonic friend described variously as a sweetheart, trustworthy and loyal, dependable, brilliant and witty, dresses beautifully, is easy to be with, great for the ego, amazing, awesome, funny, lovable, sweet, precious, blah, blah, blah, but ultimately, not desirable. I’m not arm-candy. I’m not someone to show off to male friends to prove he’s “still got it,” or that he’s so cool that he can get the “hot” chicks.

This feeling deepens when I see advertising on television, or anorexic models used in print or online ads. But the worst is when I see that the relationships don’t go to women like me—they go to the size 2, fashionable women for whom appearance is at least a part-time job. Shopping for new fashions, doing the nails every two weeks and hair every other month, having cosmetic dentistry and surgery, massage or facial treatments… there’s a huge time investment beyond the money (surely not cash, but credit cards), when it comes to having the right look to attract men’s attention.

The electronic and print media constantly emphasize that you're nothing without a partner. Because you haven't been chosen. Everything is about love and romance and being validated by others. Intellectually, of course, I reject that. But my heart has totally sold out to that idea.

Further, dressing modestly (I’m not talking a nun’s habit), without putting everything on display for free, doesn’t get or keep male attention, either. Men are visual creatures. They think of sex every few seconds. So if their attention is fixated on that high-maintenance woman, I don’t stand a chance.

Recently, though, I’ve had several compliments in Facebook, from complete strangers. Single men, actually. (Oh, yes, I checked.)

“Even though you and I haven't actually spoken yet, I friended you because I was completely struck by the beauty and kindness in your face . . . the world needs more of that, and it is often found in our most fragile people :-) Remember that someone up in the cold, damp Northwest is smiling when he thinks about you :-) ”

“I apologize if I may seem out of line, but I saw a post you had on a friend-of-a-friend’s page about her being prettier than you. She is just pretty in her own way. You have some very appealing qualities yourself. I really like your hair BTW, it is original and attractive on you.”

Both comments arrived at unexpected moments when I really needed to hear a spontaneous, unfished-for compliment that made me feel feminine and appreciated. Don’t get me wrong: I like the inward person I’ve become, and I strongly believe in looking beautiful on the exterior at all times, even when alone. But I have this deep hunger to be appreciated and loved as a total package, a whole human being—not for one or the other.

I guess I want a man to see my inner beauty and love everything about me. That's how many women think about men. In a woman's eyes, the man they love is absolutely gorgeous and becomes more so all the time.

People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT

One of my friends said to me, “If God won’t change the circumstance, he will use it.” What do you think?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Amazing physics--Could anything save a wretch like me?

Three books that made my college life temporarily miserable.
-->I learned something about salvation through mathematics. In elementary school I did all right. I can do everything a simple calculator can do; I’m just slower. But freshman algebra did me in.

Always an A or B student without trying too hard, I brought home my first D, from algebra. When I showed my report card to my parents, I dreaded the worst. However, they confessed that my math disability was genetic.

I avoided further high school math classes by taking general sciences and biology. In the ACT college entrance test I ranked at the nineteenth percentile in math. Even someone of my arithmetically challenged skills could figure that 81 percent of college applicants had better math skills than I.

That ACT score, heavy on algebra, forced me into bonehead math at Loma Linda University my freshman year. That was easy: all arithmetic, no algebra. It was like being in seventh-grade math all over again. Happy days! As for the balance of my university science and math requirements for a communications/music education double major, I managed to squeeze in human physiology, geology, and other non-mathematical classes. However, there was one class I was required to take: Physics of Music and Sound.

The passage that said anyone could understand what was
to come, "even" musicians. 
The textbook, The Acoustical Foundations of Music, slightly comforted me on page 4 with a condescending statement about musicians: We artistic types would need not quite as much math skill for this class as it would take to balance a checkbook. However, I had never used logarithms to balance my checking account!

But I digress. To my dismay, most of those in Professor Lester Cushman’s Physics of Music class were pre-med math and science whizzes. They were in it for some easy credits to boost their GPA. I took careful notes of I know not what, and memorized verbiage to perfection. I could explain the Doppler effect. But I was clueless when they discussed absorption coefficients and the Pythagorean comma (proof that B-sharp is a higher pitch than C). It was all algebraic—a foreign language. I studied the text, but couldn’t comprehend. After 10 weeks it was time for the final exam.

It was a drizzly day and the classroom was cold. I shifted painfully on my hard wooden chair because I’d recently cracked my tailbone by slipping in the winter rain. The pre-medical students finished their papers quickly and practically skipped out of the room. Finally, I was alone, staring at the problems and formulas without any hope of a solution.

Mr. Cushman noticed I was stuck. He walked over and encouraged me to push buttons on my primitive calculator, which was very unlike the pre-meds’ with their buttons for “sin” and “cos” and other incomprehensible notations. I wrote the resulting numbers on the test blanks.

Two weeks later grades came out. I found my A’s and B’s in other classes, but I was astounded to see that I’d received a C- in physics, much higher than the F I’d expected and probably deserved. Because the class was required for my music major, however, anything below a C wouldn’t count. I might as well have failed, but at least Mr. Cushman had been kind to my grade point average.

I didn’t protest or challenge the grade. I’d worked hard, but to no avail. I was a mathematical bonehead and would have to retake the class at another college, as it wouldn’t be offered at my university again until after my graduation.

The handwritten grade change by Mr. Cushman, which
I've kept tucked inside the book since early 1979.

Click photo to enlarge. 
Another two weeks went by, and I received a notice from the academic dean. My grade of C- had been elevated to a C+, which meant that the class did count. At the bottom of the slip a reason had been given by Professor Cushman: “My error.” (Mind: grades were hand-written in the horse and buggy days of the late 1970s, when I was in college.) When I went to thank him, he added to me privately, “I forgot to put the other stroke on the + sign.”

How could a professional mathematician, with a famous reputation for perfection and being hard-nosed to his math students, make a mistake like that? Minus and plus signs are opposites. One meant I failed; the other meant I passed.

The only answer I knew was amazing grace. How sweet the acoustical waves that saved a math-challenged wretch like me. I once had failed, but now I’d passed. I never learned physics and never needed it in real life, but thank you, Mr. Cushman, for a lesson in salvation, grace, and a very practical love, which I’ll remember forever.

When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. Titus 3:4-5 NIV

Call it grace or unmerited favor or kindness to a known offender. I see grace as the precious undeserved gift that not only saves me for eternal life with Jesus, but gives me hope and happiness in this world as well. 

Amazing Physics
By Christy K. Robinson
Adventist Review, July 18, 1996

Friday, April 16, 2010

Love lessons from my cat

(Or, What my schizophrenic Siamese taught me about love)
Her grandfather was a regal and dignified Siamese. Next in the genealogy was a long-haired black cat with green eyes and a Siamese meow that had been driven away from human society with stones and curses when she got “in the family way.”

The wild beast that would become my cat was born in tall grass between two wooden fences on a rainy October morning. A tiny silver kitten, she had feet that looked like oars, with extra toes. “Supernumerary digits,” someone said. Her tail had a kink in it that made two 45-degree angles.

Within days her eyes opened, silvery blue orbs that turned toward her darkening nose. A cross-eyed cat. There was a bump on her rib that the veterinarian said was probably caused by healed-over fracture during her first 12 weeks of life.

The neighbors decided that all the wild cats and kittens had to be rounded up and taken to their desert acreage, far from the city. On Christmas Day they caught two of the Siamese kittens and offered them to me. Both were hissing and snarling, but I chose the least-nasty-tempered one and took her home in my father’s leather jacket. I wore leather gloves. She fought, kicked, scratched, and even bit through my fingers, until upper fangs met lower fangs in a locked jaw.

Through the next weeks I taught her house manners, fed her tidbits from my fingers and tamed her to my commands. She slept in my arms or under the bed, or on a sunny patch of carpet. She was afraid and contemptuous of men, so I named her Circe, after the goddess who turned Ulysses’ crewmen into swine and attempted to serve them to him for dinner.

Circe was always eccentric, and for years I thought it was because she had been a wild kitten and had no tame feline role models, or maybe that I was a bad cat-mama. She hated other cats and was paranoid about the tabby I found at the library, telling me, as only a Siamese can, how she was going to torture and kill him. With her crossed eyes, she probably saw two of him anyway.

But I came to realize that the inbreeding that produced her physical defects had also given me a mentally-ill kitty. This cat was born with issues that had nothing to do with me.

People would tell me I should get rid of that cat, but in my family, animals are family. You don’t take your annoying little brother to the pound, do you?

She’d beg to play with string and learned to fetch toys like a dog when I was laid up from an accident. We’d wrestle and tickle and purr and snarl harmlessly until something snapped in her twisted mind.

“I’m all through playing now,” she announced by way of a painful bite.

She’d tenderly lick my nose at bedtime. And then bite. No matter how many times she was scolded or punished she never stopped biting. And scratching! With six toes and seven claws on each front foot, plus six toes on each back foot, she could do some damage. What would have happened if I’d chosen the really feisty sister kitten!

But I learned from Circe. Every tawny little hair I scraped off the furniture and swept from corners was a miracle. Have you ever looked at the gradations of color, from soft silver to beige, to warm cocoa, all on the same hair fiber?

A master artist had created my cat. Leonardo da Vinci said, “The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”

During the year before she had to be euthanized, as I cared for that crazy, misshapen little cat, I stopped to wonder why I loved her so much. With all the bites and scratches; the cleaning up of messes; the rescue when she broke a bottle of pesticide and had to be washed in the sink; the mental terrors she suffered from people and other animals…

Circe was mine and I loved her when she was good, and I loved her when she was bad. In fact, I think I cherished her because she had so many problems, and she had no one else to love and care for her. She needed me. When I looked at her I saw only beauty, and the relationship we shared.

I belong to God. Even with all my problems, all my sin, and maybe even because of my dependency on Him, He loves me. Not because I’m accomplished or brilliant, or obedient or disobedient to His word. He simply loves me.

Where sin was powerful, God's kindness was even more powerful. Romans 5:20 CEV

When He gives me blessings, He loves me. When I turn around and snarl at Him, He still loves me. He chose me. He tamed and taught me how to live. When He looks at me He sees my future, not my past.

All this for no other reason than He is my Father, and I belong to Him.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Whether married or single, we crave close contact on every level. The need for intimacy is as vital as the need for air and water, although too often we're so isolated and alone that we just ignore it or stuff it away. Without intimacy, life loses its color and fades to grayscale.

We want to be touched emotionally and physically. A friend says that her elderly mother wells up with tears when her son-in-law takes her into his embrace. Hugs are known to be therapeutic, to put it a bit clinically. Being held and taking a little time to absorb the feeling is so much better. And then there are kisses...

High on the list of behaviors that can keep you out of intimacy with God is sexual immorality (fornication and adultery), sexual intimacy without commitment to the partner for life, not just for a time, or a trial period. It's not casual sex, physical release, consolation, a relationship, how to end a date, or even a sharing of affection. It's a mortal sin listed in the same breath with murder, debauchery, and idolatry. Matthew 15:19, Acts 15:20, Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 6:18, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Revelation 21:8.

While physical intimacy is so critically important for not only our psyches, but long-term wellness, we want to be known in more than a superficial glance or the image we project. We want to be known for the secret heartbeat of our God-given passions and obsessions. We need to be chosen even when our faults and failures are known. We need to be understood. Cherished. Intimately known by a trustworthy person. We need to be loved, to connect on every level.

The “faith chapter” of Hebrews 11 has many examples of fidelity and trust in God by the heroes of the Bible. We apply their tactics of strength in the face of opposition, trust in the face of doubt, following the whisper of God where we cannot discern the next footstep on our own.

Faith is taking hold of God's unseen hand, taking possession of the title deed to eternity. It means that what you can't see or touch or measure is absolutely real, and the material world we live in now is the shadow or a reflection in a mirror.

BY FAITH, Abraham. BY FAITH, Moses. BY FAITH, David. They did amazing, worthy, historic acts. But is that what pleased God? No, it wasn’t what they did – it was what they believed about God: that He was able, and cared enough, to fulfill His promises.

I believe that God is able to fulfill His promises. He created the world out of chaos and sustains and recreates. He is in absolute control. But I confess that I haven't permanently arrived at the place yet where I believe that God cares so much that He can't wait to fulfill His promises to me. Much of the time, but not all of the time, I believe that God takes delight in me and loves me because-- Oh, wait. He doesn't love me because. He loves me. He loves me. He knew me from eternity and he formed me in my mother's womb. He counted the days until I was born. He blew his Spirit into my lungs for my first breath. He has plans for my life.

When I needed reassurance that I'm loved and still in God's plan, I read Hebrews 11 and sucked in my tummy, dried my tears, and let out a cleansing breath. It was all good until I got to the very end of the chapter, and then my resolution collapsed.

That’s where the book says that “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” (Hebrews 11:39 MSG)

There we learn that people of faith held out despite torture and death, waiting for their promise to be perfected (matured). But not one got their hands on the promise? Not one of those amazing heroes took hold of the title deed to what God said would happen?

So what was the promise? Was it for wealth and land, a loving spouse and happy children, freedom, security, successful crops, influence and power, beauty, or physical perfection?

The promise was repeated throughout the ages, in all the scriptures. In the Garden, God walked and talked with our parents (Genesis 3:8 CEV). Immanuel, God-With-Us would come and live with us (Isaiah 7:14 and Revelation 21:3). God would be our God, and He’d be intimately known by us (Jeremiah 31:33-34). There would be a Ruler from among us who can approach God’s Presence (Jeremiah 30:21-22). Christ in us is life (Galatians 2:20). He will appear a second time to save those waiting (Hebrews 9:28). He is coming, and soon (Hebrews 10:27). And we will not only worship Him, but actually partake of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).

The new covenant is this: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.(Hebrews 8:10-12 NIV.)

The new, superior covenant is that God is now offering intimacy with us, instead of being separated from us by prophetic symbols, analogies, types, and a written code of regulations. Instead of a temple veil separating Him from us, He became the Door, the Way in to Abba’s throne. Now God is real to us.

The promise that millions have died for was that Jesus is the reality when all else was shadow or reflection. We are aliens in this world, but we are citizens in His kingdom of love.

Yes, that's what God offers – intimacy. That’s why those heroes of faith were willing to go through such trials, such pain, such separation from all they loved, but held loosely. For the promise of intimacy, close contact with the Most High God, they held tight to His hand, they obeyed the Voice, they lived as nomads and settled new territory, they braved the best-equipped armies on earth with songs of praise – and won!

And that is what God offers. That is what those heroes lived and died for. They knew it. They had the Promise in their hearts, the Promise that Immanuel would walk and talk with them as a personal Friend; that He would tenderly wipe away their tears with His own hand.

Regarding Zion [your name here], I can't keep my mouth shut, regarding Jerusalem, I can't hold my tongue, Until her righteousness blazes down like the sun and her salvation flames up like a torch. Foreign countries will see your righteousness, and world leaders your glory. You'll get a brand-new name straight from the mouth of God. You'll be a stunning crown in the palm of God's hand, a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God. No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You'll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), Because God delights in you and your land will be like a wedding celebration. For as a young man marries his virgin bride, so your builder marries you, And as a bridegroom is happy in his bride, so your God is happy with you.(Isaiah 62:1-5 MSG.)

Who doesn’t want to hear the divine whisper in our ears, “You are my delight”? Who doesn’t want to be a cherished, precious jewel, held high in the hands of God for all to admire its beauty? For that unimaginable privilege is offered to you as a gift.

And the only way you can accept the gift is by trusting that Jesus Christ is the reality when all of this world is shifting shadows. That is faith.

It's impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.(Hebrews 11:6 MSG)

He cares. He responds. He offers what you crave. Why resist?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On such a night as this

It was a long day, full of work which never seems to get signed off—it just perpetuates. There were errands to run, a meeting, and a music rehearsal at church. The seventeen hours I’ve been up and running have drained me. The stress of relationships at work, in the church, in the family, and the longing for love is always simmering inside, too.

But--the Passover full moon has been up over the horizon for a couple of hours. The night sky is so bright with the moon that I can see the jagged rim of the mountains, and the porch lights of homes along the ridge miles away. A bird calls from a nearby tree. I just can’t breathe deeply enough: the citrus groves release intoxicating perfume from waxy white blossoms at the same time that my patio’s lavender wisteria and pink jasmine scent wafts on the gentle breeze. There’s not quite enough wind to stir the chimes, but enough to riffle my hair. My bare feet are crossed on the patio chair across from me.

Mali pounces on a spot in the grass where she can hear a vole or gopher digging under the surface. Abby skitters around under the porch light, chasing a moth. Evie chews on a ball and tosses it hopefully toward my feet. All is quiet in the neighborhood, and I sigh with content--and reluctance that soon I’ll have to lock up the house and go to sleep. It’s almost a shame to be unconscious and miss such a night as this.

On such an evening, I can’t imagine the terror and stress of painting lamb’s blood on the Hebrew doorposts to keep away the threat of death. Nor can I envision leaving my home in the middle of the night to escape a holocaust. I’m grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and that his blood identifies me as his child. The threat of hell has passed over me, and the promise of eternal life in his kingdom has already begun.

I can revel in the spring air, which God has perfumed to delight the senses, and relax in that Sabbath-rest he’s given to us by fulfilling and completing the law, and replacing a written code with the words he speaks to my heart. That rest is knowing that I am safe and secure in God’s hands, both physically and spiritually.

So although I will sleep tonight with the dog lying on the floor nearby, and the windows closed for security, my soul rests in the knowledge that my place in eternity is a done deal. And when I wake, I pray to remember that Jesus' resurrection means that the places in my heart that died of grief and injury will be created anew, like the bare, gray twigs of wisteria burst into giant spikes of spicy sweetness.

There is life after death, and there is life after despair, because Jesus took our infirmities and our rightful punishment, to give us his health and his reward.

God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:3-5 NLT

For since the world began,
no ear has heard,
and no eye has seen a God like you,
who works for those who wait for him! Isaiah 64:4 NLT


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