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In the eighth grade, my best friend had a crush on the class’s most unavailable boy — unavailable in that he was dating one of the more popular girls in our class. I remember my mother telling my friend that she was so much prettier than the girl in question, but my friend didn’t see it. Probably because children (teens included) lack far-sightedness: While the “girlfriend” had almost certainly done her “blooming” already, my friend had barely begun to nudge at the edges of her life-long flowering. At 52, she is still in her prime, and as any reader of Muriel Sparks knows, “Prime is best.”

It takes time to wake up to the possibilities of ourselves and to allow the negative grip that others have on us to diminish. I think that’s why so many young people feel depression and act out on it — they can’t see the way ahead. Time is the one gift we cannot bestow on another, and it’s just the gift so many need.

In my own life, I had nightmares for years about a bully from high school. I went to an all-girls’ school, and while we did not have to contend with toxic masculinity, I am here to tell you that toxicity is just as lethal in the female of the species. In our school it took shape in passive-aggressive cattiness, sudden shifts in friendship and verbal abuse. I let this person take roost in my subconscious for years because I was afraid of her. And then a funny thing happened: Time passed.

Specifically, social media happened. And it was here that I learned the truth: She was just another struggling human being. She had no power over me or anyone else. Her life was no picnic. No one’s is. And with that knowledge, she lost her hold on my psyche. I don’t dream about her anymore. I feel, if not empathy, sympathy for her. And all it took was the passage of years.

I have a young friend who is currently contending with nightmares about a person who deeply hurt her. I long to hug her and tell her that it will take time, but healing is not only possible but probable. God has given us such a gift in time. It is not a gift we can instantaneously take advantage of, however. But maybe that’s the beauty of it. In the dark days of struggle, we learn about ourselves. And we are forced to turn outwards toward God if we are to survive at all.

I hope my young friend will keep reaching outwards and allow time to show her that those who loom large today can evaporate into nothingness tomorrow. All we need do is wake up to the power and possibility we each possess. All it takes is time. And God has that well in hand.

I recently saw a bit from a late night talk show: An interviewer asked children why it was that women make less money than men for doing the same work. The boys’ answers were varied, but often supportive of women (especially their moms), but the girls — almost every one — went negative. Women were dumb or lazy. They hadn’t been taught things that men had been taught. They didn’t take their work seriously. They liked to shop too much.

Couple that with this figure: 91% of women don’t like their bodies and want to change them. What is wrong with us? Why don’t girls and women think themselves capable, beautiful or strong? Why are we convinced — apparently from an early age — that we are failures?

It is not Godly, this lack of self-esteem. We all start off the same way, as happy, little embryos. More male fetuses than female fail to make it to birth. More male infants die within the first year than do female babies. Women live longer, have higher tolerances to pain than men do. And yet we spend our lives thinking, by and large, that we are not good enough.

Why? Tradition? Culture? Law? All of these? Yes, and the Bible doesn’t help much either, written as it was for men by men, with its dearth of female heroines. It is the male bloodline that counts in the Bible. And yet, the most important figure in all of biblical literature — Jesus Christ — has a human mother…and no human father. Joseph, while mentioned, doesn’t have much dialogue in the New Testament. Neither does Mary, but at least she has some. And not one line of it is, “Do I look fat in this?”

Remember, too, that Mary is the only non-divine human being to be born without sin.

Remember, too, the women who remain at the foot of the cross. Only one man, in all of the gospels (his own) does the same.

Remember, too, that Jesus was often seen “in the company of women.” This, in a time when women were basically chattel. It is akin to being seen in the company of cows. But Jesus does it, time and again. He speaks to non-Jewish women, divorced women, prostitutes — acts so radical for their time, they make equal pay for equal work seem elementary.

Any faith practice that puts women down or places them as mere secondaries to men should be reexamined, as I hope Pope Francis will reexamine the Catholic Church, providing more opportunities for women to lead and be heard.

God created all of us. God stands with all of us. God loves us equally. Isn’t it time we did too?

In Hamlet, our droopy Dane laments, “O, that this too too solid [to drive home the theme, this should be pronounced to sound like ‘sullied’] flesh would melt!” I’m with you, Hamlet. When I am forced to look at myself — really look at myself — I see a fleshy mass of undesirable traits. Too much here, not enough there. A face that requires (to quote Sylvia Plath), “Soap, water and good Christian charity.” A pile of parts as mismatched — one leg longer than the other, one shoulder rounder and less broad — as Frankenstein’s monster.

And yet, we are made of the same stuff as the stars. “Little less than angels,” the Bible contends. Really? From the mites in our eyelashes to the sloughed-off skin bits we leave behind us like a crumb trail, human bodies are really pretty gross. But we are also formed in the image and likeness of God. I find it hard to imagine a God with ingrowing toenails or knobby knees. God ought to look like Paul Newman in his prime. Or like Lupita Nyong’o. What does God have in common with a common slob like me? (Not that I am, in any way slobby or sloppy. I give myself that much credit.)

These are the thoughts that plague me when I am forced to contemplate the link between humankind and God. Wouldn’t God do better to have the image and likeness of a graceful swan or sleek gazelle? If you could look like anything, why would you want to look like a doughy, clumsy, mostly hairless biped? There are better options out there.

Of course, the first Homo sapiens didn’t look exactly the way most of us look today. They were more hirsute, for a start. What if God looks more like that? What if God looks like a Bigfoot? (Author shakes head vigorously.)

What God is made of — what we are really made of — is more eternal than an ordinary body. Bodies wither, decay, are riddled with diseases. Ultimately, they do not stand the test of time. But something in us does, and that is the way in which we resemble God — in the speck of eternity that, in the end, defines and antecedes us. God is everything and forever. We are a little piece of that forever.

Maybe that’s the piece we should focus on. Oh, not that I’m advocating allowing one’s self to go to wrack and ruin. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — that is, try to keep your body well and safe. But give to God what is God’s — your soul — and make it the most beautiful soul you can. Beauty, even interior and hidden beauty, must be cultivated by hard work and consistent effort. And it doesn’t require the services of a high-priced plastic surgeon, either.

A new and more beautiful me! I won’t see it in the mirror. As long as God sees it, I’m good.

Our cat, Honkee Magoo (please blame/credit my husband for the odd name) isn’t a demanding soul, except in one case: He insists on our turning on the bathroom tap to a trickle and leaving it on all the time. Sometimes he drinks the water. Other times, he just watches it drip, or plays with it. Obviously, this trick does not bode well for our water bill. But Honkee is insistent. He needs that water to be running.

He spent his formative months as a stray, which I believe holds the key to his odd behavior. When you’re a stray, you don’t know where your next meal — or drink — is coming from. The first time we saw him, he was looking for edible garbage outside a Subway restaurant; we coaxed him into our car with cheese. He’s a bit of a wild man, but with a huge, grateful heart. Keeping the water running is — for him — our way of telling him that he will never have to go without again. He will always have his needs met. He will always have a home.

We humans have our needs, too. We need someone to listen to us, and that person is most frequently God. We do a lot of crying out to God, a lot of asking. We need for God to hear us, and to show that God hears us. We need God to keep the water running, so to speak.

So what happens when we can’t hear God, when our prayers seem unheeded, un-listened to? We can get a little wild ourselves. I was a bit angry at God this week for not hearing me: What am I supposed to be doing with my life, because this can’t be it, seriously. Wasn’t I supposed to do something great? Is this mic on? I still haven’t heard back.

It’s okay to be angry with God. We all get mad at those we love. It’s human. But I also know that God hears me. Which makes my inability to hear a response all the more confounding. What is it in me that can’t hear? What am I ignoring, not heeding, not understanding?

The whole situation feels familiar: It’s like me trying to reason with Honkee. “No, I am not going to turn on the water. You have water in your dish, in your fountain. You don’t need this water.” He doesn’t get it. The problem isn’t in the message or in the messenger. It’s in the inability of the listener to comprehend.

I don’t get mad at Honkee for not understanding, just as God doesn’t give up on me for my shortcomings. I turn the water on because I don’t want him to fret. I don’t fret either; I know that the water’s running for me. My faith is not dented in any way. Still, it would be nice to see the water. Maybe I need to work on me?

Honkee has great self-confidence; he struts around the house like a boxer after scoring a knockout. Still, he likes being told he’s a good boy. (Positive reinforcement became a turning point in our relationship, back in his early, feral days.) Maybe if I worked on my own self-confidence and self-love, I’d start seeing my path. It couldn’t hurt.

I guess the water was running the whole time. It just took me a while to notice.

I am an earthenware jug
filled to the brim with simple water —
Adam’s ale, most humble mead.
And yet I cry:
Make me wine,
make me wine,
make me wine.

I wrote this poem fragment one afternoon, realizing it at once as a declaration of one of my deepest sins: I don’t think that I am good enough for God. I want to be special; I want to be a saint. I want to be extraordinary.

But what’s so wrong with ordinary? After all, I am as God made me. Why ask for wine when water is enough? And then it came to me: What if you knew that all you had to do is to be your best self, in all your day-to-day plainness, and you would be doing exactly what God wanted of you? What if being ordinary and happy is enough?

Sometimes I feel like Pinocchio; that somehow, if I do something wonderful, something important, I’ll achieve “real boy” status. But maybe this is as real as it gets. Instead of keeping my eye on some nebulous, unachievable future, why don’t I just look around at where I am right now, and focus on making it as good as I can make it? Wouldn’t that be a better use of my time?

It comes down to this: Some people, a select few, are extraordinary. And they earn that status in contrast with the rest of us, the vast ordinary majority. And that’s just fine. We are all doing God’s work by being who we are. Shouldn’t that be enough for us?

I’m not going to pray to be converted into wine anymore. I’m done with whining, too. I got the message, and I’m passing it on: You are enough. You are perfectly perfect. God made you so. Don’t waste your time fruitlessly wishing to be what you’re not. Just be a perfectly perfect you. God is absolutely crazy about that person. And so am I.

Years ago, I worked in the communications department at a pharma company, and it was time for my performance review.  “You’re doing a great job,” my manager said. “You’re a quick learner, you’ve got great energy… overall, I have to say, I think you’re terrific.”

“So do I,” I said in return. I realized that it sounded like I was saying that I agreed; I AM terrific!

She laughed and said, “Self-esteem isn’t an issue for you either, I see!”

“Oh!  You know what I mean.  I think you’re terrific too.”  She said she knew what I meant and we went off to have lunch.

I suppose on the scale of self-esteem, it’s better to have too much of it, as opposed to not having enough.  But what is about the display of healthy self-esteem that sometimes makes us pause?

On Twitter, I was going to follow Reba McEntire but stopped short – on her own profile, she described herself as a “Country Superstar.” Capital letters and all.

Hmph!  I sniffed.  There’s one gal who really thinks highly of herself!  Miss Thing really toots her own horn there, doesn’t she?

The thing is, though…. when you think about it…. she actually is a country superstar.

Would I prefer the false modesty of someone with powerful pipes like that saying, “aw shucks, I can sing a little”?

A link on Twitter took me to an article quoting Beyonce on her recent performances.  “I felt very proud because this is my legacy,” she announced.

Well!  I never.  Maybe Princess would like a tiara with that “Halo?” The thing is… she did sing at the President’s inauguration, and then was the featured performer at the Superbowl, so I guess…even though it is a bit over-the-top for her to say it… maybe it is her legacy.

I like the way Tom Hanks describes himself on his Twitter profile:  “I’m that actor in some of the movies you liked and some you didn’t.  Sometimes I’m in pretty good shape, other times I’m not. Hey, you gotta  live, you know?”  He doesn’t mention his Oscar or his bazillion dollars.  He seems humble. That’s how a celebrity should be, I said to myself.

I finally got my head out of the Twitterverse and administered the only known cure for grumpy grumbling: a Bible verse.

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  Proverbs 16:24

Lesson for today: be gracious toward everyone, and think of it as a good thing when people think highly of themselves.  Be glad that they’re blooming wherever they’re planted, and leave the pruning up to God.  Live and let live.  Love and let go.

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”   – Luke 6:31

There’s an old joke about the Golden Rule and masochists — the point being, there are some folks who might take “treat others as you’d like to be treated” to unpleasant and uncomfortable places. What it really comes down to is this: The Golden Rule presumes that people wish to be treated well. And really, who would disagree?

You’d be surprised. Most people would concur that thinking one’s self more important than other people can be construed only as arrogance. On the other hand, many of us have been programmed to believe that putting ourselves below others is humility…something to be sought after.

Well, there’s humility, and there’s masochism. And some of us veer a little too close to the latter, especially us caregiver types. It’s time to ask yourself: Do you put your needs last, after everyone else’s? Do you expect more from yourself than from those around you? How often do you make yourself a martyr? And how surprised would others be to be called the things you call yourself in the privacy of your own superego — words like fat, stupid, weak, lazy?

The Golden Rule assumes a certain estimation of ourselves…that we know ourselves to be important, good, worthy. And if you don’t, you’re just as guilty as the selfish so-and-sos Ruth writes about. It’s a two-way street. So I ask you: Which direction are you driving?


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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