Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Frumpy Beautiful.

I almost never buy new clothes.

I paint my toenails on the order of every several months (quarterly perhaps?).

I don't [know how to] style my hair.

And usually my wardrobe is some hodge podge of whatever is clean (?) and minimally socially appropriate, generally about 70-80% Goodwill finds.

In short, I am not a stylish woman. Someone the other day said I was so feminine. God bless her heart.

It's so easy to compare though. I don't always feel the pressure to be chic. But sometimes, like right now, it afflicts me. I am the way that I am for several reasons. Largely, I am practical, convenient, don't know how to get curls to stay anyway, and somehow can't swallow spending $50 on a bottle of face serum. (Do you know what serum is? Serum is the stuff that separates when your blood coagulates. Advertising amuses me.) And $50 is my grocery budget. Fifty dollars is someone else's food for a month.

But then I look at the disparity between professionalism and my own closet, or notice the cute hairdo's of my friends and my own stick-straight wet-combed hair, I lament shaving woes, or the two-year-old pair of sandals I'm praying lasts another season. And I just feel a little inadequate. Frumpy. Unfeminine even. As if all of being a woman were contained within smooth legs, cute clothes, and demure eyelashes.

Ugh.

I don't want to villainize looking nice, because I think there is value in presenting yourself well. We convey respect by how we dress. But there is a line somewhere between dressing for joy and dressing for the sake of impressing others. Do I want to do my nails because I like them this way, or because I feel insecure about them otherwise? I think every woman has to find that line for herself.

There is also that nagging sense of what really matters - my hair? Somehow the importance of my skin tone flickers when I read about the terror of ISIS, or think of the beautiful friends I made not three months ago in Africa. When push comes to shove, I would rather be useful and inspirational than beautiful. And I can't let myself forget that, no matter how many times culture inadvertently tells me that my waist size matters more. Something in me cringes, fights, revolts against the idea that my value rests in my ability to play dress up. At the end of the day, I don't want to be respected for how I can make up my face (or show off my body), but for how I have built up my heart. Oh, please don't let me reduce myself to an ornament.

Because it is a choice. Culture puts the pressure on, but we are the ones who can choose to obey it. We are the ones, ultimately, who decide how much of our worth we believe.

Sigh. The last thing I want is to heap shame on all you cuties out there. If anything, I want to say, You are worth so much, and it's not determined by your profile picture. You're beautiful when your face comes alive, when you laugh at something you find hilarious, when you feel free and secure. You're beautiful when you are doing the things you love. You're beautiful when you're honest. And if you're honest and hilarious in a sundress and heels, then awesome. God bless the woman who can change the world in designer skirts, I'm just not one of them. All this pressure to be something outwardly stunning just kills me softly. Maybe it suffocates you too. We could be so effective. We have so much to offer. The world is at our fingertips, and I think in a different way than it is to men. (No debates please, that's a compliment.) The femininity of our soul is powerful. And I  just mourn for a culture that still tries to reduce us to how we look.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Breaking the Ice

It's time.

I've been hiding from the brunt of social media for as long as possible, posting a bit here and a little there but mostly remaining aloof. I don't know how many people liked the last thing I posted. I don't recall seeing any recent cat memes or articles with "The last one really got me" in the title. I don't know what's going on in everyone's cyber lives. And I love you all, but that's wonderful.

Have I ever told you that I love my city when it rains?

The monsoon sunset over Tucson

Tucson River Walk
Just as a pause, tonight was one of those deeply endearing Tucson summer rains. It was overcast all day, with thunderstorms rolling through. The evening was impossible to resist.

Anyway.

I realize that a world of change has happened since I last wrote at the beginning of June, just preparing to put my merry self on a plane and land in Malawi, Africa to go "do stuff." I read my words then and know just as I knew then that I did not know exactly what I was in for. And by "in for" I mean wonderful things. It seems impossible to look at the last month and a half and pull out just one or two little blog-worthy posts.

Tucson again...
The whole experience was simply inundating, as such things ought to be. I laughed at having left my "real" camera at home. I had mused before I left that it would be better without the distraction. I would build real relationships. Sitting on the plane home, fighting back genuine tears of sadness at leaving our new friends, I laughed wryly that this is what I got for it.

But Malawi was wonderful, to say the least. Christians will be familiar with the "mountaintop experience," and to be fair, I sort of expected that. Sometimes I feel that we inadvertently go to faraway places as if we will find Jesus there. But in Malawi I came to the stark reality that Jesus is with us, regardless of where we are. Which is to say that if he's not a part of our life in one place, a change of location will not inherently change that. And vice versa. But Malawi actually wasn't a mountaintop for me. It was…surprisingly everyday, and I did not expect that. In some ways, it was as if I had always seen the maize merchants on the side of the road, or visited mud brick houses, or danced with 100 children. Rather, I saw that Malawians are people, and the Malawian church is made up of…people. Beautiful, joyful, fun, enduring, loving people. But people all the same. And while it sounds simplistic, this comforted me for the ails I see at home. Americans are not hopeless. We're just human.

People are often most excited to know what we did while we were there. To say in brief, we partnered with a fully Malawian organization in Lilongwe called Somebody Cares. Alongside their highly capable team, we went into the villages surrounding Lilongwe each day to help repair widows' homes that had been damaged during the wet season (by re-roofing or re-mudding floors). We helped the livestock program by preparing pig feed and building a pig sty in their training center. We got to accompany the Home Based Care team in visiting HIV positive individuals in the peri-urban slums, praying with them and taking care of their household chores. And we (always) got to play with hundreds of beaming brown little children whose smiles I never want to forget. Somebody Cares is really making a deep impact in Malawi, which is encouraging to see in a place replete with NGOs. For fun updates and more about who they are, check out the link above, or see the "Somebody Cares Ministries" Facebook page.

I think Malawi has affected me much more deeply in the stewing and soaking upon my return. Even while we were there, it made me uncomfortable that we had so much. That we could eat such full meals when we returned to our hotel in the evening. That we could have Pineapple Fanta just because. These were the times I put down my fork. Or in other cases, picked it up and tried to eat every last morsel on my plate out of respect for our village friends. This only made me sick, unfortunately. But now that I am home, in the comfort and serenity that surround American life, with time to really sit and process the beautiful journey I got to be part of…the experience has only deepened.

Suffice it to say, I have a lot more to share. I just wanted to break the ice on this whole internet thing. While I've posted disturbingly American and normal things on Facebook from time to time - shards and remnants of my normal American life - I've really hid from sharing the good stuff. Just because I don't want it to be over with the stroke of a pen. I don't want writing about Africa to be an excuse to file it neatly away into my past.

I'll leave you for now with a little highlight reel that I put together. Thank you so much for making this trip a reality for me. If I have not thanked you personally, (I'm sorry!) and keep checking your mailbox.

More stories to come!