Standing Naked Before God and Not Worrying About My Thighs…

You know, once upon a really, really long time ago… we were strolling through a garden, naked and unashamed (Gen 2:25).

It’s how we were designed. I don’t mean we were designed to be naked… although if original sin had never entered the world I wouldn’t be spending nearly as much at Target and Old Navy. But we were designed to not feel shame or be self-conscious about our bodies. Our bodies were created for pleasure and function. Not obsession and scrutiny.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Not just because I’m on a diet. But because I started trying to get healthy again. This time it’s more about feeling good… more about health than image. Don’t get me wrong… I’m female and with that comes wanting to look good. It’s what we do. And I truly believe that it’s part of how we were created – wanting to be desired and admired. Male and female alike require this – it just manifests itself a little differently in the genders.

My point to all of this isn’t really a new subject. There are many campaigns out there that are trying to rectify our media-skewed body image dysfunctions. I appreciate that there are people like Dove who are running a Real Beauty Campaign. But the problems here, is that we are once again, letting the media tell us what is beautiful. I mean, at least they’re sort of on the right track… but if you consider yourself a follower of Christ – think about this for a moment:

We are all created in His image.  All of us. ALL. Of. Us. This fact, is one of the reasons I love traveling to strange, exotic locations. When I stood next to a woman in the Maasai Mara (see photo below) I thought about how we were both made in God’s image… I couldn’t help but think, “God! What must YOU be like?” My idea of who God is expands. He is no longer in my North American box. On most days, I think of him as a white, middle class suburbanite… but He so, so far from that it’s mind boggling.

So that said, when it’s time to focus of how I view my body and my self-image… I need to step away from the media – good or bad – and take a look at God. I need to gaze at Him awhile. And I can do that through scripture for understanding His character. But I can also look around at creation and try to find those who are the most “unlike” me… and let my idea of who He is grow. And then, and only then, can I truly accept who I am and how I am created.

Yes, I’m still on a diet. The reality is that, thanks to the fall of man, there are calories that like to plant themselves firmly around my waistline.  So in order to be healthy and to be able to be as active as I’d like to be – I must do something  to counter-act that. But I also need to not make it an idol and to not judge my value or worth based on appearance or even ability.

And when I catch myself doing that… and I will because I’m human… and female… I need to take a deep breath, step back… and gaze at our great Creator for awhile. Which is much more appealing than looking in a mirror.

our senses

Today I had lunch with a gentleman named Ben, from Cameroon, West Africa.  He is a professor at Austin Peay University and speaks six languages.  I asked him if we could stick with English for now.

We talked about a lot of things over our Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. We discussed travel and all the countries where he has lived and the fact that I was one of the first Americans that he has encountered who has been to several African countries. He said most Americans he has met have made that one trip to Africa and that’s all they needed… to say they’ve done it. He said that he was amazed that I knew Cameroon was in West Africa. (I won’t go into my frustration with our lack of knowledge of the world outside of the United States – that’s another blog entry.) He was shocked to hear that I want to return and see as much of Africa as I can. He looked at me as if I was a puzzle he couldn’t figure out. I’ve seen that look before. 🙂

We discussed the idea that no matter how much you read about a country or study its topography and indigenous people….you cannot know the country until you visit. You cannot smell the country in text books. You cannot taste the country in a brochure. You cannot feel a country’s textures until you are there and run your hand across its surface. It was a beautiful conversation.

And then Ben made a statement that has resonated with me the entire day. He said that he tells his students something very similar when it comes to focusing on their studies. The ability to focus does not mean that you try to get your mind to see and concentrate on just one thing. But that you take that one thing and get all your senses to engage it. How does the object or lesson make you feel? What do you hear it saying to you? If you can’t touch it, how does it touch you? How are your senses engaged?

Anyway, just wanted to share this with you even though I’ve not come up with a conclusive hypothesis. It’s just that I am pondering how this affects the many areas of my life. My ability to focus at work, my Biblical studies, worship, my listening skills, my being present in relationships.

Does this resonate with you? Where in your life do you need/want to engage all your senses?

Hints of New Life

Now, I realize it’s only the middle of February and not even close to being Spring. But this past weekend’s warmer weather dove-tailed one of the coldest blizzardy Winters I’ve ever experienced… and it was enough to get me longing for  balmy breezes and tulips and the wild bunnies that mysteriously appear in my backyard every March.

I’m reminded of my friend William Mwizerwa from Rwanda, who when asked how he and his family got through tough times in Africa, simply replied, “We keep our eyes on eternity. On the promised land where we will one day live. On the new life we will one day have”.

I’m in no way comparing a harsh Tennessee winter to the hardships of Rwandans. But I caught myself looking for hints of Spring this morning… in hopes it would carry me through the inevitable late-March winter-blast that’s sure to renegade through Nashville at least once more… and be reassured of the new land and the new life to come.

Here is how Spring dropped a few hints my way this morning:

  • The sweet onion grass is popping up in random spots throughout my straw-like yard.
  • The squirrels are hyper… very hyper.
  • The birds were loud at 6am… very loud.
  • I got to the office 15 minutes earlier because I didn’t have to scrape snow or ice off my car.
  • There was an extra pep in my step this morning.
  • My street was dotted with joggers, dog-walkers, stroller-pushers and cyclists.
  • I did not wear a coat to work.
  • My living room was flooded with light at 7am.
  • Johnny was wearing shorts with his requisite hoodie.
  • There is a large hoot-owl’s winter nest high up in my backyard tree – which two squirrels were dismantling. There may be war on N. 16th Street very soon.
  • I saw at least six of my neighbors having coffee on their porch.
  • It is SIXTY-THREE degrees!!!!!!!!!!!!

What hints of new life are you seeing?

The Contributor

Every morning, without fail, I see him. Smiling, waving… humbly manning the corner with a yellow sign around his neck that says, “New Edition. $1.00”.

With. Out. Fail.

I’ve seen him there determined to ignore the blistering sun that leathered his face and soaked his donated t-shirt. I’ve seen him standing diligently while snow fell in haphazard piles on his tattered beanie and worn shoulders. I’ve seen him stand relentless in his makeshift rain slicker (aka a large trash bag with head and arm holes cut out – and a Kroger bag tied do-rag-style to protect his head).

I have to say… I’m really impressed.  So why did it take me until today to roll down my window and thrust a few bills in his direction? He merely leaned in through my passenger window and handed me the “new edition” and said, “Thank you ma’am… God bless you”.

“You’re welcome”, I said nice and awkwardly. “Wait! What’s you’re name?”

“Oh, um… Johnny. I mean, John. Well, okay… call me Johnny”.

“Okay Johnny. You’re doing a great job. I mean, I like seeing you here every morning. You’re pretty faithful.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

Johnny. I bet if I’d known his name I would have bought a paper long before today.

I’ve seen a lot of these vendors around town. But I’ve felt loyal to Johnny because he’s just at the end of my street… the corner of Eastland and 14th.  It’s a pretty good corner. The only 4-way stop in a busy avenue that feeds most of the neighborhood into the main boulevard. Johnny is a smart entrepreneur.

I guess my hesitation stemmed from some lingering skepticism that they were no different than the folks standing on the corners with “Will Work For Food” signs. Accept these guys (and gals) are already working. This is their job. And for many of them, like Johnny, who may have mental or other disabilities… they’re not finding any other options. But don’t get me started – that’s a whole other blog.

I’m actually enjoying the paper. According to an article in The Contributor the folks standing on corners with papers are vendors.  They purchase the newspapers for .25 cents each and sell them for $1.00. They’re allowed to keep all proceeds plus tips. So, yes… please tip.

Anyway, if you have one of these vendors in your neighborhood… please take a moment and a few dollars and help employ someone who has otherwise been deemed unemployable. And ask their name. Knowing their name will make all the difference.

Grounded…

It’s Sunday morning and I’m writing this from my cozy green couch. If you know me, you know how significant a statement that is… considering the crazy travel schedule I’ve had the last 6 years.

Last Saturday, I grabbed a last minute lunch with a couple of friends at the Grilled Cheeserie truck that comes to East Nashville on weekends. We were sitting there slurping our gooey cheesey sandwiches when my friend Duane stopped mid-bite and said, “Wait! It’s Saturday! And I’m eating lunch with Debbie Barnett!” It’s a very good thing.

The number one question people are asking me is, “Are you going to miss traveling?”

Yes and no. What I love about traveling is discovering new places, seeing a world of people out there who are just like me and who are very different than me. Experiencing different cultures within our own country is fascinating. We Americans are such an eclectic people! More than anything, I love traveling abroad. It helps me see that this world is both awfully huge and quite small. The vastness of this world becomes evident when you climb on a plane in an all-familiar Nashville, TN  and some 18 hours later you step off into some wild, untamed place like Addis Abba, Ethiopia. But it’s that very thing that makes the world seem so small… because it’s all so attainable.

Anyway, that part of travel I will miss. But here’s a list of what I WON’T miss:

  • being stranded in yet another airport due to delays, cancellations weather and incompetence.
  • being lovingly frisked by TSA agents every few days
  • having constant jet-lag and a body that has no idea what time zone its in
  • swollen ankles & fingers from being 35,000 feet in the air several times a week
  • missing yet another friend’s wedding, birthday, dinner party, graduation, etc
  • feeling like a visitor in my own church
  • conversations back home that always with, “I haven’t seen you in forever!”

And here’s a few things I’ve discovered that I LOVE about being grounded (or not traveling for a living):

  • having a regular sleeping pattern
  • being home on weekends when everyone else is off work as well
  • my mailman now recognizes me and waves
  • not eating “out” for every meal and getting to cook more
  • being able to say “yes” to invitations
  • my plants don’t die
  • discovering the meaning to “Thank God It’s Friday”
  • not having to “catch up” with close friends because we stay caught up.

Don’t get me wrong… I loved what I was doing these last 6 years and see it as such a gift. But suffice it to say… I’m loving the adjustment and thank God every day for the amazing life He has given me.  But I’m happy for the change and ready to embrace a new way of of living it for now. And who knows what the future holds? But I know that He holds me… so I will just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Ray…

I live in a split-level duplex. The man upstairs (no, I don’t mean Him), who I lovingly refer to as “the upstairs roommate” is named Ray. Ray has lived here for 22 years. If the owner of this house ever sells – the buyer must understand that Ray is a package deal. He “ain’t goin’ nowhere”…

Ray drives a truck. But he’s not what you would call a trucker. Though he’s got the right hat. Mesh in the back, bright green, sits up high and a little crooked. Not the cool intentional Ashton Kutcher kinda way – but in that ‘I get dressed without a mirror’ kinda way. And he wears a plaid shirt. And Dungaree’s. Okay, well maybe he is a trucker. He’s technically retired but still has a run every week or so.

I get his mail when he’s gone. And he gets mine and watches for packages. He always brings my trash cans in from the curb. I mow the spot where he parks his car and put his morning paper on his step. We are good neighbors to each other.

When Ray gets home from a string of deliveries…  he likes to come sit on my porch and tell me the play-by-play details of his run. Including all his dive hotel stops and what he ate for dinner each night. Driving a truck can be lonely. I bet he’s been saving up all that chit-chat.

Ray always signs off our conversations by hollering over his shoulder as he clunks up his metal stairway… “Be safe, ya hear?”. He seems serious most of the time, but his crooked smile is sweet and and he laughs easily. And when he laughs his nose crinkles up so much that his glasses slide down to the tip and then he pushes them back into place with his two fingers right in the center of the lenses… leaving two big finger prints right in his eye-line. This apparently doesn’t bother him.

When not on the road, Ray drives an old beat up Chevy Nova painted with gray primer.  He put fake stick-on bullet holes on the trunk. He thinks it’s funny and that it makes him look like he’s “been in a battle”. He likes to think of himself as a “bad ass”. But he also says things like, “I’m goin’ for a little walkie-poo”.

Walkie-poo.  Yep.  That’s what he says.

He also says little gems like, “I’ve been busier than a one-armed paper hanger”. And, “I’m doin’ alright fer an ol’ fella!”

He collects model cars. Hundreds of them. I’ve never been in his apartment but I can see them through the window, in their original boxes, stacked floor to ceiling. He goes to trade shows and has a buddy who buys and sells them on ebay for him. “I don’t need no new-fangled computer… prolly goin’ outa style anyway… so why bother learnin’?”  I try to tell them that one, they’re not “new-fangled”  anymore and two, they’re pretty much gonna stick around. But he’ll have none of it.

Ray is a creature of habit. Every Saturday night, at 5:45pm… he emerges with slicked-back hair and a bolo-tie adorning his plaid shirt. He’s off to Saturday night mass… “Gotta pay God my respects… make sure He knows I’ve been a good boy!”

I adore Ray. He’s sweet and kind and a little doddering. But I know he has a deeper story. I just haven’t figured out what it is yet. It’s taken me 4 years to get him on the porch. He still hasn’t come inside my house yet.  I know that he was almost married once but  then she ran off with someone else.  And I know that he sends every member of his family birthday cards and Christmas cards… “even the ones that don’t speak to me no more.”  He spends most holidays alone, unless he can find a buddy to go to Shoney’s with him.  I’ve invited him, included him and have taken him food but so far he’s refused all the invites. But I’m hopeful. And persistent.

When I first moved into this place 6 years ago… I introduced myself and my roommate at the time… all friendly-like. He quickly put up his hands and said, “I’m just an old guy and I keep to myself.”

And I thought, “We’ll see about that Ray… we’ll see about that.”

why am i still single, you ask?

Generally, I avoid this topic like the plague. But it’s been coming up more frequently these days and I’m feeling the need to make an official statement.

Because the masses cry, “Deb, why are you still single?”

Okay, so maybe not the masses… but I do get that question more times than I care to admit. Granted, sometimes I’m flattered, like when people say they’re shocked I’m still single. But then there’s always that follow-up question… “So… why is that?”

Friends, Family, Countrymen. I wish I had an answer that was satisfying to all.  But I don’t.  In past blogs, I’ve tried to wrap things up with a neat bow.  I not only wanted to encourage others who are in my same position, but I wanted to provide an answer. And though I still stand by what I wrote… I don’t think it’s as complicated as I may have made it out to be.

It’s true. I am single. And I have never been married. Sure, I’ve come close a couple of times. I even returned an engagement ring once. But “sealing the deal” just hasn’t happened. And I realize, that as a forty-something year old woman, I’m somewhat of an anomaly. And I’m okay with that… I mean, it could be worse.

Back to the topic: Why am I still single?  What a great question. Often my friends try to answer it for me. “You’ve spent too much of your life working in a career that isn’t really conducive to meeting someone.” “You’ve just not met Mr Right.” “Maybe you’re being too picky.” Or my favorite, when they blame the men, “They just don’t know what they’re missing!”

But regardless… here is the only answer I have:

Because so far, God has deemed it so.

Hard to argue with, I know. Hard to blame-shift or point an accusing finger.

Reality is, it doesn’t matter what my career is or who I have met or haven’t met and it doesn’t matter if I’m picky or not.  If I’m living in a dung hut in the middle of the Maasai Mara and God decided he wanted me to meet someone, He would make it happen.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating hiding or running from love and seeing if God will still make it happen.  If that’s where you are then I have a couple of counselor friends I can recommend to you. Seriously.

Love is wild and wonderful and illusive and consuming. It can cause you to be fabulous one day and do something utterly stupid the next. But we were created for this very thing. Flawed as it may be… for now. The only Perfect Love out there is from the One who created us. Everything, and everyone, here on earth is merely a foretaste of what’s to come one day. So for now… we can only stumble through it all… merely praying and hoping to receive AND give grace generously.

So why am I still single? Because God has deemed it so.

For now.

Whether He changes my status here on earth or whether I must wait a little longer… I could be in no better hands.

And that, I wouldn’t change for the world.