Archives

F. Scott Fitzgerald on Beautiful Women

 

“She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for the sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful, for her ability to make other people smile, even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful, deep down to her soul. She is beautiful.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

 

PS: These are two easily available photos that I think illustrate Fitzgerald’s idea of a beautiful woman. I invite anyone who reads this to add their own pics of women who fit his guidelines with a comment.

Never Lose An Opportunity for Beauty

 

Contrary to current American culture, beauty is not a carefully photo-shopped image of an attractive young woman designed to sell a product or a concept. No, beauty is far more than mere image or presentation. And it certainly exceeds the boundaries of our print and electronic media.

I define beauty as that which delights, inspires, and enriches. Anything less is a shallow imitation or perverse contradiction of the honesty inherent in beauty, whatever form it takes.

For beauty does exist in many forms, such as:
Visual
Aural
Natural
Crafted
Movement
Stillness
Spontaneous
Arranged

We who live at today’s frenetic pace must allow ourselves to notice the beauty we walk in every day. It could be a picture, a musical selection, a memory, a person, an activity, or a location. If we stop to remember, there are thousands of those precious flashbacks that can still enrich our lives today.

When you read this blog, please take a couple of minutes to share a portion of beauty that you’ve encountered. Sharing will improve both of our lives and become a thing of beauty for all of us.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll start.

Because I wanted my four children to be adept at physical activities that could be part of their lives through out adulthood, I signed them up for swimming, tennis, and golf lessons. In the process, I signed myself up for getting them to swim practice before and after classes during the school year and hours of watching from a damp bleacher.

When my oldest was about 13, she developed beautiful strokes in the American crawl, back stroke and breast stroke. If cell phone video cameras had been available then, I would share with you an example of swim laps that resemble ballet. While the rest of the group splashed eagerly back and forth in their lanes, she glided as if she were created for the purpose of creating beauty out of daily swim practices.

She certainly didn’t inherit any athletic talent from either parent. In fact, we are amazed that she belongs to us. The coach did not give her extra instruction. But all who watched were delighted to observe such unpretentious beauty in action.

She still swims. And participates in the Low Country Splash! every spring which is either a 2.4 or 5.0 mile open water swim near Mt. Pleasant, SC.

 

 

“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?”*


Few can read or hear these words without profound sadness. Each of us has probably said the same refrain to ourselves and to anyone willing to listen. Today as the Palm Sunday congregation sang these words, no doubt, most of us remembered times in our own lives when we had felt abandoned by God. For example:

When a young child cries after losing a parent to a deadly accident
When a faithful, loving spouse discovers irrefutable evidence of infidelity
When a family member lies about his own guilt and projects it onto the victim rather than face himself
When a sibling moves to divide the elderly parent from the remaining siblings in order to increase his own inheritance
When a superior undermines an employee’s achievements to claim them as his own
When a supplicant is faced with damning lies during court cases, but not allowed to refute them because the “rules” are misapplied
When a grown child abandons the faith – and his own family in the process

Yes, devastating betrayal is part and parcel of our lives on this earth. No one I know has been exempt. However, today we all see that Jesus really did experience treachery from both friend and foe. Yet He submitted to it quietly and ended up defeating Satan and his evil “games” in the process.

The best take away is that we believers can offer up our own dishonesty and the dirty tricks that we have experienced to the God who loves us enough to undergo the same physical, emotional, and spiritual pains that we have. Only He can cleanse us and set us free from their dominion in our lives so we can live in the Kingdom of Heaven while still treading the soil of this earth.

*This verse was part of the Psalm at today’s Mass. Below is Psalm 22 from the King James Version:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

Mary Was NOT An Unwed Mother

I cringe when someone speaks of the Virgin Mary was an unwed mother, usually in a silly attempt to make the Christmas story “relevant” for today’s licentious audience. Such people not only blaspheme, they reveal their own ignorance of Jewish wedding customs.

The Jewish wedding employed two ceremonies before completion and consummation for thousands of years, although very recently they have begun merging them into one. At the first one, the betrothal or kiddushin, the couple promise to remain faithful to each other until “death do us part.” A written contract, ketubah, is completed where the groom promises to provide for the bride and the bride promises to keep herself for him. A religious divorce is required to nullify the marriage after this point. Only the groom can ask for one if he finds something untoward in his bride.

In the time of Joseph and Mary, each then went back home to live with family while the groom prepared a home for his bride, often by adding rooms to his father’s house. When his father decided that the new quarters were ready for the bride, then the groom and his friends went through the town to get the bride and bring her to the new home.

There, another ceremony takes place with vows and blessings under the wedding canopy.[1]

This nissuin is the ceremony that permits the bride to her husband and permits the consummation of the marriage. The party usually lasts seven days and friends and family join in the celebration.[2]

Therefore, Mary was legally bound to Joseph when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. When it became known that she was with child, Joseph began considering a quiet divorce to spare her as much as possible. But the Lord God told him to stay in the marriage to protect and provide for Mary and the child in her womb. She was wed the whole time, but conceived by the Holy Spirit, not Joseph.

Interesting Side Note: When one studies the common wedding practices of at the time of Jesus, he gets a new appreciation of John 14:12-13

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord

“Thou Art The Potter, I Am The Clay”

I couldn’t quite figure out the look on their faces as I opened the door for my parent’s friends, Frank and Lexi. So, shy seven-year-old that I was, I silently escorted them to the kitchen where my mother was cleaning up after supper. I retreated to my room to live again in the fantasy world of the latest library book.

After eagerly finishing yet another Bobbsey Twin mystery, I realized no one had scolded me for staying up too late. So I ventured back to the adult world to see what they were up to.

There they stood, almost in a circle. All were silent except my little brother whose latest accomplishment was a joyful “Da Da” that he was practicing confidently and continuously. Everyone else now shared that same somber look that Frank and Lexi had brought in the front door.

Instantly, I knew. “Daddy died, didn’t he?” No one said a word, but looking at the tears, I knew that I was right.

He had died in a fiery plane crash that afternoon. It shouldn’t have happened. It wasn’t his plane; he wasn’t flying it. He had merely gone along for the ride. Another flight instructor had just repaired a small single engine Piper Cub and needed to test it before his next student took it up for a lesson. They identified the two young fathers by the flight records from the airport. There wasn’t enough left of the bodies.

I stood with the grieving adults for a few minutes trying to absorb the news. When they began making lists and phone calls, I slipped back to the comfort of my own room to cry alone. We had just won World War II and now everything was supposed to be okay. How could God have made such a mistake? Wasn’t He paying attention?

Just 11 months earlier, He had taken away my beloved grandfather. But Granddaddy suffered from heart trouble and had been sick several months. Much as I missed his gentle hug and courtly manners, I could understand that he was old and had earned the right to go to heaven for a rest. All through the war he had sat silently praying during daily newscasts by H.V. Kaltenborn and Gabriel Heatter. He had lived to see his native England spared, celebrated V-E day in May, and then clung to life until victory over Japan was assured. Two days later, with his work done, he went home to be with the Lord.

But Daddy was only 28 years old. He had three children to care for. He wasn’t supposed to die. They told me that God loved me. How could He do this to me twice in one year?

I talked to God a lot about it, angrily, pleadingly, and finally, submissively. When none of the adults was around, I would sit at the piano, pick out the tune, and sing “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” and offer my life to Him again and again. I considered myself one of His even though I hadn’t been baptized yet. No one could help ease the pain, but I turned to God because I had memorized that verse in Matthew that says, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I didn’t know how or when I would find comfort, but the Bible offered the only hope I could find.

My mother and grandmother were devout Southern Baptists who accepted only believers’ baptism. I had wanted to be baptized and “officially” a Christian for as long as I could remember. But to get to that point, one had to go to the front of the church during an altar call, cry because of your sins, and write on a card that you wanted to be baptized. I really wanted to do all of that. I knew that I mustn’t “deny Him before man” and that I must stand up for my faith. But it took me a couple more anguished years to work up the courage to walk down the long church aisle all alone and make my profession of faith.

We descended from a long line of Protestants who took religion seriously. Church work, prayer, and attendance at the three major church services every week were part of the family heritage, if not the genetic code. And we continued the pattern with even more fervor after that fateful day in July 1946.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 2

“Mold me and make me after Thy will”

There has been a longstanding joke in the South that every loving Southern Baptist parent prays that his children will grow up and become successful enough to join the Episcopal church. To the casual observer, my conversion to the Episcopal church certainly fit that paradigm.

After my father’s death, my mother took a crash course in shorthand and typing so she could get a job, worked to pay off the business debts associated with my father’s nascent Flight Training School, then put herself through college while rearing us three children.

Each of us, in turn, worked and earned scholarships to complete our college education. Eight months after graduation, I married my knight in shining armor and began to live the Great American Dream of Success and Happiness with him.

I had earnestly prayed that God would preserve me from the temptation of falling in love with a Catholic and was quite relieved when the man of my dreams turned out to be a fellow Southern Baptist from South Carolina. I gladly moved east, away from my family in Texas, and tried to become his perfect “help-meet.”

The most wonderful part was mothering our four children. No feminist has ever shown me any project that is more challenging, exhilarating, or rewarding than nurturing your own children. I relished every year of it. Of necessity, I had been a latchkey kid a whole generation before the term was invented. Every day that I had come home from school to an empty house, I swore that somehow, someway, I would be there for my own children.

Being a helpmeet also meant refinishing furniture, making curtains, cooking gourmet meals, befriending the neighbors, and volunteering to improve the community. As a couple, we eagerly participated in each church we joined, serving as Sunday School teachers, committee chairmen and prayer group leaders. As we moved “up the ladder” financially and socially, we also began to entertain more frequently and more lavishly.

I certainly thought of the many stylish parties we could have the first time I saw The House on Valley Road. Its elegance took my breath away. Architectural details like solid mahogany paneling in the library, Waterford chandeliers, triple solid brass hinges on every door, custom-milled windows and woodwork, and twelve foot ceilings were flourishes that I had never dared to dream of owning. As I mentally measured the rooms, I couldn’t help but contrast it with the houses of my youth, including the one-room shack that had lacked indoor plumbing.

I wanted it so much I could hardly relax until we paid our earnest money and signed a sales contract. Yet, I was afraid of my intense desire. On the morning of the closing I prayed that it would not become an idol to us and that God would use our family and our house to be a witness to him in the new community. In my arrogance, I somehow thought that God would be pleased that a family of sincere Christians lived in the most beautiful home in the county.

With the home came a move to another town and to the Episcopal Church. But it wasn’t just a desire for status or a chance to get to know the “movers and shakers” of the community better that drew me there. It was the liturgy.

After attending one service, I knew that this was what I wanted and had wanted for a long time without knowing what to ask for. The solemn procession, the skillfully written order of service, the music, the rituals, and the Eucharist transformed Sunday morning services into a divine appointment. It was as if I suddenly had permission to enjoy beauty for its own sake, that it was Godly, not frivolous. I had grown up relishing the earnest preaching from evangelicals. As an adult, I had reveled in the exuberance of a Pentecostal church. But here, in this service, I felt like I glimpsed heaven itself.

We took the Christian formation classes and quickly became leaders in the Episcopal parish, eventually serving in almost every possible capacity. I learned to appreciate the gentle discipline inherent in the church calendar. I gradually relaxed and began to value the theology. Instead of militantly being on guard to “promote the faith,” I learned to appreciate God’s mercy – and my own need to call upon God for mercy every day. We parishioners supported each other emotionally and spiritually while we fervently prayed for our church leaders to come in from left field and return to the basics of faith. In fact, when the media drumbeat reached a crescendo for the leadership in the Catholic Church to liberalize its views during John Paul II’s visit in 1993, we jocularly suggested among ourselves that perhaps all the liberal Catholics should join the Episcopal church and all of us conservative Episcopalians should become Catholic. Yet none of us made a move.

But my life in Camelot ended several years before World Youth Day in Denver.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Part 3

“Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!”

I groggily became aware of bright lights everywhere; slowly the three green clad figures came into focus. My surgeon walked over and asked, “Do you know what we had to do?”

I then noticed the burning circle where my right breast used to be. Yes, once again I knew the bad news without being told. Two more surgeries within the next nine weeks marked a second mastectomy and a failed reconstruction attempt. These were just punctuation marks in a list of tragedies that had plagued me for the last several years.

It had started Christmas of 1983 when my “knight” began to side with the dragon, instead of with our four children and me. We all tried to smooth out the tattered relationship, but a phone call from a stranger revealed the real problem, another woman.

Rather than angry confrontations, I went the self-improvement route – new diet, new clothes, new make-up, new hair-do, new attentiveness, new passion, and new marital counseling.

I’ve often said that if I were to write about that hapless period of my life, it would be, not a book, but a multi-volume soap opera where I was the embarrassed and unwilling star. Incident after troublesome incident piled up on an almost daily basis. First, I put my finger in the dike, then my whole body, until finally the dyke broke and I was swept away like flotsam and jetsam to a world with new realities and new rules.

I could frame my life in regular two year cycles for awhile: two years to try to save my marriage, two years to wait for a civil trial, two years to obtain the meager settlement allotted to me, two years to try to find a new pattern for living, two years to battle cancer and its financial burden without insurance. And even more years passed before I began to find a new place for myself in society.

In my experience everyone who gave his or her Christian testimony always came through any trial within a defined period of time and with at least some spiritual victory to claim at the end. But as the years rolled on, I could find neither an end nor a victory.

In God’s mercy, there is no time frame for the book of Job, so he became my closest friend as I read and re-read that book searching for some answer or some promise of resolution. Like Job, I felt rejected and accursed by God and I, too, enjoyed the comfort of well meaning friends.

Like Job, I frequently argued with God over the way He was treating one of His best (in my own somewhat arrogant eyes) friends. In frustration and anger I even threw pillows at the ceiling one night as I cried in bed. “Take that and that!” The whole scene seems so ludicrous now; I must have given all the heavenly hosts a really good laugh. I kept complaining that I couldn’t go on, that He demanded too much, that life wasn’t worth living. But I could not find a way out.

The worst part was the loss of my dreams. One day I was financially and socially secure, working toward apparently godly goals for my family and myself. Then I unwittingly found myself with no husband, no security, no place in society, no goals beyond mere survival, no beautiful home, and no hope. I couldn’t even find a real job to pay for groceries.

I considered my experience of rearing four children, running a complicated household, organizing charities, and creating charitable events as least as demanding as running a successful small business. But sixty-seven different employers who needed help refused to allow me to show them what a conscientious and intelligent worker I was. From 1986 to 1998, I could find only occasional odd jobs. In materialistic America therefore, I had no identity and no “raison d’ être.”

My friends got tired of bring sympathetic and I got tired of being plucky. Suffering is a scandal to us Americans. We are quite willing to help each other out if problems can be fixed fairly rapidly. But affliction over long periods of time frustrates us.

Tacitly, if not theologically, many American Protestants have adopted the idea that earthly success illustrates God’s favor. It’s not really suitable to actually be a victim or a failure unless, at some point, you emerge as a hero. Au contraire, a little sleight of hand, a little manipulation, a little winking of the eye is not only sometimes acceptable, it’s almost a proof of righteous intelligence. Surely those hapless victims deserve their fate somehow, while successful people have certainly earned whatever advantages they’ve managed to grab for themselves.

As the popular song suggests, we want to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again toward the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are allowed to stumble along the way, but we must become successful. As months of picking myself up stretched into years of dusting myself off and countless failures at starting all over again, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. How could I be such a failure when I tried so hard? I even wrote an essay describing my (and other rejected wives’) plight that won first place in a national professional writers contest. However, no one would publish it because there was no happy ending or resolution. I could not find the way out of the financial, social, and emotional morass for myself, much less describe the path for others.

The problem wasn’t just that I had suffered, but that it appeared so random, so useless and so meaningless. As Viktor Frankl wrote from a Nazi death camp:

Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain, but rather to see a

            meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to

            be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.

I didn’t learn any great spiritual nuggets of truth. Nor did I come to a great awakening to the need for repentance although my friends, enemies, and family no doubt would love to show me some blind spots that I should work on. My suffering certainly didn’t help proclaim the gospel. In fact, my experiences probably caused many to either doubt that God was loving and powerful or that I was really a Christian. There was no result to allow me to believe that any good whatsoever came out of it.