Saturday, January 25, 2014

for anyone who's had a bad hair day...

Do you ever have trouble believing that God really is in charge of everything?  Each detail of our lives is orchestrated by Him, His providence extends to every blade of grass and every hair on our heads… do you ever find that hard to swallow?

That not only does He hold galaxies in space which He flung there with the Word of His mouth, but He has the days of our lives planned down to the minute, and knows what each day will hold before we’re even born...

Sometimes I have trouble really believing this.  God knows this about me.  Which is why He gives me example after example in my own life (if I take the time to pay attention) of how closely He’s paying attention to the details...

Case in point: my latest haircut.

My hair had grown long.  I mean the kind of long where it’s not just split ends that are the problem.  It was to the stage where I couldn’t wear it down in any way that looked nice, it was too much hair to wear up, so it basically stayed in a low ponytail or French braid all. the. time.  (My last haircut was in New Zealand just before Ruby was born, and she’s 15 months old, so that tells you how long it’s been!)  

Why did I let it go this long, you ask?  

Well… (as any mother of young kids can attest) creating a window of daytime free from kids and house is a tremendous challenge.  And then so many other tantalizing activities beckon when I do get an hour of childcare arranged: shopping, exercising, writing, time with the Lord, time with a girlfriend, more shopping…

Also, I have yet to find someone in our area who can cut my hair the way I want.  (My husband is under the impression that this state of affairs actually extends to the boundaries of the known world, since every hair-cut I get, whether in the States, New Zealand or Central Asia, no matter how pricey or posh, leaves me feeling slightly disappointed...) 

All I really want - is this too much to ask? - is a basic layered cut, rounded on the bottom (NOT square on the sides or pointed in the middle), the shortest layer brushing my cheekbones, and the longest layer brushing my shoulders.  With these instructions given, I have received every sort of layered look you can imagine: from a posh square-cornered business-woman look you have to blow dry straight every morning with a round brush, to a choppy, sloppy bed-head look at its best after a week of no washing.

A year and a half ago here in Central Asia I got a haircut from a person on our street, recommended to me by several neighbor ladies (whose haircuts looked quite nice, by the way).  This guy did a fairly decent job the first time, other than leaving a sort of rat-tail in the bottom layer - which I did manage to fix at home, even though the placement of the rat-tail in the exact center of my back gave me a crick in my neck just trying to see it, let alone cut it… I really do not know how people manage to successfully cut their own hair. 

So, with my history of let-downs, I understandably cringe at the thought of getting my hair cut, and tend to take the easy way out (just don’t cut it) until I absolutely can’t stand it anymore.  

Well, last week, the stars finally aligned, and since I knew they wouldn’t stay aligned for long, I decided out of desperation to just go to the guy down the street again.  

So I tugged a hat over my long locks, and trudged down the street reviewing my choices for the word “layers” from the three languages we mix together every day.  The clearest word I know is the term for “stories” like on a building or a cake, which I’m not sure really gets the point across for hair.  (After every hair-cut I go home vowing to study more hair-cut words, but once the pressure is off I procrastinate and the learning urgency evaporates - until I’m en route to my next hair-cut, when I rue my laziness and my subsequently inadequate vocabulary…)

After waiting through two young blokes before me, it was finally my turn.  I sat down in the chair under the bare light bulb, submitted to a towel around my neck and the black super-hero cape around my shoulders, and watched as he began to snip off my dead ends.  I wasn’t sure how much to hope for.  I braced myself for the worst, while at the same time wistfully hoping that, against all odds, this would be the magic hair cut, the best I’d ever had...  

I was definitely not expecting what I ended up with: a sort of Russian shag-mullet, with a very short bushy top, longish pieces on the sides, and some very thinned stringy wisps on the bottom which still fell considerably past my shoulders. 

It was awful.  

I started sensing it was going to be awful when, after he finished trimming my ends (without really taking off any length), he picked up the entire top half of my hair, held it straight above my head, and chopped off about 4 inches at once.  

I kind of gasped… but he kept snipping away busily, and seemed to be going around again, so I didn’t say anything and continued hoping it wound’t be too bad.  Unfortunately, my hopes turned out to be unfounded...

It was just awful.

Still, at the place, I reserved judgment.  I did have some layers framing my face in the mirror, and I was pleased the length and weight were mostly gone.  He had been complimenting me on my hair as he snipped away (which would have been nice had he not been in the process of butchering it).  So I thanked him and paid him generously for his time, since it had taken over an hour.  

Then I came home.  I looked in the mirror by the front door, and… my hair looked like it had been hacked with a kitchen knife.  The layers were wildly spread - too short and bushy on top, too long and thin underneath, flat in the middle - and all the copious thinning and feathering made the ends stick out in all directions.  

I stubbornly stayed positive, kept my winter hat on, made pizza for dinner, and prayed it would look better after a shower in the morning and some scrunching with gel.

It didn’t.  The top fro-ed out around my head like a lion’s mane, and the feathery bottom layers clung to my shoulders like an 80’s mullet.  I did the best I could with a stretchy headband on top, but it needed three or four bobby pins to tie down all the sticky-outy ends, and when in desperation I braided the bottom, I actually had a legitimate rat-tail.  (Ugh!)

I had a good cry in front of the mirror (it didn’t help that I started my period in the middle of the night), put my hat back on again, and went to meet a friend for morning tea.  Thank God women everywhere can relate to bad hair days!  My friend was very sympathetic and encouraging, and we had a nice time wandering around the few shops in the center of her town...  

It was while in one of these shops, browsing amongst the usual junk (gaudy costume jewelry, chintzy purses, faux-leather wallets, Mardigras masks), that I found the headbands.  

Now, I am not a headband person.  Most are so tight they give me a headache, and I don’t really enjoy the way my high forehead tends to bulge and shine if I pull my hair straight back.  Thin headbands create dog-ears of hair on the sides which flop forward in a cocker-spaniel-esque way, and fat stretchy headbands tend to slide backwards off my head unless stabbed with bobby pins in multiple places, and then they leave a weird kink under the back of my hair.  

But the headbands I found that morning were none of those things.  They were broad, lightweight, loose and flexible when I stretched them.  Each was covered with a wider band of suede fabric in colors that were actually tasteful - black, muted brown, sky blue...  And they were only $1.50 each.  

I bought the brown one and the blue one, and walked out of the store feeling completely different.

It wasn’t just the headbands.  My hair didn’t look any different.  It was just that I had remembered:

God cares about things like bad hair days.  

Look!  On the very morning after my bad haircut, in a shop I’d never been in before, He planted tasteful, comfortable headbands in colors I actually wear.  (Those of you living near a Walmart might not be able to appreciate the rarity in this part of the world of discovering ANY clothing item or accessory with that combination of characteristics…)  

God did it.  

That’s the kind of God He is.  

The next day was Sunday, and after not washing my hair for a couple days, it had calmed down somewhat.  I wet it slightly in the shower, scrunched it with my fingers, added some gel and one of my new headbands, and - surprise, surprise - it actually looked halfway decent!  (Well, other than the fact that the bottom layers are still hopelessly thin and straggly, the back still has no body, and the overall shape still looks uncomfortably 80s-rock-star-esque...)

After living with my new look for several days now, I still cringe slightly when I glance in the mirror but I no longer feel like groaning or retching...

(OK - sigh I'm going to show you some photos, 
and I can hear you all say, "That's not so bad!"
Keep in mind, these are the "AFTER-I-figured-it-out-a-litle" pics…}

Why does hair matter so much to women?  God says it’s our glory, and that it’s given to us as a covering… in the context of Hebrew women, that meant modesty in a church setting, since women were required to cover their heads.  But I suppose in a broader sense, hair for women might be a symbol of our femininity?  

At a deep level, every woman longs to know she is beautiful.  I really believe a desire to be lovely is hardwired into the hearts of little girls from the time they’re born.

Take my daughter.  Whenever I have trouble doing her hair in the mornings, all I have to say is, “Daddy will think you are so beautiful!” and she sits still.  As soon as I’m finished, she toddles straight to Daddy and looks up at him with this hopeful, wistful expression on her little face.  He never fails to notice she’s had her hair done, and says, “Oh, Ruby, you look so beautiful today!”  And she preens and smiles and touches her hair gently, and rubs her hand down her shirt, and looks back up at him and beams and shows her dimple.  She positively blossoms under his praise.  

Girls need to know they’re beautiful.  

And - guess what?  The God Who created us that way cares about the details of our lives.  The God who makes no two blades of grass or snowflakes alike cares about whether or not I like my haircut!  

He knows how limited this context is that He’s put me in, how few options I have here for looking beautiful.  He knows I still want to look nice and feel pretty.  

And even though He let me get the worst haircut I’ve ever had, the next day He handed me two perfect accessories and said, 

“See?  I haven’t forgotten about you.  And don’t forget - hair does grow, you know

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? 

And not one of them is forgotten before God. 

Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 

Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows!”

(photo credits: William Broughton, age 6)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

of cranberry bread, water pressure, and staying Connected...

I scrape the bowl and empty the last of the batter into the loaf pans.  Gathering the baking stuff together, I stack whisk and cups in the mixing bowl and turn the tap on, angling the handle to “warm”.  A weak stream trickles out of the faucet, then dies away into nothing.  

It’s been one of those days.

You know?  One of those cranky days when you stay up too late so you get up too late, so you don’t make the time to sit quietly with Jesus in the morning, so your temper’s frayed and your mind is tangled, and every little molehill looks like a mountain...  

You know?

I’m finally baking cranberry bread.  I’ve been putting it off because cranberries are worth their weight in gold, and after Christmas passed with me somehow not using them, a suitably special occasion just has not seemed to appear.

Today’s the day.  Who cares if it’s not an occasion?  This cranky day needs cranberry bread.

Full loaf pans safely in the oven, timer set, utensils in the sink, I stare at the trickle of water.  And I remember.

I slow to a trickle when I’m not connected to the Source.  My energy flow dies away to nothing when I’m not positioned under the Waterfall.  

I turn the faucet off, swivel the handle into the middle, pull it on again, and the pump whirrs to life in the basement.  Water surges from the tap, spraying everything in the sink.  

I watch the thickened stream, the water flowing with increased power.  And I acknowledge: 

The scent of baking bread slowly fills the house, and I inwardly reconnect to the Source of Life and Strength.

Maybe the second half of this day will flow more peacefully?

Friday, January 10, 2014

first lessons in listening: a letter to myself

{My One Word for 2014 is starting off with a wham!  Today I’m sharing two insights from my first week of active listening.  I’m also joining up with The Grove over at Velvet Ashes on the prompt “A Letter to Self” - making this essay a letter to the parts of me that stand in the way of living out the word “listen”…}

Dear me,

I know you love reading other people’s words, and I know you just bought Lisa McKay’s riveting page-turner of a memoir, and it. is. so. good.  You’ve had your Kindle stuck to your face all afternoon, letting kids and house go unheeded.  

I also know that when you’re enjoying something, you have this incurable and nearly unstoppable desire to share your joy with someone - anyone, really, who’s breathing and within earshot.  Today the hapless recipient happened to be your sweet, patient husband - who, just because he was in the same room, was subjected to long chunks of Love at the Speed of Email...  

Now, here’s Listening Realization #1: At the few excerpts that did spark some conversation, you had to consciously stop yourself from cutting him off barely one sentence into his comment, because you were so eager to share your own insight or opinion.  (Ouch!)  You missed what could have turned into a valuable opportunity to discover something new about your husband (quite possibly the most important person in your life), because you were so caught up in the pleasure of sharing.  

Instead of listening to him, you made him your listener.  Shouldn’t it have been the other way round?

You know, my dear, the saddest part was that he never commented on your behavior and doesn’t even seem put out - the way you would certainly feel if someone had bent your ear for paragraphs and then not paused to let you react or comment!  Doesn’t this fact make you uncomfortably aware that you probably do this often, so much that he’s become used to it?  And… doesn’t that make you a bit sad?

Well, good thing you’ve only been living your word for one week!  Good thing you still have 51 weeks to go, and good thing realization is the first step towards change!

Moving on to Realization #2… 

After dinner, you were about to pick up your Kindle again (leaving the dishes in the sink), and I know you distinctly heard the Holy Spirit say, Put down your book and focus on your daughter until bedtime.  

Now, here’s the scary thing: you actually found yourself seriously considering ignoring Him.  No joke.  I was there, remember?  You even checked your phone to see how long there was until bedtime, thinking frantically, If it’s half an hour, I just can’t wait that long… and you actually felt relieved when you discovered there were only ten minutes left until jammy-time!  

In those next ten minutes, while you dutifully played with your sweet, adorable daughter, you felt the urge to pick up your Kindle no less than three times, and each time (thankfully!) came the Holy Spirit’s counter-command: Resist.  Don’t touch it.  Follow through.  

With diaper on, sleeper zipped and teeth brushed, you sent her toddling off to bestow goodnight kisses on the three men in her life.  And while she was gone you actually found yourself back in her room, picking up your Kindle - almost unconsciously.  (You carried it in there with you to put on her jammies - why in the world?  You weren’t seriously thinking you could read and wipe her bottom at the same time, were you?)

When she came back from giving kisses, she wanted to play peekaboo, a game which she loves and which you hadn’t played all day.  You indulged her for all of about 5 peekaboos and then you scooped her up and sat down in the rocking chair for story-time, still thinking of your book.  

It wasn’t until you had been watching her push buttons up and down one of her board books for a minute or two that a “random” thought pushed its way into your brain: My husband told me three days ago that the father of one of my childhood friends is dying.  

And during the excitement of New Year’s, you realized you had forgotten to follow up.  

It took those scant twenty minutes away from your Kindle to create that little bit of distance necessary to “de-book” your thoughts enough for you to hear clearly.  

You knew it was the Holy Spirit pricking your God-given conscience after dinner to focus on her.  And yet you seriously considered not doing what you knew was the right thing - what God Himself told you to do - in favor of feeding your insatiable appetite for a good story!  Does that scare you? Because it scares me a little.

Just listening isn’t enough, you know.  You are responsible for your response to what you hear. 

And, allowing yourself to get so wrapped up in Lisa's story drove everything else out of your head, including the fact that God wanted to remind you to connect with your friend and ask about her father. 

Now, don’t get me wrong - reading books is all well and good.  In fact, it’s one of the healthiest things you can do for your mind - in moderation.  But if the voice of a book - even a great book - drowns out God’s still small voice, it has become an idol.  

You can’t hear what’s truly important if your ears are too full of other voices.  

So, self!  Welcome to this new year!  Looks like it’s going to be a year of transparency, clarity and a lot of honest reflection.  Hopefully your ears will surprise you with their ability to pick up things you may have missed, tune in to the quieter voices, and pay close attention to that Still Small Voice that has all the comfort and direction you need…

Keep listening, Carolyn!



{If you haven't figured it out, I highly recommend Lisa McKay's memoir Love at the Speed of Email Once I started, I couldn't put it down for two days until I finished, it was that good.  I think you will especially resonate with LIsa if you're currently living overseas or have in the past, but her writing is so down to earth that any reader will enjoy her succinct, funny, poignant descriptions of traveling, cross-cultural adjustment, reverse culture shock, long-distance relationships, and the ultimate question everyone faces eventually - how to define "home"?  And no, no one paid me to write this review!}

Thursday, January 2, 2014

one word for 2014…

Snuggling under a cuddly blanket, I’m savoring my mid-afternoon patch of “renewal”… I’ve read my snatch of devotional, eaten three squares of dark chocolate, and had my eyes closed now for about ten minutes.  

A familiar word starts to throb quietly in my brain.  

It’s become familiar word over these last two months of 2013.  I’ve heard it whispered in my heart on the way to a conversation, before picking up a book, before stepping out the door.

Now it swells to an urgency under my breastbone, an ache in my chest.  



I obey.  Snuggled under the blanket, I let my thoughts slow, still.   I listen with my ears, with my heart.  

The hum of the furnace in the basement.  The soft rustle of my own breathing.  The ringing sound of silence.  The beat of my own heart.  List-en.  List-en.  

This moment swells into the continuous Now.  

He’s here.  It’s His voice breathing “Listen!” in a stage whisper.  It’s His urgency I feel - He doesn’t want me to miss something.

Miss what? I ask, burrowing further under my blanket, further into the widening moment.  Miss what, Lord?

Miss this.  Here.  Now. 

Miss Me.  

I almost did.  I almost had chocolate, inspirational words, cuddly blanket, and doze… and no Jesus.

But He’s hereHe's here.  And now my blanket, chocolate, words and rest are more than just a weary mother’s reward - they are His actual arms wrapped around me.  

Gratefulness swells.  

Listen.  I have so much more to show you.  There’s so much for you to learn.  Keep listening.  Stay close.  Don’t miss it.  

My one word for 2014 is… you guessed it - listen.  

Jesus is inviting me to listen to Him deeply, quietly, consistently, through each moment of each day.

He’s also inviting me to listen to people - His children, His art - in new, deeper, honest, sensitive ways.  

He’s promising me I will deeply enjoy Him, deeply enjoy people, and deeply enjoy being me if I simply take the time to… listen.  

The Scripture He’s giving me for 2014 is a promise I’m revisiting after 10 years.  In the spring of 2004, at the end of my first year overseas, my loving mentor, Patty, gave me this verse in a note written in graceful script on pale green paper.  Through her words of encouragement, I felt Jesus wrap His arms around me as I headed into my next challenging season.

Now, I sense Him re-gifting this promise to me again for 2014, even more directly this time:

“The Lord God has given me  
the tongue of those who are taught, 
that I may know how to sustain with a word  
him who is weary. 
Morning by morning he awakens,   
he awakens my ear   
to hear as those who are taught.” 

Isaiah 50:4

In this promise, I see His gift to me - the tongue of those who are taught.  I do have a tongue (that's for sure!), but... "one who is taught” implies a Teacher - and God is offering Himself!

I can see the why of the gift - in order to know how to sustain the weary with a word.  This is already the desire of my heart: to come alongside, to bear with, to feel with, and to bring others with me to the Source of soul-rest.  

Most importantly, I can see the how - how I am to receive this gift, how I am to be taught: listen.  Morning by morning, God promises to be my alarm clock, awakening my ear to listen and to learn.  Good thing, because I am not a morning person!  But once I’m up, I love the stillness of the house, and the quiet thrum of expectation that stirs in my heart.  And when I miss a morning - usually due to lack of self-control to go to bed the night before! - I crave that deep connection time with Him I’ve forfeited.

So.  That’s my word...  

What’s yours?