A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: beauty (page 1 of 2)

Shadows, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the Inside-out Life

inner life inside out smallerAllow me to briefly refer to a bad movie, if you would. After all, that’s what makes for a great Thursday.

Remember Shallow Hal (2001), with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow? Tacky as it was, the idea of the movie is actually sheer genius. Hal, a total womanizer (this is not the genius part), disregards any woman outside of the “knockout” category. That is, until a spell is cast upon him. Within the spell, women’s inner beauty–or lack thereof–manifests as outer beauty. Hal falls hard for a woman who, to him, looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. To the rest of the world, she’s woefully obese. Hal can’t figure out why she’s treated with such disdain; why no one can see how he’s won the jackpot. She’s unspeakably kind and physically dazzling.

What I like about an otherwise dumb movie: What if the portion others see of us misleads and distracts from our actual selves?

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Guest Post: A Fast for Your House: The Surprising Treasures of Simplicity

I always learn something from my friend Monica.

She learned to read and write in the last decade or so, when she moved to Kampala from her village in northern Uganda. But despite my college education, she has a lot to teach me.

When I visited her shared compound on Saturday, she couldn’t wait to show me inside her house. I had to comply looking into the toothy ivory grin parting that smooth, ebony face. And when I entered, I understood why.

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Finding God in the Hot Wheels: Circling the Grace in Motherhood

My seven-and-a-half year old sat near me as I typed quietly yesterday. His Hot Wheels were performing gravity-defying stunts; he rather violently hummed the Cars 2 theme song, replete with adrenaline-loaded sound effects, of course–over and over. And over. I almost quietly asked him to please desist. But then–I realized my Hot-Wheels-overlaid-with-Cars-2-soundtrack days are kind of winding down. (Sniff.)

Keep hummin’, buddy.

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The Next Great Love Story

I was eighteen, it was February, and we were all headed on a road trip that weekend to a mutual friend’s house. I’ve wondered what God thought of that day, if perhaps He was rubbing His hands together with glee. The stage was set, everything immaculately timed.

In my memory, the young man was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki shorts. His hair was longer then, curly. Upon request, he prayed for our safe travel before we left. We all left for Oklahoma City and I climbed in behind the passenger’s seat of his car. I confess the thought may have flitted through my mind that his car was a little girly. That was before I knew he paid for it and maintained it himself, and before I’d ride around in it for the next five years, happy as a clam to be in his passenger’s seat.

That day, February 5, 1999, was the day I met the love of my life. If God would’ve tapped me on the shoulder—Hey, that guy over there? Yeah. That one. You two are going to have four kids, live in Africa. He’s the kind of best friend and man you couldn’t even imagine yourself having.

Like I said. I wonder if God just sat back and soaked in the love story He’d cooked up.

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“As a bow to the violin”: FREE printable chalkboard art

Today’s quotable is from Frank Laubach (1884-1970), missionary to the Philippines. Laubach is estimated to have been responsible for teaching half of the 90,000 people in his area to read and write, and to have reached out to the Mohammedan Moros, who regarded the Christian Filipinos as enemies.  Laubach wrote in the new year of 1930,

It is exactly that “moment by moment” every waking moment, surrender, responsiveness, obedience, sensitiveness, pliability, “lost in His love,” that I now have the mind-bent to explore with all my might. It means two burning passions: First, to be like Jesus. Second, to respond to God as a violin responds to the bow of the Master.* (emphasis added)

I’m including a free chalkboard printable of this last portion, in hopes that in 2017, our lives will reflect that sort of staggering beauty from His hand. Happy New Year, friends!


*As quoted in Foster, Richard J. ad James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups: A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal. New York: HarperCollins (1993), pp. 101, 105.

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Prayer in a Broken Christmas

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like I was walking against the wind so much of the day: straining uphill, my too-thin sweater tugged around me as I grimaced, head down. As my husband and I lifted down plates for dinner, I recounted the parts that made me want to tear my hair out. (Or maybe a small tuft of my children’s. …Joking.) In the course of things, I did remember some good points. Somehow, as I relayed them, they grew a little. I tucked my head with a smile.

He put his hands on my shoulder, leveled his hazel eyes with my blue ones. “I want you to know,” he said, “that you are incredibly blessed.”

Somehow, those words triggered that out-of-body sort of viewpoint I needed, to survey my life not from the perspective of loss, but of gain. Of beauty. Incredibly blessed?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I am.

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A Body Good: Naked Truth about Body Image

One of the sadder effects of my time back in the United States is my subtle and instantaneous body-consciousness. (This is not a cultural diatribe; I’ve got body issues.) Unpacking my jeans in the cheap hotel we checked into after flying in, I remarked to my husband, “Why is it that I just feel like I’ve gained 25 pounds?”

He shrugged. “Maybe because it’s so easy to gain 25 pounds while we’re here?”

Later I realized—nope. It’s because instantly—I must sheepishly admit image rises in priority in my mind. Yes, I am inundated with marketing, much containing women both airbrushed and well-paid to look both stunning and underweight. But, as I was recently reminded by my sister’s post, even the time to focus on image, or to work out, is a sign of all the excess I enjoy. Which means that in Africa, I have been fasting a bit from this fixation on modern instruction in beauty. It also means that the geometric shapes of my body are a little more appreciated.

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Give us this day: On bread and other minor miracles

The landscapes of my childhood are so different from those I view through my artfully barred windows. Instead of the lush, rolling hills carpeted with banana trees—Lake Victoria a slice of silver peeking from the top—our farmhouse rested in the center of miles of Midwestern fields, flat as a sheet of green construction paper. Though spread with a dull gray in winter, I can still hear the rustling of summer’s emerald cornstalks when I close my eyes.

One similarity I love about life in Uganda and life in central Illinois is the proximity to life cycles. From my mom’s garden with its rhubarb and asparagus and frothy heads of broccoli, to the ten chickens I presently have slaughtered about every six weeks for our family’s sustenance, there is something simple and good—something sobering—about seasons. About not simply grabbing my bag of chicken breasts from the price club freezer, but making a few portions smaller. Because actually, something else will need to die when our little family requires—requests?—more.

And this is what I have been thinking lately: That “give us our daily bread” is perhaps more evident when I am not merely sliding the cellophane off a perfectly shaped loaf from the store, which I picked up and gently tossed on that little shelf in my cart.


Author Christa Parrish (one of my current favorites), in her novel Stones for Bread, helped me to wrap my mind around the intense labor poured into a single loaf of bread. Historically, bread involved not only the typical rigorous farming efforts of plowing, watering, scything. As a farmer’s daughter myself, I know too well that hopeful gaze at the sky for rain (the drought of ’88 is still seared in my memory), or the prayers for rain to stop, for frost to hold off. And that’s modern farming. I wasn’t threshing wheat, or  hunched over a stone, grinding our flour, hauling water from a river, or carefully laying a fire and stoking it.

Even now, the loaf landing neatly sliced on my table is actually the result of a number of highly complex activities begun months ago—years, if you consider the tending of the soil, the inventions of labor-saving machinery, the investments of the farmers in equipment and otherwise. God’s also arranged the arrival of electricity to the kitchen or a mechanic; the provision of fuel for the delivery truck, of marketing and human resource personnel to make sure there’s a company existing for this very purpose.

Daily bread in my mind has come to stand for what I need; what my body requires to sustain itself in this day. I ask for “daily bread” in my ability to thoughtfully and graciously parent and, say, not become the Incredible Hulk when my child launches something destructive over the stair railing. I need daily bread for the energy from my feet hitting the concrete floor in the morning to the time I tuck them (much dirtier now) beneath the blue coolness of the sheets at night. I repeatedly request wisdom for this blog, actually; I still liken that to waiting for manna, trusting God will reveal something of Himself to me that might be something I can share with you.

Daily bread, in all respects, then, is requesting not just soft, crusty slices on my children’s plates. It is an entire series of elaborate orchestrations God conducts to simply meet the need that sometimes, like a Pop Tart, simply arrives in my hand unceremoniously and just as quickly. When I worked in publishing, this included selling a number of books for me to keep my job and receive a paycheck. Here in Africa, it means God providing for a number of financial supporters (whom I steadfastly adore) who generously remember to sign up for automatic withdrawal or stick a check in the mail; generously sacrifice month after month after year. And this is on top of all the actions it took simply to make my bread from people around the world. (I generally eat around three times a day.)

I have thought often of Gandhi’s quote since moving to Africa: There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. Now, there are so many gifts of grace required for bread, I may just see God all over bread itself.

Perhaps it’s also amazing that, thirty-five years into this, I at times struggle with unbelief in his intimate, intricate care for me.

Give us this day our daily bread is coming to mean for me a far greater trust in minute miracles, in which God sustains all the living beings looking to His hand–loaf after loaf.


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Why Cook? The eternal aspects of food (er, beyond Twinkies)

When God packs your lunch

Barley, Love, and Blogging (Or, another small lesson from a 3,300 year-old-woman)

Yeah, but does God so love individuals? (As in, me?)



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Guest post: What’s in a Name?

It was my freshman year of college. I stood nestled in our college choir with the second-altos, clad in a uniform dress that somehow carried the ability to transform my appearance into that of a black olive. The first few notes of the piano introduction were lilting over the auditorium, in our first number after the break: Jesu, Dulcis Memoria. Jesus, sweet memory.

But as the notes softly vibrated, a member of the crowd, we found out, had been seizing. What I did not anticipate was that, as the word Jesu slipped out of our mouths, the seizure would cease.

I’m sure that some could call it superstitious or unfounded to correlate the two. And I’m willing to admit there are other explanations. And yet—I’m fascinated by stories like this in Scripture: God’s power in Elijah’s bones; in Jesus’ coat; in Peter’s shadow.

I posted recently on this idea, at Ever Thine Home’s blog (with Barbara Rainey of FamilyLife): The Power of a Name. Hop on over and check it out!

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The Thing between Us

What if some good friend asked you, What’s that thing that most comes often between you guys in your marriage? You know, from your side of things.

What would it be?


Every relationship, I think, has one: that Thing that occasionally threatens to overcome what you were sure was stronger than death. Sometimes I think it’s like hugging someone with an arm stuck between, the elbow digging into both of your ribs; awkwardly, painfully.

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