The world cancels you; Zion forgives you

Zion allows for mistakes, for changes of hearts, for new understanding.
Zion promotes growth.

The world, however, doesn’t tolerate your past, or your “old” heart, or your immature understanding.
The world promotes “cancel culture.”

Zion believes in forgiveness and second chances, and third chances, and fiftieth chances.
The world wants to banish you. One strike and you’re out. Erased even, if possible.

The problem with this harsh judgment is that not even the world can live up to its unrealistic judgments. So it changes the standards, again and again, to meet their behaviors, but not to accommodate those who suddenly find themselves judged by yet a new standard which didn’t exist a decade ago, or even a week ago.

I don’t think they’ve recently consulted Matthew 7:2.

For with what ajudgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what bmeasure ye mete, it shall be cmeasured to you again.

Zion’s standard never changes: a people living with one heart, one mind, sharing all they have, caring for each other, and–most importantly–forgiving each other when they fail.

That’s Christ’s way. He suffered for all of us to give us second chances. And third chances. And even a thousand chances. As long as we keep trying, He keeps forgiving us.

Christ will never cancel us.

Let’s build Zion so He can live among us and teach us how to be more like Him. #BuildZion

If I’m doing the wrong thing, TELL ME!

English was my mother’s second language, and she had a good command of it except for one word: she pronounced “crazy” as if it began with a g—“grazy.”

As a teenager, that drove me grazy-crazy, and finally one day I told her that.

“What?!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been saying it wrong all these years, and NO ONE TOLD ME?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” I said meekly.

“But I sounded like a fool in the meantime and looked like an idiot. You should have told me sooner!”

I’ve thought of her anger and humiliation (she was studying Shakespeare at the time, just for fun, and usually beat me in Scrabble) and realized that I didn’t do her any favors by not correcting her errors.

I’ve seen a spate of postings and blogs lately about “loving” people and not correcting them when they stumble, because that’s “judging.”

Love=good.

Judging=bad.

But what about correction?

When a child writes the letters in their name backwards, or a teen driver crosses the double yellow line, or they punch in 10 minutes instead of 1 minute on the microwave, we CORRECT them: show them the mistake and help them fix it. That’s not judging or condemnation or shaming. That’s HELPING them get things right.

If ever I’m on the wrong track with something—an idea, a philosophy, a belief—please, TELL ME!

Don’t let me wander off some literal or proverbial cliff because you’re worried about “offending me.” Maybe you’re wrong, maybe I’m wrong, but let’s get it figured out.

People are quick to pull out the “God loves me anyway” argument, in all its various forms, but conveniently forget this in Proverbs 3:

11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:

12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

Love=correction.

Here’s love in action:

Young Pere said to his grandmother, “How about, you love me enough to let me go?”

Mahrree stared at him before saying, slowly, “If I love you enough, I will allow you to do something that I believe is potentially damaging to your soul?”

“Yes.”

“Young Pere, you were more logical when you were eight! What kind of nonsense is that? If you love me enough. I love you enough! I love you so much that I’ll refuse to let you do such a thing without a better reason, even if you throw a fit and declare you’ll never speak to me again! That’s how much I love you, you ridiculous boy.” (Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon)

Friends and family, love me enough to tell me when you think I’m making a mistake. Correct me, even if you think it may offend me.
How else will I know what the right thing is to do?

Because I want to avoid this:

Mahrree was worried about whose side she was really on. The only way someone could be “surprised” would be because they were sure they were on the Creator’s side, but weren’t.

What if they were already on the wrong side and didn’t recognize it?  (Book 2, Soldier at the Door)

By this same token, be warned that I will tell you if I think you’re doing the wrong thing.
You may become offended, that’s fine with me.
You may unfriend me. Again, that’s ok.
But I love you enough to tell you the hard truth, as I see it, to correct you if I worry you’re heading down the wrong lane.

I may be wrong (it’s happened quite frequently), but know that I will speak up because I don’t want you making bad choices, and I expect you to do the same for me.

I don’t want any of us to go grazy.

Book 5 teaser–Refuse to see the shining light

High Polish Tatra mountains

They will also refuse to acknowledge the darkness, even as they crash around blindly. 

The ancient Israelite prophet Isaiah wrote:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

I can’t bear to list all the ways the world is spinning in the dark right now (Obama’s recent declaration that all restrooms and locker rooms–even and especially in public schools–be “gender neutral” has me too nauseated to write about it).

However, even though our governments and our so-called leaders may be waaaay off the mark on many issues, we as individuals don’t need to follow. We each have our ability to think, to ponder, to declare that we will continue to see the light, that we will recognize the darkness, and that we will not–no matter how many times everyone tells us otherwise–we will NOT see that the sky is merely blue.

Take a good, hard look at it. Today, the tiny section I see out my window is blue, but when I get up and view the entire sky, in the distance there are huge clouds, billowing and approaching.

See the entire sky, and the entire world, for what it really is. Identify the light. Recognize the darkness, and don’t let anyone with power, or money, or charisma convince you that you see otherwise.

Three years ago I wrote about the strange habit we have of thinking that “the sky is blue.”

It isn’t.

My first book, The Forest at the Edge of the World makes the argument that while everyone thinks the sky is blue, that’s only an illusion. It’s actually black. (So quit telling your kids it’s blue.)

We have to be brave enough to take a good, hard look at the world, and to make a judgment about what we see. Oh, how we’re so afraid to do that! We’re so afraid of offending the world that cares nothing for us. In the meantime, we offend our Heavenly Father, who truly loves us.

We need to not be afraid to declare, “No, this is wrong. I will not agree, I will not give in, and I will not refuse to see the light.”

I won’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions for going against the world. You will be knocked down, likely not by some high government official, but probably by your social media “friends.” I’ve taken to hiding in my closet on a regular basis when I, once again, write up something that, as the comments and railings pour in, I regret . . . but only for a moment. Every time I think, “Oh, why did I put that out there? Look at the conflict it’s generating! I hate that!”

I hate fighting. I hate arguing. I hate thinking that people don’t like me. (I’m such a 7th grader sometimes.)

But I hate more seeing the good in the world being labeled as evil, the bitter replacing the sweet, the darkness trying to smother the light.

Here’s the great thing about our world right now: all of us can find a forum where we can stand up and declare where the light really is, and what the dark’s trying to do. Most of us won’t shine too brightly. I know I’ve personally got the illuminating power of a penlight on aging batteries, but that’s ok. I borrow strength from the many brave bloggers and writers and religious leaders of many faiths who boldly shine their brighter lights on the darkness.

And here’s the awesome thing: light, shining together, gets brighter together.

And here’s the even more awesome thing: it takes only one light to dispel absolute darkness.

Parenthood, summed up in one horrible bathroom incident

My four-year-old is my youngest of nine children. You’d think that after 25 years of being a mom, I’d be an expert, but you’re never an expert, I’ve decided.

Especially when it comes to potty-training.

With our first child, I took the excellent advice to “not rush it.” This was the early 90s when having your barely-know-how-to-walk one-year-old potty trained was the rage.

It was actually the mom who was trained, to rush her tiny charge to the bathroom every two hours and plop the toddler on the toilet with great hope. Never being that disciplined, I instead encouraged and suggested, and finally had a trained daughter when she was three.

I followed that same laissez faire approach with my other kids, too, but my sons took a bit longer.

Ohhh . . . my sons and potty training.

Boys are the worst, and I have five of them.

I won’t name names, but one son had a propensity for “forgetting,” and he was well into preschool age before accidents weren’t a weekly—or daily—affair.

Another son would, in a half-asleep stupor, mistake his closet for the bathroom every night. It took us weeks to figure out where the smell was coming from, and why. Once we did, we had to replace the carpet and pad in there, along with a few toys.

Another son simply refused to use the toilet, afraid of it. One of his first public potty encounters was with a toilet which automatically, and noisily, flushed itself. He was sure that all toilets were ready to swallow him whole.

Another child was perfectly easy to potty train, leaving me to believe I’d finally figured things out and was a fantastic mother.

Nope. He was just an easy kid.

And we’re not going to talk about the years of bed wetting. Which were years. (I wept with joy when Febreeze was invented.)

So when it came to potty training Boy #5, I didn’t have any illusions that I knew how to do it within 48 hours, or tear-free, or bribery-free. We just went for it.

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(We’ll allow #5 to retain his dignity and remain anonymous.)

(If you’re a bit squeamish, perhaps you don’t want to continue reading. But if you’re a parent, none of this will be new to you.)

Fortunately #5 had no problem with #1. Watching his older brothers (who were happy to show off their skills) encouraged him that he wanted to be as big as the teenagers he adored.

It’s #2 that’s been the horror.

He won’t do it on a toilet. We don’t know why. It’s not as if toddlers are good at articulating their reticence about certain activities.

We started trying waaaay back before his third birthday, and while he’s been an expert at shooting the water for over a year (we won’t discuss aim, which even my bigger boys seem to struggle with until they leave high school), the idea of sitting and plopping was a no-go.

Instead, he grabs a pull-up, puts it on himself, hides in the privacy of his bedroom, then comes out ten minutes later with a coy smile and says to me sweetly, “Mommy? Can you please change me? I love you.” Batting his lashes is the crowning touch.

“But I don’t love doing this,” I tell him each time he assumes the position and I pull out the baby wipes.

“Yes, you do. Because you love me. But don’t tell Daddy I do this.”

It always makes me feel dirty when he says that. But Daddy knows.

Daddy frowns at Pull-up Boy, and promises greater things, like setting off smoke bombs or exploding fireworks tanks, if #5 puts #2 in the potty.

We had success after Christmas, when we promised him a shiny new fire engine that makes noise if he went. (Go ahead, judge me for bribing my child. I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore.)

He did it once, and we immediately took him to Walmart, and he loved his fire engine . . . and he never went #2 again because he got his reward.

I hate it when the kids are cleverer than me.

But yesterday, something changed.

I was in the kitchen making dinner when suddenly my 4-year-old stood there, beaming. The fact that he wore only a t-shirt, and nothing below, gave me a hint as to what he was going to exclaim.

“Mom! Mom! I did it! I put stinkies in the potty!”

“Really?!” I don’t know who was happier.

“Come see!” and he took off running to the bathroom.

That’s when I realized that not all of the stinky got into the toilet. A lot of it was smeared down the back of his legs.

As a parent, there are times that you brace yourself for what you’re about to find, and you recite in your head, No matter what, I’ll be cheerful. No matter what, I’ll be cheerful . . .

When I arrived at the bathroom, the story was waiting for me.

First were his pants and underwear, tossed on my bedroom floor as if he were in a hurry.

Then, the pull-ups, left sadly next to the door, because there wasn’t enough time.

Then . . .

The bathroom.

I steeled myself, because sometimes, no matter how often you tackle a mess, it’s shocking when you first encounter it.

But #5 stood next to the toilet, beaming in joy. “Look! Some of it got in!”

It did, along with half a roll of toilet paper.

The rest was on the seat, the floor, and the bath mat.

Boys struggle with having two outlets, and sometimes they don’t have full control of either. My son stood in a yellow puddle, grinning madly.

There was only one option for me as his mother.

“I’m so proud of you!” I cheered and clapped.

Full of praise and happiness, I suggested we finish wiping him up, waist to toe, and I sent him to tell his siblings the good news so I could tidy up the bathroom.

That’s where my 15-year-old found me a few minutes later. “He actually went stinky in the toilet? Whoa . . .” and he backed up when he saw how I straddled one mess to wipe up another. “I was about to say, Bet you’re glad he didn’t give you a mess in a pull-up, but—”

“But say nothing to him,” I warned Big Brother. “This is a huge step for him—”

You’ll have to take a few huge steps just to get out of there—”

I pointed at him. “The mess isn’t important,” I said. “Nor is it important that I had to use five baby wipes on him, and that I’ll use about a dozen Clorox wipes in here. What’s important is that he finally did something hard for him. We cheer and praise, and clean up the mess quietly later, without making him feel anything but joy for his accomplishment, which has been years in the making.”

And that, I realized, summed up parenthood.

Along with this request to Big Brother, “And bring me another trash bag, please.”

Oh yes, being their mother was by far the most difficult work she’d ever undertaken. And it also was, by far, the most satisfying. At the end of the day she knew she’d accomplished an enormous amount of work, even if the house looked as messy as it had in the morning. But at this point of her life, messy meant success. Things happened.

~Book 2, Soldier at the Door

Not a midlife crisis–just black licorice on quinoa

No, I wasn’t having a midlife crisis.

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Someone in my church asked me to do this. Really. Ok, not dress exactly like this, but as something “unrecognizable.”

It’s a group activity called “Where’s Waldo,” and ten adults from our church group (called a ward) were asked to dress up and hang out in the local Walmart while groups of our youth, ages 12-18, with their leaders, found us. I was instructed to “really get into the part,” so I dressed up as best as I could, put on make-up I’d never used before, and since I don’t own jewelry, made up my own goth look with paperclips. (I’ve seen safety pins used in piercing, so I wasn’t that far off, right?)

Then I drove to Walmart, and as I pulled in to the parking lot, I laughed out loud. “Wait—I have to WALK into the store like this! Someone’s going to take my picture and put it up on that website that makes fun of Walmart shoppers.” At least no one would know who I was, because I kept my glasses off. (Worked for Clark Kent, too.)

But my 17-year-old daughter had said, while I was preparing for my big acting scene, “You have to change your walk, too. You have a ‘Trish Mercer’ walk that’s kind of distinctive.”

“It’s because my mom used to make me practice walking with books on my head when I was your age. Victorian England, but in 1980s Utah.”

So as I parked my minivan, I practiced my scowl. As I headed into the store I traipsed, slouched, then finally sauntered in, moving like a sophisticated zombie as I got into my part.

0209161829Grabbing a cart, I headed to the back of the store and loaded it up with Coca Cola Zero, because it was in dramatic black boxes, which matched my dramatic black clothing, and my son’s dramatic dark gray trench coat. I also picked up a tribute magazine to David Bowie, then ‘hung out’ in the bakery department to read it.

And waited.

An adult from my ward was to come by with slips of paper that I’d give to the teams of teens. The kids had to ask me, “Are you a Waldo?” then I’d give them a ticket as proof they’d found me. After they had ten tickets, they were to race back to the church (adult leaders were driving, thank goodness) to see who got their first.

But no one came by, and the stray thought went through my head, What if this was just a set-up to get me to dress up bizarrely and make the rest of the shoppers nervous?

Because by this point, I’d noticed—even without my glasses—that carts would approach, hesitate, then turn or take a circuitous route around me. I felt badly about that, because I’m usually a cheerful shopper, smiling at others and saying “excuse me.”

But not last night. I could feel the darkness of my clothing, the drama of my makeup, and the pinching of the paperclips on my earlobes. Altogether, that meant I wore a perpetual scowl.

I felt terrible that the way I dressed and presented myself made others feel uncomfortable, and maybe even threatened. (But not terrible enough to quit.)

So I tried to ignore everyone else as I thumbed through the tribute to David Bowie, reading about his wild early years which I felt I was living right then. That’s when my cell phone rang. It was my neighbor Elise, also in the store dressed up (whew—wasn’t a set-up) asking if I was there yet. “Yep, hanging out in the bakery department, like I’m supposed to.”

She chuckled. “Well, Cindy’s been looking for you. I’ll send her over again.” A few minutes later Cindy approached me nervously, until her eyes lit up. “Holy cow, that is you! I walked past you twice but didn’t dare talk to you.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Without my glasses, I can’t recognize faces until they’re right in front of me.”

“Very convincing,” she said, handing me the tickets I was supposed to give the teens. “And the Bowie magazine is appropriate.” She took one last look at me, shuddered briefly, and left, and then I waited.

And eventually . . . the fun began.

I kept my head down as I read, but I could see feet approaching from different directions as the sweet and innocent youth of my church approached the strange gothy woman in the store. You see, we live in a quiet valley where nothing too exciting ever happens, and where people are pretty much white bread and baked potatoes.

I was black licorice over quinoa. No one knew what to do with me.

Waldows in Walmart Feb, 2016

Our collection of “Waldos.” I’m in the middle, looking as disinterested as possible.

As I saw the feet tentatively congregate around my cart, I’d slowly look up, with as much snarling apathy as I could muster. “Like . . . what do you want? I’m reading my Bowie, here. Can’t you tell?

Then their eyes would bug out, they’d take a step backwards in alarm, and someone would mutter, “Isn’t that Mrs. Mercer?”

“I don’t know . . . I think so. Whoa.”

“Are you . . . are you Waldo?”

I’d roll my eyes dramatically (yes, I practiced that too) and fished in my trench coat pocket for a ticket. “Oh my gosh, look—can we get this over with already? I’m late for a Walking Dead party, you know.”

That’s when they’d start smiling and laughing, but still they stayed back a few feet.

One of the leaders, a lovely woman in her 60s, stared at me in shock. “Trish? Oh my gosh . . . Trish?!”

Only for her did I break out of character, because she really did seem disturbed. “Cindy didn’t recognize me either,” I consoled her as her group of five girls hustled off after the next clue.

But for the other groups, I just glared menacingly and went back to flipping pages of my magazine after I handed them their tickets. I think a few of the younger girls were worried by my appearance, and I nearly lost it when a fifteen-year-old boy exclaimed, “Wait—she’s my Sunday School teacher!”

I may have lost all credibility with him.

But all of the effort was worth it when one high school girl said, “Wow—I thought you were a teenager.” I’ll hold on to that one for a long, long time.

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I’ve lost 30 years! And my mind!

After a while the groups of kids slowed down, and I finished reading, waiting for the call that we were done. At the end of the Bowie magazine, looking at pictures of him in his 60s with his spikey gray hair and dazzling smile, I couldn’t help but think, “He was a great looking senior citizen.”

Image result for david bowieI flipped to the earlier pages and felt as uncomfortable as I had when I first walked into the store, dressed up as something I really wasn’t. Bowie—actually, David Jones—seemed a lot happier and more handsome in his later years. The gray hair suited him.

By the time the call came for “All Waldos to come to the front of the store,” I was relieved. While it had been fun to dress up and freak out the youth of my neighborhood—especially since it wasn’t Halloween—I was anxious to become me again. While I had a small shopping list in my pocket, I couldn’t bring myself to actually buy anything in my present get-up.

As I approached the other Waldos at the front of the store, everyone’s jaws dropped. I have to admit I rather enjoyed the attention—I’ve never been a jaw-dropping woman—but I also was glad it wasn’t going to last more than a few minutes.

Waldos in Walmart Feb 2016

“Like, totally . . . I’ve got a Walking Dead marathon to get to.”

At home, my husband took one look at me and said, “Are you going to need a shower to get all of that off?” I had even gone so far to buy a gray hair touch-up kit to darken my bangs and color my streaks of gray. “You really don’t want to keep using that stuff, do you?” he hinted.

I’m blessed to have a husband with the same attitude of my dad, who once said, “I don’t like a lot of makeup on my wife. I want to be able to recognize her in the morning, not wonder how some stranger got into my bed.”

“No,” I assured my husband, “this it was just for the night, and yes—I need a long shower.”

I took a couple of selfies in the bathroom, because that’s what you’re supposed to do after you spend an hour putting on makeup, and then I tried to wipe it all off. Half a jar of Vaseline later, I took a shower to scrub out the rest of the dyes and gunk.

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Never let middle-aged women take selfies.

This morning as I looked at myself in the mirror to get ready for the day—gray streaks highlighting my hair again, and pale, dull eyes looking back without any ringing makeup—I knew that was a much better look: the clean, basic, unmade me. Kind of like Bowie in his later years, looking genuinely happy in his rawness.

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What, you’re supposed to use a cell phone for a selfie? Have you seen my cell phone?

I’ve discovered that with the right makeup and the right clothing, I can look like just about anyone, as skilled make-up artists have demonstrated. Even untalented me turned myself unrecognizable.

And I don’t like that.

I’ve always been averse to lots of makeup, and I think it started way back in the 1980s, when coincidentally I first fell in love with David Bowie’s music.  I also noticed a Robert Plant video where the same makeup and clothing turned a variety of different young women into creamy, rubber copies of each other. It struck me as strange, and as sad.

I never wanted to be an imitation of someone else.

So I’ll go out today as usual, “au natural” (but dressed, so don’t panic). (Ok, I’m wearing a tiny bit of eye shadow and mascara, so people can find my eyes.) No one will mistake me today for something I’m not. Because even if I had an identical twin, no one can copy my look.

(Not that anyone would want to, but that’s a rambling topic for another day.)

 

If you don’t want me looking, then don’t go showing.

Once there was an artist who spent a great deal of effort creating a marvelous 3D work of art. The artist carefully selected paints and fabrics and materials, then spent hours combining it all into a masterpiece that the artist happily brought down to a busy city street.

The artist sat back on a bench to see how the work would be received. Soon someone walked by the structure and paused, squinting her eyes as if jealous. To this reaction, the artist smiled in smug satisfaction.

Others walked by completely ignoring the piece, and to that the artist harrumphed, insulted.

Still others came by and stopped, amazed. Some even got closer and said things such as, “Wow, that’s amazing. How’d you do that?”

The artist evaluated those people before deciding how to react to their admiration. Sometimes the artist explained in great detail, or even showed off a bit more of the work, or—if the artist didn’t deem the observer worth the time—would simply shrug them away and watch for more interesting observers.

Occasionally a particular person walked by, and the artist sat up taller, hoping that the work of art would capture that person’s attention. Indeed, the entire project was intended solely in hooking that someone just like that.

However, another group stopped along that busy street, and stared and gawked at the work, to which the artist shrieked and shouted, “What do you think you’re doing? Get away! Get away! Don’t look!” The group, surprised and thinking that the art was there for everyone, sneered and left, but a few glanced back with sniggers and an unwelcomed comment or two.

By now you’re probably wondering, “What the heck is wrong with that artist?” The piece of art was set out deliberately on display for everyone to see, so why did the artist respond in different ways to different people? And why, especially, the insistence that some people do NOT look?

Now, imagine the artist as a woman instead, and the piece of art she created is herself—dressed up, painted up, sexed up. She’s spent hours putting herself together, and then by walking out in public, she puts herself on display.

This is something I’ve never understood, even though I’ve been a woman for 45 years: women want to be looked at, but only by certain people?

–If other women look at the artist-woman, with envy and even a bit of hatred, the artist-woman feels special, even a bit vindicated because she’s become an object that other women wished to aspire to.

–If the artist-woman feels appreciated by those who look at her, she’ll occasionally tell where she purchased that awesome top, or give away her secrets for those lush eyelashes—but only to those she deems worthy.

–And if the right man notices her—watch out. What will occur then will be a displaying ritual that would put a peacock or a sage grouse to shame. The woman-artist will preen and strut and bend over and giggle and toss her hair—usually within seconds—all in an attempt to be “noticed.”

–However, if they’re the wrong kind of man, someone the artist-woman doesn’t find attractive (overweight, too old, too young, too ugly, too short, etc.) and he bothers to look, to comment, to even suggest dinner that night, suddenly she cries foul and even claims sexual harassment.

In any other situation, this rationale would border on psychosis—a split personality: you can stare at me, but he can’t.

The moment the artist-woman stepped out of her home, she put herself on display. And once she does that, she cannot pick and choose whose gazes she’ll welcome, and whose she won’t. It’s prejudice on the part of the woman to try to get the attention of one kind of man, but not the other, and even more duplicitous to press charges against one man for doing the same thing another did, but happened to be sexy enough to get away with it.

(Click on the photo for a link to the article. Sorry about these half-naked girls. They give me the creeps, too.)

Take, for example, the recent situation at the San Diego ComCon, where a number of women (Geeks for CONsent) were upset that people stared at them (you’re in a crazy costume!), took pictures of them (because you’re in a crazy costume!), and even groped (Ok, THAT’S crossing the line, I agree). (Click here to see some more of those costumes, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

However, if you’ve even been to one of these conventions, you’ll realize that costumes (cosplay) is a big factor of the event, and people take pictures of each other in admiration of the effort that went into the elaborate outfit, or in hope to recreate the same costume some day, or because they’re shocked that someone would go out in public dressed in Princess Leia’s Jabba the Hut gold bikini set. Again, touching is NOT ok, but really—you’re going to throw a fit because you created a piece of art that people follow around to admire and take pictures of? So why did you put that art on display in the first place?

When you put yourself on display, you can’t control who looks at you, or how, or why. You have the freedom to show off, but you don’t have the freedom to control others’ reactions to you.

That’d be me there, on the left, in the shadow where I couldn’t frighten small children.

Believe it or not, all women are not ogled all the time. Being a frumpy, lumpy middle-aged woman, (I’d have to dress up as Jabba’s female counterpart, Gardulla, if I went to Comic Con) I don’t have this problem at all, so the argument can be made that I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

However, I have beautiful daughters, and as a writer I’m also a people watcher (actually, I’m sort of a Dr. Frankenstein: I stalk people and steal from them physical and personality traits that eventually get pieced together to make up my characters).

What I’ve noticed is this: some females believe that they are being watched—all the time. While this is generally a teenaged trait, even some grown women are still narcissistic enough to believe every man is obsessed with her. Even if a hapless male just glances in their direction, perhaps mistaking them for someone else, or trying to find the quickest route through the store, these females automatically label him a “perv,” while unconsciously still trying to get attention. I’ve observed this behavior enough to realize that 99% of the time, no male was actively looking at the female, but that’s not how the female sees it.

People look at each other all the time. Usually, it means nothing more than, “I don’t want to crash into you,” or “You’re blocking my view of the menu.”

But I’ve observed something else that goes back to my rant last week about feeling guilt: if women feel uncomfortable with others “seeing” them, then they’re likely not dressed appropriately.  At some level, they are self-conscious; otherwise, they wouldn’t be so overly sensitive to others seeing them. (Even Carrie Fisher was very uncomfortable in her Princess Leia gold bikini get-up.)

Here’s something to consider: If you feel uncomfortable in how you’re dressed, and if you think others staring at you because of how you’re dressed, maybe you shouldn’t be dressed that way.

As I wrote last week, often we think we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about things; the same thing happens here. The women’s movement from decades ago convinced us that we should be able to dress as skankily as we want and not suffer from any consequences.

Not so.

The women I know who feel uncomfortable and fear they’re being watched do so because—I suspect–deep down they feel inappropriate. Our bodies are gifts—marvelous creations of our Heavenly Father that He wants us to keep as a treasure: sacred and respected. Think about anything you truly love and admire; usually, you keep those things protected and safeguarded. You don’t go running around showing it off everywhere, because that cheapens it, sets it up to be denigrated by those who don’t appreciate it as much as you do, and also leaves it open to be stolen and abused.

The same thing should go for our bodies. No, I’m not a prude; I have nine children, and enjoy the process of getting them. But I don’t have to show off my assets to prove that I have them, nor do I expose parts of me for . . . honestly, I really don’t know why women show off their bodies to the world at large. I don’t understand why they insist on taking something so personal, so private, so potentially marvelous, and turn it into something average, like turning gold into aluminum.

Now, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not blaming women for the abuse they may suffer by men. There is no free card for allowing rape, or groping, or not accepting “No!” as an answer. Men are solely responsible for their actions. But women—we have to admit, as uncomfortable as it may make us—sometimes, we go advertising. So we can’t claim to be surprised when someone answers those ads.

No matter what your cultural/religious/ethnic upbringing, I believe there is something inborn in every female that wants to protect her body and keep it private and sacred, to be shared with only one chosen person in the right ways and at the right times.

But every time we females shove that instinct down, and instead insist that we can—and even should—flaunt that which should be kept precious, we create a conflict within us.

That conflict is the root of our anger, of our frustration, of our guilt, and of our tears. I’ll go so far as to suggest this anger, which we so often throw at others who leer and whistle and even grope inappropriately, is misplaced anger.

Our anger, really, is with ourselves, because we cheapened ourselves first, and gave the world permission to gawk.

If we don’t want people looking, we shouldn’t go showing.

     Sareen, beaming and bouncing, with her tunic still embarrassingly low, kneeled in front of Shem in obeisance.
     Then he had no choice but to look down at Sareen.
     Mahrree considered the angle and winced in empathy for Shem. Sareen had made sure she planted herself right where she could make the most of her exposed—
    “Oh honestly, Sareen!” Mahrree murmured in exasperation. “Where’s your cloak?”
     Despite the chill in the air, Sareen seemed determined to show Shem exactly what she had to offer. Not surprisingly, several soldiers had converged around Shem to share in the view.
      . . . For the moment, Sareen was happy for the attention that, someday, she’d realize she didn’t really want.   ~Book 2, Soldier at the Door

Don’t judge me=I’m already feeling guilty

Some time ago I came to the realization that whenever someone throws out the “Don’t judge me!” line, it’s because at some level they suspect that they’re in the wrong, but they’re not ready to admit it, and certainly not ready to resolve it, and would rather that everyone STOP REMINDING THEM about it.

It’s called GUILT, and for some reason we often think we shouldn’t have to deal with that emotion.

My most amoral character agrees:

“Man’s greatest weakness! Guilt, regret, feeling bad about behavior . . . It’s a forced condition, you know, shame about a misdeed. A behavior taught to humans that can, and must, be overcome. Ignore it long enough, it dies away as simple as that . . . Humans abuse themselves. With guilt. With regret. It holds them back, makes them feel as if they owe some duty to others, as if there should be some level of behavior all should aspire to. Well, there isn’t! 
~Chairman Nicko Mal, Soldier at the Door

Well, there is!

And my, do we hate it when someone tries to remind us that the purpose of our lives isn’t to indulge ourselves and hope there aren’t any consequences.

I first encountered this very weak logic back in high school in the 1980s, when punk music hit the US. I had a few friends embrace the culture, dyeing their hair black and using a bottle of mousse each morning to make it stand up straight, putting spikes on every inch of clothing, then scowling when people stared at them.

“Don’t judge me!” I never understood that; they purposely put themselves on display, then didn’t expect people to look?

As a senior in high school I became grunge before Kurt Cobain made a name for himself. I wore holey jeans, didn’t bother with make-up, spent only 5 minutes on my hair (and yes, a few boys commented that I needed to “do something with it”—which pronouncement meant they weren’t boys I’d ever be interested in) and I did so for a purpose. I wanted to prove that I didn’t care about my appearance, but wanted to focus only on trying to get a scholarship (since I hadn’t been the best student for the first 11 years of schooling). Yes, people looked at me–this was the height of preppiness; watch “The Cosby Show” to see how I should have been dressing–and I rather enjoyed it. It was also a good test for my vanity; am I still worthy, even though I don’t “look worthy.” I was trying to make a point, and I made it. Judge me! Go ahead!

Social media has given us even more ways to stand up and be judged, or to scream, “Stop judging me!” Today I read Matt Walsh’s blog on why Christian women should hate Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll state right now that I think the novel is women’s porn, so I agreed completely with his position.

However, the real lesson is in the comments, as it always is; scattered among the remarks of “Thanks for stating what I always suspected about that horrible book,” were phrases such as, “Hey, nothing wrong with reading about a little sex,” or “So what if I like a little excitement in my books?” and, most common among the dissenters: “Don’t judge me based on what I read! How can you be a Christian and be so judgmental?”

Ah-ha . . . someone’s conscious has been pricked, yet again. If they didn’t feel any guilt, they wouldn’t be justifying themselves, and in the huge social media presence of Matt Walsh, no less. There, for thousands of readers to see, they declare their stance yet demand that no one judge them. How very odd.

Weird Al, Mandatory Fun, Word Crimes, Grammarly

I have no doubt a few grammar Nazis wished they could find a similar uniform.

I see pricks of guilt and judgment everywhere on the Internet, and it always tells much more about the responder than what they respond to. For example, Weird Al Yankovic just came out with a brilliant parody about common grammatical errors, and Grammarly interviewed him about it. Again, the great lesson was in the responses to the interview, because poor Al accidentally used the pronoun “that” instead of “who.”

Oh, there’s no group more self-righteous and unforgiving than Grammar Nazis. (I’ve ranted about them here. Grammar snobs put the Pharisees of Christ’s time to shame.) These responders, instead of appreciating the incredible work of Weird Al, which he shares freely on YouTube so that all of us English teachers can kill another five minutes of class time; instead of being grateful that someone with a greater sense of humor has taken up the grammar cause; no, instead of applauding him, Grammar Nazis vilified him:

“People that know me … people that still haven’t figured out” 😦 And he thinks he’s a grammar nerd. <shaking my head>
[As of this is some kind of special club, and he just violated its most sacred rule.]

I, too, was shocked to see that he used that instead of who. 
[Yes, she actually wrote “shocked.”]

Fortunately there was some reason among the rabble:

Alright, everybody caught the “that/who” error. He’s still a satirical genius. Disagreement with that proposition is dissent up with which I shall not put.

Judgment is everywhere on the Internet, and just as we’re quick to not have people point out our faults, we’re even quicker to point them out in others. I think that’s because when we’re feeling guilty, the fastest way to assuage that guilt is to point out how someone is guiltier than us.

For example, I read an article about a woman who recycles clothing from a thrift store, updates it, then donates it back. I was amazed and humbled to realize she’d done over 700 pieces. I can sew (sort of), but it never occurred to me to use that minimal talent in such a generous and creative way.

Again, the lesson was in the comments. There were plenty of judgments which, I suspect, arose out of guilt.

“Look at the photos—she’s just shortening the hems and sleeves. That’s nothing too special.”
[And yet, still likely more than you did.]

“She’s only taking fat clothes and turning them skinny.”
[And what have you done?]

“As a plus-size woman, I take offense that she’s reducing the amount of clothing that would fit me, making it for skinnier girls. They already have plenty of clothes . . .”
[Seriously, she wrote, “I take offense.”]

And on, and on.

What I don’t think people realize is how transparent they are, how they give the world a telling image of themselves through their comments. Invariably, the more defensive people become, the guiltier they demonstrate themselves to be. I find myself cringing at their responses, pitying them that they’d expose themselves so freely and easily, showing the world their self-centeredness and pettiness.

Oh, he’s not getting out. Trust me.

It’s the old crabs in a bucket. If any tries to climb out, the rest drag it down, until eventually the crabs have torn each other into pieces. We envy others who dare to climb higher, feel guilty that we’re not doing likewise, don’t want them looking down at us from above in judgment, so we drag them back down and tear them apart with our criticism.

Now, I realize that what I’m doing here is also criticizing, on the Internet, and demonstrating my own transparency. I’m judging and doing all of the same things I’m nagging about here. I’m not going to rationalize away my post, but I will draw a distinction: our society is very loath to declare something “moral” or “immoral.” You want to see declarations of “Don’t judge me!” fly? Then make a declaration of what’s right or what’s wrong. Oh, they’ll be coming out of the woodwork like termites exposed to sunshine to come after you.

Yet, this is what we must do:  make evaluations—of products, of ideas, of media, of people—in order to recognize the strengths and weaknesses, the logic and fallacies, the truth and errors, and publicly declare what we have recognized.

And then, this is very important, then do NOT be offended at what comes back at us. If we’re going to be brave enough to take a stand, we have to remain brave enough to let people see us standing there.

As a practicing Christian, I believe wholeheartedly in the Judeo-Christian beliefs of accountability to a higher Being, in following the 10 Commandments, in realizing that life isn’t about getting what I want and when I want it, but in serving others first. It’s crucial for me to recognize what elements in society detract me from pursuing my chosen lifestyle, therefore I not only read about but also comment on those elements.

However—and this is a BIG “however”—we must also be honest with ourselves as to WHY we are making these public evaluations, these statements of “this is bad, and this is good.”

  • Are we doing so because we are truly concerned about the direction of our society, and we want to point out the slippery slopes to help our friends and family avoid them?
  • Or are we critical online because it gives us a sense of superiority?
  • Because we displace our guilt when we shame others?
  • Because we’re merely crabs in a bucket, unwilling to let anyone else rise higher?

And when we decide–and it is a decision–that we are “offended,” we also need to be honest as to why.

  • Has someone pricked our conscience?
  • Demonstrated where we’ve strayed from our personal yardstick of acceptable behavior?
  • Were we looking for a reason to hate “X” or shun “Y” and so we’ve chosen to be offended?

Sometimes we swing that word around proudly, as if being “offended” is some kind of virtue.

Personally, I think it’s a weakness. Years ago I heard someone state this philosophy, and I’ve taken it as my own: “You cannot offend me, for I simply refuse to take your criticism, to see your opinion as overriding my own, to give your hurtful words any room in my mind. If I am right with God, then I needn’t worry about where you think I am wrong.”

(Yeah, it’s a lot like, “I’m rubber, you’re glue; whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you,” but a bit more eloquent.)

I’m not saying I live this philosophy perfectly—I took a beating from trolls not too long ago that really tested my resolve—but I’ve found that when someone says something that threatens to offend me, it’s usually because they’ve knocked something inside of me that I’ve tried to hide, like C.S. Lewis’s proverbial rats in the attic that we’re shocked to discover, but were always there, hiding despite our attempts to ignore them.

Over the years I’ve learned to not blast those “stupid people!” in online forums, but I instead I retreat to my closet, get on my knees, and ask where I should be doing better.

And I’ve also realized that God’s criticism is much gentler, more instructive, and more uplifting than any arguments I engage in on the Internet.

In the meantime, I appreciate those who state boldly their opinions on issues that concern me. Even if they declare, “There’s really nothing wrong with a little bit of porn,” I’m grateful, because then I know who I need to distance myself from in the future.