13 June 2014
WRITING 101 CHALLENGE, Day 8: Death to Adverbs: Go to a public location and make a detailed report of what you see.
Before I detail what I saw, I have to talk about what I felt: the wind. Cooler than I expected, it surprised me and definitely influenced my experience. As someone who lives in a landlocked city, whenever I am away from a beach for an extended period of time, my imagination always pictures the ocean as a calm place with soft, warm breezes and gentle waves hitting the shore. That was not my experience on this trip. The wind was high, the waves were rough and angry, and there was a coolness in the air that chilled the body, but not my soul.
The FIRST thing I saw, as I was driving, off in the distance, was the promise of a great adventure. The thrill of being at the ocean is driving along and seeing ahead an expanse of ... nothingness ... and yet, knowing all the time that the world has NOT ended, but has just morphed from land to water. The SECOND thing I saw was the mounds of grey sand. Pushed against the shore and sidewalk in great piles of loose and yet compact grains of matter that immediately covered my bare feet and ankles. As I walked closer to the water, the sands shifted and made walking ... interesting. Past the sand was the mighty, majestic, magnificent Pacific Ocean. Not quite blue, not quite grey, the color of the water was pewterish. But it was the waves that fascinated me. Seen far off in the distance, they looked calm and undulating, but as they came closer to shore, they got larger and tipped with white foam - until they crashed against the sand with a roar. It was almost like they were angry that their journey across the ocean was ending ... here ... at my feet. When I looked up from trying to get the "perfect" photo of a wave cresting over my feet (yeah, that took a minute and I still didn't get the PERFECT picture. Luckily, I have more time before returning home to try and get it right), I could see that EVERYTHING - the families playing on the shoreline, the runners getting in one final run of the day, the bicyclists pedaling on their way to wherever they were going, the sea grasses blowing in response to the winds - EVERYTHING was bathed in the soft golden, orange glow of the setting sun over the western horizon to my right. This experience was the perfect culmination to a day of travel.
But what I really saw was the creative power of God. In a world full of chaos and disorder, standing at the oceanshore reminded that God is still in control. Every day, like clockwork, the sun rises and the sun sets. The tides roll in and the tides roll out. And this happens on a schedule set into place centuries ago when God spoke it into existence, saw it was working, and declared it "good". And if we take the time, have the inclination, and live close enough - we can experience and witness this whenever we want.
(Originally published on CREATIVE EXPANSIONS through WordPress)
24 March 2014
Thanks to Facebook, it’s probably one of the most overused words in the English language: FRIEND. “How many “friends” do you have?” “I’ll send you a friend request” “Let’s be Facebook friends”. For some people, their friend count on Facebook is important – as if their lives, or the value thereof, is validated by the number of people with whom they are “friends”. BUT, is everyone you call “friend” really and truly your “friend”? I would submit that they are not.
Yesterday, I wrote a blog and in trying to tell my story without revealing the names of the other people involved, I kept referring to the other participants in the story as “friend”. After about the fifth or sixth use of the word in reference to the five or six different people in the story, I made a joke about having a lot of friends. But, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, is there another word I should be using to describe these people and my relationship with them? What do I really mean when I call a person my “friend”?
I’m sure Webster’s Dictionary has a well-defined definition of what a “friend” should be – a clinical, logical description of the characteristics a friend should have, but honestly, I don’t have the energy to move from where I am to go and look it up. However, I think my personal definition of what constitutes a “friend” is constantly evolving and changing. I believe that a friend is someone who knows you, knows you well, warts and all, and still wants to spend time with you and be in your presence. I think a friend is someone who not only has your phone number on speed dial, but knows it even when their cell phone is nowhere around. Someone who knows the way to your house without relying on GPS to guide them there. Someone who knows how crazy your immediate family can drive you on any given day, but listens to you tell them the stories of why they are currently driving you crazy as if they have never heard the stories before. Someone who will answer the phone anytime you call, even if it’s at 3:00 in the morning. Someone you can argue with, disagree with and yet, still love with all your heart. Someone who is consistent, steadfast and loyal in their commitment to you. Someone who knows your birthday without looking at the calendar. Someone who knows if the best way to reach you is via call, text, email or Facebook - and if there is a specific time when one way is better than the other. Someone who will pray with you, and for you, even when they don’t even know why you are asking them to pray. And let me throw something else out there: Just because someone was a "friend" years ago, doesn't automatically mean that they will be your friend years from now - or even today. Those are some pretty high standards and not everyone can, or is able, to fit that bill. In fact, if I plug all those qualifications into my relationships with people, then, even though my current “friend count” on Facebook far exceeds the 600+ mark – in reality, I can count on one hand (maybe two), the number of “true friends” I have. And if we are being honest and we turn the mirror back on me, I don’t know of many people who would say I was a “true” friend to them either.
So, what do I call the vast majority of people in my life, who add value, who make me laugh, who enrich my spirit, who I take time to hang out with and who I love and adore? I think the more proper (correct) word for them would be “acquaintances”. It’s a more casual definition of a friendship. It doesn’t have all the pressure of longevity and knowledge and personal investment. That word covers a wide range of experiences you can share with another person and can describe a variety of levels of emotional attachments to a person. I have LOTS of acquaintances. People I work with on a daily basis, but never spend time with outside of the office. People who I share a history with – childhood, academic, church fellowship – but which doesn’t extend too much past that commonality once something changes. And there are various levels of “acquaintance-ship” and there’s nothing wrong (in my opinion) with just being someone’s “acquaintance”. [There’s actually a lot less pressure in just being someone’s acquaintance than in being their friend, if you ask me] But it’s an awkward word. When you are introducing someone to someone else “Hi, this is my acquaintance, [insert name here]” doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Hi, this is my friend”. And so the word “friend” has lost some of its punch, some of its meaning, because we have dumbed it down by our overuse of the word.
Recently I was introduced to the concept of “connections”. This might be the best definition of most of our interactions with others: We are just “connected” to each other because of some mutual interest or hobby or church affiliation or geographical proximity. And it’s ok to have those relationships as well. In honesty, this word probably defines best more than half of our relationships with people. Think about the people who, as long as they are around and in your face, you consider them “friend” – but once that connection is severed (you change jobs, you move to another city, you move your church membership), you don’t think about them or call them or otherwise maintain contact. For all my Oakwood friends, that’s why at Alumni Weekend, you see someone, recognize the face, greet them loudly and with enthusiasm, and then walk away thinking to yourself, “now what was that person’s name?” That has changed (slightly) with the advent of social media, but you know you have done this in the past – and if you are honest with yourself, probably will again if/when you head to the Oaks in about a month. Nothing wrong with just being “connected” to someone, but again, you are not going to introduce them to someone else as just a “connection”.
There is a popular praise and worship song that we sing at my church, and the lyrics are: I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, He calls me friend. Every time I hear or sing that song, I am humbled because, in reality, I know I am not worthy of the title when it comes to my relationship with God. I am not as consistent as I need to be in my interactions with Him, in my obedience to His word and commands. I know that my life does not always reflect His love and character. And yet, He still calls me His “friend”. Knowing what He knows about me – He still considers me “worthy” That is a mind-blowing concept – and a big responsibility to live up to, but with His help, I know I can do it. And so can you.
©2014 Kristina E. Smith
23 March 2014
I recently discovered a new doughnut spot in my beloved city. A few months ago, a co-worker told me that I needed to check out this “new” doughnut shop called Sublime Donuts. (It's been around since 2009) For whatever reasons, I ignored her suggestion and did not go to check the place out, even though it was right around the corner from my job, and my Google search about the business indicated that I would enjoy the donut selection without breaking my wallet. But, I resisted and did not go.
And then one day, a different friend, one of my foodie friends mentioned Sublime Donuts to me again. And he SWORE that they were the best doughnuts ever and that I HAD TO HAD TO try them. And then another foodie friend mentioned that she’d been there and agreed that they were the best doughnuts ever and I should check them out. So, I made plans to go on a Sunday with my mom and two other friends, but because my friends had talked up the doughnuts so much, I made a special “preview trip” to the shop to see for myself what all the hype was about – because, did I happen to mention that the two foodie friends who recommended the place to me are two of the pickiest, nothing ever satisfies them, kind of foodie people? (Ok, maybe that is not EXACTLY true, but they have very high standards when it comes to food). Back to my “preview”: I don’t remember EXACTLY what I wrote on Facebook, but my report was GLOWING!!! The doughnuts are pretty spectacular. The picture I have attached includes a picture of the strawberries and crème donut (which is my favorite), which is this light, flaky powdered sugar coated pastry, stuffed with FRESH strawberries and some vanilla pudding type crème filling that just melts in your mouth. (That’s the donut right up front on the left) Seriously, you really don’t have to chew (well, except for the strawberries), just let it dissolve on your tongue. Then there’s the white chocolate peach fritter and the Dream Star (think: Creamsicle ice cream bars from your childhood) and the Reese’s peanut butter cup donut (not my favorite, but my pastor (who I bought one for) LOVED it) and then there's the red velvet and the sweet potato and the … well, you get my point.
Add the fact that the store is owned and operated by a young man who looks a lot like me, with melanin in his skin and a passion for good food in his heart, and I was (and am) all about promoting his business. So, I took to social media (i.e., Facebook) and for a week, almost every day, talked about Sublime Donuts and how much I loved that place. I bought donuts in bulk to share with my mom and my brother and my pastor and … and my friends who introduced me to the place did the same. As a result, several others of our friends drove down to the shop to experience for themselves what we kept talking about on Facebook. One friend and her family went so far as to buy 6 donuts and do a taste testing to see which donuts they liked the best, and then how they liked Sublime Donuts in comparison to another favorite donut shop in the area, Revolution Donuts. And all of this during the course of less than a month in time.
This past week, I went to Sublime and purchased two strawberry and crème donuts. I ate one immediately, but saved the other one – initially with the thought of sharing it with my mom, but she didn’t want it, so it fell to me to eat it. I decided to save it for breakfast on Sabbath morning, but ended up running late to church, so I just grabbed the bag and took it with me to church. As I was standing outside about to eat it, my friend who initially told me about Sublime came up to me and we began discussing our love for all things Sublime. As we were talking, another friend (I have a lot of friends, don’t I?) overheard us and asked what was this place we were talking about. Since I had not yet begun to eat my doughnut, I broke him off a piece (making sure he got a strawberry) to try. He ate it, looked at me and said, “I’m pretty picky, but that’s pretty good.” (Uh, yeah…)
Later, after church, another group of friends was standing around talking and Sublime came up in conversation again. (The donuts really are THAT good!). One of the young ladies in the group remarked, “You know, I didn’t go to Sublime at all this week, but I still talked about it to my friends, in real life and on Facebook – and I thought, “you know, I wonder if I talk about the love of Jesus and what He has done for me like I talk about these donuts.” WOW! It was an eye-opening thought, but it was also confirmation of a thought I’d had earlier in the day when I shared my donut with my friend. See, when I shared it, the friend who was standing there with me was flabbergasted that I would share my delicious donut with someone who might or might not appreciate the goodness I was about to give him. And I said to him, kinda flippantly, “but isn’t that what we are supposed to do? When we discover something great and good, aren’t we supposed to share it with others?”
I had a pastor once who used to always say that spreading the gospel message is all about one beggar showing another beggar where to find food. If I can promote a doughnut place with vigor and enthusiasm – and not get paid anything in return for my word-of-mouth endorsement, surely I should be able to (and want to) share the love of God with the same (if not more) vigor and enthusiasm. After all, He died on a cross for me, He sustains me every day, and He loves me in spite of all my shortcomings and flaws. And if that is not enough to “promote” His goodness, I don’t know what is.
27 February 2014
Anyone who has followed this blog for any period of time knows a few things about me: I am a diabetic foodie, who LOVES food, which (to me) is the ultimate proof that God has a sense of humor. As a result of my love of food (and my habit of late night snacks), over the last two decades of my life, I have ... blossomed ... into a "voluptuous" sister. As a child, teenager and young adult, I was (for lack of a better word) SKINNY. Looking back at pictures from that time period of my life, I often refer to myself as "a stick with boobs" or "anorexic looking" (and that was before we even knew what anorexia was). But you couldn't tell me (back then) how cute I was. Yeah, I had a bit of a vanity problem. But then, I hit the age of 30 - my metabolism slowed down AND my health took a hit which led me to have the first of two major surgeries relating to my ... "female parts". As a result of my first surgery, I was placed on Lupron, a steroidal medication that "helped" me gain ~40 pounds in about 6 weeks. And that is when I discovered the following fact: PEOPLE DON'T LIKE FAT PEOPLE. And they will be sure to let you know this - often in very unkind ways.
So, why am I even bringing this up? Earlier this week on Facebook, an ex-boyfriend of mine posed a question on his Wall: "Is fat the last acceptable prejudice since it's the only one you can do something about?" He went on to say that being a bigot or to gay bash has become unacceptable in today's society and that "fat shaming" seems to be the only prejudice that people can hold without being called into account for it. The comments that people posted were eye-opening, and it soon became very clear that if you live in America and are not a size minus zero, (especially if you are a woman) you have been a victim of "fat shaming" in one way or another.
Here's what I posted in response to his question: "Years ago, after my first surgery, when I put on over 40 pounds in a very short amount of time due to steroid medications, I found out the true HORROR of "fat prejudice". My beloved grandfather went from calling me "Sweetie Face" to "Moon Face"; my grandmother would ask me EVERY SUNDAY on our weekly call, "So, how fat are you now?"; I was asked, more times than I want to remember, when was the baby due - or told "Man! you used to be so skinny and cute"; and when I went to Alumni Weekend, I overheard someone tell a friend of mine who'd gained a lot of weight, "Man! I heard you were fat, but I didn't know you were THAT fat!" And all this stuff was said in a way like, you (as the recipient) were just supposed to smile and take it.
People look at others who are overweight or plump or obese or (my new word for it) voluptuous - and make assumptions about why that person is that way, and most of the time, what you may be thinking is not the truth of the matter at all."
He responded: "I can only imagine the horror. The second part of my comment I will take up with you in private."
Never one to shy away from a "difficult" conversation, I called him up to find out what else he wanted to know. To say I was shocked by his follow up question is an understatement. "I hear what you said, but what I want to know is have you embraced your current weight situation because you seem to post a lot of pictures of your food and you talk about food a lot, so I just want to know if you have embraced, or just accepted being fat at this point in your life?" I literally had to pause, take a deep breath and count (very quickly) to ten before I opened my mouth to respond. (Even as I type this, I'm breathing kinda heavy).
Let me just say (sort of in his defense), I know my friends very well, and while that question may sound insensitive and harsh, I honestly believe that he was asking from a point of blunt curiosity and from a need to have a clearer understanding of the issue - as it relates to me. I applaud him for having enough sensitivity to NOT ask that question on the very public forum of Facebook, and for "pulling me aside" to have a private conversation about an issue that is very personal, and sometimes painful. Weight is just one of those subjects that I either don't discuss or when I do, it is in a joking, "you cannot hurt me by talking about my weight" kind of way. And I am not the only one who struggles with this. I have a friend who recently posted on her page about how she'd indulged in a Krispy Kreme donut - for the first time in MONTHS! The abuse (and there is NO other word for what happened) she received from "well-meaning friends" because she DARED to eat a Krispy Kreme doughnut was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. (ok, maybe it was more than one - but still!) Upon reading some of the comments, I immediately picked up the phone and called her so that I could talk her down off the ledge. She is a BEAUTIFUL woman, inside and out, and if she wanted to eat the whole store of doughnuts - so what! Why is it anyone else's business or concern? And why do people feel they just have the right to chime in and say whatever they want to others, in whatever way they want to say it? Because as my friend's initial post indicated, someone's weight (and whatever they did to get to that weight) is open fodder on the "I'm better than you" prejudice acceptability meter. "Fat shaming" someone is OK in today's society because OBVIOUSLY this is something that is within the person's control and since they cannot effectively control it, let's joke about it and/or make them feel ashamed (or bad about) themselves, which in turn will help me feel better about myself. But as I said earlier, making assumptions like that can be based in error. You don't know where that person is coming from, or what has led to where they appear to be now.
Back to my follow up conversation with my friend. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that a lot of my food postings are deliberate middle finger extensions to my "skinny Minnie friends" who always post about how many miles they ran in a single day, or how they are doing a cleanse for the third straight month, or how they are somehow existing by eating lettuce and drinking water - good for them, but that is not the way I choose to live my life when there is lasagna to be eaten and buttermilk bars to be enjoyed with a tall cup of coffee laden with Sweet Italian Creme creamer. I shared with him that I don't post the pictures of the salads that I eat on a regular basis, or talk about how I've changed my drinking habits to include more (and I do mean, MORE) water every day - because it's no one's business and I don't want to hear the "noise" about how much weight I've lost or how much better I should be feeling or whatever the more physically fit among my friends would love to say to me. (Oh, and for the record, CONSTANTLY commenting to someone (ok, to me) about how much weight they've lost or telling them EVERY TIME YOU SEE THEM "Girl, whatever you're doing you need to keep on doing it!" - is just as aggravating and in a way, condescending.)
But back to his question: Have I "embraced my fat"? Nope. However, I have learned that it is much more important to me that I enjoy life to the fullest - and as long as my health is not negatively impacted by my choices, that is what I intend to do. For the record, I just had a health assessment and all my numbers (cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting sugars) were well within "normal" range. While I need to work on my weight and BMI number, the nurse practitioner told me, "you are doing good. While everyone is focused on your outside, the most important thing to consider is how is the "inside" of you working - and your insides are doing just fine."
Which reminds me of a Bible text. I Samuel 16:7 (NIV) states: "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I, for one, am glad glad glad that God looks past my voluptuousness and sees the core of me: the heart yearning to be more like Him, despite the temptations and obstacles that I allow to come between me and reaching that goal. I wish His children would do the same.
© 2014 Kristina E. Smith
24 January 2014
Ever been hit – out of the blue – with some unexpected news that rocks you to the core and you wonder, “ok, now what?” Well, I got some news like that last night. It wasn’t TOTALLY unexpected (because, after all, when you are honest with yourself, you know there are consequences to everything [and I do mean EVERYTHING] that you do), but sometimes when you get the confirmation, you are still shocked.
Now, believe it or not, I’m an “ok, I can handle this” kind of girl, so while I was down, I knew I was not for the count and I went into “getting it done” mode. I started weighing the pros and cons, looking at my options, and trying to find solutions, printing out resource information about who I should call and talk to in the morning to resolve the issues – all of this, at 3:00 in the morning, when my brain was fried and probably not functioning at full capacity. Did you notice that I have yet to mention going to God in prayer about the situation? Yeah. Wasn’t the first thing I thought about doing. Shame on me.
This morning, when I woke up, I had two options: I could continue on the path of “handling it myself” or I could pause and read my morning devotion – you know, get it out of the way, check off one more item on the mental “to do” list. I decided to do my devotional before getting on the phone to handle my business. Before opening the devotional, I threw out my standard, done by rote, really don’t think about it anymore, prayer of “Dear Lord, help that what I read in my devotional will be something that I can apply to my heart and life today.” Boy! Sometimes we don’t know what we are asking in those “rote” prayers, but God does, and He answers.
Today’s scriptural verse was one I was not familiar with: Matthew 22:29. The author used the New Living Translation, which reads: Jesus replied: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” I was immediately struck by this – marked it with stars and everything – and was happy to read the devotional (which really was kind of a let down after the scripture, but I digress). “ You don’t know the power of God” kept resonating with me though. Of course, I know God’s power! What are you trying to tell me, God? I said my prayers and got back into “Kristina beast mode.”
My first phone call of the day, I spoke with a lovely lady named Shannon. When she first answered the phone, I was put off by her very British accent and her over the top cheerfulness. Didn’t she know I was in crisis mode? All I wanted was some answers to some very specific questions and didn’t want to spend a lot of time explaining myself over and over again. Silly me. Within five minutes, she caught on to my problem and offered me a solution that was painless, immediate and would resolve the most pressing need I had. All I could do was sit there, phone to my ear, mouth open and mental thoughts of “PRAISE JESUS!!” running through my head. She provided me the information about who I needed to contact at my employer’s office to get the ball rolling, told me how long I could expect the process to take, what penalties and fees I would be assessed – all the information I needed to make a well-informed decision before moving forward.
“YOU DON’T KNOW THE POWER OF GOD”
I don’t know what you may be going through. Need to a new job. Need some financial relief. Need peace in a family/home life situation. Need healing. I don’t know. But I do know that God is all-powerful and He cares for you. Trust Him to do what He will do in your life – at the exact right time.
Be blessed! ©2014 Kristina E. Smith