Real Women

I've had something on my mind: Real Women.

Look around you sometime at the grocery store, or gas station, at work or at the gym.  Look at the real women around you.  How many of them look like the women on cover of magazines, in commercials or at elite fitness competitions?  I propose almost none.  There was one woman today who I saw at the gym who legitimately looked like a elite fitness/pin-up model.  Maybe she was one.

Our sex-crazed culture is so perverted in it's message about what a woman should look like.  Most of us real women spend way too much time, money, thought and energy into trying to achieve some semblance of that air-brushed, artificially-preserved image.  To clarify, my point here isn't let yourself go, throw healthy diet and exercise out with the dirty bathwater of trying to look like the perky-disproportionately-large busted, thin-waisted, flawless-skinned, whitened teeth, stylish, muscle-up repping, 7% body fat, tanned-skin woman we are being told everywhere is what a beautiful woman should look like.  The thing I want to say here is real women everywhere who care about a healthy diet and who exercise their bodies to keep them healthy are all shapes and sizes and have varicose veins, hemorrhoids, postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, migraine headaches, fatigue, acne, heavy periods, irregular periods, infertility, eczema, psoriasis, wrinkles, freckles, moles, birth marks, scars, cow-licks, curly hair, straight hair, thinning hair, no hair, brown eyes, blue eyes, blind eyes, glaucoma damaged eyes, are near-sighted, far-sighted, lactose intolerant, have Crohn's disease, osteoarthritis, cancer, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, auto-immune diseases, amputations, skin-grafts, transplants, hearing loss, joint-damage, injuries... I could go on and on.  My point is, none of those things that real, beautiful women live with every day show up on that cover of Fitness Today, or in the friggin' Carl's Jr. commercial with the seductive woman nearly orgasmic over a hamburger for goodness sake!

I have the privilege of talking to lots of women.  Most of them in the hospital for some malady that has plagued their lives or some injury or trauma that has drastically changed it forever.  Their ages range from teens to 100's.  Some of them are strikingly beautiful-  if you saw them all cleaned up and made up and in their best clothes and their best health in the best light you'd be like, "Whoa!  She's beautiful!"  Most of them though wouldn't probably catch your attention on the physical beauty radar, but that's just the thing.  That's MOST of the women in the world.  There are stunningly beautiful women, no doubt.  But most of us are in the girl-next-door beauty category.  We might have beautiful eyes, but our jaw line is receding, or our nose is crooked, or we have an acne problem or we're pear-shaped... and supposedly those things make us not very beautiful anymore according to the media message we are barraged by.  And I just want to say bologna!!  BOLOGNA!  Real women are really beautiful for many reasons including, but not limited to their bust, waste and hip measurements.

I feel so passionate about this right now, I want to start a hashtag campaign for #RealWomen to take pictures of their real selves and post them on social media.  (I just looked up the hashtag RealWoman... don't do it.  It's already being used and perverted... So much for the hashtag campaign idea.  I guess I'll just post an obscure blog.)  I wish we could flood the media with what real women look like and see how beautiful we are with our various struggles and body types.  This passion rises in me as a 42 year old, six-foot tall, blonde, fair-skinned, fairly thin woman who has been told most of her life by various people, "You should be a model!"  All my life I have really dreaded hearing that from people.  I mean I know they're being nice and all, but being a model isn't the pinnacle of feminine beauty and it's certainly not what I want to do with my life.  Unless, I could be a model and show the extra roll of padding that has formed around my waist-line in the last 10 years, and the varicose veins that have disfigured my legs, and the painful-bloated abdomen that bothers me about 2 weeks out of every month simply because of ovulation and menstruation.  If I could show the world what I really look like no modeling agency would have me, because, well, I'm a real woman.  I have a real body with real fat and muscle and bone that don't conform to the cover of Vogue.

So I'll never be a runway model, and I never want to be, but I do model for my husband and sons and co-workers and nieces and nephews and kids at church and in my neighborhood what a real woman looks like and what makes her beautiful.   So what does make a woman beautiful?

The design of the feminine physique is un-mistakeably a thing of beauty.  No doubt, God made a woman as a display of beauty unchallenged by the rest of his creation.  In fact, the physical beauty of a woman is the reason the perversion, molestation and objectifying de-humanization of it is such a thriving industry both in the sex-selling advertisements used on everything from cars to hamburgers, and in the get yourself air-brushed, lifted, tucked, waxed, tattooed, slimmed, dieted, toned and trimmed messages we hear on advertisements everywhere.  We are being told constantly that the female body is beautiful if it makes a man want to engage in sexual acts with it, and if it is physically fit enough to compete in a modeling or fitness competition.  But the truth is, the female body's beauty isn't just like an exotic flower that's stunning and visually alluring for a time, and then, eventually wilts and fades.  It does wilt and wrinkle, fade and age-spot.  But the physical allure of a woman's body is also like fine wine and a timeless piece of architecture- it's beauty develops depth and variety and character over time and gravity and arthritis.   It really does.  The secret to the beauty of a woman that endures time and brokenness is not found at Ulta or the gym.  It's not confirmed in a man's arousal or an elite-fitness award.  This is where the God part of my soapbox on #RealWomen comes in.

I can't avoid it.  This is the thing about thinking through a line of reasoning.  If I leave God out of it, I could say a real woman's beauty comes from good character and trying to stay healthy.  No God needed.  But the motives behind the woman's good character and trying to stay healthy are the real light shining out of the lamp of that woman's life and if the motives are self-actualization and self-fulfillment as defined by other women and men in the world, then the light is a deceptive allure to a dead end.  But if the motives behind the woman's good character and work towards good health is the imaging of God's beauty and worth then she shines a light so bright it breaks through the thickest fog of depression, cancer and loss a real woman lives with, giving her the hope of also becoming a stunningly beautiful woman.  The light that shines from the life of a woman who's hope is in God, not in men or women or society, drives out the darkness that comes with sagging skin and hearing loss and clears the path for women with silhouettes and shapes of all kinds to walk the way of #RealWomen beauty.

God in Christ is the standard of #RealWoman beauty.  He's the creator of it and it's to him I look for what real beauty is, not magazines or what the world around me says.  He says real woman beauty is a gentle and quiet spirit.  He says real woman beauty is fearing no one but God alone.  He says real woman beauty looks fear in the face and laughs, cause nothing can drive out the unapproachable light of God's truth and his good plans.  He says the really beautiful woman knows she's a child of God, and like Christ, lays down her life- submitting to others willingly, and standing firm in the truth unwaveringly.  

I want to look to him for what beauty is and spend my time and energy striving after those things with the strength he supplies.  The physical maintenance of my body and the painting of the house must be done.  But they are not the methods I want to use to achieve beauty.  They are outward, temporary maintenance not inward lasting beauty.

Are you a real woman?  How do you define feminine beauty?


An Unlikely 23 Years

 Wedding Day- Sept.4, 1993

Connor's birthday- April 1, 2003

During our first separation and pregnancy with Ryland- November 2004

Seeking a new start in Arizona all together- October 2005

 Second separation March 2010

Still together on a desert trail- Spring 2015

Today has been a tough day, emotionally.

Twenty three years ago today I made a vow before God and about 100 family and friends to take James as my husband, to have and to hold from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part.

Those are some serious promises.  Better, worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health have all been part of these 23 years.  Honestly, most of it has been hard.  We weren't a very likely match at 19 and 21.  He from the big city, me from a small town.  His dad a pharmacist, mine a log truck driver.  We met in a child development class, taking pre-reqs for nursing.  He hated it.  I loved it.  He had long hair and torn jeans and loved Journey.  I was on fire for Jesus after having decided to heed the call to follow him a year previous at 16.  He was raised as a Catholic, but more as tradition than devotion and by his teen years religion was not on his radar at all.  He had already been in a very serious relationship and at it's end decided to move to Roseburg, Oregon from Phoenix, Arizona to take his dad up on his offer to pay for college as long as he lived at his house.  I had never had a true boyfriend.  I liked a couple of different boys, but that's about as far as it went.  One guy from my youth group at church was really trying to win me, but I thought of him as a good friend and not a boyfriend or potential husband.  And then I met James.

We had a few conversations during the breaks at our evening child development class at Umpqua Community College.  He teased and asked me to share my chocolate cake and wondered what kind of music I liked.  I thought he was handsome and talked about my favorite Christian artists and invited him to church.  He came.  He met my family, played basketball with my dad and brother, went to the beach and camping with my friends while I worked as a C.N.A. at an Alzheimer's facility, and on Easter Sunday he wrote me a love note.  I would say we started dating after that, but it really wasn't dating.  In fact, I think we only went on maybe one or two "dates" before we were married.  Most of our time together was spent at either my house or his dad's house, church or after work talks.

I was head over heels for James almost immediately after we became an official couple, but because of my convictions as a Christian, my relationship with him between April of '92 and September of '93 was stormy and full of indecision, conviction, guilt and desire.  I knew, after 8 months of hanging out with each other that we did not share the same desires in life, but the desire to be with him and the dream of being married and on my own and having my own family overtook my conviction that we were not heading the same direction in life.  Storming around my dreams, desires and convictions, the emotions of that time made it very hard to discern what I just wrote.  If you were to have asked me then how I felt about James and marrying him, I would have said I loved him and believed we would grow together.  I was naive to say the least.  On Christmas of 1992, the same year I graduated from high school, James proposed to me and I accepted.  On Labor Day of 1993 we were married at the church I grew up in.

In the past 23 years we both have come face to face with the reality that we want different things in life.  Through 2 separations and the birth of 2 sons we're still married.  I'm sure that means something different to him than it means to me.

Over these 23 years I've learned that life is not about me, it's not about my marriage, it's about Christ.  The trials and fires of this unequally bound relationship have caused me to wrestle with God, ask hard questions, face hard answers and no answers, and come to grips with what I really believe.  I believe I can't really know who I am, or why I am or what marriage is, or how relationships work best until I know God in Christ.  I believe marriage is his creation and has little to do with romance and anniversary presents and wedding rings and much to do with displaying how Christ has self-sacrificingly and faithfully loved his people.

I believe happiness in marriage ebbs and flows.  I believe in toughing it out when everyone says you shouldn't stay in a marriage where you're not happy.  Every married person is not happy with their partner at some point.  It's inevitable. We're human.

I met a couple at work the other day who have been married 59 years.  While talking with them about the significance of that, the wife said she didn't believe it was good to stay married if you weren't happy.  I was taken back.  Here was an 80 something year old woman who had endured 59 years with a real man (not a contrived romantic ideal as seen on t.v.) telling me a person who isn't happy shouldn't stay married.  In my surprise I asked, "I bet you're glad you didn't give up on this marriage when you weren't happy somewhere in those 59 years or you wouldn't be sharing with me the achievement of being married this long?"  She conceded and admitted there were unhappy times, but that they were too broke to afford a divorce then.  She was glad of that now.

We've looked divorce in the eye a couple of times in these 23 years,  I'd be lying if I didn't say those eyes were alluring and I still catch a seductive glance from them now and then.  I can't say with pride that I'm a woman of my word and I made a vow and I'm going to keep it.  Nor can I say that I am doing it for the kids or grinning and bearing it.  So what's keeping us together?  I can't speak for James, but for me, it's love.  Real love.  The kind that is happy to make the beloved happy and hurts when the beloved hurts.  The kind that endures brokenness and offense and strives for forgiveness and reconciliation because it wants to be close to the beloved.  I wouldn't know this kind of love were it not for Christ.  I've looked around and have seen a few other examples of "love" in the world.  None compare to the love of Christ.  And his love is in me.  And I love James.  It's that love that binds that vow I made before God through every minute of every year with him like flesh and bone and vessels.  We were James Dougal and Sheila Deane.  And God made us one.  We are bound to each other through this life and it's the love of Christ that binds.

With all that in my heart every day,  I woke up today and faced the hard reality of Sundays:  I love to gather with Christ's local church and worship him together and receive his heralded word and my husband does not.  And, at this point, neither do my kids.  My oldest is more vocal and defiant about it right now.  My youngest goes cause he wants to be with mom.  This is a deep ache in my heart that spurns a constant pleading with God for salvation to come to this house.

So it was an emotional day.  My husband worked in the yard.  Connor metal detected for coins in the yard.  Ryland worked on a school project.   My eyes were heavy with hot tears all day and they spilled out a lot while I sang to Jesus at church and drove between errands alone.  I read a Psalm today that defines what I long for in this 23 year old unlikely marriage and precious family:

Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! -Psalm 34:11


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