Pharisees in Skirts

She caught my eye just as I opened the door to my gym locker fresh out of the shower; there stood Mrs. Pharisee in all her fitness glory with pert blonde hair, a haughty sneer and an agenda written all over her face. I furtively glanced around for a place to hide, but my options were limited by the water dripping from my soaked head and a large towel that was the only thing covering my derriere.

I braced myself for the forthcoming interaction as the woman spotted me, smiled like the big bad wolf about to devour grandma, and catapulted over benches and tennis shoes to reach me.

I remembered our last conversation at the church picnic all too well. I dared to bring a male companion I had recently started dating to the event. Mrs. Pharisee pounced and sweetly commented, like icing on a butcher knife, “Wow, Samantha, you sure got over your divorce fast. How long has it been dear?”

Her glib comment glossed over the last two years of abandonment, betrayal, instant single motherhood and the onslaught of accompanying pain. Her snarky insinuation implied I should still be mourning and wearing widow’s garb for a few more years in reverent obedience to a rule she had clearly made up about appropriate post-divorce behavior. 

“Well, it’s been a long journey from my end,” I replied as I tried to get my horrified date away from the “tsk- tsking,” of her disapproval.

The truth is legalists (or Pharisees in skirts as I like to call the female variety) abound in every church.  Sadly, if you leave one church there will probably be seven more at the next.   My neighbor recently had a run-in with a few lovelies that did some serious damage to her heart.

My neighbor is a seeker and recently began attending a local church.  She tried to connect and make some Christian friends by joining a women’s Bunco group she saw advertised in the church bulletin. After a few weeks of throwing dice, my neighbor volunteered to host the game night at her house and was surprisingly met with veiled hostility by the women in the group.  When she inquired about the tension, the ladies let her know that she was welcome to come to their church, but she was not allowed to host an event at her home until she accepted Jesus as her savior.  In this uncomfortable discourse, it also came out that some of the women didn’t think she should be attending the monthly Bunco game either. 

Now, my neighbor grew up in a strict Jewish home and any decision to follow Christ would affect her entire extended family.  Many of her relationships might suffer and her parents would more than likely be embarrassed.  It wasn’t a decision she took lightly and it wouldn’t be forced into over a Bunko game.

My neighbor confided in me one late summer evening as we were sitting on my porch.  Shocked, I inquired how these ladies extra religious rules made her feel. “Well, I don’t want to go their church anymore,” she said dejectedly. “It’s a complete turn-off. But I’m still curious about Jesus.  Could you,” she stuttered, “explain salvation to me?”

Needless to say, I took a deep breath, opened a bottle of wine and we talked and searched the scriptures together for hours.

I run into this religious spirit all too often at women’s bible studies.   At our growing church, new women join our studies each week.  When an attractive woman shows up for the first time dressed less than modestly, it seems as if a self-protective fog of dissention falls upon the group of women in a shield of exclusion.  And when I sense this gang-mentality resistance drawing me in- to reject instead of lean in and connect with a new, albeit pretty face, I call it out for what it is-fear.

Our female fears and insecurity regarding body image, lack of security and control issues turn us into modern day Pharisees as we bind heavy burdens on women and distort God’s word with a long list of she-made rules.  And I believe when we do this, we open the door for the enemy to create strife and a critical spirit that is detrimental to the church and to the world at large.

We bow our heads each week and sing, “Come just as you are,” and then negate this very invitation with body language that says, “Not so fast sweetie”.  If we were honest, we would post a warning sign at the church entrance reading: “Ladies, you are welcome if: 1. you keep your boobs properly covered 2. no midriff is revealed 3. all tattoos remain covered (unless it’s a trendy cross in an approved location…i.e. ankles are good, tramp stamps are bad) 4. you abstain from inappropriate footwear (six-inchstilettos are highly discouraged). 

There are strict unwritten rules of hierarchy in our Christian Women’s Social Club; you must act like a Christian, even if you don’t know Christ.  It doesn’t matter what your spiritual condition is as long as you modify your worldly behavior. If you get vulnerable and share something you are struggling with, we’ll pray for you with feigned empathy and talk about you behind your back.  And if it’s really bad, we’ll send your plight out to the prayer chain so the whole church knows what you are struggling with.  This may result in your being blacklisted from future leadership. And, if you don’t except Jesus fast enough we reserve the right to cancel your Bunco privileges.

So when Mrs. Pharisee approached me at the gym, my knees went weak and I prayed for strength. It had been some time since the church picnic; almost a year to be exact and certain events-namely my engagement to a pastor in our church, had increased my Klout for Christian score-keepers.

“So, I hear you are going to marry that pastor you’ve been dating, “Mrs. Pharisee gushed like a little girl wooing a queen bee with honey. “What an honor! How are you going to be able to handle this prestigious spiritual mantle?”

Unsuccessfully struggling to reel in my sarcasm, I replied, “Well I’m trying not to swear so much.”

Mrs. Pharisee’s poppy red mouth made an “Ooohhh” sound and she nodded her head very seriously.

“And,” I decided to take a chance, “I’m working on not being so judgmental.  I’m trying to love people more,” I said. “You know what? Sometimes I struggle with that.”

“Me too,” she whispered, “Me too.”

I guess there is a little Pharisee in all of us.

Blonde Ambition

About a year ago I decided to grow my hair out.  For some, this would be no big deal, but for those of us who haven’t seen their real hair color in twenty-three years, it was a significant risk.  I was a bit apprehensive at what might surface under the prolonged years of L’Oreal abuse.

Was I blonde, grey or brown? I had no clue.

But as the roots came in, it wasn’t as atrocious as the images I conjured in my head.  Turns out I have medium to drab blonde hair and as of yet, the grey fairy has not appeared. 

I thought I’d try out this new me for a while –the real me and see if I liked her.

People tell me it looks more natural, maybe because it’s the color of dirt? 

But “natural” isn’t necessarily a compliment.  “What a lovely color” was just as nice.  I think as one ages, natural might be overrated.

I’ve noticed lately I’ve been struggling with blonde envy.   I drool over light blonde hair and wish mine was just a little more flaxen.

But because I am wretchedly poor right now thanks to private pre-school, high school and a husband finishing seminary, I couldn’t justify a trip to the hairstylist.

And so I forgot the cardinal rule of hair care.  If you screw up your locks, you will pay one way or the other.

But I’m a natural blonde, (remember?) so I embraced my inner ditz and proceeded to make the dumbest move possible.  I picked up a highlighting kit at Wal-Mart for $6.00.  It looked simple enough.  Paint a few little beach blond stripes through my hair and brighten it up a bit.

Unfortunately, my artistic brain begins and ends in the writing realm, although I do have some qualms with Revlon…. (a)They need to include paint by numbers diagram and (b) there should have been an idiot test.

I really tried to get it right but the gobs of blue goo I accidentally dropped on my head left a little surprise for me.

How bad could it be you ask?

(Well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I am tall)

On top of looking like cheetah, I also have large gum-ball spots of white hair in the middle of my darker blonde head. 

I tried to part my hair about fifty different ways to cover the spots, but to no avail. 

It looks AWFUL! 

I‘d cry, but every time I glance in the mirror I start laughing at the quandary I’ve gotten myself into. 

My vanity is like a dysfunctional friend I’ve (mostly) set firm boundaries with, until in a moment of weakness, I crack open the door and invite back in to torment me.

It might be time for professional intervention, but In the meantime, I will answer to Spot or Hound’s-tooth. 

Have you ever screwed up your hair?


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Pretty Girl Syndrome

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of my daughter Faith and I am afraid for her. Faith is arresting in her beauty. While little Kolby is pretty and toddler cute, Faith has an exotic look to her and though she is only eleven years old, the child turns heads.

I worry she will become spoiled, entitled or a diva. People already do things for her and occasionally instead of pitching in to get work done, she stands there helplessly looking too cute to get her hands dirty.

The story of the lady in Britain made me cringe. Here was a lovely woman (at least by British standards) who claimed she was treated differently by her peers. The world retaliated with venom. How dare she claim to be beautiful?

(Apparently, you are only gorgeous if the world tells you so)

I think she had a serious case of “Pretty Girl Syndrome” and it’s the one disease I will move mountains to make sure my girls don’t get.

But I don’t think the British chick was loony –maybe just too arrogant for our liking. I think she was probably on to something.

Treating Pretty Little Girls Differently

From the very beginning, a pretty girl is more sheltered, statistically buckled in to her seat more often, and overly pampered. She will make significantly more money than her less attractive friends and will be perceived as easier to get along with, more loyal, and more intelligent. She will serve less jail time, if any, than those with an ugly mug (i.e. Lindsey Lohan). She will be given more opportunities, from job interviews to sorority memberships and find cooperative people to engage with. In a world obsessed with image, attractive children are both blessed and cursed with expectations.

Dave from New Mexico, has some strong thoughts on this research.

“Like this is a surprise. Beautiful people get more of what they want handed to them, and never have to work as hard for what they do get. They’re more likely to be manipulative, and less likely to be caring, compassionate people. Yes, I’m homely, and I see this every day.”

Underdevelopment of Pretty Little Girls

Because the pretty child is used to excessive attention and extreme complimenting, there may be little incentive to exercise normal social skills of engagement; i.e.-empathy and interest in others. Shallowness may be a result.

Constantly affirmed for beauty, fawned over and coddled, the child may also lose interest in more intellectual pursuits. Over time, she may begin to lack developmental skills in common social situations. Entitlement and a true lack of common sense may be seen in cases where the parents do not intervene and de-emphasize the role of beauty, contradicting the messages of the world.

This is where the Pretty Girl Syndrome can mutate into:

Pretty Dumb Girl Syndrome.

If the attractive little girl happens to be blond and voluptuous, then she will be lumped into the paradigm of a sexual object and men and women will both desire and hate her. Before she opens her mouth, the assumption will be that nothing of any relevance will come out. Now, the pretty girl’s beauty will be used against her. She will face a wall of opposition with people who will refuse to take her seriously. Because she is affirmed for her beauty she may retreat into the role she knows she will be accepted in, and thus ensues a vicious cycle of disengagement in one realm and overcompensation in another. It’s the Marilyn Monroe phenomena or the likes of Paris Hilton; who exploit their own beauty while downplaying their obvious intellect.

My daughter Faith came home the other day with an Abercrombie bikini that looked like a band-aid. My ex-husband and I watched as she tried it on for us and we almost passed out. I don’t want my girl to be affirmed for just her body –I want her to know how much God treasures her heart, how smart and kind she is, how talented and lovely both inside and out.

My husband reminded me I wore a bikini at my fortieth birthday weekend in Palm Springs. I worked out super hard and I wanted to see if I had it in me one last time to rock a two-piece.

“Is it possible your daughter is modeling you in wearing a bikini” Tim suggested.

Ouch! I guess its back to the one piece and her suit will be returned back to the store because the last thing I want is for my girls to define their worth solely on their beauty.

Why is it always the bikini that takes me out? It’s like some last remnant of my youth I hold onto.

What do you think?

Death by Tan

“Bend forward and pose like Arnold,” Maggie instructed.

In a grimace of sheer humiliation, I leaned forward and did my best body-builder imitation. 

Maggie pointed the spray gun at my shoulders and released a cool blend of brown shellac and air.

It was my first ever spray tan and I was standing in my underwear in a little tanning tent feeling like a big goof.  But then I thought about exposing my Colgate white butt cheeks at the pool this weekend in La Quinta I remembered my motivation.

I am what most people call a fair girl.  I have naturally blond hair and blue eyes with a spatter of freckles dusting my nose.  I burn, I peel and even after a summer by the pool I am at my best a gentle shade of cream.

Self-tanner is my friend in the summer.  Usually I do a mystic-tan for big events, but because this weekend is my fortieth birthday I thought I would go all out for the personal touch.

And Kolby’s pre-school teacher (also a spa owner) gave me good deal.  How could I refuse?

Maggie looked at me and smiled.  “Now go home and sleep and take a shower in the morning.  Half of this will come off and you won’t be this dark.  Don’t be scared when you look in the mirror.  It won’t be this dark.  I promise.”

I turned and glanced in the mirror and almost fell over.  My body looked smoking tan but my face looked like the scary tan lady who took her kid to the tanning bed.

I looked like an Aborigine with blond hair. 

How could I go home like this?  I put on my glasses, paid her and skulked out.

When I got home I ran up to my room and grabbed a wipey and tried to undo the damage to my brown face.  My daughter Faith came upstairs and in her usual Jr. High tactfulness said, “Ummm, do you think she did a good job?”

I ran downstairs as my son and husband returned home.  Kyle walked in and started laughing, “Mom, who screwed up your face?”

Kolby stared and looked confused.  And then I started crying brown tears of shame.

My sweet husband calmed me down and stared at my tan legs and arms. “I like it,” he exclaimed.  It will be better tomorrow. 

Leave it to my darling man to talk me off the cliff.

I woke up this morning at 4:45am and showered.  And fortunately, Maggie’s prediction came true.  All the icky brown washed down the drain leaving me with a pretty golden glow.

Score this round    Sam -10    Vanity +10





The First Tutu

There is something magical about a tutu.  It’s the fairy tale, twirly princess, cotton candy dream all rolled up into one.  It’s the artistry of Degas, childhood innocence and whimsy in a poufy skirt. 

Add in a two-year old girl with blond curls, sturdy toddler legs and a laugh like the tinkle of angels’ wings –and the essence of the tutu becomes iconic.

My two-year old Kolby has yet to show interest in the Disney princess or flowing gowns.  She prances right past the Cinderella section straight to the stuffed animals and cuddly monsters.

Until today –today was an EPIC girly moment.

Kolby ran to her closet and reached for a lovely ballerina frock her sister wore around age three.  Little hands tugged on the dress.

“Please mommy, I wear this one?” my baby pleaded.

In an instant I had the gown over her head and Elmo t-shirt.  I pinned up the long straps in the back and she stepped into the leotard.  I glanced down at her cherubic face and my heart exploded into spasms of mommy ecstasy.

Kolby carefully stepped down the stairway and made her grand entrance before her awaiting father.  Visions of prom and bridal gowns danced in my head.

She twirled around with a huge smile and exclaimed, “I’m so pretty daddy.”

Daddy agreed with gusto.

Tim and I laughed with glee as my eyes filled with tears while we snapped her photo –and for a brief moment time stopped.

My baby was glorious! 

I’ve thought about it all morning and I can’t get the picture of her out of my head –maybe because it’s more than just a precious little girl, a tutu and a pretty princess day.

I think Kolby captured the heart’s desire of every woman from age two to eighty. 

“Am I lovely?  Do you cherish me?  Am I worth fighting for?”

Questions we strive to find the answers for in all the wrong places.

My heart aches for the journey Kolby has just begun.

But today, for this moment, Kolby found the answer in her daddy’s eyes.

I think I might a need tutu too!


Happy Mama

From somewhere deep within dreamland I hear the distinctive cry of my eighteen month old baby,” Maaaaaa Maaaaaa.”

I rouse and stumble to her room, pluck her out of the crib, and gently lay her down on the changing table for a fresh diaper. Slowly we make our way down the stairs to the fridge.

Kolby desperately cries and moans, “milka, milka, mama,” over and over.  I grab her sippy cup and pour the kiddie liquid gold.  She claps and squeals in delight. Then I put her on the counter and we grind the beans, and make fresh Starbucks coffee.

The house is quiet.  It’s a stillness so fragile, soon to be broken by the clambering steps of the older kids and daddy down the stairs.

With my treasured cup of coffee in hand, I hold Kolby close as we move to the sofa for morning snuggles.

I take my first sip…”Ahhhh” while Kolby slurps her sippy cup in delight.

I look at her and crack up at the absurdity of our morning addictions.  I need my coffee and Kolby craves her milka milka with a fierceness that border lines cranky. We are two peas in a pod, grasping our cups like they are a life force.

But today Kolby has a treat for me.

She places her chubby little hands on my face and cradles it. She looks deeply into my eyes and says, “Happy… Kolby happy mama.”

Did my tiny little girl just tell me how she felt? (I know right?  The kid is brilliant and reflective no less)

It took me about thirty years to be able to articulate my feelings and express them.  Quite frankly, I am still an emotional stuffer. And now here’s my verbal toddler teaching her mama to stop and smell the roses.

And then it hits me, our morning ritual is far more than milk and coffee, it’s a snapshot of our relationship.

A stolen moment of bliss between a mother and her child.

And we are content exactly where we are. 


How to get old gracefully


“Did you see that woman over there?” my husband asked.

I turned my head and tried to subtly glance over to the woman he was referring to.  Her back was against me, but from behind she looked amazing.  Slim, toned and curvy in all the right places.  Then she turned her head and I gasped.

Her face looked like the crypt-keeper.  Pale and taught ghostly white skin was interrupted by strangely exaggerated eyes turned up at the corners.  Her lips were huge and plumped full and it was obvious she had undergone multiple cosmetic procedures to the point of resembling a freakish Michael Jackson wannabe.

I shuddered. Tim smiled at me, “I’m glad you aren’t’ afraid of aging and you would never do anything drastic like that.”

“Hey now,” I said.  “She looks pretty good for a hundred.”

Tim laughed and walked off to lift weights.  But the scary lady didn’t leave my mind.

I secretly stole a few more glances and then thought about my own insecurities regarding getting old. Certainly it’s inevitable and a natural part of life, so why the resistance, the flat-out denial by some folks to step up to the plate and surrender to gravity?

There are certain parts of getting older which I adore. My emotions no longer rule my heart, wisdom has snuck up on me after a multitude of hard knock lessons, and I have an appreciation for relationships and life, like never before.  I have more confidence in my identity, my voice and don’t really care if people like me or even agree with me anymore.

But the parts I don’t like are the parts which resonate with the plastic gym lady. I want to be pretty and in a world and culture that reveres youth, looking old and haggard is less desirable.  I don’t like the weird little age spots appearing on my body, the aches and pains that seem to appear out of the blue after thirty-five, and my metabolism, which is getting slower by the day. These things make me long for my eternal body.

One component of aging that sometimes makes it easier or harder depending on the season, is the personal expectations or goals I place on myself for age thresholds. 

 Twenty-five-married and college degree-√

 Thirty five-have kids-√

Forty-be a successful writer (working on that one)


As I hit the birthdays with my goals checked off, I feel better about myself.  But the year I hit thirty-three and found myself a divorced, single mom, getting older didn’t feel so good.  In fact, the ache was deep and I felt somehow inadequate.  Happy Birthday didn’t feel so happy that year.

I hear the pain in my friends voices when another year passes by without a husband or a child. It’s the same hurt-another year slipping by and another reminder of unfulfilled dreams.

Isaiah once said, “The flowers fade and the grass withers, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

I know in life there will be good years and not so good years, but the years will come, no matter how I try to halt the ravages of too much sun and the gravitational pull on my behind.

But when I keep an eternal perspective and focus my eyes on the road before me, ageing isn’t such a scary place.  If anything, it’s just one step closer to Jesus.

Image: Ambro /

The Unicorn


I have a large mole on my head.  My son calls it the unicorn.  It’s not too obvious because my bangs cover it.  It sits dead center on my head at my hairline.  Like a hairy mole on a witch, individual follicles have actually begun to sprout through it.

At best, this puppy is ugly and at worst possibly cancerous.  I do my best to hide it and maintain a façade of attractiveness, but I know if the wind blows the wrong way or I am having a bad hair day, the repugnant sucker will make an appearance.  Generally, I am confident about the way I look, so I like to think of it as an anomaly.

This mole is the yin to my yang.  It’s like my dirty little secret. I have mixed feelings about it.  I hate it and yet I love it.

Today I have a momentous appointment at the dermatologist.  The unicorn is going to be biopsied and will be removed.  Now I will just have a large hole in my head and possibly less hair.  I am happy to not have an eraser sized object to catch my comb on.  I am sad that my outer ugly will be leaving me.  As a teen or even in my twenties, this mole would have derailed me.  I was so self-conscious and bent on image management.  It’s a good thing it appeared in my thirties.

Now approaching 40 (38 to be exact), it represents a massive paradigm shift.  It is the embracement of my entire self, the good, the bad and the hideous.  Alas, my vanity has begun to fade with the acceptance of age, gravity and the scars of a life well lived.

So goodbye Mr. Unicorn!  I will miss you.  But, I am confident that the large crater in my head will be a good replacement for you. Come to think of it, now I will have a secret place to store my loose change and skittles!

Note***  (Three years later)  It actually healed very well.  No crater, no gaping hole, and I like my being able to pull my hair back.  Why didn’t I do it earlier?

Thoughts on Beauty


The world defines beauty as a visually appealing attribute or quality that elicits a response such as a feeling of attraction, desire, or envy.  Men and women want to experience it, attain it, and hold onto it.

We capture its fleeting essence in pictures, art, and stories.  There is a yearning to slow down the moment or image, as if to milk every last drop out of it.  We glorify it, idolize it and elevate beauty beyond the ordinary.  This is beauty defined by societal norms.

Behind this yearning, there is I believe, a conviction that somehow in the attainment of this “beauty” one shall be set free from further pursuit of it and find fulfillment. But, as with other vain pursuits, this too, is a mere chasing after the wind.  The grass withers…and the flower falls, and we are no more exempt from the grass and the flower than from the inevitable withering of our physical bodies.

But because we perceive beauty as a thing to be captured, we try to hold onto it.  We Botox it, cut it up and distort the very process of ageing, that which is, in itself, a beautiful thing.

And yet even knowing the truth and acknowledging the lie, I still can not escape the deep desire in my heart to be beautiful.  Is that yearning bad?  Or is it the memory of paradise, deeply distorted by the world, manifesting in an ache to be accepted, loved and affirmed through an outward emphasis on appearance?

I think our definition of beauty is wrong.  We yearn for a perfect world and try to recreate it through distorted illusions.  Because of sin we have forgotten the source of all that is beautiful.

Psalm 90:17 Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands.’

Beauty is therefore an attribute of God.  It glories not in itself but its profit to others.  Beauty is giving not taking.

Psalm 27:4 King David says, “…one thing I ask of the Lord, that I will seek after, to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”

Beauty brings life, healing and wholeness.  It is justice, truth, righteousness, peace and strength.  It is the ultimate desire to see and experience.  It is tangible and eternal. It is that which touches the soul.  Beauty is an encounter with the Creator.

Therefore, beauty is not a perfect body, complexion or fleshy form.  Beauty is not a man or a woman, or a kitten or a sunset.  Beauty is found in the artist and designer of all things-Jesus Christ.  My desire to be beautiful, if seen from this perspective, is really a cry for relationship and connection to God, to be naked and not be ashamed, to walk hand in hand with him in the Garden, and ultimately to behold his beauty with my very own eyes.

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