February 24, 2012

Rhinestones and Diamonds

I am blessed to have some of the world's finest girls as my friends. They volunteer with the deaf, they start small businesses, they cook up exotic dishes with unpronounceable names. They’re going to graduate school, writing books, getting internships around the world. But not only are they energetic and talented; they are kind, loyal, dedicated, and faith-full people as well. They won’t tell you about the time they spend behind the scenes, supporting tired parents, making cupcakes for church events, encouraging their coworkers, starting conversations with the “fringe kids” on campus. They are the quiet gems in their communities, and I am honored to know them.

But here’s a mystery. Most of them spent a lonely Valentine's Day this last week. I know that most of them came home that night to reheated leftovers, a movie by themselves, maybe some homework or e-mail. Why? While there’s certainly nothing wrong with singleness by choice, many of these girls haven’t even been offered the choice. In a world where their initiative and servanthood is exceptional, why on earth weren’t these young women of character, intelligence, and sincerity asked out to dinner by every available man on February 14?

A couple of weeks ago, I needed to clean a few pairs of earrings. I love shiny things, but I am a writer; thus, my jewelry is made mostly of tinfoil and rhinestones. To my chagrin, the Internet informed me that it is difficult or impossible to clean rhinestone jewelry. It comes down to the difference between rhinestones and diamonds.

Rhinestones, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, are imitation diamonds made from crystal, glass, or acrylic. They get their glitter from a reflective backing that refracts the light, creating sparkles and rainbows. They can be cheaply mass-produced, which makes them attractive options for impoverished English majors (and people looking for ridiculous stilettos):

This budget glitz is all fine and dandy as long as its reflective backing doesn’t get wet. Water washes away the glitter, revealing rhinestones for the plastic they are underneath.

Diamonds' scintillating coruscation (dictionary break!), by contrast, will never wear out or wash away, no matter what they go through. That's because their legendary luminescence comes from within one of the world’s strongest crystal structures, used for grinding metal tools or containing high-pressure lab experiments when it’s not perched atop engagement rings. Peerlessly beautiful and virtually unbreakable. I guess you get what you pay for.  

So if diamonds are where the real value lies, why is it rhinestones are so much more plentiful? And in higher demand? And for that matter, why were many of the best girls I know single on Valentine’s Day?

Cost, I think, is the answer.

It’s definitely easier to be a rhinestone than a diamond. A nice haircut and new heels are far less expensive than a heart of integrity and sacrifice. Developing those is back-breaking work that will take every day of your life and constant prayer to build. And when just a little lipstick and a flirtatious smile seem to garner instant attention and admiration, why go the distance to become a diamond on the inside?

Key word here is seem. To seem is to have one thing going on the outside and another on the inside, a double life—the opposite of integrity, being one person within and without. As women, are we all about the fragile falsehood of appearance? Are we nothing more than painted paper masks? Or can we say, with Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “I know not seems…I have that within which passes show” (I.2)?

So if it’s more costly to be a diamond, why do the boys so often choose the rhinestones? This question is even asked in the 1936 novel Gone with the Wind (which I have at last begun reading; only 1,215 pages to go!): 

Scarlett: "Why is it a girl has to be so silly to catch a husband?"

Mammy: "Ah specs it's kase gempmums doan know whut dey wants. Dey jus' knows whut dey thinks dey wants." 

Cost again. It’s far easier—and seems more attractive—to accept the first girl who waltzes into your arms than to labor to win a woman who has a strong character and developed beliefs.

But rhinestone beauty washes away under pressure. I know for a fact that life will throw you curveballs (if it hasn’t already). When you lose your job, when a family member is diagnosed with cancer, when you have to make a hard choice between the easy thing and the right thing, which do you want supporting you: glitter-backed acrylic, or the world’s hardest rock (which also happens to be one of its most beautiful)?

I have met these women: those who choose God’s will even when it means laying down their own, who believe in His big-picture plan and are willing to wait for it, who sacrifice for their families, who show kindness to strangers. They may not always have time for makeup, but they make time to listen to friends in need. They practice the discipline of putting others’ good before their own and seize singleness as an opportunity to serve God. They are beautiful even through suffering, through service, through sacrifice. This is the kind of beauty that withstands hell and high water. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

Men, I'm not going to lie to you. You're not going to win the heart of a woman like that easily. It takes a lot of work and prayer to become a person worth having—believe me, these women know. But set your sights high, because their value is beyond price. Diamonds, as the ad says, are forever. No water, no hardship, no struggle can wash away the radiance that comes from within such jewels. No amount of bad hair days or wrinkles can ever touch their beauty. Time cannot tarnish them; no storm can shake them. Many women do noble things, but such diamonds surpass them all. 

So here's to the diamonds, the ladies who are of such great beauty in God's sight. Here's to the single women who choose to spend their time giving, laughing, discovering instead of wallowing in self-pity. Here's to you who keep on serving even when nobody sees; who keep on praying even when God doesn't instantly say yes. To you who reject a superficial life of mask-wearing and take the hard road of integrity: your worth is far above rubies. 

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Who are the diamonds you know? What makes them so special? 

February 20, 2012

Gratitude Monday

It's Monday! I'm going to start off the week with what I'm thankful for today: the beautiful flowers that are popping up all around the Bay Area. This is the ornamental pear tree outside my house: 

Have you ever wondered how all the pear trees know to bloom at the same time? I was wondering that this week. On cue from Heaven, maybe.

I love that spring begins in mid-February here. The rush and hum of the world coming back to life is one of my favorite sensations in all the world. 

Boy, I'm thankful to be living back in the Bay Area!

What are you thankful for today? 

I'm sorry this comes later than usual...I had a big post in the works for last week that just wasn't ready to go up yet. Hopefully it'll be worth the wait when it gets posted this Friday :)

February 10, 2012

Versatile Blogging!

Ooh, how exciting! This blog has received its first award (from my good friend, Angela Wallace: check out her blog for some interesting thoughts on writing, cats, and fantasy...)

This award comes with a catch: I must confess 7 random things about myself, and then pass it on to some worthy-of-note bloggers. Oh dear. Let's give this a try.

1. I don't own a single pair of white socks. In high school, I did a sock exchange by mail with friends and ended up with everything from Tinker Bell socks to electric-blue fishnet socks. My current favorite is a pair of knee-high, blue-and-green argyles.

2. Scotland is my favorite country in the world. I've visited twice, but I'd go back in a heartbeat. If I could tweak the ancestral records and make myself Scottish, I would.

3. I took two quarters of Biblical Greek in college and absolutely fell in love with it--especially because so much of English is derived from Greek. My family will tell you that I still occasionally break into raptures when I recognize a word...

4. Almost all my favorite authors are old dead guys (or gals). I think good authors are like good cheese: the older, the better.

5. I like to play with big dogs, cook with big knives, and read with big books.

6. If I could be any Disney princess, I would want to be Belle for sure. Brave, kind, enormous personal library, and how about that ballroom scene??

7. My favorite Shakespeare play is Hamlet. I'm a sucker for tragedy. Don't ask me why.

And now, to pass this honor on to some wonderful bloggers!

1. Audry : Amazing photos, knitting stories (many of them about her own designs), artistic endeavors, unexpected adventures, and puppy antics.

2. Adelle : Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, these are the writings of a boymom who loves God, shoes, and words.

3. Matthew : A witty New Zealander writing about writing, reasoning, and history.

4. Marcy : Though she's already received this award numerous times, her insights on grammar and life through the eyes of faith deserve another nomination!

Even if you don't keep a blog, what are the 7 weirdest, quirkiest, or funniest things you'd list about you? 

February 3, 2012

Advice from a Book: 5 Gruesome Ways to Die

My dear Libris,

You are young and fresh off the press. I know your binding glue is new and your cover art done by a cutting-edge designer. I know you sit on the bookstore shelves and flirt with every customer who walks by, simply because you have no experience of the world and do not know what terrible and gruesome deaths books can meet. So pay attention! I would hate for any of these to happen to you.

1. Not all humans value commitment. Some humans may buy you off the shelf, read you once, and then throw you away, never to be opened again. They won't even pass you on to a friend or send you to the library for another chance to be loved. No matter how beautiful you are or how hard you work to keep your pages stiff or your suspense scenes interesting, some people will never appreciate your labor and service. All books deserve a loving home, so please watch out for second-rate bookbuyers like this.

2. Less devastating but more painful: some humans will actually abuse you. They turn your pages, make you think they love you, and then plop! a wad of gum lands between your pages and sticks them together, making them impossible to open again without tearing. Or a waterfall of hot coffee comes pouring down on your head, obliterating your words and wrinkling the weave of your paper forever. There is help for such damage, but no real cure, so be careful.

3. Worse: death by fire. This fate was a much greater risk several years ago, but especially if you open your mouth and utter shocking and uncensored comments, you are at risk for being burned at the stake, perhaps even publicly. It is one of the great unrectified injustices against our kind, but for the time being, you must watch yourself.

4: Perhaps more gruesome still: death by water. Your innocent-seeming owner appears to love you so much that they read you at every possible opportunity, even snatching a few minutes with you while they brush their teeth. One minute you're happily flapping around in their free hand, and the next thing you know, you're facedown in the sink, covered with toothpaste. Or worse--I shudder to think of it--floating in the toilet bowl. Beware of small bathrooms; these increase the danger exponentially.

5. And now we come to the worst fate of all. I hate to even tell you about this and cast a shadow over your unscarred print-history line. But it must be told. There are some people--some bookstore-frequenting people--who will appear enamored with you, seem to appreciate you for your depth and worth, buy you off the shelf, take you home, shelve you above their television set--and then leave you there, untouched and unnoticed, to gather dust with a row of other deceived books for the rest of your lonely, unloved life. You'll even be close enough to hear the cruel blaring of the television as they sit with it every night.

Please don't despair, dear Libris. These fates are terrible and tragic, but there are also excellent humans who will take good care of you and make your shelf life long and sweet. There are those people who will tiptoe into the bookstore, or library, or even up to the giveaway table at a yard sale, and spot you, and cry: "Just the one I've been looking for!" And they'll take you home and love you and read you again and again. They will laugh at your funny parts and turn your pages carefully. They'll keep you far away from coffee mugs and television sets, and they may even recommend you to their friends. It is worth any risk to end up in the hands of such a person.

Dear Libris, I hope you may end up with such an owner. But even so--keep your eyes open. There are many gruesome ways for books to die. 

Thank you Hannah, Teri, Megan, Caleb, and Elaine for these wonderfully grisly ideas! What warnings would you give a naive, newly published volume about the world of readers?