Why I Can’t Stand “Strong Female Characters”

 My siblings and I were watching a bonus feature on a TV recently (Avatar: The Last Airbender, if you must know), and it was titled “The Women of Avatar: The Last Airbender”. One thing I’ll point out first is that none of these “women” were over the age of eighteen, so in my mind they were all still children or very young adults. But as the creators, fans, and writers talked, and as the clips to back up the view that all these female characters were “strong” characters played, I noticed something.

Most of the time, these girls were yelling. Or beating up a couple grown men. Or challenging authority figures.

And I started thinking, since when did strength become synonymous with disrespect? Really. Think about all the Disney Princesses over the years. How many of them are what you would call well-mannered, respectful young women? Please understand, I am not “anti-women” and know that I am directing this post to a Christian audience. If you don’t believe and live under the authority of God’s Word, the Bible, this is all likely going to sound repulsive to you.

Young Christian women and girls, what are we told strength is? Where does it come from? What does it look like?

Is it challenging any and all authority at any time? Is it fighting against any sort of rule or regulation? Is it speaking up whenever we have something to say? Does strength come from our biology? Does it come from the fact that we are “liberated” and no longer in the “oppressive” society our grandparents lived in?

What is true strength? What does a truly strong woman look like?

I can tell you with certainty: she doesn’t look like Suki. She doesn’t look like Belle. Or Jasmine or Elsa. Not like Black Widow, or Mary Watson.

She looks like my mother, like so many of the mothers and wives I know. Like the elderly women at my church who gather to pray every single Tuesday morning. Like Mary. Like Martha. Like Ruth.

Would anyone deny that Jesus was a strong person? I doubt it. And yet He is most often described in Scripture as meek or humble. As obedient. Do you know what meekness is? It isn’t shyness. It isn’t flinching away. It isn’t cowardice.

It is strength.

Under control.

That, ladies, is what our “strong female characters” lack.

They lack control. They lack obedience. They lack humility. They lack, because they are of the world, Christ-likeness.

And sisters, is that Christ-likeness not our goal? Isn’t it what we are to be striving for? Not to the be the loudest voice or the stronger personality. But to be obedient to God and those whose authority He has, in His perfect will and plan, put us under.

Our husbands.

Our fathers.

Our church leaders.

Our teachers.

Our mothers.

None of us- male or female- will ever truly “be our own boss”. And you know what? That’s a good thing.

Jesus wasn’t exactly His own boss. He bowed the knee of obedience to His Father. Every day, in every situation, no matter what the culture around Him said, He obeyed God.

He took direction. He used His strength, His power, for God’s purposes. He was not loud or obnoxious or rude. He was not constantly trying to show up others. He was not yelling about His rights. He was quietly, contentedly, going about God’s work.

Am I? Are you?

The world tells us a strong woman doesn’t have to listen to anyone. It says that obedience is demeaning. It tells you, loudly, brightly, happily, that if you submit or obey that you are weak.

Ladies how much strength does it take to give in to your flesh?

Not. Much.

How much willpower does it take to snap irritably at someone? To roll your eyes at your dad’s face or his back? To talk back to your mother? To know that you know best?

None.

On the flipside, how much strength does it take to tell yourself “no.”? How much strength does it take to obey God?

He tells us to be grateful for those in authority over us, to pray for them. He tells us that a strong- a meek- daughter of His is obedient. That she finds pleasure and joy in obeying. He tells us quietly, honestly, lovingly, that obedience is the mark of His children. That it is a way we can thank Him for the marvelous gift of salvation.

How much strength does it take to smile and joyfully obey? To be still and speak later, in private, when you’re calmer? To take a deep breath and submit? To turn away from sin?

It takes more strength than we have.

We cannot be true strong women without Christ. We cannot be meek without learning how He was meek. We cannot be good ambassadors if we do not study, stand by, and practice, our King’s laws.

We have no hope of every having true meekness in our own power. It is through genuine prayer, repenting of disobedience, and studying Scripture that we become strong. All our strength is in Christ- we are nothing without Him.

So ladies, please. Let’s be cheering for the “meek females” in our lives Let’s honor them- not the sad, distorted shadows the world tries to tempt us with.

Let us make honoring God our priority and goal- not honoring our flesh.

My Savior and My God

This week at my church’s Bible Study for women, I was asked to share what God has been doing in my life. As I wrote out what I planned to share, it struck me that I should share this on my blog as well!

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God has been teaching me the same things over and over because apparently I’m a very slow learner. Two of the things I want to focus on are contentment in Him and finding my value in Him.

As I’ve said before, in 2010 my family and I moved to Conway, Arkansas from our small town in Missouri where we had lived for nine years. In this move and before we came to our home church in November, God saved me and then taught me to be content in my family.

I made friends with a girl just a year older than me in early 2011. We were totally fangirls- Star Trek, Star Wars, Artemis Fowl, Lord of the Rings, Narnia– and our own worlds of course. We played Real Life Games (“pretend”) with our characters and wrote together several times. However, in 2013 she began to suffer from intense anxiety attacks and depressive episodes. For several months we essentially communicated solely by letters.

However, in 2013 she began to suffer from intense anxiety attacks and depressive episodes. For several months we essentially communicated solely by letters.

As I struggled with the difficult and often confusing questions she asked me, I learned obedience. I knew my answers weren’t always what she wanted to hear and sometimes I didn’t say things well. I really couldn’t see her very much as I was sometimes a trigger for her attacks because I reminded her of the games and her difficulties with putting those down was part of what led to her problems.

As I prayed for her and for myself and walked through that time, I also learned to be content with God’s outcome. I expected that if I did everything the right way and said what God told me to say, that we would still stay as close as we were before. That wasn’t the case and while we are still friends, we only see each other and communicate twice a year when we put together a piano recital for our students. I learned that obedience does not necessarily mean we get the outcome we anticipate.

In 2015 I lost more friends. The family that we did house church with was called to serve with a ministry in Texas. Looking for a church again was a daunting task, as I’ve blogged about before. Going to church in a city forty-five minutes from where we live has been difficult in several different ways and I have struggled with bitterness, anger, loneliness, anxiety, and complaining.

God has been teaching me that just because someone does something differently does not mean it’s wrong- in some things there is more than one way to do something. He’s taught me that no one is perfect, that His plans are perfect, and that He puts us where we need to be.

God is good. Through all of these and more circumstances, God has forcefully re-aligned my focus to Him. He has reminded me that He loves me, that I am safe with Him, that I am not alone. He reminds me that I can be fully and completely content in Him.
Another lesson God has been teaching me is that my value comes from Christ and I should be focused on pleasing Him, not man.

I am nineteen years old and I graduated high school last year. I’ve never been on a date or had someone tell me a guy was interested in me- nothing. I wanted to be married or at least close right out of high school and obviously that hasn’t happened. I want a husband, family, and home to care for and when people ask me what I want to do… that’s what I tell them.

Lately, as I have struggled with being content in this time of my life, I have started down the path of wondering what’s wrong with me that no one is interested in me. I have looked at women and girls I know who have what I want- trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. I self-examine and try to figure out why I’m left out and what is wrong with me. I see flaws aplenty in my physical appearance and am reminded by others and my own mind about things that are wrong or annoying in my personality and temperament.

But my worth is in Christ. Yes, I need to be examining myself to see where my life, actions, words, are not lining up with Scripture. My worth is in what Christ did when he sacrificed himself for me and rose from the dead. God loves me because of the blood of His Son. He is the One I should be working to please. God comes with a whole book on how to love Him- guys don’t.

Because of what Christ did, I can know that I am loved by God. He is the reason I am who I am. He’s the reason I can love, the reason I live, the reason I keep going. He is pleased with me because of Christ. He is my peace. My friend. My God.

He is and always will be more than enough, and these life trials, as well as ones I haven’t mentioned, have only served to make me see that more clearly.

Speeding

I love driving.
Seriously.
I got a car roughly two months ago and I’ve already put over a thousand miles on it. I do every errand I can just so I can drive around town.
I love going fast- love driving on the interstate. No, I don’t speed. I go the speed limit.
That’s where I’ve run into problems.
See, not everyone drives the speed limit.
Some people don’t know there is a speed limit.
And if I’m not doing eighty, they don’t like me.

As I was driving into Little Rock this morning for a meeting and cars were passing me every which way, I realized something.
Driving really is a lot like life.
A lot like life.
There are dozens of areas where this is true, but I want to focus on one today: peer pressure.

When I’m driving, and not one, but three of the people behind me whiz past me at ninety miles an hour for no apparent reason (I do the speed limit, remember?), I find myself, well, wondering.

I glance at my speedometer.
Is my cruise control off?
Am I slowing down?
Did I take my foot off the gas?
Should I speed up so I don’t bother everyone else by driving ‘slow’?

The answer to all these question?
No. no. no. and no.
So when I’m with a certain group of people, and I’m outside the group once again, unsure as to how to engage in conversation, trying to make sure my face looks happy and inviting, when I’m wondering if my makeup is good enough, if my clothes are just the right combination of “fit in” and “stand out”, I find myself, well, wondering.

Should I try different shorts?
Should I straighten my hair instead of curling it?
What are they talking about?
I don’t know…
How do I take all the effort of making friends and conversation onto myself?
What did I do wrong this time?

The answers to these questions are a little more complicated, but it all really comes down to one thing:
Am I doing as I’ve been told, either by the law or by God?
If the answer is ‘yes’? Then I don’t have to worry.
I shouldn’t feel pressured, shouldn’t start panicking, and I shouldn’t start doubting the instructions God has given me.
Because I’m driving in the right lane for me. I’m going the right speed for me.

So sometimes I don’t wear makeup. Sometimes I wear my baggy shorts and tee-shirt, just to remind myself that I do not have to conform. God loves me just as much in a tee-shirt as a button-down. My friends don’t care if I put on makeup. They want to see me.

I keep doing what I’m doing. I keep walking along the path God has laid out for me. Sometimes I still panic, sometimes I still cry, sometimes I still try to change. But He always brings me back. He always reminds me, gently pulling me back to where I need to be.

And if you are His child, He’ll do the same thing for you, too

A Follow-Up to “What Does It Take…”

I’ve had a couple of comments after posting my last piece reminding me that my main source of beauty comes from the Lord and my character.

While I’m sorry I didn’t make that as clear as I now wish I had, I sort of did it for a reason. And now I’m going to share it. 😉

I know that inner beauty is the beauty we need to care about most. I know that “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31). Please don’t misunderstand that.

But my purpose in writing that post was because I know this. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it. The last time was Friday night at that Father Daughter Banquet. And it is so true. That’s why I wrote this post.

When we are more concerned about perfecting our inner beauty, our outer beauty increases.

At least, that’s how I see it. When I am dwelling on the Lord and His ways, I smile more. I find more things in which to give Him glory. When I am concerned about my clothes helping my spiritual brothers in their efforts to be pure and holy, just like I’m trying to be, I am beautiful.

So, yes, I know that inner beauty is what matters.

And I think it shows. Most of the girls I consider truly “beautiful” in my circles have two things in common: they all have the same smile and they are all dedicated to the Lord. They are trusting Him, not makeup, for their value. Do they wear makeup? Yes, they do. But that’s now what makes them beautiful.

When these girls smile, it’s real. When they smile, it’s full of the joy of the Lord.

I know that when I am with them, we will have encouraging and sometimes hard conversations. And that’s how I want to be.

I want my smile to be something that lights up a room- not because it’s as white as Giada deLarentis’, but because people can see the joy and the peace of God in me.

There’s a Christian song that the graduating class of my town sang last year. It’s called Let Them See You in Me.

The chorus goes like this if you aren’t familiar with the song:

Let them see you in me

Let them hear you, when I speak

Let them feel you, when I sing

Let them see you

Let them see you, in me.

and the end of the second verse says this:

I give my life, an offering

Take it all, take everything.

That is beauty. Our God is a holy God. He created beauty. He is beautiful.

And when we obey Him? When we reflect Him?

We’re reflecting His beauty.

Then it’s not us getting the praise- it’s Him.

So, Christian sisters, let people see God in you. Let them see Him by the way you talk, by the way you reach out to others, by the way you obey God even if it looks different.

Let them see God in us.

Let them not see anger, or dissension, or apathy.

Let them see self-sacrifice. Let them see God’s children praying. Let them see God’s children being willing to ask each other the hard questions. Let them see us- the kids God has saved- reading His word, praying with each other on a regular basis, and sharing this Truth with others.

Let them see you in Me. And let that be all they see.

-Sarah

What Does It Take To Make You Feel Beautiful?

Well? What is it for you?

Makeup?

Trendy clothes?

The perfect selfie?

I never really cared about my appearance until I was about thirteen. I had just started crushing on guys and wondering why I didn’t look like most of the other girls I saw. So I started blow-drying my hair, trying to pick out clothes that matched, earrings that weren’t just “fun”, and generally asked my mom if I looked okay every time I went to church or another place.

Each Monday I had Model United Nations class. It was my only out-of-the-house activity, and I spent ages getting just the right outfit that would hopefully allow me to be on the same level as another girl. I wore weird things, cute things, ugly things, and stuff that generally kept me looking like a twelve-year-old playing dress up for the next four and a half years.  I got comments like this:

Are you waiting for a flood? Your jeanss are too short.

Or this:

Really? You look so much younger than the age you just told me!

I was uncomfortable when I wore nice clothes because they didn’t always fit right  (I ignored that in the store and then wore the outfit once, never to be touched again because it was so uncomfortable.) or because I’d ignored my mom’s advice and picked a not-so-great outfit.

When I was fourteen, my mom let me start wearing clear mascara and darker lip glosses. When I was sixteen, I was allowed to wear blush, eye makeup, etc. We went to Belk and got the Clinique lady to do my makeup so I could see what I would look like. This was the result:

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I hated it. I thought I looked like a monster or something. My skin was even whiter than normal, my lips were fat, my eyes made me look terrifying, and I hated myself.

I hated the fact that I looked terrible while all my friends and peers looked gorgeous, and I hated the fact that my face wouldn’t do what everyone else’s would. But mostly, I hated the fact that I didn’t like looking like everyone else.

Some of you, like one of my friends, may be saying, “you look beautiful!” Thank you. If you didn’t, don’t feel bad. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Here’s the bottom line:

I was trying to find myself. In this time period of 2014 to 2016, I’ve been trying to find my views, my purpose, and my style. I’ve been trying to be so many things, looking for what God wants me to be.

When we began attending a traditional church last year, after coming out of a wonderful house church where I and my brother were the only teens, I started wearing makeup more regularly. I wore eyeshadow, blush, a skin-tone-evening-cream, lipstick, and, last summer, eyeliner.

And guess what?

I still didn’t measure up.

I’d get to church on a Wednesday night and see that the girls in sweatshirts and athletic shorts still looked prettier than I did in my jeans, boots, and nice shirt. Their makeup had a flawless look to it- they talked to the guys.

And I still thought I looked ugly when I wore all that makeup. I hated the feeling of all that creme on my face- of all the stuff on my eyes.

It’s taken me eight months to figure out why.

Last Friday, I attended a Father-Daughter Banquet with my dad. Our church hosts one for girls in the 7th through 12th grades. The senior girls get to give tributes to their dads. That was my whole reason for going.

I don’t own any formal dresses, but a family in our church lent me one. My mom was at a basketball game while I was getting ready, so I didn’t have her to ask questions as I second-guessed every decision I made.

This was a big event, so I knew I needed to do a great job on my makeup. I put on the skin-tone-evener, bronzer,  blush, dark eyeshadow, two types of mascara, and eyeliner.

Looking into the mirror, I smiled to get the full effect.

Once again, I looked like a clown. My blush was obvious, my eyeliner was uneven and too dark, and my skin felt awful.

Furious, I scrubbed everything off.  Why wasn’t it working? I had taken my time. I’d been careful. I’d watched tutorials and spend a good bit of money to get high-quality makeup.

I had obeyed all the rules, checked off all the boxes, but I was not rewarded like I thought I should have been.

This is a mistake I make in all areas of life: if you obey all the rules, you get a reward. If you don’t obey the rules, yet get punished. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t always work like that. It’s a legalistic way of looking at things.

I took a deep breath and tried not to cry. Again. There had to be another way to do this. Something I was missing. I thought back over the last several months and weeks, praying for clarity. What was I missing? What was my makeup supposed to be?

My brother has no qualms about mentioning his views on makeup. he thinks it looks ugly. He hates it when I wear a lot of eyeliner or a lot of lipstick. It’s taken me some time to get used to this because he’s finally been good enough to say that this is his personal opinion.

I’d fought his comments for a long time. It’s my face. I think I look nice. What does he know? But he knows a lot, in my mind. His opinion means the world to me.

So I thought about what Philip said I thought about my reactions to myself when I put on the trendy amount of makeup. And I realized something.

I don’t like how I look in all this makeup- not because I look bad (I often get  compliments when I wear it)- but becuse I don’t look like me

I know what I look like. I know what kind of clothes I like and don’t like.

And now, I know what kind of face I like.

Mine.  I like MY face. I like the way GOD made me. I like me.

Not the sinful me, not the sarcastic, cruel, me- the pure, washed-white-as-snow, cleansed-by-the-blood-of-Jesus me.

I like the me that Jesus sees. 

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In this picture, from that Friday Night Father-Daughter Banquet, I’m wearing a bit of color-correction stuff on my nose, some lipstick, and mascara.

Most of the girls at church had on a lot more makeup than I did. And they looked beautiful.

But you know what? So did I.

Because I looked like me. And even if my nose is fat and always red and my eyes are always slanted down and my teeth aren’t blindingly white, that’s okay. Because that’s me. I’m not perfect because no one is.

And I don’t need makeup to make me beautiful. I don’t need a filter.

What makes me beautiful is my smile. It’s the Holy spirit inside me. It’s God.

So I dare you.

Let a smile be the only makeup you wear this Wednesday to church. Don’t think that you need to cover up. Don’t be so insecure or prideful s to think that all anyone sees is your acne or your thin eyebrows.

Don’t worry. Smile. Let the Light of Life shine through your face.

I dare you.

-Sarah

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A Tale of Two Spies and Some Haggis Chapter Three

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Chapter Three

 

            John was on his feet in a split second, only to find his daughter being helped to her feet by a somewhat sheepish man who looked like he’d just come in from a Mud Run. He might have looked familiar if John could see him clearly. Together, they helped Laura into a chair, at which point John decided to turn his “disapproving glare” up to Level Twelve.

            “Do you have an explanation for this, young man?” the Scot asked harshly.

            The man laughed nervously until he caught sight of John’s face. He quickly stopped laughing and tried to look serious. “Gee, I’m really sorry about all this,” he said quickly. “I meant to surprise her…  just… not quite this much.”

            Laura had regained the power of speech at this point and she interrupted whatever her father was going to say and leveled a look at the man that would have scared the hat off Indiana Jones himself.

            “Oh you did, did you?” she said stiffly, her accent thickening with every word. “Well, I’ll tell ya that’s a right… nasty… horrible… despicable trick to play, MacGyver Phoenix!” Mac, because of course it was he, started at her use of his name. She rolled her eyes to hide the fact that they were filling with tears. “Yes, I know yer name. I know most everything about you.” Laura gave him a small and possibly sarcastic smile. “Agency 202 does keep its operatives well informed.”

            Mac was flabbergasted. This wasn’t exactly the response he had been expecting. Although, he wasn’t sure what he had been expected. “Well… um…”

            Laura had control of herself by now. She stood slowly, gripping the chair for support. “I hope ye’re happy,” she said in a low voice, taking a step towards him. “Do you have any idea what the last six months have been like, thinking that I’d killed you?” She threw her hands up in the air. “Gravy ‘n haggis, Mr. Phoenix, you’ve got some nerve!”

            “Yes, listen, about that, I’m really sorry- well, not really, it had to be done, but I am sorry that I…” he paused, considering. “No, I can’t be sorry for that either.”

            The Scottish woman had been growing angrier and angrier as Mac spoke. Finally, she gave into a baser instinct and slapped him, open-handed, across the face. She had to get out of here. She couldn’t stand here listening to this. If she was going to be honest with herself, she couldn’t bear the thought that she might burst into tears in front of this man.

            Furious and embarrassed, she brushed past him and started out the door, only to have her hand caught in an iron grip. Mac pulled her back into the pub with the grace to look ashamed.

            “I’m not sorry for scaring the agent that tried to poison me.” Laura raised her free arm to slap him again, but he took it in his other hand and lowered it gently. “But I am sorry for scaring the lady. I couldn’t afford to be taken in right then, so I had to do what I had to do. Can you possibly understand?”

            Laura regarded him silently, letting her eyes search his face for any trace of a lie. She was excellent at reading people.

            When she realized he was speaking the truth, she relaxed her arms and he let go of her.

            “So,” Mac said eagerly, plunging ahead recklessly. “After Agency 202 hired me and gave me a new job, I… well, I looked you up. And while I was reading about you and learned that you were a Christian, well, I looked into that too.” He finally took a breath. “Laura, the Lord worked in my soul as well.” Smiling, he took her hands again. “Living for God and learning about Him has been the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.

            “And I was wondering if you’d be the second most wonderful thing.”

            Laura just stared at him. What on earth was the man talking about? He sounded crazy. “Mr. Phoenix,” she said slowly, “I think you’d best sit down… let da get you a drink…”

            Mac simply kept grinning that boyish grin. “Come on, Laura Kerr.” Oh, the way he said her name, as thought it was Laura-Kerr. That would surely set a girl’s heart a-flutter. She hesitated and Mac took the cue.

            “I’d like to take you on a picnic to Loch Lomond tomorrow. To talk.”

            Silence reigned in the pub. John practically had his mouth hanging open as he watched the exchange. Martha, who had been secreted in the stairway ever since Laura hit the floor, grasped her nightgown to her chest, waiting.

            Laura Kerr, however, was praying. She didn’t look it, standing there with her poker face firmly in place, but she was fervently begging God for guidance. What on earth was she to do in a situation like this?

            Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?[1]

            Oh, Lord help me.

MacGyver Phoenix was a Christian, after all, or at least he claimed to be. And he did have good manners. And no one could deny that he was quite handsome. The girl’s face didn’t change, but her voice answered all Mac’s questions. “Alright, Mr. Phoenix,” she said slowly and softly. “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road.”

            Mac’s face lit up. “And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.” That was all he needed. He bowed dramatically, first to Laura, then to her father, and finally to her mother (everyone had known she was there; they were all spies for Pete’s sake!). With a slight skip in his step he set off from the pub, headed off into the moors.

            After her parents went back to bed, Laura slipped outside to watch MacGyver go. If she strained her ears to their farthest reach, she could just hear his voice come floating back to her. He’d changed the words.

            “And me and my true love will always meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond!”

His form stopped short as Laura started singing, serenading him as he journeyed to who knows where. She wasn’t worried. She knew she would see him tomorrow.

            “By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes, where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond. Where me and my true love will ever meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond!”

  

The End

[1] James 4:11-12

 

I’m Alive! Nine Things My Family Unintentionally Taught Me

Hello loyal readers! Yes, it is I, Sarah. I’m alive (not exactly well, as I’m recovering from poison ivy and battling with the steroid that seems to help my rash and devastate everything else) and back after exactly two months of silence. My apologies are numerous but not extremely guilty. I haven’t had much to say in the last two months. Senior year has actually been one of the smallest drains on my time. However, eight piano students, the activities and functions that come with traditional church, and the fact that there are six people in my family- all of these things have taken their toll on my time.

But now I’m here. There are at least three posts that I want to write in the next month (it is Novel-Writing Month, after all, even though I won’t exactly be writing a novel) but none of them are really coming to me right now. So instead, in honor of fall and the fact that for me, fall brings up every memory I’ve ever had, the rest of this post will be an ode to my family and all that they’ve taught me over my seventeen years of life.

 Number of Things My Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Great-Grandparents Have Taught Me 

  1. When the sign says, “Work Zone- Do Not Enter” you can keep driving. It’ll make for a great story once you get where you’re going.

I only travelled to Alabama with my maternal grandmother one time, but that one time taught me more than I could possibly have imagined. We were driving along and my grandmother took the exit she always did. Did she see the sign? Surely. Did I see the it? Yes. But hey, I was ten years old and believed that my grandmother knew everything. Surely it was okay to drive down the road. Well, it was okay for about fifteen minutes, at which point the road ended and the workers started giving us weird looks. My grandmother was confused, so I timidly made mention of the sign.

She hadn’t seen it.

As we turned around she laughed till she cried, and it was a running joke from that time on to remind my Mimaw to watch out for “road closed” signs.

2. Dressing that can be cut into squares simply is not dressing at all.

This is actually a gem from my great-grandmother, Mim, whose words of wisdom still reign supreme in her daughters’ minds after all these years. The Cracker Barrel restaurant probably rued the day that they served Nona Mae Holcomb such horrible dressing.

3. Moses (or, God) is always watching.

At a family gathering many years ago, there sat a ceramic statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments. It was on a side-table or something, innocently observing the conversation taking place. At one point the conversation turned, as conversations tend to do, to someone who was disliked by various people present. It was only a few minutes into this conversation that my dad quietly picked up the Moses figurine and held it piously before him. It served as a gentle and fun reminder that we should always watch what we say, because the Lord is always listening.

4. Baking isn’t really an exact science

At least not for Mimaw. Most of the recipes that I have from her have notes that go something like, “to taste” or, “until it looks right”. Sometimes we can’t recreate a recipe to perfection simply because we don’t know what “right” looks like. But it’s okay, we don’t mind. It just reminds us of all the times she cooked for us, or our family, or any number of people. One of my life goals is to be able to cook like my grandmothers and aunts.

5. Grandpas know everything

This is an indisputable fact that I will argue to my grave.  My Paw-Paw has taught me so much on so many subjects that I can’t even begin to list them all. But just for fun, here are a few: how to take a girl on a date (this is for my brother, obviously), how to fix the various ailments of a car, how to make a long-distance relationship work (get in good with the mother), how to make boiled ocra, how to make a hummingbird cake, the use for red winnies, and, of course, how to drive (I learned this skill at age eleven at the city fairgrounds).

6. “Maroon” is a really good insult

Mostly because by the time someone figures out that you just called them a moron, you’re already gone.

7. Keep your siblings close

I will never, for as long as I live, forget the time that my Mimi pulled me onto her lap after I’d been horribly despicable to one of my younger sisters. She had tears in her eyes as she held me close. I’d never seen her cry before and in seconds my eyes were also filled with tears. “Sarah,” she said softly, “I want you to promise me something.” I couldn’t do anything but nod. “Be good to your sisters and your brother. You’re lucky to have them and they’re lucky to have you. And… once they’re gone you may never get them back.” This is a piece of wisdom that I have carried with me ever since, and plan to pass along to my kids just as soon as they understand English.

8. You’re never too old to have an adventure

Every time my grandparents get back home from a trip to Alabama, or yet another tour of the Blue Ridge Parkway, they always have stories. Sometimes it’s something they saw, something they did or didn’t do, or just the good time they had talking together. One of my distant cousins (she’s over seventy) still owns thirty-two acres and keeps and feeds her own cows.

9. Stories are family

I never get tired of hearing stories about my family. Everything I learn gives me new insight into the people I love most. From the people I never got to meet, the ones I can’t see anymore, or even the ones who tell me to go to bed each night, I love hearing stories about each one. Even the ones I’ve heard a thousand times get new life blown into them when a different family member tells them. Stories are family, and families have stories.

Until I was fourteen years old, my family vacations were literal famly vacations. We went to Alabama twice a year- once for the 4th of July and my sister’s birthday and once at Thanksgiving for the family gathering and the Iron Bowl. When I turned fourteen, my grandparents moved to Arkansas to be near us and that was the end of our Alabama vacations.

My biggest reason for “walking” and participating in a real graduation ceremony is to be able to see my family. I know exactly two other students who will be graduating with me. I haven’t taken any AP classes of CLEP’d out of any college courses. I’m not walking because of meI’m walking because when it’s all over and I’ve thrown my cap and come down off the stage, there will be hugs and kisses and voices that I haven’t heard in ages waiting for me. That’s why I’m walking. To see my family.