Friday, August 26, 2011

My Thoughts on Modesty

"Modesty" is very subjective, many descriptions simply being a list of what kind of clothing is appropriate and what is not. My description of modesty is simply this: trying not to draw undue attention to yourself. Now, you'll notice that my definition doesn't only apply to clothing. And that brings me to the most important point of this post, in my opinion: Modesty is a part of your character, and your heart determines how modestly you behave, speak, carry yourself and dress.

Merriam and Webster's dictionary defines "modesty" as:  
1 : freedom from conceit or vanity
2 : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct
And "propriety" is defined as "the state or quality of being proper."

Trying to conduct myself modestly is much more important to me than trying to dress modestly (but of course, I try to dress appropriately as well). I have seen women before wearing things that I would personally consider immodest, but conducting themselves in such a gentle ladylike and "proper" way that it mostly redeemed their appearance to me (I wouldn't count on that working as well for a man, though). For me, this means striving for the "imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" first (I Peter 3:3-4) and choosing modest clothes second. You can have strict rules, cover yourself from head to foot and still behave immodestly.

For modesty in clothing, I think it's harder to draw an exact "line." It may seem hypocritical at first glance, but my opinion of what is modest is based on what the other people are wearing at a particular venue. That's what I mean by not drawing undue attention to oneself. As an example, for competitive swimming, a modest suit for me means a one-piece practice suit with more coverage than most; for recreational swimming, it means a one-piece or tankini that fully covers my stomach, and isn't low cut. This is modest at the pool or beach because it covers more than a bikini. However, at a restaurant, my bathing suits would not be modest. (Also, when I'm not actually in the water, I'll usually wear shorts and a t-shirt or a cover-up dress over my suit.)

This makes modesty much more interpretive because rather than having a list of rules, you are just making sure not to draw inappropriate attention. At a fancy dance where everyone would be wearing prom-style dresses, I might wear a strapless dress (not a low-cut one, though) whereas I wouldn't want to wear a strapless top to go shopping. Should I happen to visit a country where the women all cover themselves from head to toe, I might try to do the same (I don't know how hard it might be to find the right articles of clothing, though), but here in America, that would draw more attention than wearing a pair of not-skin-tight jeans or a simple, modest-length skirt and a nice top. 

Now, I certainly don't mean to say that my definition of modest dress is right for everyone. I just wanted to point out the relativity that I see in dressing modestly. I like to get my dad's opinion, and if he doesn't approve, I go change. I'm also trying to enlist my brothers' opinions, now that they're older. Erring on the side of modesty would always be better than risking immodesty, and the most important thing for Christians is to bring glory and honor to God through every aspect of our lives. It is not bringing glory to God if I'm wearing something "cute" that's causing my brothers in Christ to stumble. What you might think of as "cute" might look too tempting to your brothers in Christ, and while being tempting and enticing might be "in," that's definitely NOT what Christian young ladies should be aiming for in their dress OR behavior!

"...women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works." I Timothy 2:9-10

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Love the Lord your God

 "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Mark 12:30

All too often, I catch myself trying to see how little I can get away with in my spiritual life. How short can I make my quiet time in the morning, how quickly can I pray, and which prayer requests can be left out? Written out (or typed, as it were) it sounds awful, but it's sadly true sometimes. Even while I'm reading or praying, some days my attention wanders.

Does that sound like someone who is loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength?

Of course not! Naturally, I'm sure none of us has the time to spend all day reading the Bible, or to spend 4 straight hours in prayer, but this is an attitude. Instead of trying to "get it over with" so I can move on to the next "task," I should be thinking of my Bible-reading as a privilege. I may have a busy day, and only have a half an hour to spend, but that half-hour should be a joy, and while you may not be able to spend much time in what I think of as "focused" prayer, there should always be a "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17) connection to God through the day.

I think what it all comes down to is this: what is REALLY most important to you -- THE most important thing in your life? Is it drawing closer to God, allowing yourself to become more and more the likeness of Jesus, bringing Him glory in every moment of your life? When I find myself lacking interest in my relationship with God, He can always point out something or someone else who is taking that place of "most important." Something I'm stressing about (instead of giving it to Him), or a friendship that isn't going well, or just a busy week and I feel like my mind is running in circles trying to keep up. 

Whether you spend 10 minutes or 2 hours reading the Bible and praying each day, loving God is not something you get done, and then leave until the next morning. It's the way you live. He should be the focus of everything we do as Christians, and if I can't even pay attention in my quiet time, that's not a good sign for the rest of my day.
"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31

It's easy for me to get caught up in the temporary things I'm doing now, and forget about eternity. When I think about spending eternity with Jesus, so little about this life seems important. This life is such a short flash compared to eternity; a length of time that our feeble minds can't even fully comprehend. I spend too much effort trying to have a pleasant life here, when all that really matters is bringing God glory, wherever it is that He has me. We've been saved from a fallen, sinful, devastated life. He loved us so much that He gave His life so that we could be redeemed. What could possibly be more important than complete devotion to Him?

"Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pride and Prejudice in Real Life

 There are innumerable reasons why Jane Austen's books have continued to gain popularity since their publication around 200 years ago. Actually, this is the 200th anniversary year of the publication of her first novel, Sense and Sensibility (1811). But I digress. Austen's work is generally lauded for her characteristic gentle sarcasm and mocking narration. She had an amazing understanding of how people think, and developed her characters in a very natural and detailed style. Her stories are well laid-out, and entertaining (which is important in entertainment). Jane (unlike many authors nowadays) wrote about what she knew, and I think that's one of the primary reasons that what she wrote has stood the test of two centuries. 

They are all romances, 'tis true. In 19th century England, the only way for a middle-class woman to secure a comfortable life was to marry well. It was the predominating fact of life for women then. From her stories, it's easy to gather that Jane rebelled against the all-to-common method of making the best "match" possible; calculating women plied their feminine wiles, and gambled with their futures trying to get the wealthiest and handsomest man they could, without waiting too long and having to settle for whoever they could finally get. Jane's heroines are above this mentality. As Elizabeth Bennet said in Pride and Prejudice, "I am determined that nothing but the very deepest love could ever induce me into matrimony." That certainly appears to be Jane's own opinion on the subject, as all of her heroines married for love, and those couples who did not marry for love were portrayed as quite miserable, and living with their just deserts. Also worth noting is that the couples who did marry for love, while being "perfect" personality matches for each other, were still not flawless people (an aspect of reality that is sometimes left out of romance stories).

I believe these stories are still so popular, particularly with women, because even though our society no longer requires women to marry to acquire comfortable lives, marriage is still built into the essence of our very beings. Woman was created for man. I believe every woman has a place in her soul that longs and yearns to be loved and belong to that one man for her whole life. Hollywood and cheap authors are cranking out movies and books with romantic stories, but the men are usually shallow, women are objectified and "til death do you part" is completely ignored. If a man "loves" a woman in these stories, it's usually just lust in disguise and that's what makes Jane Austen's stories so much richer in comparison. Yes, there are shallow men who only lust after women, but there are also respectful, honorable men who truly love and pursue the woman they admire. Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, Edward Ferrars, Colonel Brandon, etc, are all different portraits of honorable men. The kind of men that women still long for, and sometimes despair of existing. 

It doesn't matter that these stories are set in an era totally different from our own, with lives completely unlike the lives of modern Americans, fundamentally, I believe people will always be the same. There will always be callous, uncaring cads, there will always be silly girls who will fall for them. There will always be more sensible women who want real men. And though he most likely will not dress, act, talk or look like Mr. Darcy, we hope that there are still men who are honorable and noble. We still hope for our Christlike knight. Don't worry about the shining armor or elegant finery of Mr. Darcy. Jeans are fine.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Peachy Lives

They're beautiful tones of warm creamy gold deepening in places to a rich mauve. The skin, velvety soft, yields slightly under gentle pressure. These peaches are perfect for eating plain sliced... but I have more malicious plans. First, I'll boil them for a few seconds to loosen their delicate skin, and then it will peel off easily, leaving them bare and slick. After they're peeled, I'll slice them, peach juice running through my fingers, and each slice of peach desperately trying to escape. Then the slices will marinade for a couple hours in some sugar and lemon juice.... and after that, blended into a pulp, and added to ice cream. 

Yes, I have the juice of innocent peaches on my hands... but oh, do I love fresh, homemade peach ice cream!

And I'll give one of them the dignity of being eaten plain, too.