Behind the Painted Smile

12 04 2007

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“I can’t let them know who I really am, Kelsey,” she said with pain in her voice, “Because they’d be so disappointed if they knew I wasn’t doing as well as they all think I am — if they knew I don’t have it all together.”

I tried pulling her out of the mental hole she’d fallen into; I said she was merely human, just like everyone else, so she wasn’t perfect, just like everyone else. But the topic was closed and she had no desire to be thrown anymore ropes.  She wanted to stay in her hole.

Like so many other people, this young girl had decided she couldn’t allow anyone to see the scared, broken, hurting person behind the mask.

Life: The Masquerade

We learn at a young age that life is a large and elaborate, 24/7 masquerade ball, and if you’re going to play the game, you have to hide your shortcomings, struggles, pain and imperfections behind a painted smile, just like everyone else does.

Unfortunately, while we watch the endless parade of smiling, confident faces stroll past us, we often forget we’re attending a masquerade ball, and that almost every face is completely hidden from view behind a bucket full of paint. Everyone else appears beautiful and put together, so we desperately cling to our own masks a little tighter, hoping no one will notice the confident, perfect grin we’re showcasing will smear the next time it rains.

It’s the domino affect in action, and it starts with just one person deciding to sport a mask. The people around them then analyzed their own wrinkled, pimply faces in the mirror and decide they’re falling short, so they invest in masks, as well. Before long, there isn’t a single person left who even remembers what it’s like to be transparent, honest and real.

Broken and Scary   

We’re told we’re suppose to be as normal and all-American as The Brady Bunch, but if people truly knew us, we’d all probably come closer to resembling The Addams Family – eccentric, dark, a little scary, and just downright weird.

People are hurting, grieving, living, and dying alone.

And the most heartbreaking part is there are others who are just as scary and broken as they are, but they’re also hiding behind a painted smile.  Just like everyone else.

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Santa in March?

28 03 2007

‘Tis the Season for flowers, spring allergies and seasonally ineffective street evangelists.  

I was plodding along, completely engrossed in my own thoughts, when a little, gray haired lady — her arms filled with grocery bags — flagged me down.   In a quite voice, she leaned in closer to me, and with big eyes and a somewhat crazed smile plastered on her face, she informed me there was something she needed to give me. 

As she rummaged around in her brown, winter coat, I half expected her to pull out a plastic fork, or an old gumball wrapper, or even, something to help me contact the aliens with.  But instead of ET’s home number, her hand emerged with two small cards – each about the size of a business card.  She handed them proudly over to me.  Cutesy Christian poems were printed on them in flowery fonts; nope, I wouldn’t be helping ET phone home today.     

“Santa Claus,” she said his name with all the inflections a good storyteller would use when the zombies had emerged and were now wreaking havoc on society, “leads straight to the mall which leads to bankruptcy and depression.”  She looked up so she could stare right into my eyes.  It reminded me of the way a door to door salesman would stare at you while he was trying to convince you of your overwhelming need for the latest and greatest vacuum cleaner.  I smiled back uncomfortably.  

After an awkward silence, she apparently decided I was now ripe for the gospel, and added triumphantly, “But Jesus leads to peace.  Santa has deceived us all, we’ve all ended up at the mall, but you don’t have to stay there, because you can choose to either follow Santa or Jesus.” 

Santa or Jesus? Okay, so I’ve had a couple bad experiences with street evangelists in the past, but this “gospel message” takes the cake.  Not only did it not make any sense, but it wasn’t even seasonally appropriate!     

It was ironic she thought “following Santa” would lead straight to the mall, because I was on my way to stop by a friends house – who’s actually a friend from church — and then we were going to spend the afternoon at the local mall.              

She looked satisfied, and abruptly walked away without another word.  And I continued on to the mall thinking how her “gospel” was enough to make me feel turned off from Christianity. 

I didn’t tell the lady I she was preaching to the choir, because the “Christianity” she was selling was nothing I was willing to defend or own. 

It seems like we’re in need of a new term, because somewhere along the way the term “Christianity” lost its meaning.  It became about televangelists, concerts, cheesy bumper stickers, judgemental and stupid people, and somewhere in all the hubbub, true Christianity was misplaced; it stopped being simply about “Yes, Jesus loves me.”     





Blessings of Soggy Cereal

1 11 2006

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“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” ~Hebrews 4:15

I once had a Sunday school teacher try to explain this verse to a class I was in. We were all very young at the time, so the concept of a “high priest” was strange and not particularly interesting.  If she’d been comparing Jesus to a Ninja Turtle or Mickey Mouse, we might have perked up, but it still would have been a challenge to keep our short attention spans engaged for long.

“Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins,” she said to the class “and He also came so that He’d know what it’s like to live here on earth, so that He’d know what it’s like to… to … eat cereal.”  God left heaven so He could eat breakfast cereal with a bunch of sinners?  Since He’s God — the Creator and all — why didn’t He just make His own cereal?  The only conclusions I could come up with, were either God had a fetish for Shredded Wheat, or my teacher was stranger than she looked.

Temptation is Tempting

“[He] was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Temptation is tempting; this may sound as deep as the bumper sticker on the back of your car, but when temptation comes knocking it’s hard to say no.  Because if you didn’t want it, there wouldn’t be a temptation.

When temptation hits, you may relate to Jesus, being offered all the kingdoms of the world, everything you want seems to be within your grasp, but then you realize who’s offering you this proposition, and you’ll be paying for it through the nose.  Do the ends justify the means?  The little man on your shoulder — in his cheesy devil costume — whispers something sly into your ear.  You want it so badly, and the thought of letting it go forever seems so horrible, but you take a deep breath, and say no to your little red pal.

I said no to the little man on my shoulder recently.  It was hard, as well as painful, and it honestly still is to a degree.  Letting go can hurt.  But despite this, I’ve gained something important — I’ve learned a little bit more about the beauty of compassion.

Compassion: A Beautiful Thing

It’s a wonderful thing that God not only understands the process of saying no to temptation, He also understands the pain and the heartache that is sometimes inevitable when you’re forced to say no to something you truly want.  The temptations and hardships Christ encountered while on earth extended far beyond a bowl of soggy cereal; He’s been offered the “easy way” out, He’s been tempted with everything He desired most, but He said no.  He doesn’t just know mentally that it would be difficult, He knows from firsthand experience; He’s felt the pain.

This — what my Sunday school teacher tried to present so many years ago — is truly amazing.  It’s amazing that God Almighty would be able to sympathize with sinners in their hour of need.  May we all seek to show the same level of compassion we’ve been shown, to others.

“DIVINE MASTER, grant that I my not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” ~St. Francis of Assisi





Looking at Regret

25 10 2006

Hind’s site is a very valuable tool.  If you let it, it can show you who you truly are, not just who you’d like to imagine yourself out to be.  Unfortunately though with the realization of one’s own depravity and sheer stupidity comes the sting of regret, and by than there’s often nothing to be done about it, which only makes it harder to sweep it under the mat.  “How could I of been such a fool?” is the question without any answer in sight.      

“And we know all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.  Due to the overuse of this verse I often associate it with refrigerator magnets with perky animals on them, and people who aren’t really listening to you, but feel the need to throw something out there, but when you get past the stupidity that’s become entwined with this truth you’re left with a beautiful promise that I can’t even begin to truly understand.   

This promise isn’t just limited to the unjust and seemingly pointless heartaches we encounter in life, the things we were just dealt, but hand no control over, it extends to the things I do, my own mistakes.  When I do something foolish God doesn’t only forgive me if it was a sin, but He says He’ll take that thing, which I brought on myself and work it together for good in my life.  It’s such an amazing promise it should be held in reverence, not as a trite well-wishing.        

Forgiveness would be mercy, not getting what I deserve, but God shows me His amazing grace by taking my stupidity and using it for something good.  There’s nothing trite about that.