What makes a woman beautiful?

I’ve been thinking a lot about appearance lately and questioning what it is that makes a woman beautiful. It began about a month ago when my Facebook news feed began to fill up with no make-up selfies, photos of fresh faced women without any make-up. Apparently, this was an offshoot of a campaign that originated in Britain in early March as a breast cancer awareness and fundraising endeavor. It quickly went viral. On this side of the pond, the breast cancer connection was lost and the movement became about women being comfortable in their own skin and embracing their natural beauty. Women were to post their no make-up photo then nominate other female friends to do the same. The response was interesting. Many posted their pictures proudly, others with disclaimers apologizing to those who had to see them, while still others refused to post at all.

I enjoyed the pictures but I was saddened by some of the responses. What is it about our culture that tells a woman that she needs to apologize for her natural appearance or worse yet, that she shouldn’t be seen publicly without being fully made up?

The answer is easy; the messages are all around us. Flip open any women’s magazine and you’re instantly inundated by air brushed images promising younger looking skin, flawless complexions, lusher lashes, smoother lips and glossy nails. How easy it is to forget that these are simply advertisements aimed at selling products. Instead, for many, they become the goal, the standard of beauty, and they go to great lengths to try to attain it.

The Bible has something very different to say about beauty.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  1 Peter 3:3-4

Though this passage has often been misinterpreted, nowhere does the Bible say that a godly woman shouldn’t braid her hair, wear elaborate jewelry and fine clothes, or use make-up. It simply says that her true beauty shouldn’t depend on these things. It ought to come from inside.

That’s easy to say when you’re comfortable with what you see in the mirror, but what if you really aren’t? I’m waiting for surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from my parotid gland, the largest salivary gland on the left side of my face, and I have no idea what I’ll look like afterward. The best case scenario would leave me with nothing more than an S-shaped scar down the crease in front of my ear, under my ear lobe, and down onto the side of my neck. A change in hairstyle could easily camouflage that. The tumour is deep, however, and removal may require a much more complicated procedure. There’s no way of knowing this in advance, however, so I’ve already signed consent that would allow the surgeon to make a much larger incision and cut through and temporarily move my jawbone if necessary. This procedure would also require a temporary tracheotomy and, of course, the scarring would be much more extensive. In either case, this is very delicate surgery due to the close proximity to a major facial nerve. If possible, the nerve will be saved but there is no guarantee of that. If it cannot be, I will be left with significant drooping on that side of my face.

So, what will I look like when this is over? Will I be one of those people that little children stare at and whose embarrassed mothers hush when they innocently ask, “Why does that lady look so funny?” Will inner beauty shine through a lopsided face? Will I have the courage to wear my scars as a badge of survival?

Tomorrow, I’m going to be attending a Look Good, Feel Better workshop. The program, an initiative of the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, is designed to boost the morale of women undergoing cancer treatment by empowering them to manage the effects that cancer and its treatment can have on their appearance. Perhaps I’ll learn something that will help me deal with my post surgery face, whatever it looks like.

Ultimately, however, make-up or not, scars and all, I just want the beauty of Christ to be seen in me.

face-in-the-cross

 

The Facebook conundrum

 

facebook-thumbs-guardian-expressImage: guardianlv.com

 

This morning, Ruth, at Life in the 50′s and beyond, published a post entitled Facebook Be Gone! in which she announced that she had recently deactivated her Facebook account. She cited privacy concerns and the amount of time that she found herself spending on Facebook instead of doing other things as her two primary reasons for making this decision.

Later in the day, I noticed that Leanne, at Leanne Cole Photography, had also written about social media, including Facebook. Her post has generated quite a bit of discussion.

All of this led me to write a post of my own weighing in on the the pros and cons of Facebook!

I joined Facebook late in 2007 not long before we left to spend a year teaching English in Japan. My daughter had been telling me for some time that it was something I needed to do but I’d been dragging my feet. Finally, she set up an account for me, not telling me about it until it was a fait accompli! She was right. Facebook proved to be a marvelous way to keep in touch with people back home while we were away and since returning to Canada, it’s allowed us to maintain many of the relationships that we built while we were there.

It was while we were in Japan that I used Facebook to reconnect with several people from my past including my best friend from high school, a Norwegian exchange student who shared our home for almost a year in the late 1980s and a nephew who had disappeared from our lives for several years after leaving home as a young teenager.

There are a number of things that frustrate me about Facebook but most of my exasperation is not with the website itself. It’s with the people who use it! I might be stepping on toes here but it amazes me how many seemingly intelligent people repost all sorts of myths and tall tales without checking on their validity first. It’s so easy to do using sites like snopes.com or truthorfiction.com.

I can’t help wondering about the lives of people who post what they make for supper every night. If my life was that boring, I’m sure I’d go out and do something completely audacious just to have something more interesting to write about! On the other hand, I’ve collected quite a few good recipes thanks to the people who post those.

I love the status updates that one friend writes about the crazy neighbours who live above her. I know they’re driving her around the bend but her descriptions of their antics are very entertaining! I don’t, however, need to know what happens in anyone’s bedroom other than my own!

Some of the things that people say online absolutely amaze me. Hiding behind the anonymity of their keyboards instead of talking face to face, some are downright rude. Whether intentionally or not, our “almost daughter” Chrissy, is great at initiating fascinating discussions on Facebook but, more than once, I’ve seen her and others like her remove whole conversations because they’ve degenerated into name calling and personal attacks.

Facebook has changed it’s appearance several times over the years that I’ve been using it and for the life of me, I can’t usually see why. Like everyone else, I’m frustrated when that happens and I complain but I soon get used to the new look and carry on. I suspect that the changes often have something to do with making the advertising more noticeable but if that’s the case, I don’t think it’s working very well. I, for one, rarely notice the ads at all! I do recognize, however, that they’re what pays for this free site and keep the myth that Facebook is planning to start charging subscription fees from becoming fact.

Can I live without Facebook? Yes. I had to for the five months that we were in China because it’s blocked there. Would I, like Ruth, choose to live without it? Definitely not! Used wisely, it’s a great communication tool.

Ruth is right when she speaks of the lure of Facebook and complains about the amount of time it eats up. It can definitely be a distraction and a time waster. I know I spend more time checking it than I ought to but I enjoy scrolling through my news feed several times a day looking for bits of real news. I also think it’s a fabulous way to share photos and, because I’ve linked my blog to Facebook, it also brings me readers.

Perhaps it’s greatest value to me at this point, however, is the way that it’s enabled our extended family to carry on a running conversation about the needs and care of my very elderly parents. Using the chat feature, we’ve been able to include nineteen family members scattered across North America in an ongoing discussion about life and death issues. It has been an invaluable tool in helping us come to some very important decisions as well as keeping everyone in the family informed about day to day issues.

So, in spite of the frustrations and the time that’s sometimes wasted, I give Facebook a giant thumbs up!

What about you? What’s your opinion of Facebook

Unsubscribe!

We bought a new(er) vehicle last week. Beforehand, Richard spent a lot of time online searching for exactly what he wanted. When we were finally ready to make our purchase, we also decided to pay for an extended warranty. As a result of all this, we’ve ended up on quite a few email lists and our inbox is filling up with unwanted messages advertising automobiles and vehicle protection plans. Fortunately, somewhere in the small print, there’s always a place where we can click to unsubscribe.

Don’t you wish that life worked that way; that, with the simple click of a button, we could unsubscribe from the things that make our lives difficult? I sure do!

Of course, I’d begin by unsubscribing from cancer! If I could do that, I wouldn’t even have to unsubscribe from the anxiety that goes along with waiting to find out what’s going to happen next in terms of treatment. It would already be taken care of.

I’d also unsubscribe from winter! It’s April, after all, and I’m tired of looking out the window at snow, especially now that all my Japanese friends are posting beautiful pictures of cherry blossoms on Facebook!

Ah, yes, I think I could come up with quite a list of things to unsubscribe from.

What would you unsubscribe from?

 

Top six

This is Following Augustine’s 600th post written over a period of slightly more than six years! I think that the secret to the blog’s longevity is its eclectic nature.

Originally started as a way to share our year in Japan (2008-2009) with friends and family, it has become much more than a travel blog. Family often shows up but it isn’t a mommy blog and while I occasionally focus on clothing, shoes or accessories, it definitely isn’t a fashion blog. In recent months, I’ve been using the blog to share my cancer journey but, just as my life continues to be about more than just my health, so does the blog. My faith permeates every part of my life, including what I write, but this isn’t a religion blog either. For lack of a better description, I refer to it as a travel and lifestyle blog but I also like to think of it as an active retirement blog.

One of the things that I like about blogging with WordPress is the stats page where I can see how many readers view the blog, where they’re from and which posts are most popular. I’m often surprised by which ones generate the most interest. In fact, some of the most popular posts are ones that I wondered if anyone would find interesting!

Today, in honour of 600 posts in 6 years, I’m going to profile my top 6 posts of all time. Since several of them are older posts, I’ll include a link to each one in case newer readers are interested in looking back with me. Just click on the titles below to check them out.

Following Augustine’s Top Six Posts of All Time

 

#6  What influences your sense of self-worth?   Oct. 29, 2011

The idea for this post came from Charles F. Stanley’s Bible study, How to Reach Your Full Potential for God, and was the result of some serious self examination. It was one of the most difficult posts I’ve written because it involved baring my soul and owning up to an attitude that I knew needed to change.

#5   Tatami   Aug. 28, 2008

I find it quite funny that the most popular post from our entire year in Japan was about the traditional floor covering known as tatami! Tatami has many advantages and I loved it but I didn’t love the insects that crawled out of the tightly woven mat at night to bite me! Eww! Fortunately, we learned how to get rid of them and it’s obviously this information that people are looking for when they Google “insects in tatami” or other similar phrases and find their way to this post.

#4   A new journey…   Aug. 30, 2013

The newest post on my Top Six list, this is the one that shared my cancer diagnosis. I was walking this trail beside a peaceful lake in southern Alberta when the cell phone in my pocket rang and I first heard that dreaded C word.

Where will this journey take us?

Now that a second cancer has been diagnosed, we are no closer to knowing where this journey is going to take us.

#3   Alex’s yellow lizard   May 28, 2012

IMG_9629_2Richard and I are avid geocachers. Geocaching is a grown up, high-tech game of hide and seek. Participants use GPS units to hide and find containers called geocaches and then log their activity online. One of the aspects of geocaching that I like best is trackables; geocaching game pieces that are moved from cache to cache by geocachers like ourselves. Alex’s Yellow Lizard was a trackable that we picked up from a roadside cache in Manitoba on our way home from Winnipeg a couple of years ago. When it started its journey in Minnesota, its owner asked that pictures be taken and posted along the way so that his seven-year-old son could watch his little yellow lizard as it traveled around the world. We placed it in a geocache at a native ceremonial site on a high point of land about 24 km north of our home. When I posted this information on the geocaching website, I included a link to my blog.

#2   Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout   Jan. 21, 2011

pig-nose-ringI have no idea why so many people enter things like “gold ring in pig’s snout” and “pig nose ring” in search engines! I thought this was a pretty obscure thing to write about! The phrase comes from Proverbs 11:22 and refers to a beautiful woman who has no discretion.

 

And now, drumroll please!

#1   Bridges of Madison County   July 21, 2010

My most read blog post of all time is also one of my shortest. On a road trip to Kansas City for a missions conference during the summer of 2010, we purposely went out of our way to visit Winterset, Iowa, the setting of my favourite novel, The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Like Robert Kincaid, one of Waller’s main characters, we drove the back roads of Madison County photographing the covered bridges that were made famous by the novel and the movie that followed. I crossed another dream off my unwritten bucket list when I stood on Roseman Bridge and touched the spot where farmer’s wife, Francesca (Meryl Streep), pinned a note inviting Robert (Clint Eastwood) to come for dinner “anytime the white moths fly”.

And here it is, the most viewed photo to appear on my blog thus far!

Roseman Bridge

Roseman Bridge

Cancer times two!

Seven months to the day after being told that I have cancer, I heard that dreaded message all over again. I don’t just have cancer, I have two completely different kinds of cancer!

After waiting patiently for three weeks (okay, maybe I wasn’t all that patient), I finally received the results of my biopsy yesterday. The growth in my salivary gland is, indeed, another cancer. Though I don’t have any details yet, I’ve been told that it will be removed surgically. I don’t know when. I don’t know whether follow-up treatment will be required. In fact, the things I don’t know far outweigh the things I do.

We expected this journey to be a bumpy one and I knew that there would likely be a few unexpected curves in the road but I definitely wasn’t prepared for this one! I must admit that I’m beginning to feel a bit like Old Testament Job who endured catastrophe heaped upon catastrophe. Fortunately, I have a much better support system than he had! No one is suggesting that anything I have done or failed to do has brought these troubles upon me and no one, like Job’s wife, is suggesting that I “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) On the contrary, I am surrounded by friends and family upholding me in prayer and offering whatever support they can. I also need to remind myself that, in the end, God blessed Job abundantly. I’m still hanging on to the hem of his garment and praying that my story will end similarly!

In the meantime, I’m doing my best to keep on putting one foot in front of the other. There’s still laundry to do, meals to make and sunshine pouring in my window. My brain is a bit fuzzy; taking it’s time absorbing this latest blow, I guess. I found myself having to look up family phone numbers last night that I usually know as well as I know my own!

That brings me to yesterday’s good news. After being rushed to hospital in respiratory failure two weeks ago, my 90-year-old father was discharged yesterday. For the moment, things are calm on the parental front!

 

Published!

Back in the 1980s, during my days as a stay-at-home mom, I tried my hand at freelance writing. I sold a few articles and gathered a substantial collection of rejection slips. When I went back to teaching school, there wasn’t enough time in my busy schedule for writing but I found that sharing my love for the written word with my students gave me the same sense of fulfillment.

I always knew that I would return to writing when I retired. Originally, I visualized myself once again sending out manuscripts and query letters by mail and waiting with bated breath for editors to respond. Then came blogging! Though there’s a certain thrill involved in receiving a cheque for a published article, for me, writing was never about the money. I simply love to write and I love the interactive aspect of blogging. Knowing that people around the world are reading my posts, receiving comments from some of them and even developing long distance friendships with a few readers gives me great satisfaction.

Once I became an established blogger, I didn’t foresee myself seeking publication elsewhere again. While we were in China, however, it crossed my mind that I ought to consider writing an article about our experience for news and views, the quarterly magazine of the Alberta Retired Teachers’ Association, where I had first seen the ad that led to us being there. When we returned to Canada, I emailed the editor to ask if he’d be interested. He responded the very next day saying that he’d be delighted to run my article (with photos) in the Spring 2014 issue!

“We tend to get 600 to 800 words to the page with our new format, but fewer than that with pictures. So, if you could keep the text of the article to 1200 words or so, with the photographs, it would give us about three pages.” he went on to say. That was the tricky part! Condensing almost five months in China into 1200 words was definitely a challenge but I did my best to give the readers a taste of what we experienced living and teaching there.

Today, when we arrived home from Calgary, we found several copies of the magazine and a cheque stuffed into our overcrowded mailbox! Though the publication is a small one, I am nevertheless, a published writer once more. The question now is, will this whet my appetite to try my hand at writing for publication again or will blogging continue to satisfy?

One thing is certain. Regardless of what I decide, Following Augustine isn’t going anywhere. I intend to keep it going indefinitely.

IMG_3652

Caught in the club sandwich squeeze!

“Club sandwich generation” is a relatively new term used to describe the “squeezed” generation, usually between the ages of 55 and 64, who typically find themselves caring for elderly parents while at the same time providing support for adult children and helping care for grandchildren. As more and more people live into their 80s and 90s, the number of four generation families is increasing rapidly and it’s usually the second generation in these families who have the time and resources to deal with unexpected events and crises in the lives of the other three.

My sister and I presently find ourselves smack dab in the middle of this kind of family sandwich. Along with our brother, who is not yet a grandparent, we’re dealing with the escalating needs of our increasingly frail and vulnerable parents. The fact that they don’t live in the same province as the three of us adds to the difficulty.

I’m very grateful that our three children are self-sufficient and require very little help from us. The two that have children of their own don’t depend on us for childcare as we live four hours away from the closest one. When we do visit, we consider it a privilege to babysit the grandchildren so that their parents can enjoy an evening out.

The club sandwich squeeze has been much tighter than usual lately though. As I mentioned in a previous post, my 91-year-old diabetic mother, who suffers from severe dementia, was hospitalized about a month ago suffering from a gangrenous toe. As a family, we made the agonizing decision not to put her through surgery. Due to lack of circulation in her leg, it would have required amputation above the knee. There was no guarantee that she’d survive the operation and if she did, there was every likelihood that the other leg would soon be in the same condition. Instead, as hard as it was, we chose palliative care and when we came to Calgary for the birth of our newest grandson, I packed knowing that we might have to fly to Vancouver for a funeral. Fortunately, Mom is doing much better than expected and was even able to move back to her care facility at the beginning of last week. My sister, who’d been in Vancouver for most of the past month, flew home on Wednesday and we breathed a sigh of relief. That lasted about 24 hours!

The next afternoon when I phoned Dad to share the exciting news of Simon’s birth, he sounded terrible. What had been a fairly minor cold had moved into his chest. Within hours, he was rushed to hospital by ambulance. Arriving in respiratory failure, he was immediately put on a ventilator and our oldest son, who lives in Vancouver, rushed over to the hospital to be with him. In club sandwich families like ours, it’s Matt’s generation that provides the other layer of filling. We are so fortunate that Matt is willing and able to jump in in a crisis situation when none of us is close by. In this case, we didn’t know if Dad would make it through the night. Again, I wondered if we’d be flying out for a funeral.

Thankfully, Dad seems to be rallying and if all goes well, he could be home from the hospital sometime next week. This time, it will probably be my brother who flies out to be with him for a little while. I would go but I have to plan around my treatment schedule and until we get the results of the biopsy that I had last week, it’s difficult to do even that. It’s hard enough being part of the club sandwich generation but having cancer has complicated the situation and added to our present squeeze!

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