Don’t Listen to Hasselhoff! And Other Thoughts on the Single Life

22 Jan

I never imagined that I’d spend as much time thinking about singleness as I have. When I was younger I had this vague idea that one day I’d meet someone, maybe while grocery shopping or wandering the library stacks or some other meet-cute scenario. I’d just meet someone and then I wouldn’t be single anymore. I never had much idea of how that initial spark in the produce section would develop into a lifelong partnership, though. Too many movies and not enough practice, I guess.


I’m only 26, and objectively I know that isn’t very old. But as I age, I have fewer single friends, and it continues to be hard to avoid the slippery slope that is comparing my own life to others. My mother had two children by the time she was my age (I was one of them). Some of my friends from high school and college are now celebrating 5th and 6th and even 7th anniversaries of their marriages. For whatever reason, things haven’t unfolded that way for me. I’m single, and I’ve been single for the entirety of my adult life. I don’t usually volunteer that information to strangers, but I don’t hide it either. For a long time I was preoccupied with the questions about what was wrong with me? Why didn’t guys want to date me? But I’ve experienced a lot of healing in the past few years, and while there is always more work to be done, I don’t think I’m single because of something inherently defective about my person. In many, many ways, I am thankful for the time I’ve spent as a single woman and the good gifts God has given me along the way—gifts I wouldn’t have experienced the same way as someone’s girlfriend or wife.


Not everyone really lives the single life. I have friends who seemed to be dating someone from fifth grade onward. Of course dating in fifth grade looks very different from dating in your twenties and thirties and forties and so on, but still. It’s a different life experience to walk through life romantically alone than it is to walk with a partner of some kind.


I’ve had the following conversation more and more as I’ve gotten older:

Well-Intentioned Family Member/Coworker/Dentist: So, are you seeing anyone? Do you have a boyfriend/fiancé/husband?

Me: No. It’s just me. (Usually some awkward silence as I try to think of something else to say. What else is there to say?)


In fact, there is a lot more that could be said about singleness, and I’ve had a few blog posts on the back burner as I tried to put the words together to share them. I also have a couple books in my TBR pile that I am hoping will provide me with some better perspective on this issue and maybe I’ll post reviews of them here, in that case.


In the meantime I want to talk about a scene from the neo-noir teen drama Veronica Mars. Most fans of the show, myself included, love the pairing of spunky detective Veronica and Logan, who is both troubled and sweet– a bad boy with a heart of gold, oh, what a trope! In dorky fandom news, their relationship portmanteau name is LoVe (appropriate). But for a while in the show’s final season Veronica dated a very nice boy, a music afficionado named Stosh Piznarski. Don’t hold the name against him. People can’t help what their parents name them; that’s why there are kids named Mykinzi and Jaxxson running around (apologies to any loved ones out there who like those names…). Anyway, Veronica and Piz. There was this great scene before they got together where they talked about the hookup culture that abounds in college, and let’s face it, post-collegiate life as well.


veronica and piz


Veronica: The whole chasing-hooking-up-people-go-round… Parker has been going nuts, like I’m some kind of freak because I’m not grabbing anything within ten feet. It’s exhausting.

Piz: Totally. It’s like music, you know– I love music, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to it at all times and anything will do. I mean I’m not going to throw in a Hasselhoff CD just because I left my Neko Case in the car.

Veronica: Like why bother with something that’s not… good. ‘Cause if it’s not good…

Piz: It’s bad! Exactly. But these guys were all like, “As long as she’s got a pair of–” (gesturing to his chest) You know, it was indelicate.

Veronica: (innocently) What’s indelicate about shoes?

Piz: But I figure, you know, I mean, I know what I like. Why waste my time?

Veronica: Like why bother with something not good just because it’s something.

Piz: Especially when you know the difference, which not many people do. I mean, do you?

Veronica:  I think I do.

Piz: I think that’s like 90% of life, just knowing the difference.


When I take a step back and really think about it, so many of my friends have married people who have become dear friends of mine. They got it right. They knew the difference between just “something” and someone really good. And they trusted their romantic future to God and his timing.


So that’s what I try to do too. Not to worry too much about that perfect moment in the soup aisle, or finding just the right profile, or having the most winsome opening line. But to keep in mind the difference between “something not good” and Something Really Good. And to keep remembering that my value isn’t determined by my relationship status. I am loved by a creator who knows my hopes and dreams and has a purpose for my life.


I hope that all my friends, single and married, know that last sentence to be true too!


My Celebrity Doppelganger: A Tale of Woe.

18 Jan

The following story is a bit silly and nonsensical, not to mention embarrassing. But it made me laugh a lot when it happened so I thought I’d share it in the hope of brightening someone’s day.

A few years ago there was a Facebook meme where people changed their profile pictures to their supposed celebrity look alike. I don’t think anyone took it too seriously, but it was a fun thing to realize that I had friends who were dead ringers for actors like Danielle Fishel from Boy Meets World and Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog). What can I say, I have some attractive friends.

No one has ever told me that I look like a celebrity. For that matter, no one has ever told me I look like anyone except my father, who, incidentally, is a 6’3” man in his mid-fifties. He’s a handsome man, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the most flattering of comparisons in my mind.

I will say that several people have told me over the years that I sound like certain celebrities: the mom on That 70’s Show, Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory, various Muppets. These comparisons are also not my favorite thing, and I’d just like to say for the record that people can’t help what their voices sound like, okay!?

Anyway, I really wanted to find out if I resembled a celebrity, maybe a celebrity none of my friends knew about. So back when this meme was going around I used one of those websites that promised to show me my celebrity double. My only match was… Keanu Reeves. That is not even a joke.


For a while I gave up the idea of finding a celebrity doppelganger. Maybe there are just no famous faces that look remotely like me. That’s okay. People are different; God made us that way, and it’s good.

Well, about a month ago I was seized by this curiosity again and thought I’d give it another shot. I found another website that used facial recognition software and pledged to compare my face to thousands of famous people to find a good “face twin”. I uploaded the following photo, even though it was kind of old and not the best picture of me. It’s still basically what I look like so I figured that even if I look kind of deranged, it would do the trick.

my face


I waited eagerly to find out who my celebrity look alike was…


Imagine my surprise when the facial recognition software “recognized” two faces in the above photograph. Hmm…

face #1 (3)

Again, this is not a joke, this is really a thing that happened to me. It doesn’t say much about my neck area, but it REALLY doesn’t say much about this website’s ability to assign people “face twins”.


Unfortunately, “Face #2” is not necessarily that much more encouraging, because I don’t think I really resemble matches 1-4. And I DON’T EVEN WANT TO TALK about match #5. At least Keanu Reeves has a certain attractively androgynous quality…face #2 (2)



Who’s your celebrity doppelganger? Do you look like Julianne Moore or Jake Gyllenhaal (bo-ring!)? Or does your cleavage look like the lead singer from Limp Biskit?

hope (in the night)

6 Dec

I’m returning from a period of blog abandonment with some musings on pain, suffering and darkness. Some of you may know that when I began posting on this blog, it was with the idea that a creative outlet, even a virtual one, would be a stepping stone out of a period of deep depression. It turned out to be a helpful component of stepping back into the light; even silly posts about soup or radio drama gave me something to focus on and goals to work towards.

I’m sorry to say that in the past couple of months, I’ve been struggling with the encroaching darkness once again. This time isn’t as bad as what I experienced a year a half ago. For one thing, I’ve been sharing my struggles with friends and family for a few weeks now. I have trusted people holding me in prayer. I already feel better than I did a month ago. So despite the fact that life isn’t sunshine and roses, there are tremendous blessings in my life and God is good, even in times of pain. Perhaps God is good especially in times of pain, because in those times, I’m forced with the choice to keep wallowing (and drowning) on my own, or to trust Him.

One song from Andrew Peterson’s Counting Stars album has been echoing in my mind during this recent painful season. “In the Night My Hope Lives On” tells the story of God’s people who had good reason to give up, to despair, to succumb to darkness. Jacob wrestled with an angel and with his fear; Elisha was surrounded by God’s enemies; the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt groaned in the misery of captivity; once Canaan-bound, they found themselves trapped by Pharaoh’s army and trembling in fear. Meanwhile, the Prodigal son approached his father’s house so full of shame he couldn’t even lift his head. The Samaritan woman prepared herself to be stoned for her sins. Jesus’ followers wailed and wept as He died a slow, painful death by crucifixion.

If you can relate to any of this—surrounded by dark forces, enslaved by sin, trapped in fear and shame, devoid of hope for the future, I pray that this song will speak to your heart as it speaks to mine.

“Like the son who thought he’d gone beyond forgiveness, too ashamed to lift his head—but if he could lift his head!—he would see his father running from a distance.

“So in the night, my hope lives on.

“I can see the crowd of men retreating, as He stands between the woman and their stones. And if mercy in His holy heart is beating,

“Then in the night, my hope lives on.”

Friends, remember with me that “the rulers of the earth could not control Him. They did not take His life—He laid it down. All the chains of death could never hope to hold Him!” Let us remember that “the sword He swings in brighter than the dawn,” and that “the gates of hell will never stand against Him.”

When times are dark

When death and sickness are all around

When we are most aware of the brokenness of our world

And of ourselves in that world

May our hope live on.


Because the Creator of the universe, the Author of time, the Giver of Life is not taken aback by the world’s darkness. He is well acquainted with it and has better plans in store for His people and His world. And the very best news is that although we wage difficult battles every day on earth, The Most Important Battle is over, and He has won. Death cannot stand against Him; He is Light in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome Him.

I wish that following Jesus meant that I only ever knew light and glory. But I know darkness too. The challenge is to walk in the light no matter how difficult it is. I’m trying every day.

If you struggle with depression or any darkness of your own, I pray you too will find the strength to get up and walk into the light. Godspeed, friends.

Dying World. Living Hope.

25 Apr

Here is the truth about the world we live in: it can be a dark place.

I haven’t lived a long life (yet) but I’ve experienced some of this darkness. I’ve watched as a beloved relative drew his last breath. I’ve had dear friends disclose to me that they are survivors of childhood molestation, sexual assault, emotional abuse. I’ve grieved for another family member after he succeeded in taking his own life—although perhaps it would be more accurate to say I will always be grieving him. Last month one of the clients I have cared for the past nine months, and come to love, was moved to a nursing home to wait out the rest of his life. And I’ve experienced the soul-sucking black pit of depression myself, the weight of years of self-hatred and nagging doubts about my own worth crushing down upon me.

The world is dark. It’s true. We don’t need the social media storms around Joseph Kony or Trayvon Martin or the Chardon High shootings to know it. We live in a world that is dying and death is all around. People don’t value each other. Even worse, we know it isn’t just the brothel owners or factory bosses who trample human life, it’s you and me, when we shop for the cheapest items no matter the cost to those who sew our t-shirts or harvest our tomatoes. When we judge people by their appearances and strip their worth down to what they can do for us. When we celebrate the life of someone like Snooki but couldn’t care less about the suffering of the poor, the widows, the orphans, the voiceless around us.

How do we hold on to hope in this world? Where do we find the wellspring?

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King there is a paragraph that I find incredibly beautiful. Last year during one of the darkest periods of my life I found myself meditating upon it and clinging to what it promises. At this point in the novel, Sam and Frodo find themselves despairing of ever completing the Sisyphean task of destroying The Ring. But then,

“Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

So perhaps that White Star is the beginning of an answer. The knowledge that however dark the darkness is, the Light will triumph and cast it away. Scripture is full of these promises—that “[In Jesus] was the Light of all people. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it;” that God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ;” that the light of “a city on a hill cannot be hidden.” We are promised that “even the darkness will not be dark to [the LORD]; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to [Him].”

Here’s another truth: it’s hard to believe this stuff sometimes. There are times when it is hard, desperately hard, to have faith that the battle against death is already won. There have been times in my life when I just haven’t believed that. It’s likely I’ll have similar times in the future. In the murky depths of our dark seasons the perfect light can seem too dim, or too far away, or too impossible to be real.

The final truth, though, is that the light is real. The light is the cornerstone of my faith actually, and it’s a compelling reason to keep fighting good fights and dreaming impossible dreams and to get out of bed in the morning when I’d rather wallow in despair. Despite the fact that we live in a world of death and dying, Jesus has won that ultimate battle. For those of us who know and walk with him, we have a Light to follow and we carry a torch within ourselves. There is hope! For healing of wounds. For reconciliation where there is brokenness. For satisfaction where there is hunger. For peace where there is war. For chains to be broken and slaves to be freed! For those mired in darkness to be lifted out of that pit! We can be a part of spreading light and life in this dark world. The best news is that we can do that even when we feel crushed by that darkness—perhaps especially then.

Friends, this week I’m praying especially for some people in my life who are in dark places. Those who are feeling crippled and oppressed by physical illness, emotional pain, the devastating loss of someone dear. Will you join me in these prayers for those who can’t see the light right now? May we all become better at pointing others towards the miraculous White Star who literally conquered the grave.


21 Apr

Last night I found myself both excruciatingly embarrassed and appropriately humbled. I acted more like Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott character than I ever have—and anyone who has seen The Office knows that’s not a good thing. I was using my GPS to find my way on an unfamiliar gravelly country road. Now, in feeble defense of what I am about to describe, I’d like to say it was very dark and I was distracted by the delicious Chocolate Xtreme blizzard I was eating. The GPS told me to turn left to continue towards my destination. To my left, there was no actual road, but what looked like an empty field. In a regrettable moment, I went ahead and turned, hoping that I’d be able to see this mysterious road in the path of my car’s headlights. Nope. Still just a field. At this point I realized I was going to have to turn around. As I pulled my car around in the dark, I drove right into a ditch. I didn’t know it was a ditch at first… and I managed to get my tiny compact car with front wheel drive completely stuck in this ditch.

Picture this scene: it’s dark. You are stuck in a ditch in an unfamiliar and remote part of Ohio dairy country. You drove about a mile on a gravel road before getting stuck in said ditch. You are stuck in a ditch because you did something idiotic at the direction of a computer. You can see a light about a half mile in the distance from what looks like a farmhouse.

If you’re feeling sympathetic traces of panic and humiliation in the pit of your stomach, I am sorry. I haven’t felt so moronic in quite some time. I imagined the difficulty of explaining how I had driven into a ditch to the burly driver of a tow truck. I imagined the complication of getting a tow truck driver to find me in the darkness in the middle of nowhere between a gravel road and a field of unknown address. I began to feel the telltale beginnings of an anxiety attack. And then I saw the light of the farmhouse turn off and a truck begin driving towards me. Say it with me now… AUUUUGHHHHH.

However, this is not a story about being chased through an empty cornfield by some shotgun wielding farmer, or about being soundly berated for acting like an incompetent weirdo on a stranger’s property. I am incredibly relieved to say that this is a story about complete strangers showing grace and kindness to someone who didn’t deserve it. The husband and wife who lived in the farmhouse were nice to me. Astonishingly, they didn’t make me feel dumb. It is true they were confused about how I got so soundly stuck in their ditch. They were also confused about what I was doing on what turned out to be their private driveway, not a public road as my GPS had suggested. Still, despite their confusion they treated me kindly and even helped me get my car out of the ditch. They accepted my apology for inadvertently trespassing on their farm and for driving directly into their ditch. Within a half hour I was on my way home and listening to Mike Doughty’s “I Hear the Bells” on repeat in an attempt to calm my jangling nerves.

This experience is hardly the first time I’ve experienced undeserved grace and mercy. I share this story not to further cement my embarrassment at behaving like a terrible Regional Manager of a midlevel paper supply company, but to rejoice in the kindness of strangers. Like a lot of people, I’ve made mistakes time after time in my life. Sometimes I’ve done things intentionally and then regretted them. There have been so many times when I deserved to be punished, or at least verbally rebuked, but have instead been shocked to find that people extend a hand of understanding and compassion.

Friends, have you experienced a stranger’s kindness in a similar situation? (For the record, I hope it wasn’t a very similar situation!) In the wake of this experience, I am resolving to be that gentle stranger to others whenever I can. And also to never drive into a ditch again.

fall-in-a-bowl soup

16 Sep

This is only sort of a recipe post. My cooking strategy borders on haphazard and too often I don’t keep track of proportions when I am making something up as I go. I like the freedom of adding dashes of this and a sprinkle of that, but there is always risk with cooking that way. Sometimes things don’t taste the way I hope; sometimes I love the way something came out and then I can’t ever make it the same way again.

I made a big pot of soup for a gathering of friends last weekend, and it received such favorable reviews that I thought I’d try to record what I did. As an encouragement for anyone who wants to make their own version, I think that this combination of veggies is hard to go wrong with, whatever spices you choose to use. Butternut squash and carrots pair wonderfully together, and I like to add sautéed onion and potato to squash soup to add some interesting texture. This was a great meal to welcome Autumn and all her bounty. Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t think any of the meat-eaters in our group could tell that the soup was vegan. It came out so rich and flavorful, and it was so loaded with veggies, that I definitely didn’t get that “something is missing” feeling.

I’ve made variations on an ultra-simple Butternut Squash Soup for years, and I just love the rich color and delicious flavor of butternut squash. It pairs so well with other veggies; you can make it sweet with apples or zap it with curry and it’s great just about any way in between. Last fall I started roasting my squash instead of boiling it, and I can’t see myself going back to my old method. Roasting does take a little more time, but the difference in flavor is worth it. Roasting vegetables like squash and carrots brings out their sweetness and sort of intensifies their flavor. I also like to think I’m getting more of the vitamins by roasting, but it’s possible that I am deluding myself.

Here’s the “recipe,” with the caveat that I’m definitely not a professional chef (that much may be obvious because of the spice combinations I used), and I am piecing this together from memory. Also, although it takes me a bajillion words to say anything, this isn’t a hard soup to make. You can do it too, in just over an hour! It should go without saying that if you don’t want to make such a massive quantity, just divide things in half– one squash and one pound of carrots will still make a good amount.

start with these.


Vegan Roasted Squash-Carrot-Etcetera Soup

(makes enough for more than 14 large servings)

5 lbs butternut squash (I used two medium squash)

2 lbs carrots

2 shallots (I wouldn’t usually use these because they’re expensive and I guess my palate’s just not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a shallot and a little bit of onion, but they were on sale at Save-a-Lot)

1 large red onion

4-5 medium potatoes

to taste:

several sprigs fresh rosemary

olive oil

vegetarian margarine


minced garlic

vegetable bouillon






1. Cut squash in half. Scoop out seeds (feel free to save these for drying/roasting).

2. Scrub carrots and cut into 2-3 inch pieces. I didn’t peel my carrots. More fiber, less work.

3. Rub the bottoms of two roasting pans with olive oil. Place the squash cut-side down in the pans, and add the carrots, shallots and rosemary. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over the carrots and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle the carrots and shallots with salt and pepper.

one pan of veggies ready to be drizzled with olive oil and roasted


4. Roast in a 375′ oven until the carrots can be easily pierced with a fork. In my oven, this was about 45 minutes. I checked on my veggies every 15 minutes or so and took the opportunity to toss the pans to ensure everything was coated with olive oil.

5. Remove from oven. Allow to cool slightly so you don’t burn yourself like I did. Discard the rosemary.

While the squash and carrots are roasting you can work on step 6:

Combine about a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of margarine in a large skillet over medium heat. Chop up the onion and add it to the pan when the margarine is melted. Chop the potatoes up small and add them to the pan too. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir occasionally and keep cooking until the onions and potatoes are cooked through (onions translucent, potatoes just beginning to develop a brown crispiness). Add several tablespoons of minced garlic and cook for a minute or two longer. Remove from heat.

red onion and potatoes ready for sautéing


7. In a very large pot (I used my best one, a 6.5 qt dutch oven given to me by my Aunt J) set about 6 cups of water to boil. Add vegetable bullion to taste. Reduce heat to low.

8. Add the roasted carrots and shallots to the vegetable broth. Use a spoon to scoop the flesh out of the butternut squash skins, and add that to the pot too.

9. Once you’ve got everything simmering away in the pot, it’s time to blend the soup. I am lucky enough to have an immersion blender that I love, love, love (thanks to my cousin C who got me in Secret Santa last year). If you don’t, you’ll need to use a regular blender and blend the soup in batches. Sorry I don’t have any more pictures of this process; I will trust in your imaginations, readers.

10. Add the sautéed onion, potatoes and garlic to your smoothly blended soup. Taste it. Add more salt and pepper if you like. If, like me, you think your soup needs a little extra something, add about 1 teaspoon cinnamon, a couple pinches of nutmeg, and a pinch of ginger. I found this really brightened the soup and heightened the deliciousness factor. But that’s just me.

11. You are done. Enjoy!

This batch of soup was very thick, which some of my friends appreciated because it was even more hearty and filling than it would otherwise have been. If I had had room in the pot, I would have thinned things out a bit by adding some water. It would be a great space-saver to freeze the soup in its more concentrated form.

undiluted, this soup was super thick and hearty.

watered down a little, it's still loaded with goodness (and texture from the onions and potatoes). perfect to enjoy with some crusty bread and a salad.

toddlers, tiaras, and louisa may alcott

30 Aug

I need to start by saying that as a 25 year old woman, I’m still learning what beauty is. Some days I wonder why it’s so challenging to be comfortable in my own skin and to be content with the face God gave me. And some days I feel like I’m getting there, like it’s easier to remember what real beauty is and how little it depends on my face. As cliche a statement as “beauty comes from within” may be, I see evidence of that truth in the people I know and in what God says through scripture.

Somehow, I made it to the summer of 2011 without ever having seen an episode of TLC’s show Toddlers & Tiaras. As of a few weeks ago, I can no longer claim blissful ignorance. For those still living in that happy place, let me give you a bare bones explanation. The show, which debuted in January 2009 and is currently airing its fourth season, is a documentary-style view of child beauty pageants. Of particular fascination to viewers are the so-called “glitz” pageants, in which even the youngest babies are decked out in full makeup, wigs, false teeth, and glitter.

To the best of my knowledge, the episode I found myself sucked into watching was standard T&T fare; industry stars Eden Wood and MaKenzie Myers were squaring off at a glitz pageant. There were a few other child contestants featured, including one little girl whose mother seemed to regard every moment in front of the camera as an opportunity to extol her daughter’s beauty. Throughout the episode she spoke of her daughter’s physical superiority: “She’s just so beautiful,” she said. “Her face has a beauty that the other girls’ don’t.” Apologies for my paraphrase, but the sentiment was clear. I doubt that any observer would deny the little girl’s attractiveness, and in the context of the show it shouldn’t have surprised me. But I found the mother’s preoccupation with physical beauty disturbing. Part of it was the spray tan, caked-on make up, and hair extensions that went into showcasing her daughter’s beauty.

Toddlers & Tiaras stars Eden Wood (left, currently age 6 and retired from pageants to pursue a "music career") and MaKenzie Myers (age 5) in full "glitz" makeup, wigs, costumes... and airbrushing.

I came away from watching an episode and a half of Toddlers & Tiaras feeling inexpressibly grateful for the fact that my own childhood bore no resemblance to the experience of these little pageant winners. I was never in the running to win an Ultimate Grand Supreme title or a cash prize or a Princess Canopy Dream Bed as a little girl.

Physical beauty was not something my mother or father placed a lot of emphasis on, and it’s only in looking through the Toddlers & Tiaras lens that I can really appreciate that. Instead of practicing my walk for a creepy swimsuit competition, I was running through sprinklers in a one-piece from KMart, with mud between my toes and scabs on my knees. Instead of gluing plastic hair to my head, my parents just tried to make sure I used a comb occasionally and never fell asleep chewing gum.

In contrast, here is a posed picture of me around age 6. So homely. So blissfully unaware of plastic hair, eyelash extensions, swimsuit competitions, or fake teeth.

What kept echoing in my mind after seeing Eden and MaKenzie and the other girls prance around the stage in sequined dresses and workout clothes “inspired by the 1980s” was a scene from one of my favorite movies, the 1994 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The film features a stellar lineup that includes Winona Ryder, Gabriel Byrne, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, and a young Christian Bale. Susan Sarandon anchors the cast as Margaret “Marmee” March, the mother of the four Little Women in question. In a scene adapted from the novel’s chapter Meg Goes to Vanity Fair, she listens to her eldest daughter’s confessions about the way she behaved at her first society party, eager to impress others with borrowed clothes and a coquettish manner. And then she gives the following advice:

“If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty, but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind: Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you. I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know you’ll make it a better place.”

As I said, this is an adaptation from the dialogue in Alcott’s novel, which was first published in 1868. The novel has Meg ask her mother whether she has “plans” for her daughters the way the gossips at the party speculated (ie, plans for them to marry wealthy men). Marmee responds,

“Yes, my dear, I do, a great many– all mothers do, but mine differ somewhat from Mrs. Moffat’s, I suspect. I want you to listen to my ‘plans.’ I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good; to be admired, loved, and respected; to have a happy youth; to be well and wisely married; and to lead useful, pleasant lives. Your father and I trust and hope that our daughters, whether married or single, will be the pride and comfort of our lives.”

This scene is one of my favorites in the movie despite the changes, because it really gets at the spirit of Alcott’s novels about the March family. For all the adventures and misadventures that Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy experienced, they were rooted by the love and support of their parents. Contrary to the values of “society” people in their community, Marmee and Father March affirmed their daughters’ strength, intelligence, independence and unique gifts. They saw their children as much more than chattel and expected that their lives display more fruit than physical beauty.

A show like Toddlers & Tiaras couldn’t exist without viewer demand for it. Perhaps, like so many reality shows, people find themselves sucked in to a trainwreck of horror. I know I have a hard time turning off I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant, and “trainwreck of horror” just about sums that show up for me. But given the way that Western culture commodifies people and makes celebrities out of just about anyone, it’s especially disturbing to see children featured this way.

My heart goes out not only to the Edens and MaKenzies of this world, but to anyone fixated on what they see in the mirror. Our culture doesn’t provide us many opportunities to see that we are created to bear the image of God. I can only hope that with each passing day, I’ll learn to place less stock in my own outer beauty and be able to affirm the beauty of those around me– not what is “merely decorative,” but what time cannot erode.