A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “Self Image”


Thanks to Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, it seems that there is no end to the cute quotes, funny quips, and sage advice you can find these days. I try not to become completely annoying by sharing too many of them, but sometimes something is just so good or so perfect for you (or a friend) that you just have to share.

This is one from today:


I feel like I am the “she” in this quote this week. After years – as in several decades – I let go of a secret that I’d kept in an attempt to protect people (including myself) and to keep other people happy. I’m not sure why I felt it was my responsibility to “keep the peace” in my little world, but I did. But now I don’t. And quite frankly, I haven’t felt happier, more relieved, or more free-spirited in years.

I think I will celebrate. Absolutely no appeal is planned!


The Restorers of My Identity

For my very first guest post as a blogger, I wrote about my junior high days and the Thief of My Identity. Every word about the thief is true. Some of the thief’s mischief was normal to those growing up stages. Other mischief was damaging for the long term. But lest it appear that my youth was a miserable one, I wanted to follow up with the story of why all was not lost and why most of my memories from those years are good ones. There is both bad and good in every life story. To tell just one side without telling the other is at its best unbalanced and at its worst untrue.

I didn’t always feel like I fit into the social scene at school. I did, however, find my place. It was in the band room. Yes, my friends, I was a true band nerd and I’m proud of it! The magician of my junior high days was the wonderful Mr. Harold Windolf, our band director. In my young eyes, he was an old, crusty, sarcastic, delightful man. He was, in fact not that old at all. If my Google search and my math are correct, he would have been in his mid to late 50’s when he taught me. I would have flown to the moon and back for him. He didn’t ask me to do that, but he did ask me to play piano in the jazz band. I am no pianist, let me assure you, but he wasn’t asking for a Mozart. All he wanted was someone who would do her best to rock along with the likes of Muskrat Love. As long as I could tag team with Angela and Julie, all was well. I loved the competitiveness of band – of trying my best to win a seat beside my best friend, who also happened to rule first chair for flute. Once in a blue moon (a very, very blue moon) I got to see what first chair felt like for myself.


Once we got to high school, after suffering through one year with a less-than-ideal band director, we were given the best: Richard Baskin. He seemed so young to us. Actually, I think he really was quite young. A rebel and a hot-tempered thrower of various objects – we thought he was the best thing that ever hit T.L. Hanna High School. We worked hard for him because, as much as we loved tormenting him, we really did want to please him. It was under Baskin that the football halftime show changed from the time when everyone left the stands for a bathroom break and snacks to the time when our friends stuck around to see what new things we added to the show. Fun times, I must say.

So if the band room was my home base for school, my church was the home base for the rest of my life. I grew up in what I am sure is the best Baptist church ever – Boulevard Baptist in Anderson. When I was in the 8th grade, they called a new Minister of Music, Steven Ponder. Thanks to his love of young people, his dedication to teaching music, and his unbelievable patience, Mr. Ponder (Ponge) was able to mold us into a choir that was more of a family than extracurricular activity. (Okay, so it didn’t always seem like he always felt patient with us – we could be little hellions – but not once, ever, did he give up on us.) Because of my church and the youth choir – Celebration Singers – I felt centered, regardless of some of the other things that happened. My best friends were from church. My social calendar was built around church. My summers were scheduled around choir tour, Garden City, and other youth activities. I spent hours at the church for handbells, puppet practice, and Agape (small ensemble) rehearsals. I couldn’t have asked for more. Or for better.

boulevard (2)

So as I follow up on all the things that can steal a young girl’s identity, I want to celebrate the things that can build her back up: a safe place to try new things, an area of growing skill, mentors who are passionate and patient, friends with shared interests and activities, and perhaps most important of all, a place where faith is taught and nurtured. Combine these things, as I was able to, with a stable home where you always feel loved and secure, and even the hardest hits by the thief of identity can be overcome. Just ask me. I know.

Guest Post: The Thief Who Stole My Identity

I recently received an exciting invitation from fellow blogger Beth Woolsey of Five Kids Is a Lot of Kids. She extended to me the opportunity to contribute a post to her Women and Beauty in Faith and Culture series over at her blog. She went on to explain that she is preparing to speak to 150+ junior high girls at a Christian camp about identity: where we get it, what culture tells us, what the Church and Bible tell us, etc. She wrote, “In preparing for the class, I realized a lot of these questions are the same ones I have at 38 years old, and that I answer them differently than I might have been taught at church when I was 13 years old.”

If you’ve read my blog much over the past six months or so – my transition time from Life and Times of a Preacher Mom to Simply Jan – then you know that the subjects of story, identity, and authentic voice are key themes for this stage in my life. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to write a guest post on this topic.

I hope you will click through to Beth’s blog to to read my contribution there. While you’re there, spend some time browsing her posts. You won’t be sorry!

P.S. There are a few people who read my blog who knew me back in those preteen/teen days that I write about in this blog post. There is a paragraph about 2/3 through that may stir your curiosity. I am vague (there and here both) on purpose, but just so you know, the individual of whom I speak in that paragraph is no longer in the Anderson community. No need to study our fine fathers (now grandfathers, and in some cases great-grandfathers) with suspicion. Just give them an extra hug for all they’ve done for us.

What Is the “Right” Kind of Princess Story?

*Spoiler alert for the newly released Brave.


Last Friday, the kids and I went to see the newly released Pixar/Disney animated film, Brave. I wrote about the effect it had on me – a grown woman – in my post here. I loved the film! I loved how it portrayed the struggles often faced between mothers and daughters. I loved the strong-willed, strong-minded, strong-bodied young princess. I loved the mischievous humor and the beautiful scenery. I even loved the less-than-perfect Scottish accents. I’m excited to see Pixar/Disney moving in the direction of strong female protagonists. It’s about time!

I was shocked when I found the following in my twitter feed Sunday morning, written by the very famous, very prolific author, Karen Kingsbury:

Saw Brave tonight. Don’t see it. Naked backsides, abundant cleavage, PC messages throughout. Sorry … know your audience, Disney.

(Note: Before I go any further, I want to say that I have tremendous respect for this author and all authors. It is not the author that bothers me, but the sentiment she is expressing.)

Let me first address her three complaints. Yes, there were bare backsides in the movie. At one point the mischievous little brothers, who were helping their big sister sneak their bear-mother safely out of the castle, locked the king and all his cohorts on top of one of the castle’s high towers. In order to get down from the tower, the men tied their kilts together into a long rope and climbed down. As they walked away, there was a brief shot of their bare butts. Also, the three little brothers who had a propensity for eating everything in sight (including enchanted cakes), were also transformed into baby bears. Once the spell was broken, they lost their bear fur and were naked. Their bare little butts were shown in their joyful reunion with their family. 

Yes, the scullery maid has abundant cleavage. This was perhaps the most politically incorrect part of the movie. The movie’s creators chose to portray the scullery maid in the stereotypical way: chubby, easily frightened (and fooled), and big-bosomed. Based on follow-up tweets, I think her biggest complaint about the cleavage comes when the maid hides a key in her bosom to keep the mischievous three brothers (now bear cubs) from taking it. One of the three dives in head first to retrieve it, although I think it’s important to note that the scene is implied at that point, not actually shown.

And finally, if it’s a politically correct message for a female protagonist to be strong-willed, outspoken, true to herself, and open to new ways of interpreting tradition, then the movie is indeed filled with politically correct messages. In my opinion, those messages are what make the movie worth seeing, especially for girls of all ages.

I puzzled over why these things were so offensive. Then I remembered that Karen Kingsbury has written a Princess book for children: The Princess and the Three Knights. It has a similar plot to Brave: three suitors competing for the hand of the beautiful princess. While her story is a sweet one in many ways, especially in the final test the king presented to the suitors, its overall message disturbs me.

princess 3 knights

The princess doesn’t have a name. She has no identity of her own. She never speaks – not a word. She only acts twice throughout the story: once to move closer to her father, the king, “her eyes wide and fearful.” The second time, “her heart takes flight” when her father chooses her husband. While we’re told she is beautiful “inside and out,” we’re only shown the outside beauty. There are no words and no actions to demonstrate her inner beauty.


A passive girl with no voice, no say-so in her future, no identity apart from the men in her life: it’s about as opposite from the message of Brave as you can get. It’s also about as accurately descriptive of many of the political and religious agendas we are facing today. Our society is becoming more and more polarized over this very issue. Do women have the right to be heard? Do we have the right to have insurance coverage and access to birth control? Do we have the right to speak our mind and heart – from the pulpit and/or in the public square? Do we have the right to earn equal pay for equal work? Must we always be portrayed as either silent and passive or buxom and air-headed in order to be “politically” correct? Do we have intrinsic value apart from the relationships with the men in our lives? Is there no place for strong, smart, capable, independent women in our world and in our entertainment today?

What kind of princess story are we telling our children today? Guess which message I want my daughters to hear?

I’m a Big Kid Now!

I did something today that I never thought I could do. I didn’t think I was smart enough, or good enough with numbers, or able to understand the details. I’ve always paid other people good money – in fact, a lot of money – to do it for me. But not this year. Not today.

Today I did my own taxes. And I feel good about it.


It was a little like doing a puzzle. Hard at times, frustrating at times, but definitely not impossible. Why have I believed all these years that I can’t do it? True, there have been extenuating circumstances in some years when I know it was wise to have a professional do it for me. But most years, like this year, my tax situation is pretty simple. Taking on this challenge was good not just for my wallet, but also for my confidence. It was empowering.

I’m wondering, what else do I believe I can’t do that in fact, if I take a deep breath and tackle it head on, I really can?!

What I Learned From The Voice

I sheepishly confess to getting hooked by yet another reality show: The Voice. I started watching it because I was intrigued by the idea of the blind audition. Each potential contestant came out on stage and sang for the judges as the judges sat with their backs turned. No peeking! If the judges liked what they heard, they could turn around. Turning around was a commitment on the part of the judges that they were willing to take that singer on as part of their team. These singers were initially judged on their voices alone. Imagine that!

I found myself drawn back to the show week after week because it was such a positive show. Unlike so many of the other reality/talent shows, this show seemed built on providing positive feedback and training instead of snarky criticism. True, there was a lot of teasing between the coaches, but it was good-natured and fun.

Another reason I was drawn back again and again was the level of talent. Even in the early rounds of the show several of the contestants, most of whom could never get a nod from the recording industry previously, sounded better than many of the well-known singing artists’ studio produced recordings. And they were singing live!

I think the right singer won. Javier has an amazing voice, and besides that, he seems to be such a good family man – so proud his little girls. I expect the other three finalists will soon have recording contracts of their own. We haven’t heard the last of them.

There are a few things that I learned from The Voice:

1) Our voice, our essence, does indeed stand apart from appearance. While media generally tries to persuade us otherwise, you don’t have to have a pretty face or a skinny body to be a person of value or talent. We all have a voice and we’ve all been given some specific outlet to share our voice with the world.

2) You don’t have to be snarky to be entertaining. Camaraderie goes a long way. Praise and constructive criticism provides much better motivation than tearing a person down. And as for the fun? Well, that’s just fun!

3) Every person has his/her own unique style and voice. While we should never change who we are to fit in with others, sometimes we do need to make accommodations when it comes time to work together. When singing a duet, or working with a partner, we really do need to blend.

4) Sometimes our styles and voices are so different that maybe it’s best that we work toward the same goal – but apart. I have to say that I wasn’t fond of the performances of the four coaches together – Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, and Adam Levine. Each one is awesome in his/her own way, but blending country, pop, hip hop, and rock styles and voices into a single performance? Well, it just doesn’t work very well.

Find your voice. Find your outlet. Find your coaches, your encouragers, your partners, and see what amazing things you can accomplish together. Oh, and don’t forget – have fun!


Those used to be the words at the beginning of writing assignments I gave to my high school students. Compare/contrast the settings of these two short stories; the motivations of these two characters; the way these two different genres approach a particular topic. It’s a great way to organize your thoughts in writing.

It’s a horrible way to view your self and your self worth.

Sometimes it seems harmless enough. When Anna and I go to the beach, there will be at least a few “Am I that white?” questions from my fair child. There will be at least a few “Am I that big?” questions from me.

I’m a skinny girl in a no longer skinny body. That still comes as a shock to me on some days. I was so skinny – painfully skinny – for so long. Then came 30, a divorce, and the stress of juggling parenthood, work, and seminary. My metabolism changed but my eating habits didn’t. Then one day I looked in the mirror and it was like seeing myself for the first time. I didn’t like what I saw. (If you’ve ever watched Drop-Dead Diva, then you get a picture of how I feel most days.) In an effort to reconcile my skinny-girl memories with my not-so-skinny girl reality, I compare. I truly have a hard time seeing myself accurately.

It’s not just my body, of course. I compare my parenting to other parents. I compare my ministry to other pastors. I compare my writing to other writers and bloggers. I compare my strength and stamina at the gym with other gym rats. I compare my house and belongings to other people’s houses and belongings.

I am not fair in my comparisons. It’s not fair to judge my body against my younger self or any other woman’s body. It’s not fair to tell myself that if I was a good parent then my kids would have the same extra-curricular opportunities that other (two parent) kids have. It’s not fair to expect my church’s attendance/missions/programs/budget to measure up to churches that are larger and/or are multi-staffed. I can admire other writers’ work, but I know I’m not supposed to sound like them. I’m supposed to sound like me. I am 46 years old. I should be proud to be at the gym, not criticizing my body for not keeping up with the 20-something-year-old in the cute little bare-midriff outfit two treadmills down. And I know, even though I often allow myself to forget, that while my furniture is second-hand and my house is rented, this is what my kids call home. What more should I want? I am my own worst, most cruel critic. Always.

I’ve written about my struggles with body image and self image several times.The one thing that always strikes me when I write about body image and self image is the number of comments and emails I usually receive. I normally don’t generate a lot of comments on my blog, but obviously these topics touch a nerve for a lot of us.

I am trying to learn my triggers. I am trying to heal old wounds. I am trying to silence the inner critic. I am trying to learn the difference between wanting to improve myself and telling myself that I’m not good enough.

I know that others are walking that same path. Some are further along the path than I am. Others, bless their souls, haven’t made it as far as I have yet. We can learn from each other. We can encourage each other.

I’m curious. What is it that sets off your self doubts? Where do your words of self-criticism come from? Are they words you learned from others or have you set impossibly high expectations for yourself? Is it the media that you are hearing? What things give you strength and encouragement? What lessons have you learned? What struggles do you still have?

I would love to compare/contrast our journeys. If you have a story to tell, please do – in the comments below or by email. I promise to share what I learn from others with you. Thanks!

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