My Grandma’s Dresses

A few weeks back, I hinted that I might take you on photo tour of my grandma’s vintage dresses.  So this week, that’s exactly what I’m doing!  I went down to California to visit my family last week and I took a little time to photograph these beautiful vintage dresses.  My grandmother isn’t a collector of vintage clothes – these clothes were all bought and worn by her, her mother, and her daughters across several decades.  That’s very special, because these clothes aren’t just beautiful museum pieces.  They are a part of my family history, like photographs and letters and stories.  During our teen years, my sisters and I tried all of these dresses on and through trying them on, we know roughly whose body types we take after.  I’m built more like my grandma, my younger sister takes after my mom, etc.  Isn’t that kind of amazing?  It’s such a personal and beautiful collection and my love for this clothing keeps growing as I grow up.

The design of this dress is very simple – short sleeves, pencil skirt, a notch at the neckline.  The glory of this dress is the textile.  This isn’t a print – the floral and pagoda patterns are all woven into the fabric and it has a wonderful sheen.  I’m guessing this is from the 1950s or early 1960s and possibly handmade.  My great-grandmother was an excellent seamstress and made the majority of her own clothes and her children’s clothes.  I had the honor to know my Great Grandma Thelma, because she lived into her late nineties and she was sharp and witty and funny and an absolute legend.  She worked as a bank teller at age 13 to help support her family, she daily fed an entire farm crew in a chuck wagon at one stage in her life, and she made the best pancakes.

This sage green number looks so 1960s to me.  I’m guessing early sixties, because this isn’t influenced by the extreme Mary Quant mini-skirts and mod style.  This looks more like the trickle-down influence of 1950s Parisian fashion by designers such as Givenchy (famous for dressing Audrey Hepburn) and Balenciaga.  The running theme for these dresses will be that all of them look better on a person.  The hanger does not do them justice.

Judging by the tiny size and the 1960s look, I think this belonged to my mom’s older sister, Carol.  Sadly, Carol is one relative I never got the chance to meet, because she died in a car accident when my mom was still in high school.  But I feel like I know so much about her from photos and family stories and the ribbons she won at rodeos (that’s right, she was a cowgirl – and a very skilled one) and from these beautiful clothes that are still in the family.  I’m so glad my family holds on to memories.  The memories aren’t always preserved through physical things like dresses, but always through stories.  My family is a story-telling family.  I have five siblings and we all tell stories.  Sometimes we all tell the same story from slightly different perspectives.

Seeing this dress makes me want to ask my mom all her memories about Carol and write those stories down, so I can remember them and keep telling them.

This long navy blue dress belonged to my grandma and she remembers wearing it in high school.  It is simple, but oh so darling.  I’m sure this is from the early 1940s and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if my great grandmother made this gown by hand.  If you’ve ever seen Casablanca, picture Ingrid Bergman.  Have you pictured her face?  Well, in the 1940s, my grandma looked like Ingrid Bergman.  But even prettier.

This lace sheath dress is pretty special – this is my Great Grandma Thelma’s wedding dress.  After her first husband passed away, she remarried and she wore this at her second wedding.  She was a practical, no-frills person, but she loved beautiful things.  From her clothes, I know she favored simple, streamlined silhouettes and this dress has that beautiful simple shape.  The whimsy comes from this wonderful daisy-patterned lace overlay with every-so-slightly iridescent sequins sewn around the center of each daisy.  It’s the kind of detail you don’t even notice until you get close enough to see it.

I happily confess to loving short, simple wedding dresses.  Brides don’t need an elaborate gown to look beautiful.  Their happiness makes them beautiful and the dress just adds to the beauty.  I think this is one of my favorite wedding dresses, because it exactly suited my great grandma’s personal style and it is simple, but still sweet and celebratory!

I think was another one of Aunt Carol’s dresses (judging by the style and the size) and it is so lovely.  Cream background and blue embroidery – what could be happier than that?  It looks like the perfect dress to wear on a Greek island.  That might be because there’s a Haley Mills Disney movie that is set in Greece and she wears the best sixties dresses.  It’s called The Moonspinners and the plot isn’t much to write home about, but it’s way up there on the hypothetical list of Ashley’s List of Movies Where She Wants All the Clothes.  (Let me know if you want that list in blog post form.)

This green and white dress is a showstopper.  Off the shoulder, full skirt, little waist, and these colors!  The built-in belt and the matching button are all the detail this dress requires.  The leaf patterned textile makes this dress cute and playful, but the shape is what makes it amazing.  I’m sure my grandma made some jaws drop in this dress!

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This tan ensemble belonged to my great-grandmother and it has so many details that make me swoon.  The neckline with the button and seaming details.  The buttons and belt that are covered in the same fabric as the dress.  The little pink scarf that matches the lining on the jacket.  These details demonstrate the care that went into making these clothes.  It may look simple, but it is exquisite in design and execution.

This print dress is one my favorite dresses at my grandma’s house.  All of these dresses look better on a woman than on a hanger, but this one especially.  This dress is a friend to curves.  I own a couple of printed summer dresses that remind me of this one and they are my favorites, because the print makes the dress playful and the shape makes it wow.

This is a day dress, not a party dress.  Women used to dress up to go the grocery store and run errands.  They used to dress for dinner.  This level of dressing up was the normal, not the exception.  It wasn’t that long ago!

I’ve saved the best for last.  This formal was my grandma’s and I love it so much.  I’ve always loved it.  The color, the structure, the intricate seam details – it is a triumph.  This is my favorite kind of fashion design – when a designer takes a textile and works with it and manipulates it until it is a feat of structural engineering.  This pushes the limits of what cloth can do.

Before this last trip, I had never thought to look for a label, but I did this time.  I’m glad I did, because when I found the designer’s label, it said Ceil Chapman.  That name might not sound familiar to you, but I yelped a little bit when I found that label.  Mrs. Chapman was an American fashion designer who rose to fame during the 1950s and 1960s, because she dressed some of the best dressed women in Hollywood – Deborah Kerr, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and most famously, Marilyn Monroe.  The combination of Monroe and Chapman was iconic, like Hepburn and Givenchy.  I think her designs rival Christian Dior’s and her work can be found in major museums all over the world, include the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  My grandma has great taste.  She has a work of art in her back bedroom.

 

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The Nature of Work

Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of going on a vacation with a group of friends.  So much ocean-y goodness.

Stepping away from my normal work for a few days made me reflect on the work I do and just how much I appreciate my job.  I’ve worked at the same company, in the same department in that company, and in roughly the same role in that department for the past seven years.  That’s a long time.  I’ve moved apartments three times since then, which means that my job situation has been more consistent than my living situation.

I really didn’t think too much about this whole job situation during college, because I assumed I’d probably be married with a couple of kids by the time I was 30.  If I did think about about a career, it was in a What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up kind of way and the answer to that question was always fashion designer.  Always.  Part of me still thinks that the fashion designer thing will happen someday.  Maybe I’ll be like Julia Child and revolutionize the fashion industry in my late 40s?  All that to say, a career in data analysis, research, and taxonomy creation never even crossed my mind, but I’m so glad I stumbled into it.

Work is a blessing and a good thing.  God put Adam to work before the fall.  The brand new man was in charge of tending the brand new planet and naming the brand new animals.  The only thing that wasn’t good about that situation was that Adam didn’t have a helper.  Then God created Eve to be that helper and everything was perfect.  But only for a bit, because the fall happened, and work (like everything else) got messed up.  The curse of the fall introduced gender power struggles, unhealthy competition, intense pain, cursed ground, and futility into the mix, turning hard work, that once-good thing, into a problem.

Work is still a good thing, but it’s under a curse, so it is also a difficult, complicated, and emotional thing.  Now, remember that work is different than a profession.  A profession is a job that you are paid to do.  Work encompasses all our responsibilities, whether that is being a mom, a student, an obedient child, a grandparent..  Do you have responsibilities?  Then you have work to do.  I have a paid profession, but I also have other work.  I have my own household to run – cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, budgeting, paying taxes, paying bills….  I don’t even want to discuss laundry right now.  IT NEVER ENDS.  And the work won’t end until I die, so I’m constantly in that complicated Ecclesiastes emotion – alternately laughing and crying over the futility, but seeing glimpses of how beautifully satisfying meaningful work can be.

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil.  Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

I read through Ecclesiastes this week and that section stood out to me, especially the reason for being joyful – God has already accepted my work, such as it is.  My futile, temporary, vanity-of-vanities work.  My tired work that starts when I get home from work.  The work I’m good at, the work I’m bad at, the work that falls far short of where I want it.  My constant fight against entropy and futility and obsolescence.  God has already accepted it.  And that’s why I can work with joy.

So go out there and work your heart out, because your heart is His and He gave it to you for this very purpose.

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Literary Clothing: Quotes About Getting Dressed

This week didn’t have a clothing challenge or a theme beyond Just For The Fun Of It.  So instead of writing my own blog post today, I’m going to make a little commonplace book of quotes from some of my favorite books on the general theme of clothes and appearance.  Clothes are everyday storytelling material, so there are plenty of quotes to choose from.  I love books and I love clothes, so for the fun of it, here are quotes from some of my favorite books on one of my favorite topics!

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…they were the kind of clothes that not only felt nice, but looked nice and smelled nice and made nice sounds when you moved as well….

– The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis

 


The black frock fitted [Harriet] like a glove.  It was made with a small square yoke and long, close sleeves, softened by a wristfrill falling nearly to the knuckles.  It outlined her figure to the waist and fell full-skirted to the ground, with a suggestion of the mediaeval robe.  Its dull surface effaced itself, not outshining the dull gleam of the academic poplin.  She pulled the gown’s heavy folds forward upon her shoulders, so that the straight fronts fell stole-wise, serene.  The hood cost her a small struggle, before she remembered the right twist at the throat which turned the bright silk outwards….. The glass showed her her own face, rather pale, with black brows fronting squarely either side of a strong nose, a little too broad for beauty.  Her own eyes looked back at her – rather tired, rather defiant – eyes that had looked upon fear and were still wary.  The mouth was the mouth of one whose has been generous and repented of generosity; its wide corners were tucked back to give nothing away.

– Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

 


…Alice felt that, if there was to be any conversation at all, she must manage it herself.  So she began rather timidly:  “Am I addressing the White Queen?”

“Well, yes, if you call that a-dressing,” the Queen said, “It isn’t my notion of the thing, at all.”

Alice thought it would never do to have an argument at the very beginning of their conversation, so she smiled and said, “If your Majesty will only tell me the right way to begin, I’ll do it as well as I can.”

“But I don’t want it done at all!” groaned the poor Queen.  “I’ve been a-dressing myself for the last two hours.”

It would have been all the better, as it seemed to Alice, if she had got someone else to dress her, she was so dreadfully untidy.  “Every single thing’s crooked,” Alice thought to herself, “and she’s all over pins!  May I put your shawl straight for you?” she added aloud.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with it!” the Queen said in a melancholy voice. “It’s out of temper, I think.  I’ve pinned it here, and I’ve pinned it there, but there’s no pleasing it!”

“It can’t go straight, you know, if you pin it all on one side,” Alice said.

Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll



This girl seemed to [Psmith] to radiate an atmosphere of wealth.  Starting at farthest south and proceeding northward, she began in a gleam of patent-leather shoes.  Fawn stockings, obviously expensive, led up to a black crepe frock.  And then, just as the eye was beginning to feel that there could be nothing more, it was stunned by a supreme hat of soft, dull satin with a black bird of paradise feather falling down over the left shoulder.  Even to the masculine eye, which is notoriously to seek in these matters, a whale of a hat.

Leave It To Psmith, P. G. Wodehouse

 


Sophie talked to hats more and more as weeks went by.  There was no one else much to talk to. …Sophie got into the habit of putting each hat on its stand as she finished it, where it sat looking almost like a head without a body, and pausing while she told the hat what the body under it ought to be like.  She flattered the hats a bit, because you should flatter customers.

“You have mysterious allure,” she told one that was all veiling with hidden twinkles.  To a wide, creamy hat with roses under the brim she said, “You are going to have to marry money!” and to a caterpillar-green straw with a curly green feather she said, “You are young as a spring leaf.”   She told pink bonnets they had dimpled charm and smart hats trimmed with velvet that they were witty.  She told the mushroom-pleated bonnet, “You have a heart of gold and someone in a high position will see it and fall in love with you.”  This was because she was sorry for that particular bonnet.  It looked so fussy and plain.

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

 


“I’d like to know who we’re waiting for,” said Kate.

“That I can answer.  Her name is Constance Contraire, a test-taker like yourselves.  I must say she’s given us all quite a turn.  A most amusing child.  Rhonda, how many pencils did you say she brought with her this morning?”

“Thirty-seven,” said Rhonda, with a shake of her head.  “We tell her to bring one, and she brings thirty-seven.”

“How do you know that?” Sticky asked.

Rhonda shrugged.  “She told me so herself.  Remember the storm drain?  Constance stopped to help me, but instead of trying to get my pencil back, she simply opened her raincoat.  She had pockets and pockets full of pencils.  ‘Thirty-seven,’ she said. ‘Just help yourself.'”

“Wasn’t that cheating?” Kate asked.  “What wasn’t she disqualified?”

“It was certainly taking a risk,” said Mr. Benedict. “However, she refused the test answers Rhonda offered her, and the point of the test wasn’t to see if you would bring only one pencil, you know.  The pencil itself is inconsequential.”

Reynie was curious about something else.  “Why was she wearing a raincoat?  It was sunny outside today.”

“You’re an attentive listen,” said Mr. Benedict.  “That should serve you well – will serve us all well, I daresay.  As for the raincoat, I believe she wore it to conceal the pencils.”

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart

 


“Mercy!”

The exclamation was wrung from him by his eyes settling on Saskia and noting her apparel.  Gone were her thin foreign clothes, and in their place she wore a heavy tweed skirt cut very short, and thick homespun stockings, which had been made for someone with larger feet than hers.  A pair of the coarse low-heeled shoes which country folk wear in the farmyard stood warming by the hearth.  She still had her russet jumper, but round her neck hung a grey wool scarf, of the kind known as a “Comforter.”  Amazingly pretty she looked in Dickson’s eyes, but with a different kind of prettiness.  The sense of fragility had fled, and he saw how nobly built she was for all her exquisiteness.  She looked like a queen, he thought, but a queen to go gipsying through the world with.

Huntingtower, John Buchan

 


This is Tiffany, walking back home.  Start with the boots.  They are big and heavy boots, much repaired by her father, and they belonged to various sisters before her; she wears several pairs of socks to keep them on.  They are big.  Tiffany sometimes feels she is nothing more than a way of moving boots around.

Then there is the dress.  It has been owned by many sisters as well and has been taken up, taken down, and taken in by her mother so many times that it really out to have been taken away.  But Tiffany rather likes it.

The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

 


And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

[Thanks for humoring me.  That was fun.  My floor is covered with great books now and I want to re-read all of them.  So much of my taste comes from what I’ve read and my favorite book characters.  Is that the same for any of you?

I’ll be taking a short break from the blog, but I’ll be back!  Let me know if there’s a topic you want me to tackle.  As always, thank you so much for reading.]

Ashley Tries Romantic Comedy

This rom-com week contained plenty of com, if not much rom.  That’s fine.  I’m over the moon that I made it through the week without sustaining a snow-related injury brought on by my own clumsiness.

My challenge for the week: put together daily outfits to represent the classic character types found throughout the Romantic Comedy genre.  The outfits weren’t based on particular characters, but particular types of characters.  Since there are so many badly done rom-com movies out there, I know some people who entirely dismiss the genre, but those people are missing out.  In the history of stories, the two main divisions have been tragedy and comedy.  At the end of a tragedy, everybody dies.  At the end of a comedy, there’s a wedding.  For the most part, comedies speak more to my human experience.  My life is more like an Austen novel than a Hemingway novel and I’m happy about that.  (And if your main argument against romantic comedies is that people falling in love and getting married annoys the heck out of you, repent of your bitterness and go read the book of Ruth or something.)

The comedy started before the outfits this week.  This last week has been the snowiest week of the whole winter and last Sunday, I ran by the grocery store after church, because I figured that I wouldn’t want to venture out again once I got home.  The grocery store run went smoothly until the checkout line.  I had already paid for everything and I was loading up my groceries into one bag, so I wouldn’t have to push a cart through the snow.  (For my Californian friends, pushing a grocery cart through ankle-deep snow is very labor intensive.  It’s one of the many logistical challenges that comes with living in the frozen north.)  Then…came then.

A plastic box of grape tomatoes somehow managed to leap off the conveyor belt, exploding on impact and scattering the bouncing baby tomatoes absolutely everywhere.  GAH.  NO.  Tomatoes on the floor, tomatoes on the conveyor belt, tomatoes in the grocery bags, tomatoes rolling into corners.  A mad dash/scramble for the tiny squishable produce ensued.  In a masterpiece of bad reflexes, I managed to knock my already-mostly-loaded grocery bag off the loading area and onto the ground.  Including the the very pink bottle of rosé wine, which promptly exploded all over everywhere.  Thankfully, the glass was contained by the bag, but the wine itself crowned out in a splendid pink wave.  Very splashy.  So there I was, hands full of tiny tomatoes, staring down at my one bag of groceries, which was now soaked in pink wine and covered in glass shards.  My first impulse was to throw the grape tomatoes as a diversion and run out of the store.  Fortunately, I had lovely grocery store employees who helped me and ran and got me new ones of everything in the bag.  The clerk even asked me if the banana bunch he brought back was to my liking.  It was.

The good news is that it isn’t actually possible to die of embarrassment, or I would have passed away some time ago.  It was the funniest start to the week and I realized that not dying from the famous romantic comedy clumsiness was going to be the REAL challenge.  Ashley Tries Not To Drop Things.  Ashley Tries Not To Trip and Die.  Ashley Tries Not To Fall On Her Face.  (I failed on that last one.  It was very snowy this week.)

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Monday:  The Best Friend

I have a great fondness for the Best Friend character.  She supports the leading lady in whatever way the plot demands.  The best friend gives the most important advice, listens to so much plot exposition (how else will we know how the protagonist is feeling?), offers comedic relief, and sometimes offers important skill sets that the protagonist needs (hey, Nancy Drew, I know how to hotwire a car!).  She might be the leading lady’s roommate, wise relative, closest friend from high school, hilarious coworker, or mentor.

Most of the time, the best friend is a girl, but sometimes it’s a guy.  (Classic example: Duckie from Pretty In Pink, a movie that bothers me greatly.)  Guy best friend tends to lead to awkward love triangles, so my favorite best friend characters are women.  Usually the best friend offers no competition to in the romance department, either because the best friend is already married, or older, or eccentric.  Or all three at once.  To use Pride and Prejudice as an example, Elizabeth Bennet’s “best friend” character would be her aunt, Mrs. Gardiner.  Mrs. Gardiner offers wise advice, listens to all of Elizabeth’s concerns, and advances the plot by taking Elizabeth to Pemberley.

Of all the stereotypes I went through this week, this type of character resonates most with me.  Not that I can ever hope to attain Mrs. Gardiner status – she’s the best.  But if you need a third wheel during the dating process, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  And I do offer advice.  Most of the advice is along the lines of “Snap out of it”, but sometimes that sentiment is applicable.  And I’m always happy to listen to daily plot exposition, because I love hearing about other people’s drama.

For the outfit, I leaned into the eccentric aspect of the best friend, with a happy sushi t-shirt, a comfy duffle jacket, space buns, bright blue tights, and big old earrings.  It’s a cute outfit, but not a trying-to-be-attractive outfit.

Tuesday: The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling character is a pre-makeover leading lady.  She’s on the brink of transforming into a beautiful swan.  She’s Cinderella before the bibbity-bobbity-boo happens.  She probably wears glasses and looks a little frumpy, but once she takes off the glasses and lets her hair down….

(Here’s my feeble attempt at a makeover montage:)

I’ve seen the ugly-duckling-to-swan makeover done well a few times, but it is usually handled very shallowly.  It’s like Lois Lane not knowing that Clark Kent is Superman.  HOW?  Taking off glasses doesn’t make a person look completely different.  My favorite transformations in movies are gradual outward changes in response to a changed heart.  Happiness working its way out.  My favorite ugly duckling of all time is Fran in Strictly Ballroom.  She always looks like herself, she never transforms into a generic hot girl, but she becomes more and more beautiful as she falls in love and is loved in return.

I freely admit to wanting a dramatic Cinderella moment every once in a while.  On days when I know I’ll be dressing up in the evening, I won’t wear makeup during the day, just to make the transformation more dramatic.  But I also know that changing the outside without changing the inside won’t get me anywhere.  If I have a bad attitude, switching out my glasses for eyeliner isn’t going to make me more beautiful.  The heart works its way out.

For the outfit, I went with a midi-length pleated skirt, a high necked sweater, a collared shirt, and (of course) my glasses.  The whole look tended toward scholastic/librarian/nerdy vibes.  I actually like this look.  It’s very work appropriate and appropriateness isn’t anything to sneeze at.  Also, I think glasses are great.

Wednesday: The Nemesis

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The nemesis in a romantic comedy changes according to the setting.  In a high school movie, the nemesis wears all pink, practically owns the school, and pretends to be sweet as long as it serves her purposes.  In an office setting, the nemesis wears head to toe black, never smiles, and scares the daylights out of everybody around her.  What they both have in common are their intimidation and manipulation tactics.

When I think of a rom-com nemesis, I think of a carefully controlled outfit, because intimidation is all about control.  In that regard, this is the least successful outfit of the week, because my car got stuck in the snow and in the process of trying to get the car unstuck, I fell into the snow a couple of times.  Right onto my face.  So my hair was straightened when I left house, but after getting the car stuck, unstuck, stuck again, falling in the snow, falling in the snow again, and finally giving up and asking for a ride, my hair back to its natural wavy state again.

I didn’t feel at all in control that day, but the overall look was fairly sharp.  Maybe I looked like I had things under control.  It was a shame that my straightened hair didn’t last very long, because I feel like that would have sold the look even more, but getting stuck in the snow is so naturally comedic that it was bound to happen at some point during romantic comedy week!

Thursday: The Force Of Nature

I’m a big fan of screwball comedies from the 1930s and 1940s, with or without singing and dancing.  If there’s a rogue leopard running around / four identical suitcases that everybody keeps stealing from each other / many cases of mistaken identity / a scavenger hunt that requires finding a bowl of Japanese goldfish, a goat, and a forgotten man / general hilarity ensuing, count me in.  The great leading ladies from that era had so much punch and pizzazz.  They could out-talk, out-dance, out-sass, and out-wit you.  Nothing stops them.  They are like beautiful tornadoes.  The best friend is the kind of role I’m comfortable in, but the powerhouse leading lady (with gumption to spare) is who I want to be when I grow up.

One of my all time favorite performances is Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.  I think that movie still holds the record for words-per-minute.  Unbelievably quick and funny, no punches pulled.  There wasn’t TIME to pull any punches in that movie.  Not many people could steal scenes away from Cary Grant, but Russell did it.  It’s amazing.  If you haven’t watched it, watch it.  It’s an absolute classic.  In the movie, she wears a graphic striped coat, so the striped dress was an homage to her character.  For Thursday’s look, I went for a retro look, with cool construction details and graphic stripes that would look good in black and white.  I also curled my hair to the best of my ability and put on red lipstick.  I felt like a force of nature in this look and I could get used to that!

Friday: The Stranded Overachiever

For the last day, I went with a modern convention that I find pretty hilarious.  It’s the high-powered business woman who finds themselves stranded in a small town, where they must confront their control issues, learn about life and love, stop worrying, and fall in love.  There may be a cute dog.  There is definitely a cute guy.  He may or may not drive a truck or ride a horse.  This character shows up in New In Town, Sweet Home Alabama, and almost all made-for-television Christmas movies.

This convention cracks me up, because in the modern sensibility, it’s frowned upon to even look like you want to get married and settle down.  So in order to make a romantic comedy, Hollywood needs to make to make love look like a happy accident, something that will just happen when you have the time.  Strong, independent female characters have become the new damsels in distress, because most of the time, they are predictable and one-dimensional.  Modern rom-coms tend to make everything terribly convenient and therefore terribly boring, because there’s no sacrifice.  Isn’t “you can have it all” the wishy washy rallying cry of a generation?

If love isn’t worth sacrificing for, what is it worth?  Love IS sacrifice.  Love isn’t something that happens when you are stranded in the snow and forced to glance away from your life goals for a minute.  Love is worth pursuing, it is worth sacrificing for, and it is worth all the ridiculousness and the enforced humility that comes along with it.  You may protest and say that as a perpetually single person, I don’t know anything about any of this, but I have my parents’ example and my siblings’ examples and all those friends I have been the third wheel for, so I’ve seen love up close.  And while I have never been in love (in the romantic sense), I’m pretty sure I’ll know it when I see it.

Ashley Tries Glamour (That Beautiful Illusion)

Awards season is upon us and as I sifted through photos of Golden Globes red carpet looks, I started thinking about the concept of glamour.  What is it, exactly?  I don’t think of myself as a glamorous person, but could I become glamorous for a week, wearing my own clothes and doing my own hair and makeup?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of Glamour reads:

  1. a magic spell
  2. an exciting and often illusory and romantic attractiveness

Yes.  To both.  It takes a village to make a red carpet look come together.  Sandra Bullock isn’t home right before an awards show, trying to master a smokey eye makeup look and struggling to do up the zipper on the back of her dress.  She has a whole squad of skilled experts to perform magic and turn her into a red carpet glamazon.  Now, don’t get me wrong, she’s beautiful already.  But glamour isn’t the same as beauty.  It is a hex.  A magic spell.  An advanced marketing campaign.

Glamour is a whole lot of work and I don’t think I pulled it off this week.  But the interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter what I think about the looks.  If other people thought my looks were glamorous, the outfits were glamorous.  Glamour is outward, not inward.  The appearance of confidence is just as effective as the real thing.  I’ll go through the thought process behind each look, starting with…

Day 1: Sleek outfit, big hair

This look came together last minute, because my first outfit plan didn’t work.  Mornings are always a scramble for me, even if I think through my clothes the night before.  Even if I look glamorous in the morning, I never feel glamorous in the morning.  I am not a morning person.  My exterior may be that of a swan serenely gliding across a pond, but my brain is more like the little swan legs underneath the surface, paddling like the dickens.

The rare occasion that I do feel glamorous is when I am getting ready for a party at night and I have time to putter around the bathroom, turn on Frank Sinatra, and wipe off the failed eyeliner attempts and try again until it actually looks good.  In the morning, there’s no Sinatra, there’s no second attempt at eye makeup….. it is what it is and out the door I go.

But on Monday, I did manage to curl my hair a bit and that’s a big deal for me.  If you manage to curl your hair every morning, I take my hat off to you – that’s amazing to me.  I wanted big hair and (since the outfit was Take 2) I wanted a simple, sleek outfit.  Black turtleneck and black skinny jeans were my blank canvas, then I went from there.  I tried a couple different jackets before arriving at this striped black-and-white number.  The stripes give the look some drama and the fit is very sleek.  Then a pair of heels.  Out the door.

Day 2: Dressy outfit, straight hair

This week pushed me outside my normal winter uniform of skinny jeans and sweaters.  This two-tone blue and black dress always seems a little dressy for the office, but with a black wool jacket, it looks very work appropriate.  Yes, it is dressy, but one thing I’ve learned while I’ve been doing this blog is that people don’t mind when I dress up.

Do you save nice clothes for some hypothetical future event?  I do.  But I’m going to try to do that less.  I’m going to pull out my cute professional sheath dresses and get more use out of them!  They can always be dressed down with a slouchy cardigan or a jean jacket.  I can make them work for real situations, not just hypothetical ones.

This was the day I straightened my hair and it was ridiculously easy.  I’m not going to straighten my hair every day, but if I want to look a little more put together and I have two minutes to get my hair looking decent, the straightener is coming out.  Not sure why it hasn’t been part of my hair repertoire in the past.  Maybe it is because my hair is longer than usual right now.

Day 3: Color-coordinated

Since black featured heavily in the first two outfits, I wanted to veer into a different color scheme for Wednesday’s look.  Earth tones might not be everybody’s go to color palette for a glamorous look, but I like a challenge.  I started with the tweed skirt and built the outfit out from there.

Red is one of my favorite colors to wear, and I tried a bright red shirt at first, then opted for a more muted rusty red color.  The shirt is a henley style tee from the Salvation Army and it isn’t much to look at by itself, but with outfits (as with life), it isn’t where you start, it is where you finish.  Buttoning up all the buttons made it look less early-2000s-ish and tucking it into the skirt gave it better fit and proportions.  From there, I picked some stockings and shoes in a similar color scheme – an additional benefit of having sort of matching shoes and tights is that it makes the leg line look longer.  Helpful.

The star of this outfit is the jacket.  The white lightens the whole look, the red ties in the earth tones, the blue adds in a refreshing complementary color… all good things.  The only downside to this jacket is that it has hook and eyes instead of buttons, so my skirt got hooked a whole bunch of times on Wednesday.  Fortunately, there weren’t any major emergencies, but it made me very cautious.  This look is my favorite from this week.

Day 4: Casual, but with red lipstick

Glamour and red lipstick go hand in hand in my mind.  When I’m doing my makeup, I tend to focus on the eyes.  There are couple reasons for this.  1) My eyes are quite little and squinty and need a little more help.  2) I like to drink coffee when I am at work and when I wear bright lipstick, most of it ends up on the coffee cup.  But I do understand the appeal of red lipstick.  Red lipstick is bold and beautiful.  It makes us think of the 1950s (a time we associate with glamour) and old Hollywood actresses (who basically invented what we think of as glamour).

Since this was a particularly rushed morning, I needed the red lipstick magic to elevate this outfit.  My hair was still partially wet when I left my house and I was back to my winter uniform: skinny jeans and a sweater (with a jean jacket for extra warmth).  The red lipstick added the zing this look needed.

Day 5: Wild Card

My coworkers occasionally point out that I don’t really do Casual Fridays.  That’s true.  Friday is usually my wild card day – the day where I pull out the look that I’m not sure will work.  This is my mad scientist experiment day.

This gray sweater is so fabulous, but it isn’t simple to wear.  It is a slightly awkward cropped length and it has tiered bell sleeves.  But I love drama, so I love this crazy sweater.  The skirt is a knit skater style in a neutral houndstooth pattern.  And just to show that the outfit wasn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, I added the bright pink tights.

I didn’t feel very glamorous this week.  I liked the outfits, but there’s something about knowing the process to the final product that doesn’t allow me to take my own style very seriously.  Life isn’t the Instagram photo.  It’s all the moments before and after that one frozen instagrammable moment.  Social media is pure theater sometimes.  I thoroughly enjoy Instagram, but I can’t take it very seriously either.

My advice at the end of this week: don’t chase glamour.  It is an outward projection of what we want people to think about us.  Instead of relying on glamour magic to trick people into thinking what I want them to think about me, I would rather focus on building something lasting.  I want to strive for real beauty.  Not just in my outward appearance, but in how I treat people and how I conduct myself and how I speak.  It is more difficult, but it is so much more worthwhile.

Ashley Dresses Like Movie Genres

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time or talked to me in person, you already know that I LOVE costume design.  Great costumes bring me so much joy.  I think good movie costumes advance the plot, provide character development without heavy-handed exposition, and (of course) look amazing.  For this week, I didn’t decided to steer away from iconic costumes as inspiration, because it is easy to get overly costumey.  If I went to work dressed up in a gingham jumper, a white shirt, and red shoes, people would immediately get the Wizard of Oz reference.  They would also give me strange looks, because it isn’t Halloween yet and Halloween is the only socially acceptable time to wear such a literal costume.  So I went a little more meta and put together outfits that gave the right vibes, without being tied to any specific movie.

I loved this week.  If you love costumes and/or movies, you might want to try this challenge yourself!  I searched through my old Polyvore outfit boards to find additional example outfits.  If you didn’t know, Polyvore ceased to exist quite suddenly, but I fortunately was able to download all my past work!  It was so fun to sift through the collages and find applicable boards for each genre.

Foreign Language Film

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For this look, I wanted to channel a retro French film style.  The 1950s Parisian style is still actively referenced in so many ways – slim fit trousers, crew neck knit tops, horizontal stripes, pointed toe flats…. the list goes on.  Audrey Hepburn was in American films, but she was in Paris fashion.  Since the Audrey style is so often referenced, I decided to go for a different icon of the gamine style, Jean Seberg.  You may not have seen any of her films, but you’ve probably worn styles she popularized.  If you’ve worn a graphic or striped t-shirt with skinny jeans and flats, that’s a classic Jean Seberg outfit.

jean seberg polyvore 2jean seberg polyvore 1

Another French film that has killer style is Amélie.   The color styling and harmony between the set design and costume design is some of the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s like seeing the color red for the first time.  Just amazing.

amelie costume board

Style lessons to take away from French films:

  1.  A dramatic hairstyle can be your most important and impactful accessory.
  2.  Wear clothes casually.  If you don’t act cool in your clothes, your clothes won’t look cool.
  3.  Sometimes the simplest pieces have the greatest impact.
  4.  Secrecy and mystery are beautiful.  The French idiom “je ne sais quoi” literally means “I don’t know what”.  It’s an indefinable quality that draws people in.  True beauty lies beneath the surface.
  5.  The eyes are the window to the soul.  If you need to decide which feature to emphasize, choose the eyes.

Drama

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I found this charcoal skirt suit in the Salvation Army in the middle of summer.  I had never owned a suit before, but it was such a good fit and made of such lovely material, I decided to buy it.  I couldn’t wear it immediately, because it was (as Cole Porter put it) too darn hot.  But once the weather cooled down and the Drama genre rolled around, the suit came out for the first time.  Nothing conveys Serious and Dramatic like a dark suit.

Since my office is not exactly a suit office, I expected some reactions, but oh my goodness.  I’ve never gotten so many reactions to an outfit before.  I had coworkers doing double takes, giving me nods of approval, and most of all, asking me what was up.  The suit was a total fake-out, because I didn’t have any meetings, events, or interviews that day.  But the suit looked Very Important.  It looked like I was about to brief the White House on an urgent matter of national security.  The jacket made me sit up straight.  Suiting up made me feel sharper and quicker and wittier.

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Tailored clothes make the wearer look intelligent.  Good tailoring is like a British accent for clothing.  People listen to an important looking suit.  Since suits make everything seem more serious, they are perfect for dramas.  When I think of perfectly tailored women’s suits, I think of Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Ingrid Bergman.  Cool, calm, collected, controlled, complex.  In my opinion, the best drama is like the last scene in Casablanca, when every single person needs to make a decision between doing what’s right and doing what they want.  It’s cinematic perfection.  If you haven’t seen Casablanca, you need to watch it.

The power suit has gone through variations, but has always been a staple of dramatic storytelling.  I’ve included a couple of my favorites – Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully from The X-Files, whose sharp suits support her role as the quick clear-minded skeptic.  I think the current queen of suits is Gina Torres’s character Jessica Pearson on Suits.  That show is aptly named.  Everything she wears is a power move.

scully polyvoresuits

Style lessons to take from dramas:  If you want to be taken more seriously, suit up.  Dress like the stakes are high.

Musical

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After the dramatic suit, it was fun to take a complete departure and try a style based on that oft-maligned movie genre, the Musical.  I love a musical.  I’m perfectly happy to sacrifice a little plot if there’s singing and dancing.  But when everything comes together and the plot, the acting, the singing, and the dancing are all stellar, musicals are truly beautiful.  They are the most difficult genre of movie to make and costuming for musicals offers specific challenges that you don’t find in other genres.

Two of the most important aspects in a musical costume are movement and color contrast.  Let’s start with movement.  The costume needs to hold up through exhausting days of filming dance scenes and look good from every angle.  It needs to accentuate the movement and show off the dancer.  It needs to be a crazy mix of practical and beautiful.  Imagine a hybrid of high-performance athletic wear and an evening gown.  Take a look at this still from Swing Time – one of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ finest.

swing time

Fred and Ginger make the dancing look easy.  Likewise, those costumes look simple enough, but I can guarantee that so much engineering that went into making Ginger’s skirt twirl perfectly and making Fred’s coattails flare out when he turned.  Fred and Ginger were the very best and they had costumes to match.

Moving on to the second important aspect of a good musical costume – color contrast.  See Fred Astaire’s spats?  They aren’t just there for nattiness.  The white spats are there to draw focus to his feet.  If he didn’t have a contrasting color on his shoes, his footwork would get lost.  The lead performers need to stand out from the background, and sometimes in musicals, that background includes tons of other dancers.  That’s where contrast comes in.   The first musicals were in black and white, so the brightest and darkest shades were reserved for the lead actor and actress, and the background costumes would either be the opposite color or mid-tone shades.

black and white

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When musicals transitioned to beautiful technicolor, color became a huge part of the costuming challenge.  Contrast was still the most important thing, but the designers were no longer limited to just black and white, so the contrast usually came from vibrant color, not just shades.  One of the best recent examples is La La Land.  Emma Stone’s character stands out through color – bright blues, yellow, greens, reds.  Ryan Gosling’s character usually stands out through shade – bright white shirts, black trousers, two-toned shoes.  They not only contrast against their surroundings, but they also contrast against each other.  She’s the sun, he’s the moon.  She’s bright and colorful and new, he’s a throwback to the black and white days.  These are storytelling costumes and the results are stunning.

la la landmusical

Style lessons from movie musicals:

  1.  Twirl Factor is important.  When you’re trying on a dress, take it for a spin in the dressing room.
  2.  Contrast is powerful.  Want to stand out?  Wear bright white or a bold color.
  3.  Have fun!  Dance, sing, and wear clothes you love.

Sci Fi

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Science Fiction – the ultimate What If.  The only limits to science fiction are the limits of your own imagination.  And the limits of the costuming budget.  I find sci fi costumes fascinating, because they present the designer’s vision of the future.  The costumes help answer those sci-fi questions.  What will the future be like?  Will we actively reference the past, like we do now?  Will clothing be purely practical?  Will everyone wear the same thing or will clothing still show layers of societal ranking?  Will it be militaristic?  How connected will clothing and technology be?  Will our communication devices be sewn into our sleeves so we can just talk into our wrists?  WILL THERE BE FLYING CARS? I WANT FLYING CARS.  Actually, I want a personal sized dirigible that works by pedaling, so I can just float above the ground and pedal around town and look at stuff.  But that’s not really sci fi.  That’s more steampunk.

If I was in charge of creating a Future Aesthetic for a sci fi movie, I think I would go the route of Retro-Futurism.  This is the idea that Future Us will reference and draw inspiration from the past.  I don’t think clothing ideas will be entirely new, but they will be transformed into something Other.  Clothing comes in cycles – the 1980s were obsessed with the 1950s, but the references looked like the eighties-version-of-the-fifties.  Think Back To The Future or Madonna recreating Marilyn Monroe’s Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.  I don’t think the future will be any different – the same ideas will keep circulating, but they will change with each iteration.

I hated the storyline of the Hunger Games, but the costume design was compelling, because they drew on the emotion surrounding the Great Depression.  The poor districts are straight out of the Dust Bowl – flour sack dresses and patches and worn out shoes.  The photographs we have from that time are haunting images of desperation and resignation and those images are seared into our minds, so when we see District 12, we already know that this is a people who have been through a tragedy and given up hope.

hunger games polyvore

Probably the most famous example of retro-futuristic design is Blade Runner.  In the highest strata of society, the fashion is an exaggerated 1940s style, which gives the whole movie a Film Noir feel.  It bends the genre into something new – a future film noir fusion, with Harrison Ford in the Humphrey Bogart role.  The aesthetic of a movie can cross genres and make you see an old story in a new way.

rachel blade runner

Style lessons from science fiction:  Our decisions now will influence the next generation, so we should be actively involved in shaping culture now.  We shouldn’t hide from art and fashion and music.  If we want to hand something good down to our kids, we need to step up and make it now.  The past affects the present, so the present affects the future.

Western

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Westerns are America’s mythology.  Cowboys and gunfighters are our version of knights in armor, our Lancelots and Mordreds.  My grandma lives in the desert and we have watched many, many John Wayne movies at her house.  There’s something about watching a western, then stepping out the door into the perfect setting for a western.  Icy night air, bands of cold white stars, bare rock hills, sagebrush, moonlight, coyote howls…. the Mojave Desert is one western cliché after another.

Of all the genres I tried this week, cowboy movies are the most personal to me.  If I got the chance to make one movie, it would be a western.  A good western is a combination of everything – it’s a historical period piece, a drama, an action movie, a character study, a romance, with comedy thrown in for good measure.  Plus guns and horses and hats and all that good stuff.  Actually, I think cowboy movies are the reason I started making hats.  I can never find a hat that is exactly what I want.  I want a Magnificent Seven hat.  One day I will make the perfect Magnificent Seven hat and I will be so happy.

Western style has actually been having a high fashion moment for the past couple of years.  Dior, Chanel, and Ralph Lauren have all had Tombstone moments within the past five years.  It’s in the air.

What do I love about western style?  It is a beautiful style without being purely decorative.  The materials are chosen for protection and constant wear – wool, leather, denim, canvas, metal.  It’s distinctly American, but it comes from everywhere.  The cowboy look has elements from Britain, Mexico, Spain – anyone who came out west had a hand in shaping it.  It has a landscape associated with it and it’s a landscape I know and love.  It has power of myth behind it.

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Style lessons from westerns:

  1. Don’t buy purely decorative clothes.  Have some clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
  2. If you need an extra push to feel brave, wear adventure clothes.  Remember, according to Chesterton, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
  3. A great pair of jeans is a gift.
  4. Vests are underrated and we should bring them back.
  5. Paris isn’t the only place with great style.

Thank you for reading!  I had an absolute blast putting these outfits together this week.  Also, if anybody needs help costuming a movie, call me.  I’ll clear my schedule.

Active Contentment

The other day, somebody asked me if I was a “content person” and my automatic knee-jerk response was a heavy sigh.  Or a groan.  I can’t remember which reaction it was, but it was not eloquent.  They probably left that conversation thinking, Wow. Ashley is obviously having some issues with contentment.  They wouldn’t be incorrect in that assumption, because contentment is a heavy sanctification area for me right now.  Contentment does not always feel like my state of being.  But what does it mean to be a content person?  Can I categorize myself as a content person, even if I don’t always FEEL like a content person?  I’ve been thinking about it and here are some thoughts…

Stoicism isn’t contentment.  Placidity isn’t contentment.  Coziness isn’t contentment.  Happiness isn’t contentment.  True contentment doesn’t depend on my willpower, my circumstances, or my feelings.  Contentment doesn’t mean fooling myself into thinking everything is perfect.  Ignoring problems in order to feel warm and fuzzy is just delusion.  A content person does not equal a delusional person.  If everything was perfect, we wouldn’t even need contentment.  If all I needed was warm fuzzy feelings, I could get a giant mug of hot cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles and call it good.

I keep seeing motivational posters with pretty lettering that say You Are Enough.  I understand that it’s supposed to be encouraging, but that isn’t good news.  That slogan is trying to cover up a gaping hole with decorative lettering.  I know that I’m not enough on my own.  I’m mortal.  As soon as I was born, I started dying.  I’m under a death curse.  I’m not perfect.  My words and actions have hurt people and I’ve been hurt myself.  How could I possibly be enough on my own?

On my own, I can’t make myself righteous or content.  On my own, I’m broken, dying, incomplete, constantly breaking – a textbook example of entropy in motion.  Just saying I Am Enough won’t change that. That’s like putting up signs that say Everything’s Perfectly Fine all over a critical nuclear reactor and expecting the posters to fix the meltdown problem.  The real good news is that I’m NOT enough on my own.  I am in Christ and He is enough.  All I brought with me was my brokenness, my debts, my sin, and my discontent.  All my not-enough-ness.  He healed my brokenness, payed my debts, took the penalty for my sins, and gave me rest in Him.

The rest and peace I have in Christ is my contentment.  I trust in God, because He truly is enough.

Apart from Christ, there are two ways to try and handle the brokenness.  People can try to fix themselves and fill the gaping hole through self-improvement.  They try to achieve contentment by losing weight, getting the perfect job, curating an immaculate house, dressing to impress, getting high grades – excelling in any way they can.  They try to control their environment, because that feels like the only way to control life.  And it’s easy to not worry about being content when you’re too busy to slow down and think, right?  On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people embrace the brokenness as a feature, not a problem.  They focus on loving themselves, flaws and all.  They preach acceptance and tolerance and inclusivity, because they want to feel included and accepted, because those feelings mimic contentment.  If you flip to the end of either of these stories, you’ll see that neither of these methods work.  The Type-A self-help people will work and work and try harder and harder, without reaching a point where they can rest or be content.  It’s like being on a stationary bike – it doesn’t matter how hard you pedal, you still aren’t going anywhere.  The “Love Your Brokenness” group will struggle to maintain the levels of love they want to give to themselves and to other people.  They’ll get frustrated by conflict, feel guilty about feeling guilt, and blame other people’s negativity for bring them down.

Both ways are exhausting.  They are heavy and self-imposed burdens.  That’s why Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)  We want rest and contentment, but we can’t get it on our own.

But I know the truth and I still struggle to trust God sometimes.  That’s the sanctification part.  Sometimes I’ll realize I’ve been trying to change on my own.  (If I only try a little harder, I’ll be better.)  It’s hard for me to see it while I’m in it, but I’ll realize it once I’m exhausted and frustrated and burned out.  The temptation usually starts when I look at my circumstances, get scared, and attempt to control or manipulate them somehow.

The following scenario might sound stupid, but it’s very real:  I have four siblings and all four of them are married and each family has four kids.  (Yes, I have 16 nieces and nephews.)  If I allow my brain to start doing the Terrible Math, I am behind everybody else.  I’m missing one husband and four kids.  The Math preys on the mind, because it’s all about comparison. Everybody else is a unit of six and I’m still just a unit of one.  I’m behind and I’ll never catch up.  I’m 31.  There isn’t enough time.  Why don’t I have a family yet?  Then I try to figure out what’s wrong with me.  Why am I not married yet?  What is the matter with me?  Then feel like I have to fix whatever is wrong with me before I can move forward with my life.  It feels like it’s my fault for not knowing what’s wrong AND not knowing how to fix it.  So I’ll be stuck forever.  Maybe if I’m prettier – maybe if I’m thinner – maybe if I’m friendlier – maybe if I’m more outgoing  – maybe maybe maybe maybe.  All of this internal monologue and accompanying temptation happens faster than I can even express.  The randomized guilt hits fast and hard and goes straight for the gut.  I know it doesn’t make sense.  I know God loves me and that he is telling the best story with my life.  He isn’t trying to manipulate or torture me.  He’s got everything under control and He loves me more than I can even begin to comprehend.  I thank the Lord that contentment does not rely on my own performance, because I’ve had to confess my lack of trust so many times.

That’s why I choked when somebody asked me if I’m content.  I don’t feel like I’m always content.  But that’s a feeling and contentment isn’t a feeling.  I wish contentment could be as simple as breathing.  I want to swim through contentment like a fish.  I want to soak in contentment like a warm sunbeam.  But it isn’t that simple.  Contentment isn’t passive.  It isn’t enough to sit still and hope contentment just happens to me.  With every change in circumstance, there’s a choice – whether or not to trust God in that circumstance.  It requires vigilance and active trust.  I can say I am a content person, not because I’ve reached some mythical balance in my life, but because I trust God and I’m content in Him.  I’m not trusting myself to never fail.  I’m trusting Him never to fail me.  And that’s enough.