I’ve already outed myself as a clergy kid, but before my dad was ordained to the priesthood (and for several years afterward, too), he was a grocer. The grocery business runs deep in his blood — his grandfather owned a potato warehouse, his father drove a bread delivery truck, and my father had his own supermarket. We are so steeped in the family grocery business that our family vacation photos include grocery displays from around the country, which my dad couldn’t help but photograph to bring ideas back to his own store.

My dad is retired now, but going to the grocery store is still a treat with him. When I was 27 months pregnant with a 54-pound baby, he and I went to Costco together, me pushing a large flatbed cart, and him running ahead to get samples. I was too huge to eat anything, but at each station, he gamely took one sample of food for himself, one for me, and one for the baby I was growing, and promptly ate them all himself. “She’s pregnant!” he proudly announced to everyone in the store between bites, as if my pronounced waddle and giant belly hadn’t tipped them off. “If her water breaks in the store, she’s going to name the baby Kirkland!” he promised, after Costco’s store brand.

My dad’s grocery enthusiasm isn’t limited to free samples. One time, he called my name from across the store, summoning me to the bakery. “Carrie! They’re charging more for HALF of a pie than a WHOLE pie! Who BUYS this? Man, I wish I were still in the grocery business.”

One time, he explained to me why “tree-ripened” became such a big deal when it came to marketing produce. Apparently, fruit used to be picked before it was ripe, and then shipped to its destination, ripening along the way. If the fruit was left on the tree to ripen, however, it would taste better when it got to its final destination, or so the argument goes, allowing the grocer to charge more. We were at Trader Joe’s one day when I was summoned again, this time to the produce section. “Carrie! The sign says TREE-GROWN PEACHES. How the hell else do peaches grow? Suckers. You put anything in that chalk lettering, and people buy it. What a time to be alive!”

My dad’s love of groceries meant that my mom rarely had to shop at the supermarket when we were growing up. We made a running list at home, always organized by where the item could be found in the store, and Dad would pick everything up while he was at work. He liked it.

Except.

He knew enough to know that he wasn’t going to tread into the dangerous waters of the “Health and Beauty” aisle. With three opinionated daughters and a slightly-less-opinionated-but-still-terrifying wife, he knew too well the perils he could face at home if he bought the wrong brand of hair conditioner. He loved grocery shopping, but the perfect tree-ripened peach-scented shampoo was Not His Problem. I really can’t blame him for that.

And so, the women of the family took it upon themselves to find their own “Health and Beauty” products. As such, I’ve developed an affinity for the pretty, colorful bottles of hair products and sunscreen, and I’m a complete sucker for the ones that promise healthy, vibrant hair and skin. I live in Houston, where humidity is one of our chief exports, and so I will buy anything that says “anti-frizz” on the label.

I’ve noticed that over the years, beauty products have gone from not just promising (ridiculous) results for our appearance, but they seem to want to get to the very essence of who we are. The brand “philosophy” sells an “amazing grace” scent and “hope in a jar.” (Both of which I love, by the way.) The same brand sells “miracle worker” and “purity” products. Lush sells something called “Olive Branch,” which is a shower gel that smells like citrus fruit. OPI nail polish sells a color called “I’m not really a waitress,” and I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds exciting. I’ll admit to being drawn in by the makeup brands Urban Decay and NARS for the names they give the colors of their beauty products: Sin. Bootycall. Frisk. (Don’t mind if I do.)

Is it any wonder my dad didn’t want to wander down that aisle?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a great fan of these products. I like stepping out of the shower smelling like a grapefruit-ginger-mango-honey-mint smoothie. Without makeup, my Midwestern face looks exactly like an unbaked pie. I’ll even buy into the fact that I might look slightly younger, or at least less exhausted, with the right brand of under-eye concealer.

 

But I can’t deny that the existential labels are also drawing me in. Who wouldn’t want amazing grace? And world peace? And a miracle worker, especially if it wasn’t animal tested, made with organic ingredients, and without parabens? I know that the marketing is drawing me in, and more than just the claims that I’ll smell more like a daisy. I know, intellectually, that I’m no more likely to find salvation in the aisles of Sephora than I am in a bar of Ivory soap. No amount of argan oil can smooth over the bumpiness that exists inside of me. But I also can’t blame the marketers for trying to sell me that story. And I think that the $445 billion that we spend on cosmetics shows that it’s working.

I’m not going to stop buying that grapefruit-ginger body scrub, by the way. But if I want to approximate the fragrance of Christ described in 2 Corinthians, I might need to be reminded that I can’t buy my way out of sin or into a more peaceful existence, no matter what the labels might claim. And I should be grateful for that, because salvation definitely costs more than what I’m willing to put down for a tube of mascara. That price has been paid, and I can’t seem to get enough reminders of that.

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”