"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates."
What woman has never felt the weight of guilt press on her shoulders as yet another women's group or Bible study or retreat or book or blog post projects "The Proverbs 31 woman" as the picture that needs to be hung on our fridge and taped to our bathroom mirror in order to remember all the things she does and how we should strive to be like her?
Who doesn't want to be excellent, precious, trustworthy, a happy worker, diligent, business savvy, strong, industrious, generous, compassionate, fearless, a good helpmeet, dignified, classy, wise, kind, and prepared?
But we hear that list thrown at us over and over and we measure our worth against all these things the mysterious woman is, and we slowly sink into our chairs knowing we'd be grateful if just one of those things could be said about us without laughing or crying.
Sure, we can project any image we want. Social media is a great place to show off what we do and the beautiful home we have made. We can comment and pat ourselves on the back for the healthy food we make for our family or the way we teach our children. But what most of us know, not-too-deep inside, is that we (and every woman like us) feel like a failure in so many areas that if we want to make it through another day, we must take hold of the one good thing we accomplished that day and make sure everyone knows about it.
Now before you roll your eyes and think this is another "pretending to be perfect" social media rage, be assured it is not. Although I loathe many things about social media, I also love many things and because of the domino effect in life, I can truly say Facebook has changed my life for good in many ways.
With that said, let's get back to the heavy guilt of the perfect woman we we should emulate. She is wrapped in a pretty pink bow everywhere we look—inside our pretty pink Bibles and our pretty pink how-to-be-a-great-wife-and-mom book and our pretty pink "Bible" app telling us we are beautiful and precious. This woman may laugh at the future, but I want to laugh her right off the stage of every woman's heart.
It's not that her performance isn't praiseworthy. Clearly it is. But my issue with this woman performing on every stage and in every areas of our guilt and inferiority complex is that she makes it look so easy, so reproducible. We read about all her virtues and we are told to be like her and we resolve once again to dress like her, think like her, act like her.
But regardless of how motivated we were yesterday, today we see just us in the mirror and we smack our heads on the shattered glass of imperfection. All the while, this woman we have never, ever met rises in fame and fanfare as we continue to see how big she is and how little we are.
But you know what? This woman needs to be booted off the stage.
Maybe not forever, perhaps she'll return as an encore, but until we see what life on the stage is really about, and until we see the reason she's able to perform as she does, she needs to be tucked away in our pretty pink stash of pretty pink women's Bible study notes.
We think this lady is saying, "Look at me!" But she's not. In reality, she isn't speaking at all. King Lemuel behind the curtain, speaking into the microphone with his deep voice saying, "Look at her heart, but hear my voice." But his words fall on deaf ears and her heart on blind eyes.
"...because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matthew 13:13).
The beauty of her perfect act and the words of his perfect narration are missed because while we are trying to record every word our pretty pink phone, the king stops speaking and we are left to a silent show we didn't even see and we try to base our performance off of. We are left feeling so undone that we leave before every getting to see the end of the show—the part where the narrator and the Proverbs 31 dancer both step out on stage for the curtain call—and the audience realizes that the dance we so admired was a fraud. Sure, she dances a beautiful dance, but what we could now see which we refused to see before were the puppet strings of the narrator, of the one who wrote her story. With a look of dismay, we then realize that this woman isn't all we thought and hoped her to be. What we have to understand is that if her master steps away or is pushed away from this woman, she will collapse into a heap on the floor. And then she is no better off than we are.
I have mentioned in the past that as part of my daily Bible time, I first read a Proverb, the chapter corresponding to the day of the month. With today being the 31st, the dancing woman on the stage and I meet again.
But I don't feel dread anymore. I don't feel guilt anymore. I've kicked her off the stage of my life and instead entered through the ripped the curtain in order to see and hear the secrets of her dance. I now see that she is controlled not by her own goodness, but by a man behind the curtain who controls her every move and makes each step beautiful.
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates."
Oh dear women, do you see that we are missing the point? I plead with you, know this: as we admire this woman on the stage from afar and as we resolve every day to do what she does and step where she steps, we walk further and further from the truth of the source of the great grace by which she dances.
Charm is deceitful.
Do you know what charm means? It means "the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration."
If this woman arouses your admiration with intense power coming from the thrust of every women's ministry tactic I have ever seen, know this: she isn't to be admired or followed—it's deceitful! Her dance has nothing to do with her and everything to do with the one holding the strings.
All those qualities you see in this woman and that you want to see in yourself are deceiving if you are simply growing in admiration of all the good she does, and and ignoring the means by which she does it.
The king wants you to understand what you don't see. You think you see true beauty because of all this woman's admiring fans throw themselves at her and encourage you to do the same. Just get on the stage, they tell you, perform like her and you'll get the applause. But what you don't see, what the king wants you to know, is that apart from Him, she can do nothing. So instead of gazing at her, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus who authored and perfected her dance and who authored and will perfect our faith.
"A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised."
The applause we long for — the trust, delight, and praise of our husbands, children, and community—isn't achieved by getting on stage and trying to dance this lady's dance. You'll be booed off the stage, with your own guilt and shame leading the angry crowd.
If you want real praise, the king tells us, don't fear the crowd; fear the king, the LORD.
As Christians, we love to throw around phrases we really aren't quite sure the meaning of. Go ahead, try it. Without looking anything up, define glory, justification, propitiation, and thelight of the knowledge of the glory of God. See. Most of us use words without understanding their meaning. It's like the English words on a street sign in our town in India that said, "Toe away zone." Go ahead, think on that. I'll give you a sec.
So we must ask, what does it mean to fear the LORD? Books can and should be written on it, but suffice it to say that the fear of the LORD is a healthy and right awestruck I-have-no-words wonder and disbelief that you have access to and are standing in front of something so grand and majestic and powerful. We don't fear the Lord. We are like the ignorant child C.S. Lewis speaks of who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
To fear Him is to shudder before Him — not in angst or terrified anxiety but in assurance and awestruck wonder.
Have you ever seen fans at a concert (or on social media) that give an I'd-give-anything-to-just be-close-enough-to-touch her pledge? When a groupie sees their favorite star, it doesn't matter what else is going on around them. Their idol walks past and their eyes follow, vowing to make the glimpse last as long as possible. All of a sudden the things these fans had just been thinking about and the importance of what the person next to them was saying, all fall away as their jaw hits the floor and renders them speechless. You're in awe and at least for the next few moments, you think your life will forever be changed.
That is the kind of fear that the Biblical writers have in mind when they speak of "the fear of God." It isn't a cowering oh-He's-so-scary kind of fear. It is an awestruck oh-He's-so-magnificent feeling of humility and wonder. In fearing God, you cannot describe the depths of the gratitude you have for the grace that allows you to be in the presence of someone who makes all the bright and shiny and pretty pink things of the world grow dim because in His presence is fullness of joy and in His hand are pleasures forevermore.
If you languish in sight of all the glitz and glam of the Proverbs 31 woman and the thought that despite your best efforts, you will never be like her, I have the solution: I know what it will take to get her back on stage, with you dancing right next to her.
But when she comes out, don't watch what she does and try to imitate it. Instead, step behind the ripped-in-two curtain and beg the One holding her strings to use His power and provision and creativity to make you dance the same dance, or better yet, a dance choreographed just for you, featuring your personal gifts in the spotlight of His peculiar glory and the peculiar grace given you through faith.
Let's use another word picture to see our problem and confusion more clearly. I always tell my children that if we want to understand something complex, such as a math problem or a sentence diagram, don't sit there all day being frustrated. Instead, use a simpler problem with smaller numbers or a simpler sentence with fewer clauses and do those first. Then, take notice of the principles and process you used successfully and then apply them to that which is more complex. That's why I love visual examples, both to be seen with our eyes and understood in our minds. They take something intimidating and makes it approachable.
Imagine you see a woman with the perfect body you have dreamed of. She's about your height and her frame is a medium build like yours, and so you look at her in awe and and wonder, wavering between "I could look like that" and "I could never look like that!" She has the waist size you dream of and the gorgeous hair style you love but don't think you could ever pull off. And then, there are those arms. Thin, tan, and toned. Oh my! If only you could have those arms, nothing else would matter you think. She has what you want. In one decisive moment, you decide you just have to have those arms.
In deciding—and resolving—to have those thin, tan, and toned arms, you make a quick decision: run after her. You run her direction as fast as you can, you push everyone else out of the way, and you grab hold of those muscular-yet-feminine arms you envy so much. You push closer and closer, your arm to her arm, begging and pleading and believing that if you try a little harder and position yourself just so, her arms will magically become your arms.
Do you know how ridiculous that would be? Can you imagine the humiliation you would feel when you stopped to see everyone in the room staring at you, wondering what got into the possessed woman who is yelling and screaming about some arms she wants that belong to someone else?
But isn't that what we do? Just as the woman who wants thin, tanned, and toned arms can't put herself next to the woman with the arms she craves, but instead needs to find the "secret" of diet and strength training, neither can we run after a woman with a 31 on her back, arriving at her side breathlessly, and press our back against hers and believe that the 31 will just rub off on us. It's ludicrous!
The woman who wants to be strong needs to head to the source of the strength: the weight room. And the Proverbs 31 wannabe who wants to be strong needs to head to the source of the strength: a healthy and holy fear of God. She needs to fall to her knees in awe, knowing that nothing else matters now that she has seen her idol, the One she worships.
If you want a 31 emblazoned on your back, don't run after the shirt itself—run after her source of the shirt. Run, but run rightly. Guilt and shame and sin will weigh you down and tangle you up so your feet trip and you stumble. So you need to throw off those weights and run a race that finishes with not a perishable crown but an imperishable crown.
Run to God.
And I don't mean run to God in some abstract way in which you start out fast, start feeling the effects of a lack of training, use a quick mid-run snack of a pithy devotional or a cute inspirational saying on Instagram to give you the energy to keep going. What I mean is before you start the race, first run to the source of the food that will sustain you. The actual source. You want God to speak to you? You want God to show you what to do and where to go? You want God to help you be the woman you shamefully admit you can never be? Then run to God.
God's Word, penned in 66 books by 40 authors on three continents over two thousand years, is the very breath of the God you claim to seek earnestly. You don't want to run out of breath? Go to the source of every new breath. You don't want to fall down famished and dehydrated? Go to the source of the bread of life and the living water.
The Proverbs 31 woman needs her picture ripped off your mirror, and instead you need to do whatever it takes to exchange it with the Words of God, handwritten by Him in the steam on your mirror. You think your world is foggy? Let His words wipe the fog away as you see the message of His love and tenderness and His good and holy perfect will.
Stop trying to be like the Proverbs 31 woman and focus on how to be her. You want someone to aim your affections toward? How about the One who made her all she is?
You wouldn't fawn over a celebrity sighting if you didn't know who the celebrity was. You would watch everyone else go wild and you would stand there wondering what exactly you are missing.
Likewise, if you don't know God, nothing will make your head turn when He’s right there in the midst of the chaos. You’ll hear the praise of others and you'll either stand there looking stupid or you'll pretend you know what everyone is getting so excited about and start screaming uncontrollably about something or someone who doesn't delight you one little bit. In order for the praise to be genuine, you need to know the one on whom it is lavished.
To fear the LORD implies knowing Him. If you know who is He, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do, and if you know, believe, and trust Him, then you'll see how awesome He is and how trustworthy His Word proves to be over and over and over. And then, and only then, the fears of the world will be replaced by the rightful fear—awestruck wonder—of God.
It is then that the qualities you are told you should have, written in favorite verses of pink, actually start to become a reality. These 20 verses of guilt-inducing drama, placed between verse 9 and 30, are a weight on women when in reality, they should be a weight-lifter. This Proverb was written as a praise song. Each verse, corresponding to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, isn't meant to be a prescription for what you should do, but instead be the praiseworthy results of a woman who trusts so much in a God she knows that she is able to laugh at an unknown future, even if it means snow falling in a world before central heat and electric blankets. If you want so much to be like her, go to her Source. Don't press your arms against a strong woman. Don't read about "how to have perfect arms by summer." Go and lift the heavy-but light-weight of all God says He is, and was, and is to come. You’ll find a strength you didn’t know was possible.
The effect of a woman who hopes in God and not in the things of this world will be a woman worthy of praise, whether here good deeds are baking bread in the early morning hours, serving needy children in an orphanage, or cooking dinner for a bunch of sweaty kids and their friends. Those descriptive verses you strive after can't be found—they are made. They are the natural overflow of a woman whose heart and hope are fixed firmly on a God she truly knows and a grace she truly doesn’t deserve.
Do you want to be far more precious than jewels? Do you want to have imperishable beauty that is not in vain? Then hope in a God you know. Only then will you become like that 31 lady (the one who sells linen garments and sashes, not the one who sells cute-but-still-oh-so-functional bags). Once you know that the only fear you should fear is the fear of a great and glorious God, you will become like Sarah who "did not fear anything that is frightening.”
You don't become in order to know. You know in order to become.
And don’t let yourself think this is a potato/potahto semantic issue. This is grace-based theology versus works-based theology.
You don't please God because of what you do.
You dobecause you are pleased in God.
If we mess this up, we mess everything up.
So, kick that 31 lady off the stage, push back the curtain, and see the One who controls her every move. It's in Him we live and move and have our being.
It was late 2001. Jason and I had been living in India for more than a year. We were approaching our second anniversary and I was desperate for children. Desperate.
At this point, we had already lost three children to miscarriage. My heart was broken into many pieces and I grieved for the children I had lost and the motherhood that might never be mine.
My older sister, Sally, was expecting her second child. The envy was thick. I wanted to be happy for her, and in many ways I was, but I wanted so much to know if and when it would be my turn. I wasn't concerned for the Lord's timing or for His work in my life. I simply wanted my own way.
Because we have a good God, one Who has began a good work in us an is carrying it out to completion, He didn't give me my own way. Instead, He brought me through trial and heartache and to Himself. He surrounded me with His love even when I couldn't feel it. But just because we can't feel God doesn't negate the truth: He is always with us.
In those years, God was doing a mighty work in my heart. He was wooing me into the wilderness where He would minister to me. He taught me lessons which would be needed then, but much more, needed later.
He taught me how to praise Him, even in the valley. He taught me to praise Him, even in the pain. He taught me to praise Him, even when I didn't want to.
The thing is, it isn't about me. It's about God. And he wanted me to learn that our circumstances don't get to dictate our praise. Our praise is dictated by the One to Whom it is due. Our feelings and desires and sickness and emotional pain have no influence on our call to praise God in all things. None.
In my pain and longing to be a mother, I was working through these truths. And in many ways, I still am. God is still completing His good work in me, one that won't be completed in full until He calls me home.
I have carried this tattered piece of paper with me everywhere our lives have taken us. Living in India in the early '00s, internet and email were sparse. The school had one computer capable of sending and receiving emails. We would write an email, save it to the computer, and once a day the school would batch send all the letters and then download all the incoming mail. These would then be printed and put in our "pigeon holes" (mail boxes).
As my sister was approaching the time to find out the gender of her baby and I was grieving the latest miscarriage, she asked me how I was doing. This was my response (please excuse punctuation and grammatical errors...I was still learning to write (as I am now!)
Hmmm...How I am REALLY doing...I guess that's hard to say. I have been filled with a lot of emotion the past week — everything from deep despair to quiet assurance. But, I am learning a lot...
For the first time, I think I really know what it means to offer a SACRIFICE OF PRAISE. Usually, when I am hurt or upset, I don't praise God because frankly, I don't really mean it, or feel it, so I don't think that I should do it. After all, I don't like people telling me things when they are not sincere.
But, God is different. He wants our praise, whether we "feel" it or not. His love and devotion to use is not conditional upon emotions, so why should ours be? But the praise I have been able to offer up is a SACRIFICE. A sacrifice is to give when it HURTS! Someone donating thousands of dollars isn't sacrificing if they are millionaires. Sacrifice is giving when you are giving all you have — and then some. And praising God during this time, for me, is a sacrifice. I don't have a lot to give. I don't always feel like it, and sometimes I want to REFUSE. I want to yell and scream at God and ask Him why? Ask Him why He lets me get pregnant if He isn't going to allow me to keep it. To ask Him why I have to wait. To ask Him why He lets thousands of young girls get pregnant every day when they only plan to abort the baby.
I let self-pit reside in my home. I want to let it be my best friend. In doing so, I let Satan twist truth. Satan is good at that — even with Eve. He didn't outright lie to her at first. Instead, he questioned God (Did God really say...) and then Satan pointed out truths to Eve — that the tree was good to eat and that it would make one wise. That was true—he wasn't lying—but he left our part of the story—that God said NO because God knew what the result would be.
And so it is with me—Satan points out truths to me—that I don't have any kids, that I don't have any close friends, that I don't have any talents, etc., etc. But then he leaves me to wallow in self-pity, leaving out the fact that God still loves me and He still cares about me, that He has plans for my life that I don't know about. When I let Satan just point out bad things in my life—true or not—and don't run to God with my sacrifice of praise, my depression kicks in high gear and I cry and wonder how to end my life.
But, when I look to God, tears streaming down my face, and tell Him that I love Him and that I need Him, He comes. Maybe not in the way I would like, but He comes to me nonetheless and comforts me in a way that only He can do. And when I (still crying) crawl up into His lap and call Him Abba, He tells me that He loves me and that He sees the end of the story. And while He can't tell me what it is (that would ruin the surprise), He tells me that I will like it. It won't be what I imagined (good stories never are) but it will be His best for me.
Of course, Sally, I want answers. I want to know why. I want to know how much longer. I want to say, "That's not fair!" (And I admit, I do all those things.) But the question comes down to...as all things come down to this question, where our faith is put on the line...
IS GOD STILL GOD?
Is He still sovereign? Is He still in control? Or does my human pain nullify the character of God? HOW ABSURD! (For some reading on this I recommend Elisabeth Elliot's THESE STRANGE ASHES, and NO GRAVEN IMAGE.)
Bad things happen to everyone. In times of trial, God builds us up. We all want a life free of pain (or at least we would like to choose our pains!) We want what we want when we want it. But perseverance isn't built that way. And through perseverance character is built. And on character, hope. And on hope, love. I will come through all of this, no matter what the result, a stronger and better person, if I continue to bring my sacrifice of praise.
All this isn't to say I don't still cry myself to sleep at night.
With Much Love,
p.s. Let me know how the ultrasound goes!
For almost 16 years, God has been teaching me this lesson of what it means to bring a sacrifice of praise. He is faithful and He is long-suffering. He will wait as I learn to offer a pitiful sacrifice. The praise and glory is due Him and when I offer it sacrificially, He is honored. In our pain, the praise of our lips is the fruit of our hearts.
Back in 2014, I started sharing some audio posts. It's been a while, but if you want to listen, feel free. I haven't re-listened to these, so I apologize for any errors or repeats 🙂
There will be no Easter baskets or chocolate bunnies this year. There will be no eggs or new dresses.
These things are not wrong. We've done them many years in the past and I am sure we will do them again. But not this year.
This year, I just can't. I can't focus on nougat filled candy and frilly clothes. All I seem to be able to focus on is the cross.
This isn't because I am good our holy. In fact, it's the exact opposite.
I am not good. I am not holy. I do not measure up. I am not enough.
And that is the beauty of the scandalous cross.
I am a sinner and therefore separated from a holy God.
But because He loves me, He bore His own wrath through His own body.
He defeated death. He defeated my death. He defeated yours.
We are not righteous. But He has credited our faith as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).
The enemy is doomed, though he rages.
He knows his time is short. His defeat is past, present, and future.
He can no longer accuse us before God.
Imagine, Satan trying to accuse God that He Himself is sinful!
It is no longer I who lives but it is Christ who lives in me.
And Christ is righteous. I am not. He is. But because He is, I am.
And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith.
And He has credited my faith as righteousness.
Satan has been cast out of heaven. He has no standing before God whatsoever. He cannot bring accusations against the brothers anymore, "for the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down" (Revelation 12:10b). Satan, though doubtless he has been operating on the earth since the beginning of the creation, is now restricted to the earth and has lost his access to God that had enabled him to accuse us before God so directly. —Scandalous, D.A. Carson
And so today, on Easter Sunday, I celebrate. I can no longer be [eternally] caught in Satan's web of deceit and accusation.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching [the gospel] is in vain and your faith is in vain. — 1 Corinthians 15:14
I celebrate the cross. I celebrate the crown of thorns. I celebrate the pierced hands. I celebrate the blood that was shed so that God might pass over and forgo the the loss of life.
I've already told you of my love for spring and how it shows me, again and again, that death can't hold us down. Spring will always, always come—though not always in the way or timeframe we wish.
As we approach Good Friday and Easter, I want my heart to be even more mindful of the magnitude of the acts we celebrate. It's just not that we believe in what Christ has done—it's that we believe it is sufficient. It's all we need. It is all-satisfying.
Jason and I attended The Gospel Coalition 2017 in Indianapolis last week. I don't even have words for all I experienced. It was transformational.
One thing that has ministered to me this past week is a song we sang a number of times during the three days we were there. Beautiful, artfully written, and oh-so-appropriate as we approach the most scandalous and glorious days in history.
As the flowers and trees unfurl, as the spectacular beauty of God's redemptive plan for His people unfurls, may we allow God's word to unfurl our hearts, making them open to the breath of God which will blow to every tongue, tribe, people, and nation.
May our hearts still burn with fire as his Word speaks to us today
Faded hope and grim despair on the day of the murdered kingFoolish minds and unbelief could not grasp what the prophets sing:Did not Jesus have to suffer, enter glory through agony?When the King unpacked his Word:Their hearts leapt and their eyes could see.Everything the Scriptures say in the Prophets, the Law, the Psalms,The Messiah had to suffer, had to rise on the first Lord's Day;We proclaim to every land true forgiveness in Jesus' name.We were deaf but now we hear
Scripture's voice both in type and word.Unbelief that had us chained has become in our eyes absurd.Did our hearts not burn within us as he spoke with us on the wayAnd our hearts still burn with fire as his Word speaks to us today.Did our hearts not burn within us as he spoke with us on the wayAnd our hearts still burn with fire as his Word speaks to us today.
[If you just want to look at the pictures and would prefer an abbreviated version of this story, here it is: I drove longer than I needed to, I saw a pretty sunset, there was a full moon, I was glad. The end.
Or, you can read the six-word story version: Beautiful sunset. Full moon. Happy heart.
And finally, if you have the time, you might enjoy the more Janet-like version in 1850 words or less. Okay, not less. 1850 words exactly. About a sunset. That version is below ;)]
I don't like to drive. I especially don't like to drive at night.
The first fact is less not liking the act of driving and more the not liking of the time it takes.
The second fact is simply because I'm getting old.
Nighttime driving is difficult for me—my eyes and brain don't work quite right and the bright lights affect my response time and I can easily become disoriented. It's a split second, but when you are operating a motor vehicle, a split second can make the difference between life and death.
So, I don't drive much at night. But sometimes, it's a necessity.
Last month, Alaina (our new 14 year old!) and Caleb, had a "teen night" to attend. Our homeschool community has one of these almost every month, with the hosting homes rotating according to a schedule whichever kids can convince their parents first. I adore our children's friends and I adore their parents. All of them. I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to do life with. I do have one issue with them, though—everyone lives far away from each other. The whole "let's just buy a big piece of land and live in a commune" idea hasn't taken off yet. Until it does, doing life together means a lot of driving. On this particular night, the home was almost an hour away. And, as my mother would say, to add insult to injury, I was responsible for Alaina and Caleb's ride home at 11:00pm—far past my bedtime.
And the drive was worse than expected. It was still light out, but that did not work in my favor. I now know why I remember hearing someone say, "If all else is equal and you are trying to decide between two houses to buy, purchase the one east of where you work. That way, you won't drive into the sun in the morning or into the sun on your way home." Wiser words rarely spoken.
Driving into a setting sun is no joke. Brightness doesn't even begin to describe it. It's more like blindness. But we survived and the kids arrived to a home swelling with friends and fun.
My plan for the evening was to find a coffee shop nearby and enjoy some quiet alone time. I didn't want to have to drive an hour home and then repeat the two hour round trip later in the evening. I could have stayed at the house where the party was being held (lots of parents do,) but I was really looking forward to some time alone to read and reflect and plan for an upcoming women's retreat.
After dropping off the kids, I drove away, not really sure where I was headed. I wasn't familiar with the city I was in, but I figured a coffee shop couldn't be too far away. I drove back in the direction I came and then found myself wanting to just be home. I was surprised at the intense desire. Here I was, free for the next five hours, with no place to go but the quiet of my own introspective thoughts. And yet, my heart longed for home. I wanted to be with my little people and give them goodnight kisses and snuggle in for a bedtime story.
I fought with myself. It was ridiculous to drive all the way home only to have to turn around and drive back. Make that a double dose of ridiculousness when you account for the fact I hate to drive at night. I kept telling myself to stop and have a slow cup of coffee and read with no chance of interruption. And yet, the more I told myself to stop the more I kept on driving. And drive I did—all the way home.
As I was scolding myself for the insanity of intentionally adding two hours of driving time to my evening, I glanced in my side mirror and saw beautiful orange light. A look in my rearview mirror showed the same. The sunset was exquisite. I so desperately wanted to find a place to stop so I could enjoy the beautiful display of God's goodness and His sovereignty. The world is a powerful place with powerful leaders, but no one but God can make the sun set. Or the moon rise.
The highway I was on didn't offer a good place to stop and the rush hour traffic kept me moving. But every chance I got, I looked in my mirrors, trying to soak in the splendor of the scene behind me.
I kept driving, breathing deep as I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. You see, I have a thing for sunsets. Indonesia, my home for five years, puts on the most incredible nightly show as the equatorial sun makes its decent over the water and the lush green of the rice paddies. I was so obsessed with seeing the sun set every night that my little ones called it, "Mommy's sunset," as if God showed off just for me. I think they may be right.
As I passed the halfway point of my trip back to my littles, the sun's fire behind me, the moon began its ascent. And then I remembered: it was the day of the triple treat: a comet, a lunar eclipse, and the full "snow moon." Add in the delight I have had the last few months as Venus and Mars have been so bright and clear in the early evening sky and oh my goodness...I couldn't drive fast enough. I ached to be out of my car, looking into the sky, camera in hand (knowing full well I would set my camera down in resignation that sometimes the beauty of God's creation can only be viewed in all its wonder by His perfectly designed lens of our eyes.)
The scene in my mirrors and out my windows only intensified. I was so excited I could barely sit still. I know most people don't have a visceral reaction to nature and all its wild beauty, but I do. And I just wanted to take it all in.
Fire descending, white light ascending.
Stress and worry and fear for the future falling, beauty and hope and trust in God's promises rising.
Finally. I was on the road to our house, the tune of the sweet (though slightly annoying) song my kids always sing when we turn onto our road playing in my head without permission: "We're almost on Crawford Rd!" the song repeats.
I pulled out my phone, desperate to catch the last glimpses of the sunset. I couldn't see what I taking pictures of, but I hoped I could capture even a fraction of the beauty making my heart beat faster.
Driving faster than usual on our long gravel driveway, I slammed on the brakes and ran into the house. Jason and the kids stunned, and I heard faint inquisitive words as I rushed past them to grab my camera. "I just wanted to be home," I yelled as I breathlessly ran back up the driveway.
And there it was: a fiery descent in one direction and a glorious rising in the other. I clicked away, determined that if I could position myself just right, the magnificence of this moment could be mine forever.
After dozens of shutter clicks (oh who am I kidding, after hundreds of shutter clicks), I caught my breath as I walked inside. The moon was covered by thick haze so I decided to wait for it to clear and once again told myself that a better telephoto lens needed to move up on my wish list. Walking in, my husband's face was clearly showing that he couldn't fathom why I would be home. He knows how much I hate to drive and due to his work schedule, he wasn't able to make the return trip. I restated my reason: "I just wanted to be home."
I glanced around the room. On the fridge was a piece of paper, written in my ten-year-olds handwriting, the program for the evening clearly stated, including cards, popcorn, and a movie. Noticing half our table was missing (I was running for my camera to quickly to see the situation earlier,) I turned around and looked in the living room. There, with the other half of our table (we use two rectangular tables to make one large square), were my four younger kids, sitting and playing card games, just as the evening schedule said they would. I stared. Levi, my ever-sweet and miniature version of his Daddy, was patiently helping Zach with his cards. Smiles and giggles filled the room and I couldn't decide which site of the evening was more beautiful: the grandeur of the display of God's goodness in the evening sky or the glimpses of God's goodness in the love-filled home where my feet stood.
And then I mumbled, stunned at my realization, "I would have missed this."
If I squelched the unexpected desire in my heart to be home, favoring my own heart longings for a quiet of a cup of coffee and the delight of words in the books in the seat next to me, I would have missed it. I would have missed God's unabashed display of His love for me.
If I chose the easy way (not driving home) and if I chose my own delight (quiet and uninterrupted time alone,) I would have missed the beauty of the sky and the beauty of my children's hearts.
This isn't to say driving two extra hours would always be the right decision, but rather, it is always right to quiet my heart enough to hear the promptings of the Lord and follow them, regardless of whether I understand them or not. I didn't know what God had planned for me on this drive home, I just knew He placed within me a longing for home on that particular evening. And if I had ignored His promptings, I would have missed it.
A few hours and a few goodnight kisses later, I got back in the car and made the long drive west. This time, though, rather than resigned frustration of doing something I didn't want to do, I enjoyed the quiet of a peaceful drive, relishing in the realization that in obeying a prompt in my spirit, the quiet I so desperately longed for earlier in the day was given back to me in the form of an hour-long drive with no words other than the ones of gratitude spilling out of a fully loved and satisfied heart.
Come and stand before your Maker Full of wonder, full of fear Come behold His power and glory Yet with confidence draw near
For the one who holds the heavens And commands the stars above Is the God who bends to bless us With an unrelenting love
Scrolling through Instagram, I see one of my favorite photographers. Her images aren't created and staged to impress others, but are captured because life as it is is beautiful. I don't know her "in real life," but we have a number of mutual friends and we share similar life experiences. Raising little ones on the mission field is simultaneously filled with much joy and many struggles. Her images display it well.
I see her photos, with a style much like my own, and a phrase pops into my head: "That used to be me." It hasn't happened just once; it's been a regular thing, so common I didn't even notice. "That used to be me," I lamented. "That used to be me," I would say with melancholy resignation. "That used to be me," said in a whisper with a sigh deeper than seems appropriate. For weeks now, those five words have occupied much of my thinking.
I used to be her. I was the mom with the sweet little ones, figuring out how to juggle homeschooling, constant transition, and cultural expectations and frustrations. I used to be her: the mom with creativity oozing out, making home and happiness intertwine in a beautiful display of God's goodness in the mundane. I was the Pinterest mom before there was Pinterest. I used to take pictures of everyday life and show how beautiful the little moments are. Yes, that used to be me.
It's been a while, though, since I've seen that old version of myself. Sure, she comes up for air every now and then — birthdays and holidays and vacations. But the joy-filled little moments I was determined not to take for granted gave way to a heaviness unbearable and I surrendered.
As my body has failed me these last two years, and I have become ever so thankful for promises of a new body and a lack of sickness and tears in my eternal home, I have forgotten who I used to be—who I am. That mom, the one who delighted to serve up tea parties and breakfast on the lawn and spur of the moment trips to the park, has faded into photo albums. That woman, the one ready to host visitors for dinner or bring a plate of cookies for someone just because, is but a distant memory. Amidst doctors appointments and tears and learning what fighting for faith looks—and feels—like and coming to grips with the agony of being asked to offer sacrifice of praise, the woman I was—the woman I want to be—dissolved ever-so-slowly and one day I woke up with a new phrase: that used to be me.
The doctors appointments are fewer these days (though the meds are more). There are no long hours of me spewing my verbal vomit on someone too kind to tell me to just. stop. talking. The glimmer in my eye is—at times—shining once again. But still I see those images on Instagram (a social media platform I resisted for so long) and think, "That used to be me."
It's been too long. I don't even remember how to be her, the woman I once was. I don't know how to be the mom I worked so hard to become. Sure, my kids are still loved and doted on. They still are amazing to be around, their smiles brightening the days of those around them. They don't question my love and they aren't lacking for affirmation. I have stayed in control of my words and and almost never does my anger find it's way out in yelling or belittling. And yet, I am still a shell of who I once was, so desperately wanting to fill what has faded away. It's like I knock on the door to my old self and I know someone is on the other side—I can hear her and make out a faint outline—but the door just won't budge. I'm here. I'm ready. I'm knocking.
Tactics of survival took the form of habits meant to preserve energy and protect a mind raging. Even if it meant hibernation rather than hospitality, even if it meant sleep over socializing, and even if it meant rest instead of running, I was holding on to a fraying rope and habits of self-preservation kicked their way in and made themselves at home.
Once formed, habits are hard to break. I read a lot of "brain books." The way the human mind was created and how it functions is utterly fascinating to me. What I have learned is that much of what we do happens not out of a conscious choice, but rather, by habit. We don't think about it; we just do it. Our brain was designed to conserve energy and anything it has done on a regular basis is moved to another part of the brain, one that specializes in automaticity. By moving oft-repeated thoughts or actions, the premium location of working memory is made available for new things. It takes repetition to form a habit, but once formed, it is grafted in so impeccably that you barely remember that it didn't use to be.
Habits can be broken and new habits can be formed, but not simply from wishful thinking. It takes work. Lots of work. Our brains are so amazing and so adept at conserving energy that it will always choose what it knows best. Most of the time, this works to our advantage. It's a good thing we don't have to give much thought to reading, driving, or walking. But in other situations, habits we don't want burn deep ruts in our minds, and like a well-worn path down the mountain rain is required to follow, these habits show themselves superior to our good intentions. The path chosen is almost always the easiest, not the one we want the most. Our mind, without direct defiance from our resolve, will always take the path most traveled. Choosing a different trail means blocking the old path and blazing a new one.
Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Honestly, though, that's not insanity. That's habit.
And my habits now run deep. What was once meant for self-preservation has become self-centeredness. Rest and retreat have evolved from what is best to what is easiest.
I have my excuses. My rationalizations. My justifications. But I know better. I have a storehouse of God's word and I know that our God is a God of order. The fight of this world will always be for disorder—of priorities, praise, and promises. Satan doesn't mind us wishing and wanting to obey as long as we don't actually choose to obey.
But I am choosing to engage in the battle: to fight against what is in favor of what was and what is to come. I am going to work, harder than I ever have. I am going to have to make difficult decisions and drastic changes in order to find my way back to the trail God was taking me on as He was carrying His good work unto completion.
It isn't about the beautiful photos or the Pinterest parties. Finding my way back to me means blocking the path called surviving and taking the machete in my hand and clearing the overgrown trail called thriving. It's called the Abundant Life. Finding my way back to me means taking my eyes off of me, and placing them instead on the One who can lead me to a rock that is higher than I.
I don't want to see photos and think, "That used to be me." I want to see my own beautiful life and photos of a home well tended and a life well lived and think, "That is me."
It's my favorite time of year (at least when living in North America). The days are slowly lengthening, the temperatures are slowly rising, and the death and decay of winter are slowly giving way to life and light.
As much as I dislike winter (ask anyone who knows me and I'm sure they will have a story to tell!), I am thankful for it in one sense: Winter allows me to see in the physical world a reality of the spiritual world.
This idea—that the physical world, with its joy and sorrow are meant to communicate something about the spiritual world—is coming more into focus for me. On some levels, it is easy to see and understand. When I experience the sheer joy of seeing my children laugh or play, or when I giggle in delight of draping purple wisteria, I know and believe the joy I am feeling is just a glimpse of an eternal joy I will one day experience. Thus my oft-used hashtag, #glimpsesofhisgoodness.
On other levels, though, especially in suffering, I have struggled much more to grasp that all of what we see during life on earth is to put invisible (and eternal) realities on display. The scales, so thick and so strongly adhered, are only starting to fall from my eyes.
If I approach seasons and situations with the firm belief that God is telling me something, that He has something about Himself He wants me to see and know, new meaning is brought to the experience. General revelation is just as divinely inspired as special revelation (see here for a beautiful description of both).
It is from that angle of thought I have pondered deeply, these last two years, on winter. Yes, I'll say it: I have a theology of winter.
I have many words to say, but too few minutes in which to say them, and so I'll simply share what has been percolating in my heart most recently, especially as my camera and I are drawn to the warm afternoons and budding bushes.
With every new blade of grass and every new blossom on trees, we're saying goodbye to winter. But, it's not just to the cold we bid farewell. If we allow Truth to work in our hearts, we can also bid farewell to fear of death. And if we can bid farewell to fear of death, shouldn't we also be able to bid farewell to any other fears that keep us from focusing on Christ?
And what a love we foundDeath can't hold us downWe shout it outWe're aliveCause you're alive
I'm thankful that if I have to experience winter, at least I get to do it in the northern hemisphere, a place that offers us me opportunity to experience spring—death giving way to life—during the Easter season. What a beautiful physical experience to help me better understand an eternal reality, namely that Christ wasn't held back by death (or anything less), and neither are we.
Just the other day, as the kids and I were outside enjoying one of our 75° days (sorry, not trying to rub it in!) I was looking at all the bushes in our front yard flaunt their new greenery, and I noticed a bucket behind the deck. In it were weeds and dead branches that had been pulled up last fall. But look! What we once took for dead is now triumphantly displaying its life!
Feel the darkness shakingAll the dead are comingBack to lifeBack to lifeHear the song awakenAll creation singingWe're aliveCause You're alive
As I march forward (pun not intended but oh-so-appropriate!) in this Lenten season, I want to remind myself at every opportunity that nothing could conquer Christ. And if nothing could conquer Christ, not even a brutal crucifixion, and if in fact I have been crucified in Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, then wouldn't this theology help me to understand that nothing can conquer me? Not death? Not fear? Not suffering? No. Nothing.
And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us...The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever.
No matter how bleak things look, whether in the "dead of winter" or in the "dark night of the soul," the light will shine again and death will give way to life. Even against all attempts to bind life and hope and grace from the world, they will, like a determined daffodil, poke through, laughing at the futility of confinement.
I know spring is still not yet for some. This maybe true seasonally or spiritually. Others are basking in the warm sunlight and smiling at the crocuses, planted before the icy cold, finally popping up. But no matter how much spring is your reality right now, think deeply on it. Don't waste your winter. Look around you and ask yourself what you can learn about God and His ways through what He has revealed—both in the delightfully created world and in the divinely written word.
There is much to learn as we watch death give way to life.
Lyrics from Your Love Awakens Me by Phil Wickham and A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Martin Luther.