Recently, I shared
with you that I’ve been given the opportunity to write a book. I’ll be doing this over the next several months and engaging in a period that I’ve heard authors refer to as a sort of pregnancy—the time when your ideas are privately taking shape, growing unseen, and are eventually birthed to a waiting world. So I suppose, taking this perspective and given the length of the gestation period (the book’s due to release in spring 2014), it looks like I’m expecting a baby elephant.
I also shared with you my firm conviction that the dreams that we hold dearest are often the very ones that God intends to use, that they are in our hearts precisely because He
placed them there. I realize that this could have come across as overly simplistic--that it could have sounded a little too “Pollyanna/Mary Poppins/Climb every mountain”-ish—especially to those of you who are struggling through a low point right now. And yet, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the path of dreaming “never did run smooth.”
There are days when things are not working out as you planned, when you feel less than enthusiastic about the dreams stirring inside of you, when you want to pitch the whole thing and walk away. There are days when all you want is to escape your calling, and to do so, you wish that you could become someone else entirely.
There are days when you feel like Jeremiah.
The opening chapter of the book of Jeremiah contains a beautiful text that confirms that God sovereignly plans and ordains our callings. When God comes to Jeremiah, He assures him of that, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (ESV)
And yet, twenty chapters later, Jeremiah curses the day he was born. The very thing that gave him comfort at the beginning of his ministry was the very thing that he wishes had never happened.
Jeremiah feels like God has tricked him—that by making him the way He did, by appointing him a prophet from birth and placing that “burning fire” deep inside of him, He has doomed him to a life of misery. So that as much as Jeremiah wants to escape his calling, for all the trouble that it has caused him, he simply can’t because God had made him that way. The very thing he is resisting is the very thing that he can’t stop doing.
He calls it a “burning fire shut up in [his] bones.”
When I was in college, I attended a church whose pastor routinely gave this piece of advice to anyone considering vocational ministry: “Only do it if you can’t do anything else.” He wasn’t denigrating the value of ministry so much as emphasizing that ministry (like any other calling) is fraught with hardship, discouragement, and heartbreak. And in those moments, the only thing that will keep you going is the sure knowledge that God has made you for this—that there is nothing else you can do because you have that “burning fire shut up in your bones.” It is so much a part of you that it is knit it into the very fabric of your being.
And if it is, there will be plenty of times that you will find yourself precisely in Jeremiah’s position—both hating the struggle and knowing that you can’t escape it because God Himself formed you this way. There will be plenty of times when it feels like a burden, times when you want to walk away, times when you will shake your fist at Him and say, “I didn’t ask for this. Why have you made me like this?”
For me, the “burning fire” has been a combination of being analytic and outspoken. It is both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. It is the very thing that drives me to write, but it is also the very thing that leads me to be overly critical, noisy, and self-righteous. And I’ve hated myself for it. I’ve always wanted to be the quiet, demure one—the girl at the party whose very presence lends an air of sophistication and elegance–and yet, I always end up being the girl animatedly arguing some political or theological point. I inevitably wake up the next morning with a mental hangover and mountains of regret. “Why did I have to do that? Why couldn’t I have just kept my mouth shut?”
Ultimately though, it’s not about keeping my mouth shut. And it isn’t about achieving some mystical balance between the extremes of not caring and caring too much. Instead, it’s about finding a way forward, about transcending that type of one-dimensional thinking, so that you can pursue a greater reality--the reality that despite your frustration with yourself and despite your disappointed dreams, you know that God has “made you thus”
for a reason. You know that He is shepherding and guiding you, that His Spirit is actively maturing you, and that even in the darkest valley, He is walking beside you and will bring you back into the light.
And this is requires faith. Not faith in your dreams or yourself, but faith in His providence and faith in His goodness. This requires believing that He has made you fearfully and wonderfully
, that He did knit you together in your mother’s womb to fulfill a specific purpose, and that everything about you–even your dreams--are ultimately from His hand. So that in your darkest moments, this faith will manifest itself in obedience; an obedience that some days will simply mean putting one foot in front of the other and continuing down the path that He Himself has laid for you.
Every year during the first few days of January, my husband and I have a meeting in which we attempt to set goals for the coming year. I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions
, never been one to go in for all that guilt and self-reliance. (Truth be told, it’s probably because I know that I could never accomplish them. In my case, it wouldn’t be so much a question of self-control as general absentmindedness—I’d simply wake up one morning and forget about my resolution entirely.) But while I’m not one to make resolutions, I am one to dream. So that’s what we do—this husband of eleven years and me—we sit and dream and plan and reach for the stars on cold January evenings well after our children are tucked in bed.
Several weeks ago, I stumbled across a yellow legal pad that has been at the center of those meetings. On it, we’ve chronicled our goals for the past eleven years. On it, we’ve strategized and organized and neatly categorized them into 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans. Some have been eerily prophetic; others, hilariously naïve. Our first year's goals included eventually owning “forty acres of land” (because as my father-in-law says, “They’re not making any more of it.”) and having “a couple kids.” Today, we own ½ acre and don’t “have
kids” but we are
a family that includes three marvelously creative and unique individuals, none of whom I could have imagined ten years ago.
Looking over that legal pad reminded me of two things---
1) how foolish we are to think we can plan our own paths
2) how kind and wise God is to give us dreams that He wants to fulfill
I grew up in a church tradition that, while perhaps unintentionally, was often suspicious of personal dreams and ambition. We had just two choices on the shelf, after all—pleasing God or pleasing self. And while I don’t really believe it was intended to be that simplistic, to an impressionable teenager, this often presented itself as the need to choose between doing what God wanted and doing what I loved. What no one seemed to clarify was that a life well-lived would undoubtedly involve both.
My parents believed in dreams though. And they believed in Providence--the kind of Providence that made each of their five children unique and would ultimately lead each to very different callings from finance to design to music. They never pressed the false dichotomy that I felt but instead taught us that all of life was to be lived with joy and faith, all of life was to be lived for His glory regardless of what we ended up doing. Still I don’t think it really sunk in for me until adulthood. I remember privately agonizing through high school, desperate to prove to God and myself that I would follow “His will” if only He would reveal it to me. All the while never realizing that He already had and I already was.
In fact, as I look back, I realize that I was doing His will every time I followed in obedience, every time I loved another person, every time I longed to see His glory. I also realize that I was doing His will every time I sat down to write, every time I read and reread books that stretched my thinking, every time I reveled in and pursued the dreams that He had already placed inside of me.
Eighteen months ago, I began blogging
, in part to finally prove or disprove this theory. I wanted to fully commit myself to a dream in order to see what He would do with it. I guess, in a way, I wanted to put my big toe in the Jordan to see if the waters would part. To that point, I had been writing bits and pieces but only as a hobby. I think it was my way of not having to commit, a way of inoculating myself from disappointment. What if my dreams weren’t God’s dreams for me? What if I failed?
I would just play it safe; and while that meant that I may never know what God could have done, I would also never have to face the possibility of seeing my dreams crushed.
But I soon found that I couldn’t play it safe. Every article I wrote and every query I sent flamed the passion that was burning inside of me.
And slowly I realized that God Himself was the one nurturing and cultivating my dreams. He faithfully sent the right people to encourage me and faithfully sent the right rejections to keep me in my place; until one day, He finally gave me the courage to accept that as much as I loved writing, He loved me writing as well.
Back to the yellow legal pad. One of those silly goals that my husband and I wrote down over ten years ago was that I would write a book. Shortly before Christmas, in large part due to blogging, I signed a contract with Moody Publishers
to write that book. I signed a contract that will enable me to do what I love at the same time that it will serve His people on a broader scale. I signed a contract that will enable my thoughts to be embodied in paper and ink and type and give me a chance to truly earn the appellation of “writer.”
I am humbled. I am grateful. I am scared. And I have never before so strongly believed in Providence.
The next several months of writing will probably be similar to the last several years—I expect to wrestle through fears, doubt, and discouragement, to swing from heights of elation to depths of despair. And while I have plenty more that I want to share about this unbelievable opportunity, at this point, I just want to sit in awe. To publicly acknowledge the kindness and wisdom of God and to remind myself that the God who gives dreams doesn’t abandon His children in the middle of them.
Each of us has different dreams; and each of our yellow legal pads should have different goals on them because He was made us distinct. Writing may not be your passion, but it is essential that you pursue whatever is. It is essential that you surrender not only to what you love but to the fact that God wants to use what you love for His kingdom. It may not end up being your profession, but it will be your calling. It will be something that only you can do--something that only you can contribute.
So this year--in this brave new world of 2013--find what you love to do, surrender to His hand, and know that a kind, sovereign God put those dreams inside of you in the first place. And because He has, this same kind, sovereign God will, in His own way and in His own time, bring them to pass. Not simply for your joy, but for the joy of His people, and I’m convinced, for His own joy—for His own secret delight in watching His sons and daughters become all that He has created them to be.
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I grew up on stories of Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor and Isobel Kuhn. When I was young, I prepared myself for a future of grass huts on far away continents with limited supplies of food and medicine, battling back the forces of darkness with mosquito netting and late-night prayer meetings. In high school, my dreams turned to running an orphanage for middle school boys in (of all places) a lighthouse. We were going to live by the sea and I was going to be a combination of Jo March and Maria von Trapp. Except there were no plans for a Colonel von Trapp or Professor Bhaer, simply a black lab and a pick-up truck.
So here’s my question: how did I end up living a polite, quiet, life in middle American? How did I end up being a pastor’s wife, dressing up in my heels and stockings on Sundays and making pies and casseroles through the rest of the week? And how did I become the mother of three beautiful (although somewhat crazy) children who to date have had no significant issues save speech lessons and milk allergies?
I’m asking because I’m not sure that I know.
If you’re a regularly reader to SAL
, you know that our family has had our share of difficulties
—some related to ministry, some simply the pressures of adulthood—but over the last year, God has brought us into a season of blessing and stability. We recently bought our first home, my husband has a job that he loves (and does well), and I’m in the full swing of motherhood and domestic life.
But what you may not know about me is that I never really had any plans to be here. I never had any plans for Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet and even if I had, they certainly didn’t include marrying a pastor. A missionary perhaps--but only if he planned on living in a grass hut, learning countless native dialects, and contentedly eating grubs with the chief of the tribe. Instead, I married a man best suited to a quiet rural life, happiest puttering around his country parish, making plans for chickens and gardens, and putting down deep roots.
So here, over eleven years later, I’m still coming to terms with it all.
It’s not that I didn’t expect to be involved in ministry—that has always been a significant part of my life as my parents were teachers in a small church-based school—but I guess I never expected to live a “normal” American life. Growing up, because of my parents’ work, we often struggled to simply get by. I learned very early the difference between want and need and as a result, I think I actually was a lot happier than some of my peers. (To this day, I can still get a thrill out of something as simple as eating out at IHOP.) On top of that, we also suffered a house fire when I was five and spent the next decade rebuilding our home bit by bit with the help of friends and family.
Still what we lacked in finances, we had in abundance in faith and dreams. We lived on 10 acres of family homestead, complete with fruit trees and gardens, woods and a creek. We never lacked for books, music, imagination--or British television. My dad believed strongly in Christian education and made sure that his both his sons and daughters
received one. And when I announced that I wanted to study the Humanities for the sheer joy of it, for the sheer joy of discovering the world that God had created, instead of trying to dissuade me and guide me to something more practical, he simply said, “That sounds fine. College is too expensive not to love what you’re studying.”
We were living Radical
long before David Platt ever suggested it.
So coming into adulthood, I don’t think I had any dreams of financial success or settling down into the routines that are assumed by so many Americans. And yet here today, I find myself living a life that is polite, domestic, and comfortable. In a word, the American Dream. I’ve also discovered that this “dream” can come with a lot of angst. How can you spend money on extra clothes for your children when you know that there are children in this world who have no shoes?How can you indulge in the luxury of dieting and exercising when men and women around the world are expending legitimate sweat and tears simply working to provide a few morsels of food for their evening meal? How can you enjoy the blessings of family when your friends’ marriages are falling apart and you know other mothers who are facing life-threatening illnesses and may not even live to see their children grow up?
Of course, you help where you can. You send money. You pray. You even go when God calls. But still, you return to your lovely home and air conditioning and full pantry. And on Sunday, you worship God together with other believers in freedom and comfort. And soon, the blessings, all the milk and honey, start to feel like burdens. Maybe you don’t have this problem—maybe it’s the opposite for you. Maybe you grew up in such comfort that it’s hard for you to let go of it. But maybe, like me, you grew up with deprivation and you find it hard to let go of that too. Maybe you have a hard time accepting the blessings of God.
Because what I’m discovering is that as much as some people have to surrender to the possibility of deprivation and instability, some of us have to surrender to stability and comfort when He chooses to send them. And I’m learning that it takes as much faith to accept blessing as it is does to accept trial. It means believing that all
things come from His hand—wealth, poverty, stability, trials--and it means learning to be content and thankful and full of joy in whatever circumstances He chooses to place us.
Even when it is the best of them.
In our family, metaphysical epiphanies strike at the most unassuming moments. Like when we’re heading home from a less than stellar trip to the grocery store, having exhausted nearly a week’s worth of patience in explaining why we aren’t buying Lucky Charms and Jolly Ranchers and why it’s not a good idea to go twirling down the pasta aisle, arms outstretched. I was following a white exterminator’s van, trying to navigate through an unfamiliar section of town because our normal route was blocked, when my eight-year-old daughter piped up.
“Mommy… (thoughtful pause) I just wonder, ‘Why am I me?’ Why don’t I have somebody else’s life? I mean, why can’t I see different things or do different things? Why am I me
I snapped to attention. Forget the Lucky Charms and blocked streets, this was a “teachable” moment.
“That’s such a good question.” I said. “In fact, people ask themselves that question all the time. I mean, why am I a Mommy? Why am I driving home in my van? Why do I have three children? These kinds of questions are the things that we all ask about our lives, and--”
“Not me, Mommy,” said my six-year-old son, quickly correcting me. “I never ask myself those questions--I like my life.”
Like most epiphanies, this one was quickly eclipsed by more interesting things—namely, arriving home and racing to see who could turn on the Olympics first. The moment lasted a bit longer for me though because it came on the heels of a conversation that I’d had with my husband the previous weekend. We were out celebrating our eleventh anniversary (apparently while the tenth anniversary nets you a Caribbean cruise, number eleven involves Chipotle, Starbucks, and back-to-school shopping). As is natural on this kind of occasion, we were talking over the years that had led us to this point. Because here we were in our early thirties, with three kids, living in yet another state, finally settling into our first house and none of it could have been predicted that day we first exchanged vows over a decade ago.
There’s a part of you that can’t help but wonder what would have happened if at any point you had taken a different route? If a particular street hadn’t been blocked and you had simply taken the road you intended to. And you realize that you could have been something--somebody
--very different entirely.
This kind of backward longing is most tempting when things aren't as they should be. When life is difficult, when a marriage is struggling, when you feel like you’ve lost yourself along the way. And you being to believe that maybe, just maybe, you were meant to be someone else after all. That who you are today was not who you were supposed to become. And even if you were, in these times, you wish--like my daughter--you could be someone else entirely.
But the reality is that this life—the one that you are living right now—is a given
It’s not that we have no choice in the matter and it’s not even that our mistakes and failures don’t affect the outcome. It’s just that we’ve become too enamored with our own ability to shape our lives, with our own ability to control our destinies, with our own ability to be whoever we want to be. And we forget that today--who we are in this moment--is as much a gift
as the day we first entered the world. We get so busy longing for the life we wish we had that we're not thankful for the one we’ve been given. The given life.
To live not just as if your first breath were ordained, but that every breath after it was as well. To believe that even as each choice presented itself, the hand that offered the choice was His. And to know--despite its twists and curves— He made the road run straight
before you and led you exactly where you were meant to go.
This is where we must live. We must live in this moment. We must live as we have been called.
We must be precisely who He made us to be.
Because once you reach that place, once you recognize that the given life
, like all of His gifts, is a good one—well, in that place, it doesn’t much matter why you’re not someone else. All that matters is that He has given life to you
, that He has ordained that you
would exist, that He has made your
life to be useful and reflect Him in a unique way.
And once you reach that
place, you can say, with the confidence of a six-year-old, “Thank you--I like my life.”
I have a complicated relationship with the Olympics, and no, it’s not because every four years I end up doing handstands in the middle of the living room floor. (These days I’m content to spot for my six-year-old.) No, my dilemma with the Olympics stems from a much deeper place—that place in the soul that is full of insecurity and doubt. That place that taunts me with the truth that I’m not normal enough to be normal and yet, not talented enough to be great.
And it seems to shout loudest every four years.
It says things like, “Just look at her--you never did that. You’ve never achieved success at that level much less any other. What have you done with your life? You’re a stay-at-home mom trying to convince yourself that you’re a writer. And let’s not even begin to talk about that body… you might as well pass the Doritos sister because there is no way you’re ever going to recover from the last fifteen years.”
You think I’m joking. I’m not.
Only three days ago I was on the phone with my father reminding him of the Olympic champion that I never was. Because one way I cope with all this angst is to do what so many other people do—I blame my parents. After all, if I was ever going to be a real contender for the women’s gymnastics’ all-around gold, they should have gotten their act together when I was three and enrolled me at the local gym. From there, it would’ve only been a matter of time before I was discovered. But they didn’t, so I wasn’t.
Now, every four years as I sit and watch all the pageantry, as I thrill at those hundredths of a point that separate good from best, there is a part of me that continues to feel very judged by it all. You’re not good enough. You’re not competitive enough. You’re not dedicated enough. You’re not one of the best. In fact, you never even had a chance.
Before you judge me one neurosis short of certifiable, let me quickly acknowledge that I agree with you. I have a huge problem with accepting my limitations. Because of this, even the smallest decisions (and their accompanying restrictions) paralyze me. I know that once I choose one option, all the others will be closed off to me. Pick the linguini and I can’t have the shrimp. Buy the purple heels and I have to pass on the yellow flats. Put my kids in traditional school and they’ll miss out on the opportunity of a free-range education.
In short, take the road less traveled but understand that there’s no shortcut back to the other one.
Still, through this last decade of adulthood, I’ve also come to realize that I’ve got to stop playing the “What if?” game. Blaming my parents or berating myself for my own lack of decisiveness hasn’t made me more successful or happy—it’s simply makes me resentful and guilty. Because the real cause of this touch of existential flu isn’t that I’ll never win an Olympic medal or that life often takes unpredictable turns. No, the real cause of all this angst is my need to regularly and humbly accept the role of providence in my life.
For most of us, God’s providence comes with overtones of the grand sweep of history, seeing the bigger picture, or understanding the tapestry of life. Providence is “God’s intervention in the world.” But for me? Well, I need my providence to be of a bit more personal variety. Because for me, personal
providence is the only thing that keeps me sane during those times when I’m feeling particularly small or I feel like I don’t quite measure up. In short, God’s personal providence explains why I never made it to the winner’s podium and why I never even came close.
In my life, learning to trust His providence means accepting that the decisions that I’ve made—and the ones made for me—are entirely within His will. It means accepting that He placed me precisely in human time and space for a specific purpose. It means trusting that His sovereign power has deemed me to be exactly who I am, where I am, and when I am. Ultimately trusting God’s personal providence means embracing His hand as the guiding force of my life, not my own.
And here, there is no room for regret, no room for remorse, no room for failure, no room for angst. Instead trusting Him frees me to pursue what He has always intended for me--loving my family and friends, developing my distinct gifts, and serving those around me. Trusting Him frees me to live right here, right now.
In a world where success isn’t easily quantified like at the Olympics or grade school, where no one is handing out medals for finally making the monthly meal schedule and the only gold stars are the ones we use for potty training; in this world, personal providence means everything. Because in this world, we’re aiming at a goal much more elusive, much more private, but much more enduring. We’re pressing toward the goal of the high calling of Christ Jesus
; we’re waiting for “well-done.
And that only comes by faithful obedience to His providence.
It doesn’t come by chasing someone else’s dreams; it comes by chasing the ones specifically prepared for me
. Dreams of love and peace and security.
And in my case, that means that every four years, I have to once again accept that maybe, just maybe, He never intended me to be a champion Olympic gymnast.
Last week my blue-eyed, blonde-haired heart breaker turned six.
This is the child who…
measures the circumference of his drinking glass to make sure there is enough room to dunk his Oreo (graham cracker, sandwich, carrots, whatever) into his milk.
assures me that he has two different sides to his belly--one side for good food and one side for dessert and that the side for good food is already filled up.
when the visiting preacher has us bow our heads in a moment of spiritual reflection and asks for people to raise their hands, lies with on his back on the pew and raises his… foot.
has an uncanny resemblance--both in attitude and propensity to danger--to Bill Waterson’s Calvin.
can barely contain himself during a movie when one of the characters asks whether you would pick between animals and people and blurts out “Animals!”
He also the child who confuses me the most.
When I was younger (read:naïve), I always thought I wanted a whole passel of boys because they “were easier to understand than girls.” But ever since this little man entered my world, he has done nothing but stymie me. Despite our distinct physical resemblance, we are nothing alike. He is quiet, shy, and reserved. He is happiest at home and needs very few people in this life but needs them to love him unreservedly and forever. He also never seems quite comfortable expressing his pleasure and only lets you know he’s thrilled by that ever so slightly turned-up corner of his mouth.
It makes my heart ache just thinking of it.
And yet, as each year passes, I find myself having to let go of who I thought he should be and learning to love who God has made him to be. To embrace the quirks and challenges along with the blessings and trust that in the Heavenly Father’s wisdom, they are all well within His plan. To ask, not that my dreams for him, but that His dreams for him will come true. And to pray that even now He might be crafting the perfect little girl—a girl who knows how to make blackberry pie and likes animals and loves to cuddle—to love him when I finally can’t.
won’t be held for ransom by some fifteen-year-old in his bedroom who has more tech savvy in his little finger than I have in my whole body.)
Now the first thing that many of you will be thinking, smart readers that you are, is “Why in heaven’s name did you wait until now? Why didn’t you simply set it on automatic renewal from the very beginning?”
I wish I could give you a good answer for that, but I can’t. I can on the other hand give you a simple one: fear.
When you put yourself out there, when you take your “darlings”
and present them to other people, you can’t help but be gripped by the possibility that they won’t like them. Or worse, that they simply won’t care. Because as harsh as it sounds, not everyone thinks your baby is as adorable as you do. So I suppose, seven months ago, I was simply hedging my bets and figured that if things went badly, I could quietly fade into the oblivion of the web. And we could all pretend like none of this ever happened.
But honestly, there was something that I hadn’t counted on, something that, in my self-centeredness, I had forgotten. I had forgotten that this—that writing—may not be my dream alone. That like any dream deep in our hearts--whether it’s art or engineering or bird watching—it didn’t started with us. It was placed there by our Creator. I had forgotten that “my”
dream really is His
dream, He's just gracious enough to share it with me.
And when you factor that into the equation, fear dissolves.
When you factor that into the equation, you experience what I have over the last seven months--pursuing His dreams for you leads to better things than you could ever have anticipated. It leads to joy, to tears, to friends, old and new. Better still, it leads you right back to Him.
So don't work out of your fears by simply giving yourself fully, unreservedly to a dream; work out of them by giving yourself fully, unreservedly--unbelievably--to a better Dreamer than you’ll ever hope to be. And for goodness' sakes, hit "automatic renewal."
This last week was milestone of sorts for me. With fear and trembling, I changed the setting on my website provider from manual renewal to “automatic renewal.” This simply means that in a few months when my domain name comes up, I won’t forget about it among the laundry, dirty dishes, and general chaos we like to call “life.” (It also means that the address
Big, brown, eager, expectant eyes. Eyes that melt a daddy’s heart.
Now, I wouldn’t say that my husband plays favorites, but that--just like any daddy who loves his daughter--he has a particular weakness toward her and those brown eyes. And she, as a result, has a particular confidence and boldness that comes, not from being spoiled, but from knowing his love.
This confidence is a beautifully engaging thing. She comes to him, climbs into his lap at no invitation, and draws him into her world of fairy princesses and delightful impossibilities. She knows no fear, no boundaries, no limits to his acceptance. And why should she? Isn’t this the man who comforts her, carries her on his strong shoulders, and works to fulfill her needs? Isn’t this the man who rescues her from bugs, big dogs, her brothers, and thunderstorms? Even his correction confirms that she belongs to him.
But I’ve seen others who do not have this confidence. Girls and women who are sometimes shy and awkward and other times angry and defensive--often an inscrutable mix of both. Women whose girlish eyes never moved their daddies’ hearts, whose pleading eyes made no difference, whose tears one day simply ran dry--emptied, drained, exhausted. Women who would give anything in the world to have the kind of eyes my daughter does.
But then maybe they do. Maybe we all do.
While it’s easy for us to focus on the roles we play, we must not forget that none of us ever became wife, sister, aunt, teacher, mother or confidante without first being a daughter.Without first being His daughter. I don’t mean this in a primarily academic, theological way. I mean it the way C.H. Spurgeon did when teased his wife Susannah after she had received something she had been secretly praying for. He said, “I think you are one of your Heavenly Father’s spoiled children, and He just gives you whatever you ask for.”
What if you could know, believe, and embrace that reality? The reality that the Father has drawn you to Himself, wrapped His arms around you, looked deeply into your eyes and said, “I love you.” That your Father has chosen you to be His daughter and has moved heaven and earth to make that a reality. That He is a good loving Father who can’t ignore your pleading eyes.
Few of us can imagine this. Fewer of us are crazy enough to believe it. But for those of us who do, this father-love births a deeply rooted, flourishing confidence that comes when you know you’re loved. It’s a confidence that lets you climb into your daddy’s lap uninvited and share your dreams. It’s a confidence that lets you pursue those dream with Him as your guide. And it’s a confidence that explodes when you realize that your daddy is as delighted in your fairy princess kingdom as you are.
She has those big brown eyes. Mine are blue-green and never quite certain which they want to be. Blue-green eyes aren’t any good for begging; brown eyes were made for it. And my daughter has them, inherited from both her father and her great-grandmother, who once was told (perplexingly) that they looked exactly like the eyes of a St. Bernard.
I’m not talking about the newer series post-1970s that’s filled with nasty bits and epic romance – my nine-year-old self was quite content with an amorphous Ned who appeared ever few chapters to escort Nancy to a seasonal BBQ or give her an occasion to wear her new taffeta party dress. And as far as violence, for me it was pretty dicey when Nancy was bound, gagged and left to starve.
No, I’m talking about that classic Nancy Drew that lived somewhere in the magical world post-high school but pre-matrimony. Old enough to drive
and travel independently, but young enough to still need her dad. And, always, regardless of the situation, mature enough to help others with grace and style
I’m not the only one who thinks so either.
In this NY Times piece
, all three women Supreme Court Justices identify Nancy as a formative literary role model. What captured them probably has less to with Nancy’s white middle-class upbringing and more to do with the essence of Nancy herself. As critic Melanie Rehak recognizes, “Nancy was courageous and independent but she never used that independence in an overtly rebellious way. Instead, she used her freedom to have adventures, but they were always in the name of doing good and serving justice.”
And that’s one reason why I’m purposefully directing my daughter to these books. (That and it gives me an excuse to re-read them myself.) I’m not vying for her to be a Supreme Court Justice one day—heaven knows we don’t need the High Court adjudicating whether or not Barbie Fairytopia is in copyright infringement of Disney’s Pixie Hollow—but I do want her to have a robust view of womanhood. I want her to know how to bake a cake for the elderly
neighbor next door and have the guts to chase away the intruder who’s trying to steal said neighbor’s family silver. I want her to be smart and kind, pretty and unpretentious, appropriate and daring. I want her to be forgiving and humble, gracious and accomplished.
All at the same time
I’ve decided that in my next life I want to be reincarnated as Nancy Drew.
Certainly I’m not conferring faith or belief on Nancy. And maybe it’s simply an example of common grace, general revelation, or the two times a day that the stopped clock is right
, but a lot that I learned about womanhood came from having Nancy Drew in one hand and my Bible in the other. And the more I read the latter, the more I’m realizing that true womanhood isn’t an either/or proposition.
More than likely, it’s both/and.
It’s women with a hammer in one hand and a baby in the other. It’s women with the wisdom to defer an angry king and the kindness to minister to the King of Kings. It’s women with strength to lead and the humility to follow. And it’s women with the grace to move in society at the very time that they are turning the world upside down.
I’m from a generation that is quick to throw off anything that we don’t deem significant whether it’s marriage, motherhood, or social propriety. But I’m also from a generation that is perilously divided and grotesquely caricatured by our private definitions of what it means to be a woman.
Perhaps the truth lies somewhere with a powder blue convertible, a twin set, and a pair of pumps. So as for me, don’t be surprised if you peek in the back of my minivan while I’m ferrying my children around town and see an overnight case packed with a change of clothes, pajamas, a toothbrush, and a bathing suit.
Just in case.
And while some might say I want her to be Nancy Drew, others would simply see hints of Proverbs 31. Surprisingly, in my experience, the two conflict less often than you’d think. One presents an image of a gracious woman, sympathetic to the needs of those around her, bravely facing danger with courage, smarts, and determination; and the other presents…. an image of a gracious woman, sympathetic to the needs of those around her, bravely facing danger with courage, smarts,
Recently in light of all the bad economic news, I’ve started using a one-dollar bill as a bookmark. It’s just my way of reminding myself about what’s really important. And I don’t mean money.
In all honesty, the last few years have been a struggle for our family financially. While we didn’t suffer the direct effects of the housing bubble, we, like many of you, have had to tighten our belts, learn the difference between want and need, and pray a lot more. And at times, it has seemed like no matter how hard we work, we can’t get ahead.
For us at least, The American Dream simply isn’t.
But luckily, we have other dreams. Ones that rely less on picket fences and picket lines and more on picking our joys and learning to live in contentment and generosity. Ones that realize that even if we’re never in the 1%, we’re already among the wealthiest people
on this planet simply by virtue of being born where we were. And ones that believe that the only things of true value are the people around us.
Yet for all my starry-eyed idealism, I still struggle. I struggle as I watch friends and family move on, I struggle with having to say “no” to my children, and I struggle with the day-to-day weight of being forced to choose between good things. And apparently I struggle more than I’d realized.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter made a list of the things she thought we needed to pray for as a family. And four out of the five were directly related to employment or income. (The fifth was about her daddy’s ability to sing, and the least said about that, the best.) As I read her list, my heart dropped and I realized that whether I’d meant to or not, somehow I had taught her that the most significant thing in life is money.
For those of us going through hard times, it’s easy to start thinking this way—maybe even easier than for those who are economically stable. Because when you lack money, it suddenly becomes your greatest need, and the next promotion, the next big windfall, the next extreme couponing experience will be your savior. When you’re poor, it’s easy to start thinking that the god of frugality will rescue you from your guilt, embarrassment, and helplessness.
And you forget, that all the money in the world is pointless if you loose your own soul in the process.
Trust me, I do understand how this world works, and I’m not demonizing frugality or poverty or even wealth for that matter. Money is essential to life and there are plenty of desperate people out there who need more of it. I’m just learning to not let my soul be consumed by it. I’m learning to pray that God will simply give me what I need—no more and no less. I’m also learning to be thankful that I have a roof over my head, food on my table, children that love me, and a husband who is my best friend. I’m learning that I’m rich already.
So rich in fact, that I can use money for bookmarks.