When you think of a woman you utterly respect, what does she look like? She might be your mother, and she might not. Perhaps your wife, or even a family friend. More often than not that woman has a proven track record of wisdom. Flawless? No. She’s probably poked your eyes with pins a time or two, but likely you respected her in the morning.
Ruth of the Bible was a woman of excellence, and the whole city knew it. She followed her mother-in-law into a foreign country to serve her and be a companion in her old age. It was mainly because Naomi had walked out faith in the God of Abraham. Ruth had abandoned the religious beliefs of her family and adopted the faith of her mother-in-law. This was extreme sacrifice to accept a life of likely widowhood and poverty, when she legally could have returned to her family of origin and lived much more extravagantly.
The plot thickens though. There’s a man, you see. (Hum, there’s always a man when the plot thickens. Just sayin.) His name is Boaz. And so as to shorten this blog entry, she basically asks him to marry her. I know, right? Shiggy-diggy. She goes for it. His response?
Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, … You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. … do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. Ruth 3:10-11
When I think of what it means to be a woman of excellence, I’m a bit dumb-founded because this book of the Bible (or any) was written in a time when women were incredibly oppressed. Okay, understatement there. But the whole city knew she was a woman of excellence. That says to me that she didn’t go around in secret begging for mercy every step of the way.
She had a voice. She made herself heard … in wisdom.
She had compassion. She served sacrificially, and people knew it.
She knew how and when to stand, in her Esther moments, and she didn’t back down.
She knew what it meant to pay the price of obedience, and to walk that out before God. Yup, she put on her big-girl knickers and dealt with stuff.
She had the humility to admit her wrongdoings, and to correct them.
A woman of excellence.
Looking back to the woman of excellence in your own life, we both know she had failures the length of her arm. And yet. Her successes outweighed those failures by far.
A real woman keeps standing up when morning comes. She keeps clothing herself with courage and humility. A real woman sets her face like flint, and is unashamed because she knows her King.
Worry comes naturally for me. If you ever need me to worry about something for you, just let me know. I’m already up until the wee hours wondering if I have enough air pressure in my tires? Was the truck making a funny noise this morning? Pffft. That’s the easy stuff in comparison to the relational worries that create cobwebs in my brain.
– What if someone has subtly conveyed judgements concerning me and I’m unable to defend myself?
– Or worse, what if I said something hurtful and we never got a chance to work through it? Maybe I was jealous or spoke out of frustration and yet those words are lodged in the foundation of our relationship now. I have a few of those scattered around the world so don’t tell me I’m being ridiculous.
You’ll have to agree that neither of us lives our lives in such a way that everything we say is lovely, and every bit we contribute is graceful.
Oh be real, would you? I am over here plowing my way through this life trying to avoid bludgeoning people with sharp objects when I don’t get my way. It’s not polite to scratch people’s eyes out when they are not nice. Mama told me to be a lady. And so that is what I am. But it doesn’t mean the “want-to” goes away …
Maybe you are a better person than I, but it’s there in the midst of that heap of words uttered and opinions undefended that I finding myself longing for God. Big G-o-d. He has to be big because life is messy. And I crave the fresh air and Father-will-sort-it-all-out kind of care that I find in the presence of the Lord. Plain and simple, the stuff that keeps me up at night is just too much for me. I have to trust Him.
Only He can make heads or tails of all that we bring to Him. Only He can cause us to wait quietly for justice, or gently send us back with an apology when the time is right.
He is a God whose nature it is to make all things new.
It is right now, here in the midst of this chaotic world where we need to be able to convey Heaven to a friend or a stranger, our beloved or a foe. I’ve an example of one of those serendipitous moments where I simply knew that I was carrying Heaven for a near-stranger.
Years ago a conversation struck me as most poignant for, without prelude we began talking about exquisite beauty and that elusive emotion, joy. We both knew with certainty that the two are not the same. One so often thinks that with great beauty comes joy. And yet I could see violent pain in her eyes, and I said so.
Sometimes the greatest gift that we can give to someone is to identify with the moment they’re in; simply acknowledging the pain they’re stuffing deep inside can bring such permission. And permission is so empowering isn’t it?
I think what was surprising was not the seeing the pain but it was the surety in my words to her, “You need to go through the veil. You need to walk through your valley. This grief keeps bubbling up and you keep shoving it further down inside anytime it grabs you. The thing is, when a person refuses to feel the pain they also lose access to joy.”
It’s true that I’ve paid the price to be able to offer those words. I know from experience that pain and sorrow can catch you blindsided. Oh, without apology they’ll knock the wind out of you, and leave you motionless for years. The faraway look never leaves the woman in the mirror until she takes their hands and permits Sorrow and Sadness to teach her how to live.
We are incapable of loving deeply, of laughing stupidly loud, of rolling in the depths of undignified belly laughter until we follow the footsteps of pain … who has hurt you? What have you lost? What, oh what has slipped through your fingers like so many grains of sand?
Sometimes the greatest mistake we can make is trying too hard, going too fast with grief. Just say “Yes” to Father. He’s a gentleman about this sort of thing. You’ll know His voice when He asks again if you and He can look at this thing together. Sign up for the multi-year plan. In the end a few years that are set aside for grief-work are so much fewer than the decade you spent trying to avoid it. I might know about that first-hand. I’ll say this … the fruit of working through grief is being able to feel. Period.
Psalm 31 says, “Thou hast set my feet in a broad place.” The journey of unresolved pain and grief is constricted, and narrow. It’s like walking a tightrope. But that broad place that Father leads us into when we decide to look pain square in the eye, ah it reminds me of the nature of God Himself. It’s all upside down, you remember. We think pain and losses are His doing. They’re not but He’ll use them to lead us into a new space in life, a new vista that is more reflective of who He is.
The Kingdom of Heaven is about a wild range of emotions, and colors, and sounds. The Kingdom of Heaven is about people, and relationships and being able to scale the cliffs of pain, and releasing and embracing. A vibrant way to live. But it’s here on Earth that we learn how to live in the Distant Kingdom. Say yes.
Carry Heaven. Now.
What is it about living life, and the way we throw ourselves into the unanswered question so FULLY. We immerse ourselves into the unknown, and wade through until we become the answer. It’s true. If you look at Proverbs 8, Wisdom speaks about how it existed from the beginning of time. When God the Father inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, at the time of Creation, Wisdom existed. Further examination of Scripture will show that this is actually the voice of Jesus talking, and He was with God at the time of Creation. Jesus is Wisdom. To the extent that we continually receive Christ within, we receive Wisdom. And we become enough to face our unknown circumstance.
Christ in you, the Hope of Glory. That is the mystery.
“Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.” ― Elisabeth Elliot
No matter what our age is, life hands us unanswered questions. The impossible, implausible, unfathomable – you go first – situation.
We are forced to realize our inadequacy and our dependence upon God. The thing is, He loves this! Father God loves when we can come nose-to-nose with our vacant spaces, and look to Him to fill us with Himself. Our needs are what make us love deeply. It makes our lives rich and full when we see the end of ourselves; when we see ourselves in another, when we can tap into a beloved friend’s strength and become woman or man enough to walk this stretch of road.
Mastering the unknowns might give us life experience. And it might make us feel a bit needy.
But most importantly mastering the unknown makes us beautiful.
This train of thought has been brewing with me for a while now. I want to talk with you about unanswered prayer.
Broaching this topic is a bit risky. It’s like saying, “I want to teach you about God.” Hah! And so now you know. I know precious little about answers and the lack of them except what I’ve experienced. But, that being the point, we come into greater understanding by putting little bits together. Sometimes the pieces fit, right? And sometimes we set them aside, and go looking for a piece of blue sky for our puzzle.
But it is a puzzle indeed.
Only you know what life has handed you, and what questions remain unanswered. I’ll never be able to hand you the puzzle piece to fit that gaping hole you are staring at. I know this though, so many times we stare and stare at that gaping hole — that ache or longing for something or someone — and we think we know why it’s empty.
For so many years I thought my prayers had remained unanswered because I had done something wrong. Or that I failed God in some way, or hadn’t had enough faith, or hadn’t prayed right, or sacrificed enough. For real. I have repented, fasted, declared, obeyed, sinned, run the gamut of emotions, and flip-flopped all over the place trying to understand.
I wonder if you’ll hear me when I say this: It’s never, ever been Father God’s intention that you would beat yourself up over this thing.
He’s a super great communicator. If you had done something wrong He would have let you know and once you dealt with that situation, it would be over; i.e., it’s never His intent to punish forever. He’s not mad at you, and holding something over you for what you did in 1985.
He’s a super great communicator. If He wanted you to do something in terms of obeying Him in an area, He would let you know, and that step of obedience would become important to you. I tell you it would. That’s His nature. Scripture says, “… for it is God who works within you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” We are so wired! to be in relationship with Him. Don’t go chasing after legalistic things you think you should be doing in order to find your answers.
He’s a super great communicator but just like any loving relationship worth having, He gently tugs us out of our navel-gazing, and sometimes victimized thinking. At times He gently cajoles us, pulls on our sleeve a bit. Sometimes we’re looking for a direct answer and He just wants to talk. Period. Instead of giving me answers He’ll say to me, “Watch this…” and He’ll show me something or someone that interests Him. Other times He’ll play Hide N’ Seek. We’re after our answers like a heat-seeking missile and He’s dodging behind doors and peeking at us to see if we’ll chase! Why? Because He loves us, and He loves being in relationship with us. Father God gets a great kick out of telling me riddles. Oftentimes I know its the Lord speaking because my next step will be in the form of a riddle. Remember this … no matter how He communicates with you, what He shares with you will always reflect His character and His nature. You’ll see His character and His nature reflected in Scripture. Get to know His ways with you.
My greatest treasure in life is to have had some unanswered questions over the course of perhaps 20 years. There is grace that accompanies any suffering, any lack, and there is an enormous blessing in every affliction. It’s up to you to find it.
Most of the time, with unanswered prayer, you’re not ever going to know why or when or how long or who but you have a wonderful opportunity to know the Holder of the ‘Why’, and He wants to hold you. In the midst of your heartache, He wants to hold you; He wants you to let the “holding it all together” go, even if its for a few minutes. You get so exhausted doing that … holding it all together.
Just let Him carry it for a few minutes. Let Him carry you.
The bird also has found a house and the swallow a nest for herself
where she may lay her young.
With a singular focus and deliberation the bird circles and circles until she finds a safe place in which to nest. She is stirred and on a mission until she finds what it is she is looking for: a place. And then she broods, rarely if ever leaving until her eggs hatch.
A woman intuitively looks for safe places in which to lay her young, whether it’s for the children of her womb or the artistic endeavors of her spirit. She longs to give birth to the verses and the stories and the melodies but until their appointed time they remain hidden deep within … taking form, growing, nourished through her until they are able to sustain life on their own.
Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Cor 2:9
Scripture talks about how the way of the Spirit of God is mysterious. I would venture to say that the way of the Spirit is not unlike the mystery of conception and birth. A baby is a twinkle in her Daddy’s eye … he’s got a great idea. But from the point of where the idea begins until he bounces that sweet-faced child on his knee … we can only marvel!
When we enter into the creative process we are partnering with God to bring the stuff of the Spirit into the natural realm. The miracle of birth is always God’s doing but every time His own DNA mingles with that of the child’s parents. And let’s not forget about the heart. God always mixes in love, an ingredient He never forgets. Whether a creative work or the much hoped-for wee child: all that originates in His heart bears His image, His thumbprint.
As women we are utterly consumed with the birth process: awaiting the day when our knowing look will give us away; carrying the planted seed within, stretching out our lives to prepare for its presence; yielding to the transition and then the inevitable, unavoidable birth process. If a mother does not give birth she will likely die and certainly her child will die. Birth is not optional. Her body literally changes structure, her emotions are all fiercely protective and locked in on one objective: to bring this child into the world. And so it is with the creative works that He plants into our hearts, designed to come from us. Beautiful and yet ugly; awkward and yet perfectly orchestrated, red-faced and slippery our little ones come into this world.
Just as a mother has a core-level connection with her infant so have we with our creative works. Nothing is so wildly beautiful to a mother than the face of her son or daughter. From the outside we observe and critique but a mother never hears friend or foe call her baby ugly. Her role and calling are to lovingly carry, lead, discipline and cheer her child until he reaches full maturity.
Revision upon revision, reshaped until it stands on it’s own. One day the song will sing its melody in hidden places throughout the earth. The story will tell itself to the nations … until the day in which the melody expands and the story’s seed is flung to the wind.
And Father’s heart will have expanded once again.
With dove’s eyes the Creative will again find a safe place in which to lay her young.
A quick story… when I was a little girl, my friend and I got it in our heads that we needed to save the whales. We attended a rather smallish church and not one that had a particular vision for whale-saving. We decided to make a poster and put out a jelly jar to collect the funds. After about a month we’d collected about $2.75. I confess that those funds may have been abused, and were probably used at Dairy Queen. My bad.
You’ve heard the phrase ‘the favor of God’? It’s jargon, really, but it probably refers back to Scripture. Some might call it ‘good karma’ but as Christians we believe that God is behind the good things that happen to us and we give the credit to His heart toward us instead of chance or electromagnetic airwaves. That’s mainly because we’re in this personal relationship with Him and, as His children, we watch for Him to provide for us… to open doors of opportunity, to grease the skids relationally, and generally make things go successfully. That’s our reality. We have God’s favor as His beloved kids.
There’s another climate in which we interact with God which I’m going to call permission. You’ve been there I’ll bet. You get this great idea in your head, ala saving the whales, or you decide ‘I’m going to become a yodeler.’ Beautiful. Nothing wrong with yodeling, or saving the whales incidentally. It’s just that when the idea is our own, we sometimes find ourselves in a situation where Father God nods and seems to say, ‘Go ahead. S’ok. I’ll catch you on the other side of this thing.’ Nice. It has $2.75 in a jelly jar written all over it but out of our determination we make our poster ‘Save the Whalez’ when in fact its really our own program and He’s just waiting for us to get a grip.
Last, it seems there is a place in our journey with God which is that of commission. Commission is easy to spot because a person starts the explanation of their plan with words like, “You know, I never thought in a million years I would find myself doing this BUT…” This is the place where somehow we’ve gotten a hold of an idea that originated in the heart of God, and we’re getting on board with Him. We’re bumbling our way through each step, looking to Him for help and direction. We certainly enjoy what we’re doing but we can never seem to quell the amazement that the idea didn’t first begin within our own heart. In times like these I submit to you Father’s words, ‘Ah, kiddo. I see you’ve got My heart here. Ha! I love this! I’m prepared, Girl, to move mountains as you step into the free-fall of a trusting walk with Me. Take a step. I promise I will be with you. I will provide for you, and I will give you nations.’
Nations. When we shift out of save-the-whales mode and take on the dreams that were founded in His heart, we will never lack for resources, comfort, courage, or fruit. Reader Beware: These things may not come in our timing! They may not go the way we are convinced they should, believe me. But being given over to His purposes will result in His renown, His glory being made known to throughout the earth. Whole nations are presently coming to God, coming into deep relationship with Him, and it’s a result of the obedience of ordinary people like you and me. We can truly expect Him to accomplish the purposes of His own heart.
I don’t often write from the position of vulnerability. It’s much easier to offer you answers and not questions. Today I’m struck with a question, though, and I want to think it through.
Like me, you may be living in a personal season of advent. It’s true that Christians acknowledge the Advent season, the four Sundays prior to Christmas where the coming of the Christ Child is anticipated and celebrated. There is dual meaning here because we also anticipate the return of the resurrected Christ. In either case, the Advent season is for the celebration of the coming fulfillment of a promise, and that’s what I’m driving at here.
Real people. With real questions. And real, unfulfilled promises. And waiting. My question is this:
When it comes to celebrating the advent of the Christ Child or anticipating the return of the resurrected Christ, my decision to enter into the celebration is not based on something subjective. The Christ Child has already come, and so in that sense I join the Jewish people as they waited for the Messiah … the Expected One. I don’t look within, or at my external circumstances to decide whether or not He’s really coming again. Just as the Jews knew then and they know now, that He.Is.Coming, I also know. And in spite of the hustle and bustle of the season I engage my heart in the celebration. And the waiting.
But here’s the kicker…
When I ponder my personal dreams and hopes I base the reality of their fulfillment on external evidence. I keep looking around me. I don’t see people lining up to make an offer on my house, for example. And my heart fails. I become incredibly discouraged because it doesn’t look like it’s happening at all! There’s no evidence, I moan to myself. Everything in me starts to believe I’ve made a mistake, that I’ve got the wrong idea. And, like a Border Collie on espresso I start the spin, chasing my tail round and round. Frustration! Agh! Questions! Grr! Doubts! Self-incrimination! With this I cease to celebrate the coming time when my home will be sold and I will be free to pursue other dreams.
The short answer is that it’s my old enemy, Unbelief, that keeps me from entering into the celebration. The longer, more complex answer is to choose a right response to the mess. I poke at my heart to take the first step, and I whisper softly, “Lord, You see this complexity in my heart. You see all things. How would You have me respond right now? How can I connect with You, right now?” And somehow, the process starts with my taking a bit of His unconditional acceptance. Then even though my heart is “two sizes two small” and a bit wrapped up in myself, I am able to look at the Father. And just let it be. Unfulfilled for now. A mess right now. But it had to be that way in Bethlehem too, that night.
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. …
Because at that time He will great to the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.” Micah 5:2, 4b-5
Certainly no one in Bethlehem was expecting the birth of a King that cold night. Why there, exactly? And why Mary? God is funny sometimes in who He chooses for what tasks. But we can trust Him. Enter into Advent season this year … the celebration of Promise fulfilled. Waiting. Believing.
Last night, as I was driving home I was pondering some things with God. I looked over to a billboard – one of those that is digital and changes constantly – and I saw the word PlayBook. Having no idea that Blackberry is launching the next iPad and calling it a Playbook, the word had no connotations but still stood out to me. I asked the Lord the most obvious question…”What’s in Your playbook, Lord? What are your strategies for the coming months that involve me?”
Googling the word a little bit made things more interesting. First off I learned about Blackberry’s new launch. Cool. I’m most familiar with the word from basketball or football where each of the plays is outlined and is used on the game floor or in the locker room as a refresher. Now, what I find to be the most interesting definition is that the first definition is most often like the Oxford English Dictionary’s:
A book containing the text of a play or plays.
I have two deadlines coming up, one is a piece for my Writing Lives class. The other is a documentary, part of which will be written next week during a speed-writing competition for screenplays.
So, I find it interesting that a random sign leads me to ask the Lord what is on His heart, and both the billboard sign and it’s deeper definition point me neatly toward my writing project at hand. But let’s look a little deeper…a playbook contains the text of a play or in some cases strategies for winning the game. I’m definitely a person that likes to know what comes next. I think I’ve worn the Lord out asking Him that question. So, how is this going to go? Got a plan here, Stan? Ya don’t need to be coy, Roy. You just listen to me. …Okay, okay. Enough of the Simon & Garfunkel quotes.
After asking the Lord so many times for a plan I think that I’ve finally satisfied myself by being near Him, by resting the whole of my life on His heart. Sometimes He tells me the secrets of His heart … who in my world needs a hug, or a financial gift or needs help with a chore. And sometimes, like a good parent, He lets me figure it out on my own. Even better, we learn to become content with the process. I still chafe. I want a plan, and I want to know when and how this is all going to work. I like cards on the table, thank you very much. I don’t want to risk and I don’t want to get hurt. But sometimes Father hides the playbook, and we have to write the script as we go.
I guess that’s another reason the sign made me smile. Father loves to play hide-n-seek, and I felt like He was indulging Himself in a bit of a game with me. Good-hearted and loving, never a bully –that’s just not His nature — He gave me the mult-faceted word just to make me smile. He’s like that, you know.
Not long ago you trusted me with some rather heartfelt questions. I’ll be honest. The questions caught me a bit blind-sided and my answers were small, I thought. I just wanted to say thank you for trusting me enough to express them. With your permission, I’d like to try to answer them again, having given them more consideration.
Understanding the purposes of God can be a bit tricky. As I navigate this turf I want to point out my frame of reference – or starting point – for this response to you. I truly believe that there is a God. If we wanted to talk about the proofs of the existence of God, we could. But I think that you know – deep down – as well as I do, that He most certainly exists. I also believe that our God has feelings, just like you and me. The Bible says we are created in God’s image. There’s a whole lot of meaning to that statement. Just as you or I wrinkle our brow or feel a tear drop on our cheek, why shouldn’t God do the same? Every single thing that we know about ourselves, we can know that our God is wired similarly. Simply because you cannot see Him wrinkle His brow, or shift His gaze doesn’t mean that He hasn’t the ability. And so, this God who has feelings has deep feelings for you, and for me, wants to be in relationship with you.
He wants to know what *you* think, Friend … even your ugliest thoughts. He can take it. In fact, He’s better at fielding the questions that I am. I find that He doesn’t even care if I use rotten, un-ladylike language. (Yes, I did balk at your language. But it’s because I love you, and want you to become a fierce and lovely lady; one the world must reckon with.)
But, I digress…
I think it will help you in your discoveries to know that absolutely everything about God will be upside-down from the way you think it should be. That means that the reasons why He does things will often confuse you at first glance. But when you look a little deeper, and you ask Him about it, He will show you the deeper meanings and reasons of His ways. But you have to ask Him. He’s the kindest Person you’ll ever meet. He waits for you to look at Him, for your questions. And, once you ask, He will answer.
It will also help you to know that when we become followers of Jesus Christ we actually transfer our citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven. In doing so, we suddenly realize that our priorities and focus has shifted as well. Remember that God created all things – all things – and through Him all things hold together. So, that means that He created time. And space. And stuff. And people. He created the enemy – satan and his household- that antagonizes us and, for a time, they rule this world. Knowing that there are two kingdoms at work sometimes helps me understand the conflicts
Whenever I get bogged down with the questions, “Why did You leave me here?” “Why was I born into this family?” and “Who are You, anyway, and why don’t You speak to me?” I really only do one thing… I sit quietly and ponder God’s big-ness. Smile. I become like a first grader, and expect that, as my real Papa, He’ll explain everything to me. So where do I look to understand God’s big-ness? I might look at Scripture. I could just look at the horizon, or the night sky, and see the stars and all the things around me that He’s created. But I happen to like Scripture and usually after I read the book of Job, or even just the chapters 38-42, I almost always get a sense of the magnificence of the one true God.
Ciao! Until next time…