Strong, Brave, Smart: Stand-Out Women in the Bible

After graduating from university with a degree in English, I couldn’t find a job. At that time, no one was hiring, so you took what you could get. I worked in retail at a pewter gift store for three years.

I hated retail with a passion. But I loved the women I worked with. Over those three years, I worked both in Ottawa and Toronto. We moved to Toronto for my husband’s schooling.

After months of looking for a job, I went to work for the same people I worked for in Ottawa, who were opening a store at the Eaton Centre.

At this store, I worked with a woman who did not share my faith.  We respected each other’s opinions and got along really well.  We had some awesome talks.  It seemed an odd pairing.

I remember one conversation in particular about women in the bible. She had always thought the women portrayed were weak. Pathetic. I told her about a few of the very strong women mentioned in scripture. I can’t remember now who I spoke of, but I hope I mentioned Deborah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother, Mary. To name just a few.

I know I didn’t mention all these great women, because at twenty-something, I didn’t know my bible all that well. But I said enough to get her to start to rethink some of what she had heard.

The fact is, the bible is full of the histories of strong, brave, intelligent women. Deborah, a judge and warrior in a time when women just didn’t do that sort of thing. Esther put her life on the line, to save her fellow Jews. Many women went into ministry in the New Testament even though persecution or death was a very real possibility. They worked closely with Paul and others in the NT church. And those women who released their husbands to be disciples, leaving behind an income, stability and a lot more, well they deserve a medal. (I might be a tad biased concerning them.)

I’ve been reading a book, called Chivalrous by Dina L. Sleiman about a young girl who wanted to be a knight.

Of course in the 1200’s women were not allowed to do anything but get married, raise a family and do handy crafts. Play board games. (I’m sorry but the whole game thing would have done me in, right there.) These are not bad things. Except the board games. But this character wanted something different. Something that the establishment wouldn’t give her. She wanted adventure, the outdoors, a sword and a good horse, maybe the right partner to share it all with. She didn’t fit the mould.

I can totally relate. Can you?

For those of us who don’t fit the mould or march to a different beat, it can be difficult. People don’t always get it or get you. That’s okay. I think God uses us misfits too. In His economy everything is worthwhile and important. There is nothing wasted. Both those who fit the mould and those who don’t, are valuable to Him, His plan and His kingdom. That’s the beauty of who God is. Just because you feel like you don’t fit, doesn’t mean that you aren’t smart, brave or beautiful. Can we just be clear on that point?  It also doesn’t disqualify you from being a stand-out for God.

What makes these woman in the bible, stand-outs? Here are a few things that I think make them unforgettable.

  1. They are not afraid of being afraid. I believe most were scared out of their wits. It’s only human. I had a list of Not afraid to do…..but really? I think they were afraid. They just didn’t let it stop them. They didn’t have super powers but they believed in a Divine Super Power. They could be brave because of Him.
  2. They were vulnerable. Which is scary in and of itself. They let down their shields of self-protection and opened themselves up to new ideas, and maybe a new future.
  3. They tried. Even if it met with failure, they at least gave it a shot. That’s more than a lot of us do. Getting up the nerve to even try something new and different is hard. It’s takes a lot of bravery.
  4. Actions not words. They said what they needed to and then acted.
  5. They believed in something bigger than themselves. A plan. A God who ruled with love, justice and mercy. It wasn’t about them.

Many women in the bible and the ones who have come after, were strong and brave. Warriors within their own rights. Some were misfits who God used to fit in spots that seemed impossible. Some were made to fit perfectly. The thing is, God used all of them. He uses all of us. To play our unique roles right where we are. To be smart. To be brave. To be strong. To use our gifts. To further His Kingdom, right here. Right now.

If you want to learn more about women who were strong, brave and smart, then I suggest you study Deborah in Judges 4 and Esther in the book named after her. Then move on to other women and see how God used them mightily.

Heart-shaped Perfectionism

As I walked along the beach, I kept my eyes open for heart-shaped stones. I was looking for a perfect one. Well actually, I was waiting for God to give me a perfect one. It’s our thing.

I had spoken the weekend before about the prodigal daughter. How that prodigal is the Beloved. Even after giving that message, which was not my message for those women but God’s, I wanted a sign. For myself. Silly, isn’t it?  But still….Hence the search for a perfect heart on the beach.

 

There were a lot of imperfect heart stones, there in the sand. Not a single perfect one. On the last day I found an almost perfect one. Although the rounded tops looked more like cat ears. Even as I write this, it sounds pathetic. Why would I spend a week looking for heart shaped stones? Why would I even expect to find one?

 

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I was looking for His approval. I wanted some validation. That’s why I looked.

The pat response is He’s already given it. I don’t need a sign. I don’t need to look. I know that. But sometimes you just need a sign. Or a heart shaped stone.

On the last day, I walked the beach. Seeing many odd shaped kinda heart shaped stones. I asked God why He couldn’t give me this. A perfect heart shaped stone. This time I listened for His response.

The words were in my head. “Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not a heart. Doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

After I had thought about it for a bit….

“Still putting me in a box. A perfect shaped heart box. If you want to take me out of the box, take me out of the box.

So I’ve thought about this off and on. Perfectionism is a box too. How can this be? Isn’t God perfect? Yes He is. I am not disputing that. But our world’s view of perfect, I am beginning to understand, is much different than God’s. I’m not even sure I can explain it except that “Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not a heart.”

There was a beach of scattered stones with heart-like shapes. Wasn’t that in fact, God telling me over and over that He loved me? That He was proud? Why was I looking for perfect? As I saw the imperfect stones, I was still reminded of love. It was still a heart.

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Expecting God to work in ways we think of as perfect is putting him in an impossibly small box. I need to take him out of that box of Him-doing-things-as-I-think-He-should. Perfect in the world’s view. He doesn’t really work that way. Just ask anyone who has a child not considered “perfect” or “normal” by the world’s standard. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one or a dream. Ask anyone who is sick. Ask anyone who is struggling with anything. These are the people, the things, the circumstances that God uses many times, to refine us. To teach us. To bless us. To love us.

It doesn’t mean it’s not hard. It usually is an incredibly difficult path. But it’s on these gut-wrenching, soul-searching journeys that we learn about God. We learn that we can trust Him. That He loves us more than we can comprehend. That He works in wonderfully, sometimes weird ways.  Ways we don’t always understand.  He uses an odd assortment of people, circumstances and things to bring about his plan to further His Kingdom through us. We have to let go of our visions and definitions of perfect.  Because His are so much more magnificent.

“Just because it’s not perfect doesn’t mean it’s not a heart. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. If you want to take me out of the box, then take me out of the box!”
But celebrate this: God selected the world’s foolish to bring shame upon those who think they are wise; likewise, He selected the world’s weak to bring disgrace upon those who think they are strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27 The Voice

TURN Things Around

Family is where your story begins. The sign was on the mantle at the cottage I stayed at a couple of weeks ago.

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I have a similar saying posted in my kitchen area. Instead of family, it says Home is where your story begins.

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Either way, the meaning is the same. Our homes, our families, that’s where it all begins. The potential that exists in a family or home at the very start is staggering. No pressure there for young married or young parents, right?

I think we all feel that pressure. I hear it all the time from moms. I said it enough as a young mom myself. “I’m afraid I’m going to wreck my kids.” It’s got to be up there in the top five things we fear most as parents.

The thing is we don’t need to be afraid. We aren’t going to be perfect with our kids or our spouses. Ever. We’ll do some things right and others, we are going to mess up. Because of grace, there still is hope. We are given second chances. It’s not second best either.

Sometimes we think that, right? That a second try is second best? It’s not. Sometimes it’s better.

Thankfully that potential is always there. Waiting to be tapped. Even if it gets messed up. As Brene Brown says, “It often takes just a single brave person to change the trajectory of a family or of any system, for that matter.” (from her book, Rising Strong. Yes do read it!!!)

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Do we want to be that single brave person? Even if our own stories were horrific, or disappointing?  We can still be the one to say, “Enough.”  Write a new ending.  For ourselves.  For our children.  TURN things around.

A TURN ABOUT can change everything and every outcome. I have lived it. I have been witness to it. I’m sure we all have at some point.

Even in the beginning, after Adam and Eve sinned and it looked like things couldn’t get more messed up, God TURNED things around for us. Did He have to? No, he could have just started all over again. He had that ability. But He chose to redeem rather than start over.

He still does today. For us. Redeem rather than start over. He takes those things that we think are irreversible and He TURNS them AROUND. He TURNS them UPSIDE DOWN. Or RIGHT SIDE UP. You might be the person He’s going to do it through.  It may take a journey to get there but it’s worth it. The journey brings about the change needed and the end result is a story to be told. Stories beginning one way and ending in a way we never imagined or hoped for.

Adam and Eve were the first family. They were also the first messed up family. But that was not their ending. It doesn’t have to be ours either.

I posted that saying to remind myself that I wanted to change how my boys’ stories were going to play out. That I had a say in how their stories would unfold. That the potential is always there, waiting to be let loose. That grace does bring second chances. That love and courage can TURN our stories around.

How He Loves Us

A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at our church’s women’s retreat. I’ve been busy preparing and haven’t really had much of a chance to blog. I really need to learn to do more than one thing at a time!

I got home from the retreat on Sunday afternoon and then left my family again Monday morning, to go to a cottage with some writer friends. I’m sitting writing this on the porch, listening to the birds sing and watching the water ripple. It’s a cold blue and the sky above is pale, almost white. Beautiful. Peaceful.

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The view from the porch.  I could sit there all day.

After arriving on Monday, I went for a walk along the beach. There is something almost decadent about being on a beach alone on a Monday afternoon. The sun was shining and the wind was cool. Small waves rolled onto the sand, making that lovely crashing sound, that only waves can do. After a busy weekend it was a soothing balm. I felt like someone had given me a priceless gift.

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A Monday afternoon on the beach.

He had. We had talked on the weekend about how God shows his love to us individually. How it is unique to us and fits our individual personalities.

Silence and solitude, having time to create after a wonderful, busy weekend is God saying to me, I love you. For some of you, this would be a prison sentence. I understand. Others are probably thinking it sounds good. For me, it’s perfect.

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Loved these blue chairs. Like beacons on the beach.

God loves us each lavishly and is waiting to show us how much. Sometimes it’s a matter of slowing down long enough to even notice the love letters and gifts he puts in our path. Some of us have to remind ourselves to open our eyes and look for them.

We talked on the weekend about getting what you expect. If you put God in a box, then you’re going to get exactly that. However if you let him out of the box of what you think He is or should be doing, then the universe is His playground and He invites you along for the playdate.

I went to a conference back in October. God and I have had a bit of a rocky relationship this year. So I wasn’t sure I’d actually hear from Him. Or see Him. I was on the outs with Him so why would He talk to me? God’s not like that. He doesn’t work or think like we do, like the world does.

I went to this conference in Rochester NY and there was a ballet troupe there. I’m a dancer and ballet is really one of my love languages. It’s true. On the last day, the very last event, this troupe danced. I have never been to a conference, Christian or otherwise, and a ballet troupe has danced. NEVER. But this Sunday in October, when I was feeling alone, God gave me a ballet. That’s just who He is. He meets us all individually, where we are, as is. It’s not complicated or hard. Just open our eyes, our hearts and our hands and let Him be I AM.

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Probably one of my most prized possessions.  My ballet shoes.

Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you– majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?   Exodus 15:11

How has God shown you His love lately?

Mom-Fail

Sometimes there is just too much to keep track of when you have kids. There are days that just keeping up with the library books is too much. Usually there are at least twenty other things piled on top. Homework. Who’s going where at what time. Managing clothing and shoes but the sizes keep changing at a increasingly rapid rate. What’s for dinner. Or what’s not. The list can be endless. I can forget stuff. More often than I want to admit.

When the boys were little, I mixed up some important information. We had signed our boys up for swimming lessons. Our oldest had learned to swim that summer and had far outgrown Preschool B. So the lessons were at two different times but on the same day. Bonus!

Our youngest went first but he didn’t even make it in the door. He had decided he wasn’t going anywhere near the pool without his brother in tow. My husband brought him back home without even going inside to the community centre pool. Thankfully we lived only a five minute drive from there.

Exactly an hour later, I left with a very excited five-year old. We got there, and he changed and we waited for 6 pm. When 6 finally rolled around, Preschool B was called but not Swimmer 1. I began to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. I talked to the life guard and she confirmed my fears. I had mixed up the times. Swimmer 1 had been an hour earlier. Needless to say, my five-year old was not happy with me. I explained to him that everyone makes mistakes, including him and me. In a dejected voice, he told me, “Yeah but you make a lot.” Ouch.

The bright spot in that little parenting misadventure is that at least he learned early on that in the real world people aren’t perfect, even mommies. It was a good lesson for both of us.

We don’t need to be perfect. Being a mother is hard enough as it is.

I really don’t like Mother’s Day. It’s a hard day for so many. Do we really need to see all those touchy-feely, perfect families in the videos, pictures and movies they haul out every year for Mother’s Day? The kind that make you squirm in your seat because you know what happened in your own house before eight am this morning. Or how the wee hours of last night went down. It wasn’t pretty. Not touchy-feely in any way. No warm fuzzy feelings.
Instead of feeling encouraged, I feel depressed. I don’t really need a reminder of how badly I’m doing the job some days.

I know that’s not what it’s supposed to be but that’s what it ends up being for many. A reminder of what they’ve lost, never had or want to forget.

So this weekend, I post my mom-fail. One of many. Because we don’t need to be perfect or even blissfully happy all the time. We just need to be real; with the kids in our lives, with our spouses and with our expectations. Perfection is not bliss. It’s not even real. Authenticity and love is really what it’s all about.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
                                                                                                                                1 Peter 4:8