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.

Love Scared

I am continually amazed at what deep themes lie waiting to be discovered in young adult fiction.  (Now if you aren’t a fan of YA fiction, don’t leave just yet because there’s more here than you realize.)  I recently read Katie Parker Productions, a series of books, by Jenny B. Jones. There were four books in this inspirational series for teen girls. At a glance, it seems like lite lit or chick lit and it is but it’s still fun to read. And it’s not, because under the lightness, there are some pretty deep themes running through the storyline.

One that got me thinking was this; we can love scared. Because that was what Katie was challenged to do. She’d had a drug addict Mom that had abandoned her multiple times and she ended up in a home for girls (basically an orphanage) and then into foster care. Her foster home ended up saving her. She had, for the first time, parents who cared about her. But those wounds of abandonment and feeling unloved are deep and Katie, as she got older, didn’t trust anyone to love her. She was afraid to love too. She was still the tossed aside girl, not worth anything, in her mind. She kept running away from the love that was extended to her.

In the last book, someone challenged her to love, even though she was scared. To quit running.

Isn’t that the challenge for a lot of us? To love is to risk. To love a spouse or a child is to bet against the odds.

To love in sickness is gut-wrenching. Loving a parent through old age and all that comes with that is worrisome. To love friends takes time and commitment. To love a community takes bravery. To love the church, takes the supernatural. To love strangers takes a divine intervention. To love, to commit to that love and to act it out, it is all alarming. It feels like we are on the edge of a cliff with no safety net of any kind. To love for many of us, is to love frightened out of your wits.

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Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. Or harder. It doesn’t sway my choice either way. Because that’s what it comes down too. A choice. To love. Katie had to make a choice. Run or love even though she was so scared. Flee or trust in the person offering that love. Turn away or turn to.

I believe we have been given a great capacity for love because we’ve been created in the image of One who knows no limits on love.

The ability to learn to love is there in all of us. Even those of us who feel like we have no heart. We are tin-men. I see it in even the most begrudging of relationships. We actually like hearing those stories because they are hopeful. The grumpy old man learning to love the mischievous neighbour boy. The baby opening up the hearts of the angry grandparents. Enemies who realize they are fighting for the same thing. The old mangy stray being taken in by the widow. The guy and girl who fight all the time but you know there’s more to it. That fine line between love and hate. Sometimes I think the hate is more about the fear.

Loving scared means taking on the risk. To love and be loved. For some of us, accepting love is so foreign that we feel like we can’t navigate that language.

To love and maybe have that love thrown back in our faces. It’s so painful. And humbling. And wounding.

To love and have it go away. Not necessarily on purpose. But still it happens. Death. Sickness. Loss of any kind.

To love and know that there is no payoff. To know it is the endgame. That takes courage and humility.

None of this is new to me or to you, I’m pretty sure. It mirrors the love story that the bible is.

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Jesus explains it in the story of the son who ran away from his loving dad. (Luke 15)  He took his money and lived how he wanted, on his terms and didn’t risk anything. He loved only himself. When the money ran out, he was alone. Of course he was alone. He had served one master. Himself. All those that loved him were back home. He had a couple of options. Choose love and his father (even if that meant becoming a servant) or stay in his rut. He risked rejection from his father and returned home to love. I’m sure he was scared with every step he took. But he chose to love scared rather than not love at all or be loved.

We never get to know what happened in the years after the son returns. I’m curious if the older brother ever came around. We know the father loved extravagantly and I’m pretty sure that never changed. The son though? He had to live every day with the knowledge of his choices. He had to learn to trust his family. They had to trust him, that he wouldn’t run off again. For all involved, it meant loving each other, scared, hurt.

The story of the prodigal was told for our benefit. But there is a huge difference to the love of God. God does not love scared. He loves perfectly, something none of us can do in this lifetime. And the cool thing? The irony of it all? Perfect love casts out all fear.

1 John 4:18 (NIV) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

That Weird Girl #BellLetsTalk

I always thought I was just weird. That weird kid. A total spaz. It was a lie. But I believed it wholeheartedly.

That’s why I love Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk day (#BellLetsTalk) which is today.

Because it brings into the light something that has been hid too long in the dark. In shame. Covered in lies. Maybe Crazy Uncle Bill wasn’t crazy. Maybe there was more to cousin’s addiction than we understood. Maybe Nervous Nellie had something else going on. It was the big white elephant in the room but nobody dared talk about it. It’s happened in too many homes.

Thankfully things are starting to turn around. Mental health is being discussed openly for both caregivers and those who battle with it.

For me, the anxiety attacks started when I was ten years old. I had been sick with the stomach flu and once better, all of a sudden I was afraid to be anywhere but home. I was afraid of being sick again. I was afraid of throwing up. I was afraid of embarrassing myself in public. I felt unsafe in the world around me.

I would sit in school or church, rubbing my hands up and down my legs, continuously. The constant motion soothing my nerves. Until someone would turn around and tell me to stop. The noise was distracting.

Or I would be at my desk, looking fine on the outside but inside it felt like all hell had broken loose. My heart and mind were racing. I couldn’t concentrate on what was being said. All I could focus on was getting out of that classroom. I would count down the ticks of the clock. I would tell myself that I could get through the next five minutes. And then the next five. I would eat a hard candy to calm me down. By the time the class was done, I was exhausted from the mental battle that had raged for the last period.

Other times, I would get into OCD mode. (I didn’t even know that term then.) I would have to say or think things a certain way and if I didn’t, I had to start over again. And then repeat it perfectly or start over again. Because if I didn’t do it right, something bad was going to happen and it would be my fault.

I thought I was weird. I knew I had to get over it but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know what IT was.

As I got older and entered high school, I thought I was getting better. Managing it. I’d have occasional attacks but they weren’t as frequent.

In fact, I was numb.  What I was doing was stuffing things down deep. Eventually it comes back to the surface.  Rage masked the fear.

You either get mad or sad and I was definitely mad. Anxiety would overtake me and I’d get angry. Not wanting anyone to know that I was scared or panicky at some “imagined thing” because they’d think I was crazy, I would get mad.  My friends would be confused.  Why was I freaking out?  I felt like a freak.

When I really lost it, I would see red and there was no turning back. I broke things and once slammed my hand into a very hard door and had to get x-rays.

I could go on but I’m hoping you get the picture. It wasn’t until I was an adult that the words panic attack, agoraphobia and OCD entered my vocabulary. In research I had stumbled upon these words at different occasions and felt somewhat relieved that I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t the only one. That there was something to this.

For so many years I was ashamed of me. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get it together. I thought I was broke. Maybe I was. But broke can be fixed.

I was afraid to talk about what was going on inside of my head and body. So I kept quiet. I didn’t ask for help until the anger was so bad that I was scaring myself and those I loved. I endured years of agony, exhaustion and shame.

That’s why I’m so glad that Bell Canada, Clara Hughes and some other very brave people have started this discussion. There is help out there but first you have to recognize what’s going on. Ignorance is not bliss. There is no shame in asking for help.  You are not weird and you are not alone.

 

When Silly is Significant

Sometimes what seems silly in life is actually significant. I rode an elevator fifteen floors by myself a month back. It wasn’t one of those newer high tech ones that flash up the floors. It was an old elevator in an older building and it made some weird noises at times.

For most people this is not a big deal. For me it was huge because a few years ago I would not stay in a hotel room that was above the sixth or seventh floor. I would only take the stairs and if I had to go into the elevator I would hold my breath until I got off it while squashing down the sheer panic rising up in my chest.

What made it even more significant was that I already was anxious on this particular evening. I had left a conference dinner because I was tired, and overwhelmed with people. Normally this would have led to a freak out. I didn’t. I left calmly. I didn’t have a melt down about the elevator. I calmed myself and rode it to the top floor where our room was located. There wan not a single person around. Victory.

If you struggle with anxiety and panic attacks you know how this can go down. It can get pretty ugly, very fast. If you know someone who struggles with anxiety you’ve watched it play out first hand. My MO is to lash out (usually with my husband, sometimes my kids)  like a frightened animal. I become snarly and prickly. Once I feel safe, I withdraw. Lick my wounds. It’s no fun for anyone.

That’s why the small victories mean so much. It’s baby steps but they eventually lead to big steps, which turns into running and finally leaping. Small victories start to build a foundation in our minds that we can do this. We have done it and we can do it again. It’s a positive in a world of negatives and lies.

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It’s not just about anxiety. Whatever you’re struggling with, small battles won are hard battles won. It’s worth getting excited about. Take a minute and savour the accomplishment. You know how hard you fought for it.

Each little victory also marks off how far we’ve come. Looking over even the last four months, there are a handful of small successes that show me the distance I’ve travelled. Things, a year ago, I would never been able to do without a fit or gnashing of teeth, have been navigated quite well. Not perfectly, mind you. Is there still fear? Yes, but it’s not the vicious dictator it once was.

Why am I writing about this? Because I want you to know that becoming healthy is a journey. It’s a long hard road that requires a lot of work. Trial and error. And patience for everyone who is involved. But it’s worth it in the end. The small victories need to be celebrated. You should be proud of yourself. If it’s a loved one who is battling, you should be proud of them and yourself. It takes courage for both parties to stay on the front lines.

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Small victories produce hope. Bit by bit, they also bring about change. That’s what I’m excited about. Life has changed drastically over the last three years. Instead of being a prisoner locked behind four walls of fear, anger, disappointment and depression, I have started to breathe again, take baby steps and a few running leaps. It’s a scary awesome feeling!

Yet some days I go back to that prison.  But the thing that’s changed is I know the way out.  And that makes all the difference. For me. For my loved ones.

One day I hope to lock that prison door and throw away the key. Until then I will celebrate the small victories.

 

What baby steps or running leaps are you celebrating today?

BRAVE: Clear Vision

Have you ever gotten a new prescription for glasses and the first time you put them on, your stomach lurched and your head spun? It felt like you were looking through a fingerprint smeared window? Ugh.

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I’m discovering that it’s not only new glasses that can cause your vision to distort, make you dizzy. Sometimes it’s our internal perspective that gets contorted as well. It may be fear, unforgiveness, loss or jealousy that twists our view of our worlds, our lives.

Our hearts and minds are moldable. It depends on what we let mold them. Joy, love and kindness for example can mold them one way. There is clarity in these things. Fear, unforgiveness, jealousy twist our hearts and warps our sight lines. We get dizzy and unfocused. We don’t make good decisions because we can’t see straight, figuratively speaking.

I know this because for far too many years, anxiety distorted my view. Everything I did every day was seen through the fear filter. It was exhausting. It was a joy stealer. It made everyday life hard work and when life got busy or stressful or even happy, it made it terrifying. What about you? What’s the filter you see life through these days?

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This is not how we were intended to live. Where was the abundant life that the bible talked about? I had no idea. I believed the bible was true, I just figured somehow I got something wrong. A lie the enemy likes to whisper in our ears. We need to rebuke it.

The warped fear filtered life is not what God had in mind when He created us and then sent His Son to give us victory over death. Not just literal death but the fear, anger, sin that causes us to live like we are dead while we are alive. We live like prisoners when we should be living like victors. How do we get to the victor part?

Just like new glasses, it’s going to take a bit (or longer) to get clear vision so we can see. It’s those few days of that dull pounding in the back of your head and eyes, a little bit of nausea that make it hard. If we are prisoners to our fears then it’s going to take hard work so we can see clearly and begin to live the way God intended us to.

Sometimes it’s about facing up to the fact that we live in fear. Denial is so easy. We make excuses why we react to situations or people. Friends and family will agree with you too because it’s easier than facing a mess. Or they are in denial themselves about you. Some people just don’t want to take you off their pedestal. Do them a favour and take it down yourself.

Sometimes its staring down the pain that remembering pushes to the front. You can try to sweep it away but it’ll just keep resurfacing. We might as well deal with it right now. Understanding the why, what, how, when and where brings forth truth and it will set you free.

Finally it might involve forgiving others or yourself. This road also leads to freedom.

Wherever you are in the journey, because that’s what it is, the goal is to get to the destination of abundant life. To clear vision. That doesn’t mean we’ve reached perfection because we never will this side of heaven. What it does mean is we are no longer mastered by our fear, our sin, our hate, our whatever. It means we have clarity and can make good decisions. It might mean facing a new layer that needs unfolding. Because there’s always one more that needs attention. It’s just the way it is. But fear can’t hold us back any longer. Truth and joy replace the anxiety and anger, which ushers in the path to victory.

We might get brave and try something new. Newness breathes life back into our weary souls. It stimulates the mind. It brings joy. Instead of berating ourselves for being scared, we are proud of accomplishing something, of being courageous. It doesn’t even have to be a big thing. It can be something as small as trying out a new restaurant. Taking a class to learn something we’ve always wanted to do. Deviating away from the old normal. Start a new normal. Get a tattoo. Or funky new glasses.

The Call to Fly

There is freedom waiting for you,

On the breezes of the sky,

And you ask, “What if I fall?”

Oh but my darling,

What if you fly?  

Erin Hanson

I fell in love with this quote the other day.  Someone posted the last bit on social media and it claimed me on a very deep and personal level.  The picture with the quote was of a child dressed up in faery wings.  I imagined the scene between a child and a parent.  Which one am I?  I know immediately.  What about you?  Which one are you?

I didn’t arrange this honestly, but the theme of bravery has been coursing through my life for a while now.  Which is why it’s popping up in my blog a lot.  My husband is preaching on it.  (No, we are not collaborating!)  I’ve been studying Esther.  I just finished the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, which has a discourse on bravery running through all three books.  “Be Brave” is the motto of one of the groups or factions and the main character wrestles with what this really means, to be brave.  So when I read this quote, I immediately saw it through the filter of bravery and fear.

So often we are afraid to try.  Fear strangles the breath and life out of everything and only dark remains.  “What if I fall?” we whisper to ourselves.  When did self-preservation become the be all and end all of life?  Better not expect too much.  Expectations equal disappointment, right?  Aim low.

I’ve fallen for these lies.  Now I’m shoving them back from where they came.  The people who are happiest in life, no, the people who are most content with their lives are the people who at least tried.  As Mark said yesterday.  They jumped.  Chances are they ended up flying too.  Maybe not at first but eventually.  They didn’t give up.  They kept jumping because their goal was to fly.  Their focus was not falling.  They are the brave.

Here’s another little gem I found a few years back.  Hanson’s poetry made me think of it:  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.”  – Marianne Williamson, from Return to Love.

There’s more but it’s too long to put here.  This made me think that maybe sometimes it’s not that we are afraid to fall but we are afraid of the flying.  Especially sometimes in church circles, flying is frowned upon.  Shhh.  You didn’t hear it from me but it’s true.  It gets mixed up in the highly competitive and comparison driven world we live in.  An egocentric driven success is not what I’m talking about here.  Anywhere pride lives, well, as my son says, “It’s messed up.”

People will always want to put a label on your flying or light.  At times it makes us want to hide it under a bushel so to speak.  A blogger I follow, Adelle Gabrielson writes about shining in her blog.  Williamson’s quote brought her blog to mind.  We need to shine!  “Playing small does not serve the world.”  What would have happened had Paul played it small?  “Oh I’m such a bad person.  I can’t possibly go and preach the good news.  What would people think?”

What about Peter or Deborah?  Your favourite artist?  Billy Graham or Beth Moore?  What about that brilliant prof or coach?  Your own parents?  Would shoving their talents away from the world, do any good whatsoever?  I don’t think so.  I would hate to think what the world would be like without those people who made a difference in our lives.  Who focused on flying rather falling.  If you know people who have let the fear of falling rule their lives, you’ve already witness the damage of not trying.  The light goes out but guess what?  It’s never too late to fan that light back into existence.  It’s not.

Being brave isn’t always about big accomplishments, sometimes it’s about taking the next step.  Getting up out of bed.  Working towards a dream against all odds.  Loving your children even when it’s hard.  Going to work.  Standing up for what you believe.  Some days these are all hard to do.  It takes some courage to do it.  Letting our light shine in the darkness around us.  Although these seem small, they are in fact big.  It’s an oxymoron, I know.

God is calling us to be brave.  To be the person He created us to be.  He asking us to fly.

“But what if I fall?”

His answer? Beloved, I’ve got you if you do.  And every time after, until you fly.