Dear Strong Girl, I See You

Dear Strong Girl,

I see you.

They say the “squeaky wheel gets the oil:  Well, that’s not you.  In fact, most of the time you’re the one with the oil can, quieting the squeaky wheel… the needy friend, the fragile child, the hurting husband, the dark culture, the social injustice.

strong girl leaning on a fence

I see you holding it all together while they fall apart.  I see you putting your needs on the back burner so often that they’ve boiled down to a burnt layer of unidentified crust.   You catch the smell briefly and it’s a reminder of another dish to wash.

I see your loud strength… Your bold, boisterous, brave strength.  I see the way you defend the widows and orphans and underdogs.  I see your Mama Bear Strength when someone comes after your kid, your tribe, the schools and churches and missions you love.  I see the way you are misunderstood and pigeon-holed.  I see the labels they put on you, all the while noting that the next time they need bold, boisterous, and brave, you’re their girl.

I see your quiet strength.  I see your steadfast, serving, show-up strength.  I see the way that families and ministries, care-calendars and friend groups are built on your steady shoulders.  I know the way they all just assume you’ll be there, do the work, organize the thing, send the email.  I know you fear they take you for granted.  Sometimes they do.

I see your big dreams.  I know how overwhelming the passion can feel swirling inside of you… like fire in your bones.  And I see how it threatens them.  You see it too.  Girls who really go for it feel a bit “much.”  I know you want permission.  You want support.  You want the blessing to be strong in a new space.  You may not get it.  Go for it anyway.  I see you.

I see the way some people need you and want you and like to take sanctuary beneath your strength, until they don’t.  They feed off of it until what they want is something a little easier to swallow than truth.  The thing about strength is, it’s strong.  The thing about Strong Girls is they don’t sway and crumble with circumstances or emotions.  That’s cool until it isn’t.  And then I see you alone.  I know that, much to the surprise of everyone around you, you actually feel lonely and question yourself, and wonder how this was the end of the story again.  I see you.  I get it.

I see that your strength is real.  I know it is not a blustery, bossy mask held together by tough words and attention-seeking self-interest.  . It’s not built on bullying others or taking them down.  It shines as you pour your life out again and again and again to those around you.  I know they assume your supply will never end, never run out.  That’s probably not true.  I see the tears you cry in your closet when no one checked on you.  No one returned the favor.  No one thought you might need a bit of what you give so freely… your time, your wisdom, your ear, your strength.  I wish I could sit with you there in the dark, but by the time I get there you’ll be up and at ’em.  No one has time for that kind of self-pity.  Well, no one like you.  Pour on, Strong Girl, but get filled too.  Everyone runs out.

I see you up there on that stage leading well.  Like a Boss, in fact.   I see you and I am for you as you blaze your trail Sister.  And I see you behind, hemming us in with the backbone of your very presence.  I am for you as you mix your strength like cement and hold everyone in place.  That work matters and I see it.

I see you standing like a rock in the middle of a river… The Culture River,  The Unconscious River, The River Selfish. Be careful, Low Integrity Crossing is just up the way.  And there you are, a rock in the middle.  Some will crash into you and curse the reminder you are as they  float away comfortably down stream.  And some will grab hold of you as you rescue them from the current to be so much more.  You’re good like that because you are strong, girl.

I see the people you gather and the causes you champion.  I see the kids you raise and the marriage you fought for until you bled.  I see the friends you saved and the ones lost to the very strength they asked of you.  I hear the songs you sing, the mantras you preach, and the secrets you keep.  I see the home you open, mess and all.  I see the gifts you use, and the ones you hold back.  I see the justice you fight for and the backlash you take.  I see the way you bear other’s burdens, and celebrate their victories like your own.  I see the muscle perseverance and patience and pressing in and all the agains have built..  It looks good on you.  You ARE strong.  I know they all think you “got this”, because let’s face it, you “got this.”   That doesn’t mean you want to do it all.  That doesn’t mean you want to do it alone.  That doesn’t mean you don’t need a safe, soft place every now and then.  I see you.

Maybe the only ones who can see Strong Girls for who they truly are, are other Strong Girls. Maybe the only ones who can understand them is someone cut from the same cloth.  Maybe the only ones who don’t feel threatened are those who possess their own strength in spades. It looks different on you than it does on the girl in the mirror, but familiar all the same.

They will misunderstand you… stand on truth anyway.  They will use you… give anyway.  They will hurt you… love anyway.  They will leave you… offer your hand anyway.  They will take you for granted… serve anyway.  They will hold on to you too tightly, let you go too easily, need you too much, ignore your loneliness too long., love your strength, and then resent it… Be you anyway.  I get it.   I see you and you’re beautiful.

Open Door Callings

Open Door Callings

Calling.  It is a bit of a buzz word in Christian culture today.  And for everyone of us who gets passionate about the subject of our “calling” I believe there are at least as many of us who get annoyed, or discouraged, or feel shame.

I know because that used to be me.

Not very long ago I was standing on the annoyed-discouraged-shamed hill looking over at the perceived “called” ones, all joyful and fulfilled on their hill, and I couldn’t figure out how to cross the space in between.  And honestly, I didn’t know if I wanted to.  Something felt flashy and superficial about those pretty “callings” and something felt a little more holy and gritty down here in the martyred trenches of “real life.”  “Oh brother,” I would think.  “Who has the time or energy for a calling?  My calling is to keep these kids alive.  My calling is to not kill my husband.  Maybe I can muster the ambition to read the Bible after I catch up on sleep/housework/laundry/ (fill in all the blanks to infinity). Is that a calling?  Whatever.”  And I was prideful.  And I was jealous.  And I was anemic and desperate for an adventure with Jesus that would rescue me from my hill.

And then I realized that I didn’t have to cross the chasm between the hills.  I did not have to tumble down one side and scale the other.  There was no magical bridge spanning the distance.

There was a door.  And it was open.

Open Door Callings

You see, when I did get that Bible out, I couldn’t get away from the idea of calling, of fruitfulness, of this whole thing having to turn outward at some point to really be the point.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  John 15:8

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit- fruit that will last -and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”  John 15:16

“For we are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have command you.”  Matthew 28:19-20

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore to send out workers into his harvest field. Go!”  Luke 10:2-3

So, the open door… I began praying earnestly, humbly about my “calling,” my “what else,” my “fruitfulness,” my “good works.”  I had to lay down the mantle of harried stay-at-home mom just trying to get a shower.  I had to put down the shovel that was digging me further into the trenches of martyrdom, and genuinely ask.  And He answered.  He does that you know.  When we shut up for a moment with all of our complaining and justifying and whining (or is that just me?), He likes to speak to His children.  He likes to let us in on His plans for our lives, even if it’s just a little sliver at a time.  He has a lot to say to a humble, quiet, seeking, patient, surrendered heart.  He told me some things He wanted to do in my life.  He spoke clearly into my calling and He told me the things I would do (and with that so many things I would not do. For every yes there is a no).

The first open door I had to walk through was to choose believe it.

My first open door off of the fruitless hill of shame and discouragement was simply belief.  And I didn’t just secretly believe it in my heart.  Y’all, I wrote it down on the last page of my journal.  I boldly proclaimed in black and white, “I will be: _______,  _______,  and _______.”   Next He invited me through the open door of telling another human being what I thought my calling was.  Guts much?  I mean that feels risky, and presumptuous.  It feels like you are officially turning in your uniform, your allegiance for one team and bravely putting on a new one.  And what if it doesn’t happen?  And what if I look stupid?  And what if they judge me (you know, like I had been judging so many others before)?  It was a risky door down the corridor of calling but I timidly stepped through.

And before I knew it, there was another door opening to me, and another.  Not flashy doors.  Not doors that led to huge stages or followings or fame.  But new doors that led to fresh air and another “yes” from the Lord.  And it struck me that it just may be this simple.  Our calling just may be to walk through the open door in front of us.  I don’t think we need to manufacture the door, or crow-bar it open, just step through.  Maybe it gets super complicated when we spend more time looking at someone else’s calling rather than at the door standing in front of us.

Lately I have been reading through the Old Testament, following Abraham’s decedents, the Israelites, from promise, to slavery, to rescue, to wandering, to Promised Land.  God tells his people over and over that He will give them this land, that He will go before them and fight their battles, that they are to be strong and courageous and take their Promised Land.  But then I came across a few interesting verses in Deuteronomy 2.  Moses is recounting the 40 years in the wilderness and he says that God finally told him they were ready to head to Canaan, their Promised Land.  Along the way God says, “Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your relatives the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir.  They will be afraid of you, but be very careful.  Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on.” (Deut. 2:4-5). He says a similar thing about the Moabites in verse 9 declaring, “I will not give you any parts of their land,”  and about the Ammonites in verse 19 saying, “I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites.”  

I find these verses so interesting in the middle of all the “TAKE THE PROMISED LAND! DO NOT BE AFRAID! GO FOR IT!” pep rallies.  God is saying, “This is the door I have opened for you.  This is what I have called you to.  This is your Promise.  Right here.  Come this way.  But be careful… That is their land, that is their’s to possess, not yours.  That is what I have called them to.. You can’t have that.”

Do you remember the scene from “Monster’s Inc.” with all the doors?  There were certain doors for certain monsters to walk through, leading them to their own jobs.  I think heaven may have a room like that.  Each of us have doors with our names on them, with our calling behind them, with fruitfulness waiting on the other side.  And just like in the movie, chaos may  ensue when we are swinging around in the maze of everyone else’s doors… all the while ours is ready and open for us.  It may be a small door and you may not even recognize its threshold as you sit at that lunch, answer that call to serve, intercede for that injustice, do that thing that just comes naturally.  But until you walk through the first one, you won’t see the next.

So if you are still on the seemingly “un-called” hill, know that really you are not.  If you can’t find an open door right now, then use this waiting time to train.  Read books about what you want to do/gets you fired up/feel passionate about/are good at. Pray.  Follow along as someone walks that path ahead of you.  That way, when the door does open, you aren’t starting at a 0.  You will be strong and ready.  God does His best training in the waiting.

And if you have timidly wrote a big dream in the back of your journal then under it write Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.. For everyone who asks receives, the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Believe it.  And  I challenge you to tell someone.  Scary?  Yep.  But Hebrews 10:38 says, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”  He takes no pleasure in our bitterness, in our envy, in our judgement, in our discouragement… It is to His glory that we bear much fruit.  So take a step through your door, timidly, boldly, just step.  And cheer someone else on as they walk through theirs.  Like so many things in the Christian faith , it is not easy, it take guts, but I think it is much simpler than we’ve made it.   And remember:

“The one who calls you is faithful, and HE WILL DO IT.”  I Thessalonians 2:14

My Too Much

too much + not enough

I think I have spent much of my life feeling like too much and not enough all at the same.  Only a woman could find herself there!  My grandmother, my precious Nannie, was famous for saying, “Everything in moderation.”  Maybe there were a generation of grandmothers who were famous for saying that very thing.  It imprinted on my heart at an early age and I have spent the last 4 decades trying to find the elusive moderation she held in such high regard… That perfect balance of high and low, work and rest, too much and not enough.

So, let me go ahead and let you in on my “too much and not enough-ness.”  I tend to be too disciplined, which makes me not spontaneous enough.  I have a tendency be too structured which makes me not flexible enough.  I have been known to be too black and white on most subjects which makes me not compassionate enough.  I am inclined to be too driven which makes me not fun enough.  I am too task-oriented which makes me not sleep enough.  There are times and subjects about which I am too emotional which leaves me not objective enough.  I know my too much and not enough-ness.  No one has to point them out to me. I feel them down in my marrow.  They play like an annoying song on repeat in my head.

I have gone through seasons of feeling a lot of shame over my “too much and not enough-ness.”  I have listened to the lies that told me I had to hide it, overcome it, pretend it away.  And if none of that worked, well I should just isolate myself, not let myself be known, shut my mouth because “everything in moderation” you know.

And then God blessed me with a circle of fierce friends to walk this road of womanhood, faith, motherhood, and marriage with.  And do you know what I realized when I got in there deep with them?  They are all too much and not enough too!  Just in different ways… I have friends who are really into eating well and health, very involved in social justice, extremely focused on education for their children, exceptionally tuned in to intimacy with their husbands, particularly concerned with finances.  And I know that their “too much-ness” leaves gaps of  “not enough-ness” in their lives too.

too much + not enough

In my hiding and pretending years I might have judged their too much and not enough.  I may have defended my too much by focusing on their not enough all the while wishing desperately I had a sliver of it.  And then a beautiful thing happened… On my 40th birthday, my darling friends went around and told me the thing that they loved and respected the most about me.  And every single one mentioned some part of my “too much.”  They respect how disciplined I am in my time in the Word, how hard I work to make my home a place where others feel welcomed, how driven I am to find and fulfill God’s calling on my life.  My too much inspired and encouraged their not enough-ness just as their’s does mine.

It’s not rocket science.  It is the body of Christ. 

I Corinthians.12: 12 says, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”  Verses 15-20 go on to read, “Now if the foot should say, ”Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”

Here is a bit of a paraphrase: “Now if the behind-the-scenes servant should say to the hostess, because I am not a hostess I am not enough.”  And if the hostess should say to the behind-the-scenes servant, “because I am not a behind-the-scenes servant I’m too much in the wrong ways and I have no place, it would not be true for either.  If the disciplined student of the Word who was raised in church and has been walking with Jesus since she could walk should say to the radically saved, passionate convert, because my witness is not dramatic, I am not relative enough,  And if the powerfully converted sinner and novice Bible student should say to the long-time saint because I do not know enough I will keep quiet, it would not render either ineffective.”

The foot needs the hand.  The eye needs the ear.  My structured, disciplined, driven self needs my friend’s spontaneity and light heartedness, and (sometimes a romance guru.). And I trust they need my too much too.

Obviously we know that there are some places of too much that are simply sin… too much wine is alcoholism, too much work is workaholism, too many rules is legalism, too much rest is laziness.

But we also know that our God is a God of abundance, not moderation.

He is abundant in grace, and love, and in giving good gifts to His children.  And maybe, it is there in our too much that we find our gifts and His unique calling on our life.  Maybe when we press in and refine our too much, rather than try to hide it, we find that it is, in fact, just right.  When we let Him be enough in our not enough-ness we are then exactly enough.

Oh how I pray you have a circle who love you enough to tell you that they need your too much for their not enough.  How I pray that you find the courage to come out of hiding to tell a friend on this journey that her too much inspires and encourages you in your not enough-ness.  And when it is our turn, let’s tell our daughters and granddaughters of God’s abundance.  To be “too much” is in His character and He is all for their, for our, for your abundance.  Only in Him are any of us enough.