Tastefully Trendy

A life and fashion blog by Sarah Beth

Tag: Wednesday’s Woman

Wednesday’s Woman: the one who doesn’t exist

There are a billion (slight hyperbole) examples of women in the Bible that we can study and learn from.  I love that, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve spent the last few months looking at them on Wednesdays.  The women in Scripture have a lot to teach us.

But you know who’s not in the Bible that I really wish were?  Someone exactly like me.  Someone who grew up in the church, became a Christian at a young age, wrestled with some things and came back to the Lord, still wrestles with some things…

We get a lot of snippets of women in the Bible, but there’s not really any character that we get to follow throughout her whole life; certainly none that we see on a daily basis.  Other than Jesus, there aren’t even any male characters we get to see the whole way through – some of the kings, maybe, and Moses.

Perhaps, David is the best example – we see him as a shepherd boy, then killing Goliath, then as fugitive, then as king, then as father.  But other than the glaring sin of adultery with Bathsheba, David kinda seems to have it all together.  Sure, he laments his fate in the Psalms, but ultimately, he stays pretty tight with God throughout his whole life.

I want to see the Bible character who really struggles through his (or preferably her) faith.  Who isn’t necessarily committing the big, notorious, make-it-into-the-Bible sins, but who agonizes over wondering why, if God really loves her, she doesn’t quite feel that way.  Or who trudges through the questions of why she isn’t married or doesn’t have children or has lost a loved one.  Someone who questions what it actually means to live “in” the world, but not “of” it, and maybe sometimes (often) fails at that.  Someone who legitimately “works out her salvation with fear and trembling”, and in the end, comes out victorious.

That’s a person I could really relate to.  I take encouragement from the snippets of stories we read in the Bible, and glean the appropriate applications.  But, really, there’s no one just like me.   So, sometimes, I feel a little alone in my struggles – like I’m completely dropping the ball, while all the other good Christians out there are winning gold stars on their heavenly report cards.

Of course I know that’s not the case. I realize that no one is perfect, and that even David committed more than just the one sin recorded in Scripture. But wouldn’t it be nice to really see an example of the struggle?  To have someone to look to that did have doubts and questions and difficulties, and yet overcame?  Someone whose spiritual journey wasn’t just rainbows and butterflies and unwavering faith?

While that person may not exist in the Bible, God does still manage to find ways to encourage me when I’m, well, discouraged.

If you haven’t read the devotional, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, I highly recommend it.  Each day’s reading is short and sweet, but always so uplifting.  Here are some excerpts from yesterday’s (July 14) entry:

Keep walking with Me along the path I have chosen for you.  Your desire to live close to Me is a delight to My heart. I could instantly grant you the spiritual riches you desire, but that is not My way for you. Together we will forge a pathway…the journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now your walk is often plodding and heavy. All I require of you is to take the next step, clinging to My hand for strength and direction…

What I most appreciated about this devotion was the acknowledgement and validation that it’s okay for me to struggle.  God knows my walk is hard; He knows that I want to be close to Him and don’t feel like I am sometimes.  But, He’s not about instant gratification, and, to paraphrase my favorite verse, He knows I will reap a harvest if I will not give up (Galatians 6:9).

So, while we may not have a true Biblical example of a real-life journey, I hope perhaps the lessons I’m learning will be encouraging to you.  Or, if not mine specifically, that you can find your own Jesus Calling – a devotional that speaks to your heart – and some examples of other people who have been there, done that, lived imperfect lives, and still managed to keep going, reaping a harvest all along the way.

Who inspires you in your walk?  Have you found a Biblical example you can really relate to, or do you more closely look to other mentors and leaders as examples?  What are some of the ways you keep yourself motivated when the going gets tough?  I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday’s Woman: The Woman at the Well

Yesterday, I shared a story from Humans of New York on my facebook page.  Since I think probably all of you are my facebook friends, you may have seen it.  But, in case not, here it is:

“Seven years ago, I was sitting on the ledge of a thirteenth floor window. I’d tried to quit drinking so many times but I couldn’t do it, and I’d finally given up. My mind was racing through all the shameful things I’d done, and I kept hearing this voice saying: ‘Jump you piece of shit. Jump you piece of shit.’ So I put my hands over my ears and started rocking back and forth on the window ledge. Suddenly I heard this small, still voice: ‘Say a prayer,’ it said. And I didn’t want to hear it. It was kind of like your mother knocking on the door while you’re watching porn. But then I heard it again: ‘Say a prayer.’ So I started praying, and I totally surrendered, and I felt an evil presence leave me. And I just kept saying: ‘I can’t believe you still love me. I can’t believe you still love me.’ Then I cleaned up my room, threw away my baggies of coke, took a shower, and went to work.”

I’ve been wanting to talk about shame for a couple weeks now.  It’s something that I’ve struggled with, that many of my friends have struggled with, and based on this guy’s story, I’m thinking that people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and experiences struggle with.

I’m guessing that it’s also something that the woman at the well struggled with.  Take a minute to re-read the story in John 4.  Jesus is traveling along and stops at a well for water, where a Samaritan woman comes to draw water.  I’m not going to get into all the cultural things about Jews and Samaritans, but suffice it to say, the Samaritans were not a well-liked people group.  This woman probably carried shame simply because of the race she was born into.  And, the fact that she was drawing water in the middle of the day suggests that she was trying to avoid meeting other people at the well – perhaps because she was also ashamed of what we soon learn about her: that she has been married 5 times and was currently shacking up with a 6th man.

When Jesus met her, though, He engaged with her in a way that did not leave her feeling shamed or condemned.  Don’t get me wrong, He didn’t let her get away with her sin – He’s the one that introduces us to her past in the first place.  Yet, somehow, instead of running away and avoiding her pain as has been her pattern, when Jesus spoke to her, this woman heard something that drew her closer to the only One who can take away her disgrace, the only One who can help her once again love herself, despite her past.  This woman was so moved by her encounter with Jesus that she went and told her whole town about Him and as a result, many of them were also forever changed.

So often, our sin makes us run from God.  It makes us abandon our quiet times because we just feel too guilty.  It makes us try to bury the pain in food or busy-ness or, like the Samaritan woman, unfulfilling relationships.  It makes us doubt that God could still love us and makes us want to stop trying altogether, even if not in quite as drastic a fashion as the guy in our Humans of New York story.

Yet, that’s the exact opposite of what God’s plan is!  When we engage with Him as the Samaritan woman did, He doesn’t let us get away with our sin, brushing it under the rug, or pretending it doesn’t matter.  But, He points it out in such a kind, gentle way, that instead of making us feel terrible about how bad we are, it makes us want to change – and gives us the ability to do so, just like our coke-addicted friend above. And, this change makes us want to know Him more, and to tell everyone else about it. This ripple effect is a perfect example of His strength being made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  He takes even our sins and uses them for His glory, working them for our benefit and for that of those around us (Rom. 8:28).

Are you carrying a burden of shame around with you?  Speaking from experience, I know it’s so draining and depressing and exhausting.  While I’ve never sat on the ledge of a 13th story, I can understand this guy’s sentiment of being so ashamed of what you’ve done that you just want to give up.  But, let’s not give up!  If God can heal a woman as broken as the woman at the well, lifting her shame and using her to bring many more people to freedom, He can – and will – do the same for us.  Let’s not run away anymore, but give our shame and disgrace and pain to God and see what He will do.

Samaritan Woman

 

Wednesday’s Woman: Esther II

I’ve been thinking a little more about our queen, Esther, and I think she deserves another post.  Not because I didn’t like my first one – it was inspired by Tim Tebow, so of course it was moving.  And not just because she’s a queen, although you know I love royalty.  But, Esther has a lot more to teach us and speaks to a place I’m currently in.  I suspect maybe some of you are, too.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Esther was, essentially, trafficked and probably a very scared and lonely teenage girl.  We’re not told much about her emotions in this story, but I think it’s safe to assume what I said above was true (especially, since she was an orphan, anyway, and now had been taken from her cousin, too).  However, in her captivity, God gave Esther a friend in the eunuch, and he helped her prepare to be the best candidate for queen that she could be.  Esther followed his advice to the letter, and in the end, she was chosen to be the queen, and as a result, positioned to save her entire people from destruction.

While she was in this holding period, Esther could have – and would have had every justification –  pouted, felt sorry for herself, and completely wasted her preparation time.  She could have disregarded the eunuch’s instructions, as he was the king’s employee, and therefore, part of her captivity.  She could have been proud and assumed she knew what was best for her life.

Instead, Esther was humble and obedient and made the most of her time (12 months) of isolation and beauty prep (honestly, though – I would have a hard time saying no to 12 months of beauty prep).  She did not lie around in self-pity or try to take short-cuts to speed up the process – she followed through on what was required of her, and in the end, her hard work and diligence paid off in a major way for her, her family, and her people.

When I first moved to Georgia, I decided that I was going to treat my transition period (which has turned out to take longer than I expected) as a season of preparation, focusing on myself and personal growth – spiritually, physically, and just as a general well-rounded person.  Of course, in my mind, I was preparing for marriage – becoming “Mrs. Right”, and all that.  I suppose I needed more prep than most.

However, I haven’t always been faithful to focus on this growth.  I think in some ways I’ve matured, but in many other ways, I’ve spent a whole lot of time feeling sorry for myself and resenting being alone.  So, I’m challenged by Esther to change my attitude and make the most of this season as I’m waiting for the next.  One of my mentors always said, “preparation time is never wasted time.”   Really, we’re all in preparation for something – whether that be marriage, kids, empty nest, education, a new job – so, if we wasted our time when we should be preparing, we’d never be ready for the next step.  And, perhaps most significantly, as we prepare ourselves for the future, we’re bettering ourselves in the present.

What are you in preparation for?  Have you been a good steward of your time, or have you, like me, squandered it in self-pity or mindless/unintentional “waiting”?   I’m making a pledge to take some active steps towards preparing myself for the next season of my life, and here are a few of my ideas:

  • Physical goals: taking care of my skin and body.  I want my husband to be happy with his choice, even if we don’t get married until we’re 85 (an increasingly likely scenario) – I’ll be the most toned 85 year old that nursing home has ever seen.
  • Financial goals: thanks to Dave Ramsey, I’m super inspired to get my finances in order.  I’ve never been in bad shape financially, but I don’t really have much to offer a future partner (or even future me, for that matter).  With Dave’s plan, I’ll probably be a millionaire by next month.  (Or at least, have paid off my student loans).
  • Spiritual goals: to find my validation solely in the Lord so that when my husband doesn’t validate me as I’d like (I’m realistic enough to acknowledge this will happen eventually), my world doesn’t fall apart, even if only temporarily.

Those are some of mine that I’m working on right now, to become a better me today, so I can be a better wife (and mom) tomorrow (figuratively, of course, but I’d be okay if that tomorrow was literal).

What are some of your goals – do you have some practical steps to take to achieve them? Please share some of yours and let’s inspire each other toward greater versions of ourselves!

Esther pt. 2

 

Wednesday’s Woman: Anna

There are three little verses in Luke that I just love.  Since it’s such a short passage, I’ll just write it out here:

 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.  – Luke 2:36-38

 It’s not a particularly profound passage; if you blink, you miss it altogether.  But, I love it for the beautiful gift of honor God bestowed on this faithful woman.

The Scripture is unclear as to whether Anna was 84 or had been widowed for 84 years.  Regardless, she was old, and she had spent those years in complete service to God, worshiping Him day in and day out.  And God rewarded her in the most unbelievable way possible – He allowed her to meet His baby Son.  After serving God for so long, I can’t imagine Anna wanting anything more than to see the promised Savior, and that’s exactly what the Lord gave her.  Not only that, He ensured her legacy of faithfulness would continue for millennia by recording her story in the Bible.

Isn’t that sweet?  Of all the people who could have met Jesus at the temple that day, God chose one of them to be a woman, demonstrating His kindness not only to her, but to all women by including them in His Son’s story.  And, He showed us that the rewards for faithfulness to Him are truly above and beyond anything that we could imagine (you know I love Eph. 3:20-21).

So don’t give up, friends.  Sometimes serving God is really hard.  But, He does not forget about us – even when we’re 84 – and He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6).

Anna

I can’t help but think Anna was a little bit of a hippy.  I really wanted to find a t-shirt for her that just said LOVE on the front, but I had trouble locating it.  You’ll just have to imagine.

Wednesday’s Woman: Sarah

When I wrote about Hagar a few weeks ago, I mentioned Sarah as a central character in the story, but I kinda bashed her a little.  I’ve felt a little guilty about it since then – are you allowed to say something negative about the matriarch of all Judaism and Christianity (and Islam, for that matter)?  But, really, I just don’t care a whole lot for Sarah’s attitudes and behaviors.

I knew I’d eventually find something redeeming in her story, though (to read the whole thing, check out Genesis 11-23).  She’s a major female figure in the Bible; I couldn’t totally throw her aside, no matter how unexemplary I thought she was.  But, I didn’t anticipate finding that lesson quite so soon.

The other night, I was having a dramatic moment of feeling sorry for myself about something (as is frequently the case.  #GrowthArea).  My emotions were in upheaval, and as I was thinking/half-talking to God about it, I wondered who in the Bible might have felt as I did – what could I learn from his/her experience?  (Side note: this going to the Bible for examples is a new thing for me – really since I’ve started this feature on the blog.  Maybe that was the whole point?).

Anyway, immediately, Sarah popped into my head.  Sarah is a woman who had long been promised something she had never seen fulfilled, and wouldn’t until she was 90.   While the Bible doesn’t detail it, I can only imagine Sarah’s heart was broken over not being able to conceive, and I’m sure she spent many nights crying herself to sleep over crushed dreams and feelings of rejection or worthlessness.  It probably seemed to her that all of her hopes would never be realized, no matter what God had said to Abraham, and the fact that she laughed when the angel told her she would become pregnant seems to prove she had completely given up.

Yet, God had not given up on her, nor would He, despite Sarah’s best attempts to mess up everything.  Sarah’s attitude was terrible, yet God honored His promises to her.  She laughed at His messenger, yet He blessed her with her heart’s desire.  She tried to make things happen herself by giving Hagar to Abraham, only to turn around and scorn the servant woman and her son; yet, God’s goodness remained steady, and in His faithfulness and love, He upheld His end of the bargain.

How many times are we like Sarah?  I know that my attitude is often embarrassingly poor, my trust in God plummets, and I try my hardest to mess up all His plans through my sin and stubbornness – intentionally or unintentionally.  I say I believe His promises, that He is always good, and that His plans for me are for my benefit, but when push comes to shove, I don’t always act like that’s true.

But, no matter how many times we act like Sarah, God still acts like God.  No matter what we do to push Him away, He always comes back.  He never forgets or neglects to fulfill His promises to us, and in this kindness, He woos us back to His side, time and time again.

Are there dreams in your life that are unfulfilled, or promises that you’ve yet to see come to pass?  Don’t give up hope – God will come through, even if we have to wait until we’re 90.  And, don’t condemn yourself if you’ve messed up.  Of course you have.  We all have – probably in more ways than we even know.  But, God is bigger than that, and His love is not conditional on our behavior.

So, chin up!  Do something nice for yourself today – a Starbucks treat, a walk around the block, a pedicure, new shoes – and consider it a gift from the Lord who loves you and will fulfill all that He has promised at the most perfect time.

Sarah

I picked Lilly Pulitzer as the basis of today’s outfit, in part, because I’m making a (VERY) subtle statement of my displeasure that Target sold out of their Lilly line in literally minutes and I got none. 🙁  But, also, because Lilly is a symbol of wealth and the care-free life it theoretically affords. I can just picture 90 year old gorgeous Sarah hanging out in West Palm, sipping her green smoothie, and sporting the latest in colorful resort wear, can’t you?

Wednesday’s Woman: Esther

I’ve been waiting to talk about Esther.  Along with Ruth, Esther is the super star woman of the Bible, and I didn’t want to talk about her just because it was expected.  I wanted to have something worth saying.  Thanks to Tim Tebow, I finally do.

This past Sunday, I heard Tebow speak at a church in Knoxville, and he touched on a lot of things.  But, one that especially stood out to me was how he has used the platform given him. If you know about Tebow at all, you know there are a million examples of him being a Good Samaritan.  But, you probably also know that he wore Bible verses written in his eye black during college.  When Florida won the national championship in 2008, Tebow put John 3:16 in his eye black.  As a result, 94 million people googled the verse that is the crux of Christianity.

Exactly 3 years later, Tebow beat the Steelers in overtime during the NFL playoffs.  In an unbelievable turn of events, he threw for 316 yards, the time of possession was 31 minutes, 6 seconds, the viewing percentage was 31.6 percent – just a few of the 3:16 references in that game.  Totally unbeknownst to Tim, his actions again influenced a surge in Bible searches, this time with 90 million people looking up the beloved verse.

The number thing is cool, but obviously, the point was that a simple act of obedience to God can influence so many more people than we even realize.  You never know what impact you can have, so make the most of every opportunity.

Enter Esther.

Esther is more of a traditional Cinderella story than Leah’s.  Enslaved like Cinderella, Esther was soon promoted to queen through both her kindness (to the eunuch in charge of preparing her to meet the king) and beauty.  But, unlike Cinderella, Esther’s story did not end there.  Rather, she was in a unique position of being able to save her entire people – the Jews – from annihilation.  But, since no one knew she was Jewish, and since the king issued the order in the first place, and since even the queen did not have free access to the throne, Esther took a huge risk in approaching the king.

Fortunately, Esther’s risk paid off and her entire race was saved.  But, had she not stepped out in faith – had she not been obedient – everyone she cared about would have been killed.

Obviously, Tebow’s Scripture eye black is a bit less dramatic than Esther’s risking death, but he’s not in a position to save an entire race of people.  He is, however, in a position to influence millions, and he uses his platform to do just that.

Probably if you’re reading my blog, you don’t have the platform of either Tim Tebow or Esther.  I certainly don’t.  But another thing Tim said is that you never know who is watching you.  No matter what your station in life – student, employee, stay-at-home mom, pastor, choir member, friend – you have people in your sphere of influence.  There is an opportunity to impact those around you, and something as simple as a smile and warm greeting might be all that’s necessary.  Sometimes, you see immediate impact of your actions – death edicts reversed, 94 million people searching the Gospel; sometimes, you see residual results – 90 million people searching the Gospel, 3 years later.  Sometimes you never see the final outcome.  But, what we do does matter and can profoundly change a life for the better.

I don’t want this to be just a nice motivational speech for myself.  I am actively thinking about ways I can be more influential in the Kingdom of God by impacting those around me.  And, I hope you will be challenged by Esther’s and Tim’s examples as I was.  How can you make a difference in the lives of those around you and in the lives of those who are watching?  What small thing(s) is God asking you to do that may alter the course of history – for an entire people, for one person, or even for yourself.  Or, if you’ve already seen God move in this way, please share an encouraging example – I’ve noticed that the more we see God work, the more we want to be part of it!  Let’s grow together.

Esther

I’m positive Esther would have worn this look – it’s almost Kate Middleton-esque.  It’s certainly what I would wear, were I a queen.

Wednesday’s Woman: Leah

Have you all read A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (the author of The Secret Garden)?  I had seen the Shirley Temple movie when I was very little, so I vaguely remembered the story (although now, having read the book and a summary of the movie plot, I see they differed in fairly significant ways).

Regardless, I just read the novel this week, and I’m obsessed.  Of course, it’s about a little girl, Sara Crewe, but even so, I was struck by her kindness and goodness, even in the face of incredible trials, when most any other person would have grown completely bitter – and no one would have blamed them.

The story is a Cinderella one, but little Sara shares more than just a plot line with my most favorite of all literary characters (btw, I liked the Cinderella movie. I like the cartoon better, of course, but I was pleased with how they handled this new live version).  Like Sara, Cinderella seemed to have every right to curse her stepmother and stepsisters, to run away, or at least to put a diuretic in their food.  But, she remained true to her character and her convictions of humility, kindness, and the Golden Rule.

Even Elle Woods, one of my favorite movie characters (Legally Blonde, of course), exhibited this trait.  Despite how unkind everyone was to her when she began Harvard, she did not grow bitter, but remained kind and true to herself, eventually even becoming best friends with her worst enemy.

As I was thinking about the little princess Sara this weekend, realizing that all of my favorite characters share such a common theme, I was struck by something more profound than just that they were all “nice”.  Yes, they were – admirably so.  But, even more noteworthy, they remained faithful under pressure. When there was every reason for them to abandon their beliefs, lash out, retaliate, or just give up altogether, they persevered, believing that circumstances did not warrant a change in behavior or character.

I knew there must be a biblical example of this, so I started thinking, and sure enough, there is: Leah.  Like Hagar, Leah is one woman I had mostly glossed over when I was younger.  She’s certainly not the star of the show (you can read more about her in Genesis 29, especially, but continuing throughout the rest of the book), and as a kid, I always liked the pretty characters – her sister Rachel was like the princess of Genesis.

But, really, if we define a princess more by the character traits of the women described above, Leah is certainly one.  When the story begins, you can hear her pain.  She was given away by her dad to Jacob, a man who did not love her (and didn’t even know she was her until AFTER he’d slept with her…I still am not quite sure how that happened), immediately rejected, and then relegated to sharing her husband with the woman he really loved – her sister.  I mean, it is pretty messed up.

Yet, Leah didn’t rebel or become bitter.  Yes, she was sad – she refers to her situation as her affliction.  Yet, her faith in God remained strong.  I read a sermon once that really changed the way I saw Leah.  You can read the whole thing here if you want, but take a look at Leah’s son’s names.  In each case, she reflected on God’s role in her life: how he saw her and heard her.  Although she’s still trying to earn Jacob’s love by her third son, she has not given up or despaired, and she keeps trusting the Lord, naming her 4th son Judah, saying, “This time, I will praise the Lord.”

Through everything, Leah remained faithful.  Culturally, perhaps her options were limited.  But, behavior wise, she could have chosen any number of outlets for her pain; instead, she chose to place her belief in the Lord, and remain true to her convictions, no matter the circumstances.

Of course, if this is where Leah’s story ended, it would a nice lesson, but still kinda depressing.  But, as with any good princess story, there is a happy ending.  God saw Leah’s faithfulness.  He had given her many sons, yes, but that 4th son – Judah, the one where she praised the Lord – is the one from whose line Jesus would come.  The Savior of the world came as a result of faithfulness, even when life was more than unfair.  Not only that, but Leah did earn Jacob’s love. This is maybe my favorite part, because it shows how God loves to redeem things in our lives. When Jacob died many years later, having outlived both of his wives, his last request was to be buried with Leah.  Not beautiful Rachel, but faithful Leah.  Yes, he had loved Rachel instantly.  But through her character, Leah had earned his love, and when he died, he wanted to be next to her.

It’s a beautiful story.  Pain comes to all of us in different ways, and it is seldom fair.  Yet, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23) ultimately give us the victory.  Of course, we aren’t promised a fairy tale happy ending for every situation.  But we are promised that we will be rewarded in Heaven for our perseverance here on earth (1 Cor. 9:24-25).  One of my favorite verses is Galatians 6:9, and I’ll close with that, as I find it particularly relevant today:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Leah

 

Wednesday’s Woman: Hagar

I had planned to talk about Sarah this week.   She’s the mother of Israel and probably has more scripture dedicated to her than any other woman in the Bible who wasn’t the mother of Jesus.  Also, she and I have the same name, and apparently, she was smoking hot (see Genesis 12 and 20).

For these reasons, I really want to like Sarah. I just have trouble finding much that is redeeming in her story.  I tried this time to read it with open eyes and ears, but still nothing.  God’s going to have to show me something else about her at a later date if He wants me to talk about that woman. Today is not that day.

What reading Sarah’s story did accomplish, though, was pointing me to another woman of the Bible: Hagar.  I’ve always felt so sorry for Hagar.  To catch you up, Hagar was Sarah’s servant.  When Sarah realized she was barren, she sent Hagar in to sleep with Abraham (Sarah’s husband), so that the family line would be preserved.  (This, by the way, is sex trafficking.  Just thought I’d point that out.)

Predictably, when Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarah gets jealous and mistreats her servant.  In her pain, Hagar runs to the desert where she experiences one of the sweetest interactions with the Lord in all of Scripture.  Here is a poor, knocked-up, abused servant girl, lying in the desert, unsure where to go, but thinking anything was better than where she had just been.  And the God of all creation – the one who had promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations – speaks to her in that lowest point.  He promises that He will bless her son, too, and that she should name him Ishmael, meaning God hears.  Then, every time she called her son, she would be reminded that God had heard her and was taking care of and loving her, even when life wasn’t.

Hagar is so moved by this encounter that she also makes up her own name for God, calling him: The One Who Sees Me.  It’s with this comforting knowledge of a God who sees and hears that she then goes back to Sarah as a humbled woman who knows that her God is with her, no matter what else may come her way.

Fast forward 14 years, and Sarah finally has a son, Isaac – the son of God’s promise.  Again, Sarah does not like the threat posed by Hagar and Ishmael, so she sends them away.  In a rather dramatic but obviously desperate moment, Hagar leaves Ishmael alone, walking away from him so that she won’t have to see him die.  She has already forgotten the reason she gave her son his name – God hears.  She’s already forgotten the name she gave to the Lord – the One who sees me.

But, God is merciful in our forgetfulness.  He speaks to Hagar again, reminding her that He still hears, and He has not forgotten His promises to make Ishmael into a great nation.  He remains faithful, even if the circumstances have changed.

How many times have I done the same?  God shows me His faithfulness in such profound ways, and a few years/months/days/hours later, I’m doubting again, convinced that He’s forgotten about me, He no longer sees or hears, and that surely I will (metaphorically) die in the wilderness.  God’s promises might have been true once, but are they still true now, I wonder.

Hagar’s story proves that they are.  God is not a man that He should lie (Number 23:19), and all His promises are yes and amen (2 Corinthians 2:10).  So, why do we forget and doubt?  Who knows.  Maybe it’s just human nature.  Maybe it’s old age.  Regardless, I’m glad that my forgetfulness is not a disqualifier for God’s faithfulness, but that He is patient and kind, even when I question and doubt.

What are some of the promises God has given you that you’re questioning in the “wilderness” of unfulfillment now?  As you reflect on those, take another moment to think about the past times when God has seen and heard you and spoken right to your heart.  He does not change, so if He was there for you before, He will be again.  Cling to that, no matter how desperate the situation seems, and be encouraged by all that God has done in the past, as you seek Him for the future.

Hagar

 

Wednesday’s Woman: Ruth

Ever since I decided to start this new blog feature (so, like, 10 days ago), I’ve had Ruth on my mind.  Growing up in the church as a female, of course I was very familiar with one of the only two women in the Bible who has an entire book named after her – she and Esther get a disproportionate number of Bible studies and women’s meetings assigned to them.

Yet, it’s never really been one of my favorite stories.  There are a whole lot of cultural things going on here that I just do not understand (the mother-in-law/daughters-in-law relationship; the kinsman redeemer; sleeping on the floor at a man’s feet…), and although I obviously like the “romance” and happy ending, I’ve never focused much on the book.

For some reason, though, Ruth’s was the only name that kept coming to mind as I thought about who to discuss this week.  So, I decided to re-read her story and see what God had to show me.  And, of course, I found something I’ve never noticed before (I love that about the Bible).

If you’re unfamiliar or less inundated in Ruth’s story than me, take a minute to go check it out.  It’s a quick read.

As Ruth goes out to the fields to gather the scraps left behind by the harvesters so she and her mother in law Naomi wouldn’t starve (side note: I’ve been told if this type of gleaning were common practice, we could end world hunger.  Food for thought.  No pun intended.), she winds up in a field that belongs to a man named Boaz.  Here comes the cultural part I don’t quite understand, but the gist is that Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s and one of the only men who could restore to the family what had been lost through the death of Naomi’s husband and sons.  Ruth didn’t know any of this; she was just out trying to get some grain.

The NIV says that Ruth went to work, and “as it turned out”, found herself in Boaz’s field (Ru 2:3).  Other versions says, “she happened” to stop at his property.  I LOVE THAT!!!!  Here is Ruth, simply caring for her MIL, going about the daily business of being impoverished, and as if by sheer coincidence, she “happens” upon the field of the man who can completely turn things around for her.   Only, of course, it’s not coincidence at all.  God knew exactly where Ruth needed to glean, and He led her to that field, where Boaz would notice her and His whole perfect plan would be set in motion.

So often, I’ve found myself wondering how my life is going to work out – where I’ll meet that guy or what my 5 and 10 year plan will be, worrying about how all the pieces will fall into place. There is so much that I don’t know or see, but in that little “as it turned out” clause is a sweet reminder that God’s got things under control.  As I’m going about my daily business, He’s working behind the scenes, leading me each step of the way so that I am in position when the plan begins to unfold and I can finally see the fruit of what He’s been doing all along.  My responsibility is simply to remain close to Him so that He can lead me and show me all that He has in store.

A friend recently (and quite out of the blue, which made it even better) reminded me that God is always working, and that the answers to our prayers can come in a day, just like they did for Ruth. Her divine “meet-cute” set things in motion that would lead not only to food on the table, but an escape from poverty altogether, a marriage, a new family, and a place in the lineage of Jesus.  And as is always the case when God works in our lives, His plan wasn’t just a blessing for Ruth, but many other people benefited as well: Boaz, who gained a wife and soon after, a son; Naomi, who went from bitter to blessed; and God’s own Son who would be a direct descendant of Ruth.  It boggles my mind to try to comprehend God working so many different moving parts – and parts with free will at that – into a cohesive whole that blesses all of His children and also glorifies Him…but He’s amazingly big enough to do all of that.  It’s pretty spectacular to think about.

So, just as Hannah encouraged us to keep praying last week, let Ruth encourage us to have faith behind our prayers, because in one day, God can completely transform our lives, doing exceedingly above all that we could even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20 – one of my favorites).  And that transformation can have an impact that will live on for millenia, if we will only trust Him to do His work in His time, while we simply walk in obedience to what we know to do right now.

Oh, and by the way, we’ll talk about Rahab soon, I’m sure, but she, the prostitute from Jericho, was Boaz’s mother.  Apparently, he came from good stock, and because his own mom was a non-Hebrew, perhaps that made him more willing to marry Ruth, a girl from Moab.  Just one more way that God is working even before we’re born to prepare us for His great plans.

Ruth

 

Wednesday’s Woman: Hannah

You may have noticed a new category along my fancy menu bar at the top of the site – “Wednesday’s Woman.”  Allow me to explain…

Sometime last week, my boss was looking for stories of women in the Bible who were industrious.  We thought of a couple off the tops of our heads, but I said I’d do some research.  What I found was there are a MILLION women in the Bible!  None of the stories I found were ones I didn’t know, but I’d never seen them en masse, and the collection was such an encouraging reminder of how much God really loves women.  While I’ve been fortunate enough never really to have experienced gender discrimination – either from family pressures, the church, or society at large – I know many women have.  But, that’s so not biblical!  God used women in so many different ways, giving them credit by the most incredible means possible: telling their stories in Scripture!

So, although it’s not directly related to either fashion or that single life, I wanted to study these women more, and I thought you might want to join in.  So, every Wednesday, I’ll feature a different woman from the Bible and we’ll discuss her impact.  But, because I don’t want to completely abandon why I started this blog in the first place – and because I think it will be fun (for me, anyway) – I’m also going to create an outfit that I think captures the essence of the woman in discussion: her character, lifestyle, etc.  Basically, what she might wear, were she alive today.  If you’ve ever seen the DisneyBound tumblr (if not, go check it out; it’s so fun!), it’ll be kinda like that.  Only from the Bible.

I hope you’ll like this series.  I’m excited about it.  If you hate it, let me know, and I’ll see how I can adjust.  But, if you do like it, have thoughts, comments, further insight, encouragement…whatever!, please don’t hesitate to share.  Let’s all join in on the fun!

I know this post is already a little long, but I want to go ahead and start with the first Wednesday’s Woman, if that’s alright.  So, refill your coffee or grab a snack, and let’s dive on in!

——

Hannah is very special to me, and I thought she was the perfect first Wednesday’s Woman because of how God has used her to encourage me in That Single Life, too.  If you’re unfamiliar or a little rusty on the story, I’ll do a quick summary (the whole thing can be found in 1 Samuel 2).

Hannah was childless.  This was a big deal.  Not only because of cultural and biological pressures, but because her husband’s OTHER wife was not childless, and she mocked Hannah relentlessly.  (Pause for a moment – can I just express how happy I am that I will never have to be a sister wife?  I cannot even imagine.)

Anyway, while Hannah’s husband loved her deeply, despite her inability to give him children, her heart’s desire was for a child.  She cried out to the Lord year after year, begging him to hear her and grant her request, eventually reaching a point of prayerful desperation where the high priest asked if she were drunk.  Of course she wasn’t, but her cries did not go unnoticed, and God did hear Hannah, giving her a son, Samuel, who would eventually become one of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history, and the one to anoint both Saul and David as Israel’s first and second kings.

I love this story for many reasons.  One, God cares about the desires of our hearts.  I don’t say this in a name it, claim it kind of way.  But He knows what’s important to us, and because we are important to Him, He cares about that.  That’s precious to me.

Two, while Hannah did have to wait for God’s answer, it came.  And it came in a big way!  God not only answered her actual request, but He answered the one that she hadn’t asked – that her son would become a great man who would be a leader of the entire nation.  When God says He will do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20-21), He means it.

But, the real reason I love Hannah’s story is because God reminded me of it at a desperate time in my own life.  I had just stopped seeing someone who I did not love, but had nevertheless allowed to stomp on my heart. I was sad about the loss of him, but (as is often the case in my breakups), I was more upset about the loss of something.  Without that guy, I was back to nothing – with no prospects in sight.  Again.

As I was praying about it – and crying – something reminded me of Hannah.  Other than the Holy Spirit, I have no idea what prompted me; hers is not a story I really think about often, or even knew that well.  But in that moment, I eagerly flipped to 1 Samuel, and as I read, my heart was encouraged.  Hannah cried out to God, and He heard her.  God doesn’t mind our tears.  In that moment, I felt like He was saying, “It’s OK to cry.  And it’s okay to keep asking!” Hannah asked year after year for her son; God doesn’t mind us coming back to Him over and over about those things that matter to us.  Actually, He encourages it!  He sees the tears, hears those deep cries of our hearts, and He is there.  And He will answer.

But that wasn’t the only encouraging thing.  I’ve long struggled with the question of whether or not I even would get a husband.  What if I were one of those people, like Paul, on whom God had chosen to bestow the “gift” of singlehood?  People always told me that if that were the case, God would have given me a different desire, and I would be okay with not being married.  But, what if I were just being resistant to God’s will, I thought. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop that God’s perfect plan for my life required me to be alone.  And probably living in Africa somewhere.

As I read about Hannah, though, and felt the Holy Spirit encourage me to keep praying about what mattered most to me, I realized that God would not encourage me to pray about something He was going to deny me.  That’s not kind, and God is kind.  It may not be universally applicable, but for me, when I read Hannah’s story, I was overcome with a peaceful knowledge that God does have a good plan for me – and that plan includes a husband.  Also, it’s okay to keep reminding Him of that.  I don’t know when He will answer (the sooner the better…), but I know that He will.

That’s what Hannah’s story means to me: a compassionate God who hears and answers.  I just love reading about her, and I hope that encourages you: whether you are single like me, childless like Hannah, or simply growing weary of asking God about that thing most dear to your heart.  Don’t give up – He hears.

Hannah

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