Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who Am I Reflecting?

I was humbled, and a bit nauseous, to be asked to speak at our church's annual Mother and Daughter banquet over Mother's Day weekend. In the days following the event, I was asked to make my message available to those who were not able to attend. So, what follows is the text of my talk. I have edited it a bit because writing for what is read is a little different than writing for what is said. I also removed some of my opening comments of thanks to many. Their omission here is in no way reflective of a diminished appreciation for all that were mentioned. Please forgive the liberties I've taken when personalizing the Bible verses shared.

As I prepared for this evening, I started with our key verse for tonight…Proverbs 31:30. I must confess that my first thought was “Oh no!! Not that Proverbs 31 chick! She has it all together! She gets up early and stays up late! She’s never idle or doing anything that is non-value added! She manages her home perfectly and manages to add to her family’s finances…while my home is…let’s just say less than perfect… and I get overwhelmed by couponing. And, I love to take naps. No naps mentioned in all of Proverbs 31.” But she is mentioned in the Bible for a reason. She’s not perfect…only one person mentioned in the Bible is…and she’s not Him. So, if that lady can get it all pulled together, then, with God’s help, so can I. It’s interesting to note how her story is presented in the Bible. It runs for 22 verses, beginning with a description of how virtuous she is and then going on to list all that she accomplishes. Our verse is near the end and it says “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing..." now, as I experience fine lines on my face and shiny metallic hairs growing from my scalp as scars of life lived, I will leave this part of the verse alone. Instead I will focus on the second half of the verse that says "...but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised..” What interests me is that the reason she is who she is is mentioned at the end, when you know it was also prevalent at the beginning and throughout her story. She is someone who “feared the Lord” or, in other words, was in awe of who God is and what He has done. Obviously thankful for this, she is honoring God by blooming where she is planted. And that is our lesson from her--to bloom where we are planted. And how do we get there? Proverbs 3, verses 5 and 6, teaches us to “Trust in the Lord with all our heart, and lean not on our own understanding; In all our ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct our paths.” We can audit ourselves against this superwoman, accounting for our modern times, of course, and then praying to God to reveal our gaps to us and lead us in ways to close those voids. He will be faithful. Matthew 7:7 reminds us that we only need to “Ask, and it will be given to us; seek and we will find; knock, and it will be opened to us.”

You know, if God mentions this Proverbs 31 icon to teach us some lessons, then maybe we can learn from the other women He made sure were included in His love letter to us, the Bible. It’s easy to draw the conclusion from Scripture that women are very special to God. Remember…He made the first man out of dust, (now…just a sidebar…and while I am certainly not referring to my husband, this does explain a lot for the dirt a guy can spread around…doesn’t it, ladies?). Anyway, I digress…He made Adam of dust, but He made the first woman out of flesh and bone. And He could have carried out His sovereign plan for salvation in any way He wanted...and He chose to send Jesus, to be born of a woman. While there is no time to mention all of these historical figures, I would love to mention just a handful.

First, of course, there was Eve…the first wife, the first mom, the first to fail, the first to have a wayward child when you consider the story of Cain and Abel. She had the perfect place to live and a personal relationship with God and still she sinned. Knowing this, we can’t expect much better from ourselves. But, we do have the benefit of learning from Eve’s experience.

Years later, there is the wife of Noah. We don’t know her name, but can’t we learn from her example of the helpmeet designed by God for her husband as he pursued a God-given purpose that no one understood? And here we all are…descended from her through her three sons.

Sarah was the wife of Abraham…advanced in years, God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son. And she doubted…and she tried to control God’s plan by orchestrating her husband having a child with her maidservant. Haven’t we all doubted? Haven’t we all tried to exert our control over life? But God is in control and He was faithful to His promise to Abraham and Sarah, despite her blunders, and He is faithful in His promises to us too in spite of our blunders.

Jochebed was the mother of Moses. She gave birth to him while Israel was enslaved in Egypt, and Egypt, intimidated by the growing nation of Israel, issued an edict that all male babies would be killed. Imagine her faith as she hid him…consider her faith when she placed him in a basket and sent him afloat, to be found by the Egyptian princess. She knew that God was in the business of working miracles and God rewarded her faith. And God will reward ours.

We learn from the story of Rahab that God can use anyone to advance His plan. Rahab was not of God’s chosen people of Israel and, up to the point where she is introduced, she had lived a life of bad choices and sinfulness. And though her knowledge of God was minimal, she knew enough about what He had done for the people of Israel that she was willing to lie to her own people to help the spies sent by Joshua. She placed her faith in God and those spies to save her family during the destruction of Jericho and she was rewarded. She is listed in the the genealogy of Christ, for all of eternity to see, in the Gospel of Matthew. While Rahab’s sins may have been more obvious than ours, we can remember that none of us deserve God’s grace. He is Holy and we are all sinners. But He freely gives it and He can redeem anyone.

The Old Testament is filled with so many more lives that we can learn from…Rebekah and Rachel and their roles as matriarchs of the Jewish nation, Hannah and her faith in God to give her a son, Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law, Esther’s opportunity to save her people…just to name a few.

And when it was time to set His plan for our salvation into motion…to begin fulfilling all those Messianic prophecies…God chose a young woman who was engaged to a righteous man…and burdened her with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, to carry the burden of public ridicule and those quiet whispers too. But she fulfilled her role…one of the most important in history…sustained by faith in God.

Women played an important role in Jesus’ life and ministry. He visited Mary and Martha, whose lives all of us ladies can learn much from. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet learning while Martha worried about how clean her house was and whether everyone’s glass was filled. When Martha complained to Jesus that Mary wasn’t helping, Jesus helped Martha get her priorities straight, teaching that Mary was focused on what was more important. Aren’t all of us convicted by that…focusing on our to-do list before we focus on our relationship with Christ? How much smoother our lives can go if we get our priorities right? The lives of Mary and Martha remind us that there must be faith before there are works….to focus on what Christ did for me because it far outweighs anything I do for Him.

As with the Old Testament, there are many notable women mentioned in the New Testament from whom we can learn. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well reminds us that our past sins are no indicator of our value to Christ…Mary Magdalene, formerly possessed by demons, remained longer than any other disciple at the cross, was the first to reach His tomb and was the first person who Jesus revealed Himself to following the resurrection. We can all learn from her love for Jesus, recognizing all that He had done for her. Women were very active in the young Christian church following the ascension of Jesus to heaven. The Bible mentions them by name…Dorcas, Lydia, Priscilla and Phoebe…and we all sit here as part of the harvest for the Lord that they had helped plant.

So when I consider all that God has done through these many women…not to mention all of the men of the Bible…how can I not fear the Lord, to esteem Him with reverence and awe because He, the Creator, thought of me before He ever hung the stars. He loved me to plan for my salvation, knowing what a sinner I would be, sending His son to die for me and take my deserved punishment.

The work for my salvation and the salvation of all those who put their faith in Jesus was completed over 2000 years ago through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus…in fact we celebrated all those events in detail just a few weeks ago at Easter. I cannot add to it. As Jesus said just before dying on the cross “It is finished”. But I can give thanks and praise by blooming where I am planted. Our theme for this evening is “Reflections of a Godly Woman”. Who is this ‘godly woman’ reflecting? She is reflecting Jesus, and this is obvious through the fruits of the Spirit evident in her ways.

In his letter to the church at Galatia, the Apostle Paul shares the fruits of the Spirit with us…but only after he reminds us first that the natural inclinations for us all are traits such as idolatry (perhaps of money, celebrity or even our children), hatred, lewdness, selfish ambitions, envy…just to name a few. And I am convicted by those. Selfish ambitions? I want to be the one to eat all of the fries that fall to the bottom of the McDonald’s bag, not sharing with anyone else in the car. I want to be first in line everywhere I go because my time is more important than everyone else’s. And those are things that Jesus would not do, so they are a reflection of the world. If I want to be a godly woman…if I want to reflect Jesus to others, because my life may be the only Bible that someone reads, then I need to always be working on how my life expresses those fruits of the spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And those are my daily pursuits. Please understand that I am not chatting from a position of mastery over these various attributes. I struggle with each of these in some form daily.

A few years back, I read in a devotional book, that real joy comes from serving Jesus, Others, Yourself...in that order. This has become my mantra. I buy just about anything that I find that says JOY so that I can plaster it around my house. I want it to be a mantra for my girls as they grow to be women of faith, wives and moms themselves. When I don't feel like folding underwear, I can decide whether I want real JOY or martyrdom. And when it's been one of "those" days and I want to run and hide, I can at least focus on serving Jesus...thus serving others (my family) because that is what He wants. This has been such a source of peace for me. It has given me a "true north" when my compass starts pointing at me.

As women, I know we can sometimes get to the end of the day and wonder "what did I accomplish?" or "in the grand scheme of things, did my day really matter?" I was an engineer. I was responsible for the design, build and installation of assembly equipment for waterproof rod-heated exhaust oxygen sensors. I helped companies reduce their employee turnover. And then my days were spent responding to "Mom...I can't get the #2 off the wall." But what I do does matter. I am raising the future wives of three young men who at this very minute are playing baseball or riding their bike. And without them realizing it, those young men are trusting that I'm doing my job. I am teaching lifeskills to the future moms of my grandchildren. What I do does matter. And God does reward me and motivate me through my girls. A couple of summers back, we were enjoying a camping trip on the shore of Lake Huron. We were all playing on the beach. Rachael, who turned 11 recently, was sitting next to me and bothered by a recent wound on her leg that was healing. Watching her, I reminded her to not pick at it because it would leave a scar and jeopardize any future modeling career she was hoping for. Very seriously, she turned to me and said "I don't want to be a model. I want to be a mom." What more could I dream of than to have my kids follow me in my beloved profession?

To close, I wanted to share something that I had received through email a few years back. Some of you may have read it before. It's a condensed version of a book by Nicole Johnson. And, while I never feel as invisible as Charlotte does, the overall message never gets old for me.

I'm invisible

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?" Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?" I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?" I'm a car to order, "Right around 5:30, please."

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.She's going, she's going, she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this."

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: "To Charlotte, with
admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."

And the workman replied, "Because God sees."

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. (I see you, Tracey.) I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, "You're gonna love it there."

As women, we are building great cathedrals. Perhaps those cathedrals are in our homes...or in our workplace...or in our churches...or in our neighborhoods. And if we are doing it right, we won't be seen. God will. If we will recognize our Creator with awe and reverence...if we will allow the Holy Spirit to weave the Fruits throughout our lives...seeking to glorify God rather than ourselves...then one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the faith-driven efforts of invisible godly women.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In Church Today...

After a wonderful morning at church, I asked the 5 year old what she learned during the children's service. "We learned about Saul and Paul," she responded. "Aren't they the same person?" I asked. "Yeeeeesssss...that's why I said both of their names."