"I need nine more months," I whispered as I anxiously sat on the sofa across from my husband.
I'm very pregnant with our first precious baby girl. She will be making her appearance any time now. The nursery is set, the clothes washed and hung up, and the baby books read. My heart is bursting with gratefulness for this gift. Yet, I don't feel ready. I feel that I'm standing on the boundary of a new wilderness land that is to be my home. I'll never return to the land that has been known to me all of these years. I love the land behind. Full of struggles and growth, independence and adventure, the Lord's faithfulness to me.
Yet, the land in front is better, fuller, richer, more wild and free, demanding more and giving more. I'm leaning over the threshold, tenuously held back by an encompassing labor that will rush in new life. It's a labor that will leave me more alive than I've ever been, holding a tiny new soul who's embarking on her very own first adventure.
In the Old Testament book of Joshua, we find a much grander story of the nomadic Hebrew people on the verge of inhabiting their own new land. The Hebrew people were a large, ancient group made up of 12 tribes. Two of these tribes had descended from Joseph (the multicolored coat Joseph). The Lord had just finished dividing up the new Promised Land into 12 plots to give to the 12 tribes. After hearing their allotment, the two tribes of Joseph did not respond in gratitude. Instead, they complained that their land was not satisfactory. It wasn't big enough or good enough to house their people as they expected.
Like these two tribes who had just been allotted their new promised land, I have been granted a new land. And just like them, I have responded by anxiously whispering-- not to my husband-- but to the Lord, "This land is not enough." I need more time. I need more space. I'm not ready. You haven't given me what I need. I don't trust you.
A few tribes down the road, we see another family allotted a plot of land--but this time with a very different response. At the head there stands an old man with wild eyes named Caleb. He is one of the only remaining in his generation and is known for spying out the Promised Land forty years earlier. At that time, the land was inhabited by hostile enemies who were fearsome warriors. In spite of this reality, Caleb came back to the rest of the tribes with an optimistic report, declaring that the Lord would go before them and grant them this land as he had already promised he would. In his forties, Caleb knew the Lord was giving them the land, and he was ready to act. Now in his eighties, his strength and resolve remain intact. He's old and bold and fearlessly ready to enter into the untamed land the Lord has promised. He leads his family and his tribe into the unknown with a sure promise, "Be strong and very courageous, for the Lord is with us."
I'm joining the tribe of Caleb. I'm choosing to look over with wild, trusting eyes into the beautiful land the Lord has provided.
And like that great shepherd-king David I say, "The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance." (Psalms 16:5-6)
The Lord has lovingly placed boundary lines around each of us. They are good lines encircling good things, even though they may painfully pull out of us what should not be there. Whether today it's a new, unknown land or an old, weary land or a dead, dry land may we be a company of Calebs, declaring the Lord's faithfulness to us in whatever he has allotted.
Stay young. Wrinkles are among the worst of evils. Sagging skin betrays sagging worth. Your beauty is what defines you. Protect it. Spend your resources to keep it hostage. Do everything but kill for it, all the while pretending it is not your god.
"Age is not all decay; it is the ripening, the swelling, of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husk."
George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet, and minister born in the early 1800's. He wrote fantasy literature not for the child but for the child-like, whatever their age may be. Although C.S. Lewis had never met him and was only a child when MacDonald died, many years later he lovingly lauded MacDonald his "master" and didn't write a book without quoting him in some form or fashion.
This week I painted a small abstract acrylic work on panel and scrawled that favorite MacDonald quote across its face. It will quietly sit in our living room a few feet from the screaming television that preaches quite a different message.
May MacDonald also become our master. May his thoughts on age become our thoughts on age. Our bodies are dying from the moment of birth. Youth is not our right. It is ours for a few years and then it disappears into the better thing. Age. May we stop clinging to this life and begin to ripen in hope for the next, eternal one.
Maybe you just rolled your eyes and braced for an old-school lecture by your mom/dad/grandma/pastor/fill-in-the-blank-with-an-authority-figure here. Maybe you're a man reading this and you just tuned out because, after all, isn't modesty a girl thing? Maybe you're a woman who doesn't particularly love exhibiting your body, so you just got excited to read in expectation of two big pats on the back for your successes in the modesty arena. Maybe you're just sick of hearing about modesty altogether.
May I submit that modesty does pertain to you and me, and dusty modesty is worth dragging out of that corner spot in the attic? Let's throw caution to the wind and blow off those dust bunnies in an effort to uncover modesty together.
Modesty: the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one's abilities.
Modesty is usually only brought up at Christian all-girl retreats and youth events. "Don't wear this. Be sure to cover up that. The Lord loves modesty." But why? Why does the Lord love modesty? And is he only concerned with what women wear? And why shouldn't I act and speak and exist to impress those in the room?
There's this story in Genesis about the woman Eve who was told she could be "like God" if only she would disobey his command and eat the fruit. More than anything else, Eve longed to be like God. After all, he knows everything, understands all, and is worthy of worship. Like our first mother and father, we too want to be worthy of worship. Not surprisingly, our longing to be worshiped (adored, exalted, revered, honored) quickly snakes its way into our doing.
Turn on the TV, and you will see mouth after mouth, body after body, attitude after attitude demanding your attention. God demands attention because he's worthy of it. We demand attention because we want to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we're worthy of it. It's a giant sham for something unworthy of praise to demand it stubbornly.
How can I make my peers look at MY achievements, MY character, MY home, MY body, MY money in such a way that will set me up in a higher place than they?
Modesty is not the clothes we wear. Modesty is the mindset we put on.
The Dressing Room
Some of us have a quick wit, others a savvy business sense, some a sweet spirit, and others intuitive social skills. Let's make sure our triumphs aren't worn on our lips to build up our own renown. Cover up. Let's put some clothes on our achievements for once. There can be only one God, and I am not he. Neither are you.
Some of us are rich-- Most of us, in fact. We use what we need and then employ the rest in making a name for ourselves. We build a kingdom and slap our seal on it. Dollar stacked on dollar we raise a foundation and then walls engraved with our success. We peek out of our castles of manicured lawns and shiny cars and put-together families to flaunt a carefully crafted façade. Money sews Pride for clothing. Let's be careful to never put on that brand. There can be only one God, and you are not he. Neither am I.
Some have beautiful bodies and lovely faces. Those are gifts given to point others toward the surpassing beauty of the Creator, not to distract from him. We don't do this by revealing more of who we are or what we have. We do this by revealing more of who Jesus is. If we are dressing to turn others' gaze to our cute style or ample curves or smooth faces (which will lie misshapen in a grave within less than a century), will others be able to focus on the unfading beauty of the One who will not die? Or will we be guilty of diverting their attention from the true God to a lesser god-- us? There can be only one God, and I am not he. Neither are you.
Some of us struggle with self-deprecating thoughts and a shriveled sense of self. Still, this betrays we are thinking of ourselves far too often. When our thoughts rest on our own deficiencies, we draw people's attention to us in pity. We are guilty of turning their gaze (and our own) from the glories of the Creator to the lack of the created. There can be only one God, and you are not he. Neither am I.
Let's quit using our abilities (and inabilities) as a pair of stilts that promote us to the heavens. If not used to reveal the goodness and faithfulness and kindness of God, they are rotting stilts that will soon give way under our bloated, god-sized egos.
Modesty = Humility
Modesty is this: having a moderate opinion of oneself. Not a despised opinion. Not an exalted one.
Speak in such a way that proves you are not Creator. Live in such a way that proves there is Someone much greater than you. Dress in such a way that proves you do not own the glory of a god. Become less (as in less often!) in your own thoughts, so that He can become more in others'.
We are not God, therefore we will not be satisfied even if all the world respects us as such. We will only be truly satisfied when we gaze on the incomparable worth of Jesus Christ.
May each of us stop stealing his worship. May we lock our god-complexes away in a far attic and pray that left alone, they will become dust-covered and forgotten.
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1
"Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'" Matthew 16:24
"For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land." Psalm 95:3-5
"Then the LORD said to him, 'Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?'" Exodus 4:11
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?…" Job 38:4-7
Verda May Jones. She sat in the old, mustard tweed rocking chair with a Nancy Drew book on her lap. I had surprised her with a visit. She put the book down and lit up her eyes with a smile. In her usual style she giggled a couple times, started to say something and stopped, and then launched into a big, genuine, "Well, how are you?"
Verda was born five years before 1920 rolled around. She experienced both world wars, the death of her twin sister (Veda Fay) at age 14, motherhood, grandmotherhood, great-grandmotherhood, great-great grandmotherhood, and could sew a dress up like nobody's business. Verda was one of my favorite friends. She lived right down the road from me at a retirement home she didn't particularly love but had chosen to delight in. She lit that place up. Her fervor for life and quick wit were unmatched. People loved her. I loved her.
That particular fall day found her sitting quietly with one of her Nancy Drew books. We both loved Nancy Drew. I spent my 9th and 10th year reading them straight through; she spent her 93rd and 94th doing the same. I swear, Verda and I were two best friends four generations apart. It didn't take long before we were again going over her years past-- she talking, I listening.
There were about 20 eligible young men to choose from in her small East Texas town. (With the wide world of Facebook and cheap transportation, our modern dating options have busted wide open. The sky is the limit and maybe that's a bad thing. But, that's another post for another time.) Some evenings when the weather was nice, all the guys and girls would get together and take turns splitting up in pairs to walk down the lane and back. They would talk and flirt and laugh the evening away. She courted a few of them before she fell in love with her husband Loyd. He was a little bit older, but captured her heart and gave her three beloved babies throughout their sweet years of marriage.
When Sam and I were dating, I decided to move to Austria for a year. I explained my new European venture to Verda before leaving amid promises of post cards and letters, and with a twinkle in her eye she responded, "Well you had better not stay over there too long if you want that man to marry. They don't wait around forever." Just like that. Matter of fact, all her words. There was no worry or pretense in them--ever. She knew the ebbs and flows of life and was content to sit back and watch how they played out. Verda was a breath of sweet air for this breathless and always hurried young heart. When I was with her my soul could decompress. Listening to Verda was like opening the windows in an old, damp attic to let in the dewy springtime breeze. Her soft, rustling words would blow in and whisper "LIFE" in the most unassuming way. We sat and played Skip-Bo for a couple hours together--she talking, I listening.
We need more Verdas in the world, but I'm afraid she was simply too one of a kind. Tonight I am thankful for white haired wisdom and women who can laugh with no fear of the future.
I am not sure when it happened. I don't think it took long.
Lines were drawn. Strategies set. Innumerable teams of one were strewn all over the field, separate but smiling.
Popularity is the referee and the trophy our souls.
Do you play the game?
You know the one. The one we all claim is healthy and lighthearted. The one that takes up most of our day, if only through little moments here and there. The one that allows us to fake our way through community and use others as little soul-props.
Social media is the new favored sport of the cities and suburbs.
Do you play?
The game is pretty and sleek with professionally tailored html buttons begging to be clicked. Turn the blue to green. Like for a like. Comment for a comment. Followers. Tweeters. Facebook stalkers. Blog lovin.
Like chain smokers, all of us, itching for that next hit.
My soul thirsts for rest while my hand reaches for the deafening flat screen that fits in my palm so perfectly. I gulp down quick comparison and vanity. Silently, subconsciously counting my stats.
Nothing but stats. Every like, comment, and re-post promises to fill. But at the end of the day, we are just washed up players clutching yesterday's anemic statistics.
An invitation has been given.
It's big. It's bold. It's calm. It beckons us further and deeper in. There's not a hint of vanity attached to it. Vanity wants nothing to do with quietness and rest.
"Be still and know that I am God. "I am sufficient," says the Lord.
Sufficient for our striving.
Sufficient in our longing.
He is enough.
When our strung-out souls reach for the illuminated screen at every red light and spare moment, may we instead make a habit of remaining on the sidelines long enough to catch our breath. May we put down our toys and reach for the good, deep thing that quietness and rest is made of.
Be still my soul, and hope in Christ alone.
My heart has heard you say, "Come and talk with me." And my heart responds, "LORD, I am coming. Psalm 27:8
welcome Audrey DeFord is an artist, illustrator, wife, momma, believer. But not in that order. She currently resides in Texas with her husband Sam, baby girl Flora, French bully Shortstack, & 12