Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Without love, you are nothing

Yesterday I was talking about responsibility, respect and honor as being a foundation of sorts for me.  Sometimes the only things that get me out of bed in the mornings.

But yet...

I still feel like it is not enough.

Responsibility, respect and honor make good... rocks.  Rocks to build on, rocks to develop...

But they do not make the best of soils.

I may have mentioned this once or twice, but just in case you've missed it...  I hail from the proud lands of West Texas.  Where the cattle roam, the tumble weeds grow, the wind frolics with the dust, and the skies are not cloudy all day.  (I have a sudden urge to teach Home on the Range to my adult classes now.)

Anywho.  So as I was saying.  Yeah.  West Texas.  So here's a little fact.  My hometown is classified as a semi-arid dessert.  We get triple digit summers, thunder storms are our only source of rain, the wind sometimes blows dust so thick it's hard to drive and as a child I believed that grass grew brown.  We have more shades of brown than you knew existed.  And for as long as I can remember we have either been in a drought, or on the verge of one.

So here's a lesson on the ground in West Texas.  It's not terribly great for growing things.  Before the droughts were too bad, we did have a large number of cotton farms, but lately all you see are empty fields, half blown away by the wind.  We have stunted mesquite trees, and most forms of plant life have thorns or needles or some other desirable trait.  (Just a warning, we do not walk around barefoot in West Texas.  One it's too hot.  Two you'll get poked and pricked too much to get anywhere.  Cowboy boots are more than a fashion statement.)

Now, when it rains, the ground get's really excited.  It's been waiting for rain for so long.  But the problem is, that it suddenly can't cope with all the water.  So we will actually get flash floods because the ground becomes saturated too fast and can't take anymore water.  The floods don't last for long, because of course we need the water as much as possible.  So after a big rain, we get cracked ground.  From the stress of becoming overly saturated and then just as quickly absorbing all the water.  So the top layer becomes hard and flaky, at least until it's ground back into dust by traffic.

Ok, so I'm sure you are wondering at this point what this has to do with anything.  I live in Japan, so I'm sure you are expecting me to talk about Japan.  Too bad.  This might be the only mention this time around.

The image of the cracked ground has been following me around all day today.

Because it's exactly what my heart looks like.

Cracked and dried, even though there has recently been rain.

The water is already gone.  Nothing left but hard, dry ground.

Oh yes.  This is exactly what my heart looks like.

Even though I have an abundance of blessings rained upon me, they dry up quickly, leaving me emotionally cracked and dry.

This is the part where I start beating myself up.  The self-loathing, self-shaming and self-hatred.  Yes, I really am that mean to myself.

So what's missing?  Why can't I keep the water?

I have a good steady foundation of respect and responsibility and honor.  But I'm not bearing fruit.  Why?

“A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, ... Some fell on rocky places,... Other seed fell among thorns...Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown"

Hmm.  What's this?  The quality of my soil is bad?

I see.

I have no nutrients in my soil to give life to plants.  I don't have the correct balance of soil composition to hold the water and use it well.  I don't have someone tilling and breaking apart the stones and putting in fertalizer.

In other words...

 I lack love, and joy, and peace:  the things that bring forth life.

Respect and responsibility and honor are important, very much so, but they alone cannot bring forth life.

I'm hoping this new season of my life will be a season of tilling, and fertilizing, and mixing in nutrients into the soil of my heart, so that one day I may be fit to bring forth life.  

Not just life...

Abundant life.  Seeped in joy, watered in love, and coated in peace.

Bring on the tilling.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Respect, Responsibility and Honor.

It's the middle of the night at the end of a long, hard, lonely weekend...

This is gonna be rambly.  So buckle in for a confusing ride, or wait until you have the time and energy to get pulled into the emotional vortex that is my attempt at self-counseling.


Where do I begin?

Well, why not start off on Father's Day and make our way from there.

I remember when I was in university and my younger brother was right around the age of High School graduation, not quite a man yet, but fully convinced he was already.  I remember him going through a phase where he was angry at my father.  Not that my father did anything bad or anything.  He didn't beat us, didn't yell at us, no abuse or anything.  No, the thing my brother was upset about was that he wasn't around.  He didn't abandon us or anything, he was just working.  He worked for the sake of his family, because that's what he believed was the right thing to do.  He provided for us.

Unlike my brother, who resented a lack of catch ball or "quality time", I understand where my father was coming from, the values he inherited from his generation, and how the work he put in was a translation of his love for us.  I appreciate all he has done for us.

And I think I've inherited a few of my core values from my father's example.  From my father I learned about responsibility and doing things even if you didn't like it, because that's what it means to have a job and to honor your contract.  I learned that you follow the rules, even if your employer doesn't or if it gets you in trouble.  I learned that you pay for your mistakes, and keep going.

I really, really respect my father.  He's not perfect.  He's a typical Texas "cowboy" type that doesn't say much, and doesn't know how to connect emotionally.  But I know how hard he worked, and even now, I watch how he does his best to change his ways to support and honor my mother.  I am so thankful to have such a strong and stable upbringing to fall back on.

Because I need it.

I am naturally impulsive.  I often approach things with a "I'll deal with the consequences when they come" attitude, hoping that I'll somehow avoid anything too unpleasant.

Honestly, I've been pretty lucky in this approach.  Which is poor re-enforcement for teaching me this isn't always the best way to live.

But the one thing that redeems this impulsiveness, is my strong views on responsibility.  I've learned to accept the consequences no matter what.  It is after all the price you pay for your choices.

And looking back, there are very few choices I would say, "I really, really wish I had never done that."

When I get tired of paying school loans, I picture the faces of the people dear to me, and believe that it's worth it.

When I wonder about my choice to live in Japan, missing births and weddings and the joys and sorrows of those I care about...  and I remember the people I have met here, and how much I really do love it here...  and I accept the consequences.

I get to put my beliefs in action now.  It's not a serious matter, but not fun.  Before I moved, I was convinced to switch my internet company and get a smart phone through a campaign.  I thought it was a great idea.  I got a discount on my cell phone bill, better internet service and upgraded to a smart phone.  We even got "points" that could be used in certain stores as cash.  They even assured me that I should be able to continue the service after I moved since the company catered to 98% of the city.

Well, as I'm sure you can see where this is going, after I decided on the apartment, we discovered that the company did not service that building.  Good bye internet, good bye discount.  I needed to find a new internet provider.  (which was also a difficult, frustrating process.)

Well, I thought everything was taken care of when I suddenly started getting bills for a service that I wasn't actually fully aware that I had signed up for.  Now that the internet contract was canceled, the special discount or whatever I was getting on that was also gone.  But that contract had not been canceled.  Only the bills were forwarded to me about two months late.  Now I have three months worth of back bills and a cancellation fee to pay.  Because my paycheck wasn't stretched enough with paying back moving costs and learning to live with just one person again.

At first I was determined this wasn't fair, and I wouldn't pay it no matter what.  I wanted to blame the companies, or the salesperson, or whatever.  It wasn't my fault.  I didn't understand everything that was being said.  I was a victim.

It's an easy role to play.

But it's wrong.

I was aware it was a risk at the time.  That maybe something wouldn't work out.  But I signed all the papers anyway.  I wanted the extra 50 bucks I could get with the campaign, even though I was completely confused as to what was happening or why.  I did it anyway, hoping everything would turn out ok.  Well, you do that a lot when you live in a foreign country.  I feel like I'm holding my breath and jumping off a cliff and hoping there's a splash at the end and not a splat every time I sign a contract.  It's scary.  But you just gotta do it sometimes and hope for the best.  Well, that's what you think at the time anyway.

But this one didn't work out, not by anyone's fault.  Just happened that way.  But I still have to pay now.  Because I signed my name.

The only thing that calmed me down when I thought I was going to cry all the way home after trying to find a solution was the fact that I'm sure Jesus would tell me the same.  Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's.  Honor your contracts, even if it's not fair.  Trust God, and He will provide for all my needs.

Then the voice whispers :  Isn't this just God punishing you?  You aren't faithful enough.  You haven't been giving your tithes.  This is the price you pay.  God is keeping score and you are loosing.

It sounds so true, because there is truth in it.  I am not faithful enough.  I haven't been honoring God as I should.  But that doesn't mean that God doesn't honor me.  And it's true that God gives punishments when they are needed.  But isn't that His right?  He is Just, therefore any punishment He gives is Just.  But that doesn't meant He is punishing me now.  He wasn't punishing Job when all those terrible things happened.  When I feel like life is getting the best of me, I always have to remember Job.  He had it worse.  As did Joseph.  But they both refused to blame God or to dishonor His name.

Yes, I am stress and don't have as much money as I'd like.  But part of that is my fault as well, for not having the motivation or strength to get out of debt quickly.  I choose other priorities.  So I must pay the consequences.

Yes, I have migraines that make me feel sick for two days out of every three days I'm off of work.  Job had festering sores all over his body.

Yes, I am lonely and often bitter.  But yet I choose to stay inside that and not move on.

My choices are my responsibility, and I must pay the consequences.  Sometimes God bails me out.  Sometimes He lets me learn the hard way.

And I respect Him for that.

I believe God freely forgives my mistakes.  But I'm so thankful that He also teaches me through them.

I am grateful for the chance to honor God through my reaction to my mistakes and my misfortunes.
I still fail often, but I want to become a woman whom others can respect, a woman who honors responsibility, and Honors God in her response to mistakes.  I will never become a woman who doesn't make mistakes.  But I can be one who is responsible through her mistakes.

I might have a lot of important values I'm missing, but for me, these three values are core to who I am.


These are the words I teach my students.  These are the words I want carved into my life.  These are the words that keep me going when I want to quit.  And these are the words I inherited from my father, and from my West Texas culture.

I thank my father, and my Father who have modeled these things for me, and I hope that I can grow stronger and more faithful each time I exercise them.

So this month, I'll be trusting a little more in God's provision, because I choose to walk the path of responsibility and pay my fines.  It might be a while before I'll have enough money to be "comfortable" but that's not the point of life is it?  I trust in God's goodness and love for me, and I will live in the life I have now, made from the choices I've made, and the circumstances He has allowed.  And I know He will never abandon me.  So I must continue to Honor Him in all I do.

This is the rock of faith that will give me strength. 

Now all I need to do is figure out how to make Joy a core part of me.......

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why I shouldn't write blog posts in the middle of the night.

Because there is always someone who says it better.

In perfect timing, I found this quote in my mail box today, and it sums up the "click" I'm waiting/missing/longing for...

When God creates Eve, he calls her an ezer kenegdo. "It is not good for the man to be alone, I shall make him a [ezer kenegdo]" (Gen. 2:18 Alter). This phrase is notoriously difficult to translate. The various attempts we have in English tend to be "helper" or "companion" or the notorious "help meet." Why are these translations so incredibly wimpy, boring, flat …disappointing? What is a help meet, anyway? What little girl dances through the house singing "One day I shall be a help meet?" Companion? A dog can be a companion. Helper? Sounds like Hamburger Helper. Hebrew scholar Robert Alter is getting close when he translates it "sustainer beside him."
The word ezer is used only 20 other places in the entire Old Testament. And in every other instance the person being described is God himself, when you need him to come through for you desperately.
God is your only hope. Your ezer. If he is not there beside you…you are dead. A better translation therefore of ezer would be "life-saver." Kenegdo means alongside, or opposite to, a counterpart.
You see, the life God calls us to is not a safe life. Ask Joseph, Abraham, Moses, Deborah, Esther - any of the friends of God from the Old Testament. Ask Mary and Lazarus, ask Peter, James and John, ask Priscilla and Aquila - any of the friends of God in the New Testament. God calls us to a life involving frequent risks and many dangers. Why else would we need him to be our ezer? You don't need a life-saver if your mission is couch potato. You need an ezer when your life is in constant danger.
That longing in the heart of a woman to share life together as a great adventure - that comes straight from the heart of God, who also longs for this. He does not want to be an option in our lives. He does not want to be an appendage, a tag-along. Neither does any woman. God is essential. Eve is essential. She has an irreplaceable role to play.
An excerpt from
Captivating by John Eldridge

Waiting for the click

After a month of living alone again things have finally settled down enough for discontent to sneak up behind me and start whispering heartaches into the hollowness that is  my heart.

It's only my second week back to work.

And I feel listless, numb, and just a little lost and a whole lot of lonely.

But there's no real concrete reason.
There never is.  Just an ache that never really goes away.

So tonight I ponder a bit and feel like I'm a puzzle piece looking for it's puzzle.  When I say I'm lonely, I sometimes hear well meaning suggestions. 

Why don't you stay here?  What about this place?  Look there are a lot of pieces around you so why are you lonely?

And I just sigh in frustration a bit.

Because it doesn't click.

I'm looking for my place, where I connect with the people/surroundings around me.  I'm not saying I'm looking for a place to be completely happy or fairy-tale like.  I just want to click.  I want to be in the place I was made for in community with the people I was made to be in community with.

There are many options and many look good or seem to be logical, but they don't seem to click...

Well, at least I feel like Japan is the right puzzle, but I can't seem to find my place in it easily. 

Well life is not simple enough to be explained by something like a puzzle, and God is watching over me and I'm sure my discontent is me chasing after idols...

Tomorrow I will sing and dance and smile with toddlers and wonderful students.  Tomorrow there will be sunshine and opportunity.  Tomorrow is full of grace waiting to be poured out on me anointing me as a Chosen child, a bride of the Son.

But tonight I feel the blisters of old lies irritating my heart.

This is also proof of my struggle.

Thankfully grace automatically clicks.

And now I should go to bed before I fall asleep writing.

I hope this makes enough sense to click with you too.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Still kicking

A while back I got a comment hoping for a new post.  Thanks!  It's very encouraging to know you are missed!  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to post until now, and now is just a quick update to let you know I'm not lost.

So I have successfully moved.  I hate moving.  It's like the most expensive roller coaster in the world, that you don't actually get to ride, instead you have to climb up it, and then trip and fall down and start all over.

Searching for an apartment that was in my budget and was big enough for all my stuff (not to mention my sanity) but still convenient enough for someone relying on public transportation...  Oh yeah, I'm not sure the word stressful is good enough.  And once I thought I had found something good (on paper), I'd go see it and the reality would be enough to make me want to cry.

But fortunately I had a good real estate company that worked very hard to find me a good place.  In the end, they found a place that would lower the rent to meet my budget and that was big enough.  The location is not that great, but not that bad either.  I have to say, it's nice to find good companies to help you.  (they even had DC Talk playing on their CD player.  I heard the song "Jesus is Alright" at least 5 times!  Of course they had no idea what it was about.)

I had thought that my Japanese hasn't improved so much in these last two years since I spend so much of my time in English compared to when I worked in public schools, but I discovered that moving this time was SO much easier because I had a much larger ability to understand and communicate than before.  Still, you get frustrated when there are still things you don't really get or only half understand.

Moving companies and everything were also stressful, but I did manage to procrastinate less than usual and somehow we managed to move two people to two different places on the same day.

Just so you know, moving is impossible to survive without ice cream.  seriously.

I was also moving while still working, so there was a lot going on in a short time, but now it's over.

This morning I threw away the last of the moving boxes.

A little bit more cleaning and arranging and I'll be settled in.

I had a nice spring break to take things a little more slowly and take care of things, and I'm gradually getting used to the new arrangement.

The strangest thing so far is grocery shopping.  Before I shopped for two people, and I took into consideration what my roommate liked, and what I thought she would like to eat the whole time shopping.  You never realize how much you think of others when shopping until suddenly you are no longer shopping for them.  And I had to re-train myself not just in terms of volume of food, but in what kind of foods I buy and such.  I think that's when I'm my loneliest.  So far anyway.

There are good and bad points with my new place, but so far it's satisfactory.

I'll have my first houseguest this week, a strapping young man will come stay the night.

Of course he's bringing his mother.  ;-)

Or rather his mother is bringing him, since he's like what, 3 months?

I'm happy because this will be the first close friend in 8 years that I'll actually get to meet and hold her child.

I think the hardest thing about living in Japan is that.  The missed weddings, the children I've never met, not knowing what kind of mothers my friends are, not being a part of my niece and nephew's lives...

So yeah, it's that kind of season.  Ups and downs.  New and old.  Fun things and stress.

All rolled into this one big mess we call life.

No deep spiritual insights right now, just letting you know what's up with my life.

I wanted to show you pictures, but I'm writing this from the computer after work because I don't have internet yet.  (frustrating story, but not really important.)

Hopefully soon I'll get the loose ends fixed and see what life is going to look like in my new place.

I just hope I don't have to move again anytime soon.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Life's not fair.

 The calendar tells me it's a new year.  I had some time off for the holidays, went to a party celebrating the new year, and then went back to work.  I have finished a week of work already, and sometimes it doesn't feel like anything is different.  Life as usual.

But yet everything has changed.

Over the winter holidays, I was actually waiting in great anticipation for news of what my future would be like. 

Would I stay at my job another year?  Would I move out of my apartment?  Would my roommate stay in Japan or return to America?  Could I afford any of these changes (or non-changes)?

Once I started getting answers, it really began to feel like a new year.  Change.

It can be scary.  It can be exciting.  It can be daunting.

But there is always change.

 Often I find myself wanting change.  I don't like the cards I've been dealt.  I want life to be more like 5 card draw.  Exchange the cards I don't like for new ones.  Sometimes you can.  Sometimes you are out of draws and stuck envying someone else's Full House or Four of a Kind.  (Sometimes you are beat by a Two Pair, which is kinda worse...)

This year, I find myself faced with all the cards I didn't want.

I'm working at my current job one more year, unable to quit without closing down an entire school.  Just one of the prices of responsibility,.

My roommate has decided to return to America to be closer to her family.  And I understand how important family is.  As much as I want her to stay, I don't have the right to keep her here.  But I will go back to living alone.  Good roommates are hard to come by, and it takes a special person to be able to live with me.

We are moving out of our apartment in two months.  There is a ton of stuff to do, things to get rid of, things to pack, and a small fear of where is the money for all of this going to come from.

Which apartment should I choose?  What area do I want to live in?  Do I want to move closer to work for the sake of a single year, or do I want to choose a place that would be more convenient for future employment options?  Do I want to sacrifice space for cheaper rent so I might be able to attempt to save some money, or do I want to save my sanity by renting a larger space with a nicer bath/toilet options?  If I get a place with a loft would I be able to use it with my knees in pain?

Fear of a new year...  Being alone again, in an unchanging financial situation (only wait, it looks like the dollar is becoming stronger, which means more of my paycheck will be going to pay student loans instead of less.  Am I a terrible person when I prefer economic hardships for the rest of the country just because it makes my loan payments a bit easier?), in a new place...

It's easy to become frustrated and stop and complain...  It's not fair.

Why do the things I want to change not?  Why do the things I want to keep change?  Why do others have what I want?

It's not fair.

It's true.  Life isn't fair.

It never was.  I am no longer a child who petulantly demands fairness.  Or at least I shouldn't be.

I've been listening to stories of other people.  Reading tales.  Remembering old friends.  And it dawns on me.

Life isn't fair.

I reflect on stories of betrayal.  People I could have been jealous of for seemingly fairy tale romances, left shattered and broken by the men who should have been protecting them.  I hear of women who are more lonely after they are married than they ever were alone.  Christians who suddenly loose their faith, betraying those who pledged their lives to them.  Children growing up in broken, dysfunctional homes.  Slavery still exists in this world.  Children are exploited.  Women are abused.  There are people who can't eat.  Children who only wish they could go to school.  Girls who are shot because they want access to education.  A woman younger than me who will have to deal with the fact that she will probably not live long enough to watch her two little girls grow up into women themselves because she has an inoperable brain tumor. 

One of the things that really frustrates me when teaching Japanese children, is the fact that they don't appreciate what they have.  They complain because they are forced to learn English.  They think it's horrible they have to stay awake in class.  It's terrible because they are not allowed to die their hair, or wear earings.  And heaven forbid if the teachers tell them to pull up their pants or stop rolling up their skirts so short.  They don't care about the girls on the other side of the world who fight to go to school and live in fear of being shot.  They don't care that there are children who work in factories or rolling cigarets and get less to eat than what these kids skip for breakfast.  But it's not fair when we ask them to turn in their homework.

Yes, all of these things frustrate me greatly, and I often lecture children about them.

And then Call Me a Hypocrite if I don't go around and do the exact same thing in my life.

Oh boo hoo, oh woe is me.  Life is hard.  Oh no, I'm single.  Oh no, I don't have enough money.  Oh no, I don't like my job perfectly.  Poor poor me.  Life is so unfair.

(please tell me you can read the sarcasm here.)

I personally know other women who are still single.  I in fact know of three people exactly my age who are still single.  That doesn't count those who are older than me either.  But poor poor me.

Money is a little tight, but I still manage to get internet and ice cream and buy things with my favorite character design.  Yet I know someone who lost quite a bit of weight because she couldn't afford to eat.  There are people living in cardboard boxes, and I'm wondering if the next apartment will be big enough to hold all my stuff...

I enjoy my students and the freedom of my job, but I complain about the commute and the stress and fantasize about the "perfect" job.  while there are people who can't get jobs, or who have jobs in factories where they are more like slaves than anything else and who have no option to change.

Life isn't fair.

And I'm insulting so many others if I think my life is more unfair than someone else's. 

So maybe it's time for me to stop complaining about how unfair life is, and start trying to find things to be grateful for.

Unfairness is universal, and guaranteed.  Kinda like death and taxes. 

It's how we deal with our unfairness that matters, and exposes our true character.

I hope this time of of change and transition starts to expose a little more character improvement in me.

Even when life's not fair.

(On a side note, I will be busy with a lot of details with moving and such for a while, so I might not post much.  Then again, I might have plenty of things to process and stress to relieve, so I might post more...  Who knows.  Be warned.  I might be really wordy about moving stuff, or I might be really silent.  And one last sobering recognition of unfairness:  turns out I'm moving into a new place (yet to be decided) on the anniversary of the Great Earthquake that took the homes of so many people.  It's a bit sobering to think about.  Prayers for wise decision making and being open to God's guidance and graceful acceptance of "unfairness" would also be appreciated.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


 "Sing, O barren woman, you who have never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD.  (Is. 54:1)

My hometown is in West Texas.  I grew up surrounded by barrenness.  But I guess I never really thought of it as barren.  I mean, it was full of stuff.  Like rattlesnakes, catcus, stickers (the kind that get stuck in your feet, not on papers), Black Widow spiders, well, all kinds of spiders, including a few tarantulas, snakes, scorpions (itty bitty ones), mesquite (I once had a mesquite thorn puncture my car tire!) coyotes, bobcats, horses, cows, cotton fields, pump jacks, skunks, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, horny toads....

Hey, you could actually fit quite a lot in that barrenness.

I actually found it beautiful most of the time.  The open sky, the straight roads, the sunsets.

Of course you had to tolerate the brownness of everything.

Actually, as a child, I did a report one year about Texas Wildflowers and grasses.  I remember trying to illustrate my report and being confused if I should color the grasses green or brown.  Because they don't actually stay green for long in West Texas.  Everything just seemed to grow in various stages of brown.

While I loved my Texas, and the big, big sky...  I dreamed of places that were green.  Like bright vibrant green.  Ireland for example.  In fact, one of the things I was really looking forward to when I came to Japan was... greenness.

 Now, I'm sure you are wondering what the point is right about now.  Actually I am too.  I'm kinda just trying to sort out my own feelings right now.

My friend shared with me a Bible passage today, and I quoted the first verse above. 

This passage always seems to make me cringe lately.  It's like pouring hydrogen peroxide on a flesh wound.  I can just feel ugly parts of myself bubbling up and reacting to those words.

O Barren Woman.

Wait, that felt more like a knife than anything else.

The more I ponder it, the more painful those words become.

O Barren  Woman.

I am a barren woman.  I come from a barren land.


Doesn't it kinda feel like the word echos around deep in the caverns of your soul?

Well, maybe it's just me.

When I was a child, around 6th grade I believe, I tested into the Gifted and Talented group in my school.  Of course I was proud of my Gifted and Talentedness, but what really made me happy was for that one year I was the only girl in the program for my grade.

I was special.

I guess many girls hate being the only girl, but I loved it.  Somewhere I guess, being the only girl somehow made it more apparent that I was in fact a girl.  I became more feminine by default.

I loved it.

But the next year there were 3 girls and I wasn't special anymore.

But I never forgot how that felt.

I guess it was part of my search for womanhood.  What does it mean to be a woman?  What is my identity?

John Eldridge examines masculinity and femininity in his books.  He talks about how Eve was created in the image of God: the image of beauty and life.  This is what she brings to the world.

Eve is given to Adam as his ezer kenegdo-or as many translations have it, his "help meet" or "helper." Doesn't sound like much, does it? It makes me think of Hamburger Helper. But Robert Alter says this is "a notoriously difficult word to translate." It means something far more powerful than just "helper"; it means "lifesaver." The phrase is only used elsewhere of God, when you need him to come through for you desperately. "There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you" (Deut. 33:26). Eve is a life giver; she is Adam's ally. It is to both of them that the charter for adventure is given. It will take both of them to sustain life. And they will both need to fight together.

Eve is deceived . . . and rather easily, as my friend Jan Meyers points out. In The Allure of Hope, Jan says, "Eve was convinced that God was withholding something from her." Not even the extravagance of Eden could convince her that God's heart is good. "When Eve was [deceived], the artistry of being a woman took a fateful dive into the barren places of control and loneliness." Now every daughter of Eve wants to "control her surroundings, her relationships, her God." No longer is she vulnerable; now she will be grasping. No longer does she want simply to share in the adventure; now she wants to control it. And as for her beauty, she either hides it in fear and anger, or she uses it to secure her place in the world. "In our fear that no one will speak on our behalf or protect us or fight for us, we start to recreate both ourselves and our role in the story. We manipulate our surroundings so we don't feel so defenseless." Fallen Eve either becomes rigid or clingy. Put simply, Eve is no longer simply inviting. She is either hiding in busyness or demanding that Adam come through for her; usually, an odd combination of both.

In Ancient times a Barren woman was considered to be a failure as a woman.  Fortunately society has changed, and women aren't as shamed by barrenness (although the shame is still there, just less obvious.  It comes out at family gatherings when well meaning family members wonder why you aren't married yet, or when you watch your group of single friends grow smaller and younger while the rest of your friends families grow larger and the children grow older.)

But if you think about what a woman's unique gift to the world is, the ability to bring life, and what barrenness is - the absence of life...

Is it any wonder I feel that the term O Barren Woman is a declaration of failure as a woman?

Those feelings shake and echo in my heart, like banshees - angry and accusing, whipping around out of control on the wings of a tornado that threatens to pick me up, body and soul, to deposit me in a hell of shame and brokenness and defeat.

And in the middle of that, God is telling me to rejoice?  And sing?  Burst into song?  Shout for joy?

The concept is shocking enough that the banshees stop their howling - shocked into silence by the absurdness of it.  I mean, seriously, how are you supposed to react to that?

In the shocked silence, I have a little time to ponder these things.  The numbness helps me deal with the facts.

Yes, I am a barren woman.  Not because my body is broken.  I've had a good friend who struggled over a year with infertility and the fears and the tears and frustrations.  It's hard for me to empathize, but I know it was a huge emotional and spiritual trial for her.  In the end, God granted her prayers and her time of barrenness has been filled with life.

But my barrenness is different.  I think I could bear it better if my body was broken.  That is something out of my control, and doesn't have anything to do with my identity or value as a woman.

No, my barrenness is because...  I am alone.  A woman cannot give life alone.  A woman is carried and filled and delivers life, but a woman cannot produce life alone.

She needs to be filled by someone else.

This is a much harder reality for me to bear.  This feels like I am a failure as a woman.  Because I am not wanted, I am not needed, therefore I cannot give life.  I have no husband.

I am empty.

It's scary, and lonely.

And I have to face the possibility that it may be permanent.

Yet, I am told rejoice.

Break into song.

Shout for joy.

My cold heart reacts like Sarai, with a disbelieving laugh.

Hah.  That's funny.

I, the Barren Woman, should rejoice in my barrenness.

Very funny.

But who can stand against God?  Is there anything that God cannot do?

I have a long way to go.  I am not calm and accepting like Mary.  I am old and bitter like Sarai.  But I think that very bitterness is what is causing my true barrenness.  Barrenness of my heart.

Because if I allowed myself to be filled with Jesus, like Mary, life would pour out of me, because I would not be alone.  I would give birth to joy and song and dancing.  In my heart, there would be Life and Light.

But if I stay in my barrenness, then the only things that will grow are the bitterness and shame that want to consume me.

But on the up side, my barren heart is very empty right now.  So that means Jesus has plenty of room to grow in.  He doesn't have to compete with a husband or children or even love of my job.  I have even let go of my dearest dreams, returning empty handed like the prodigal son after chasing empty things.

So my prayer for the new year is a year filled with Jesus growing in me, taking over my barren spaces, and filling me with joy and song.

I hope to go from being a Barren Woman, to being a Blessed Woman.

Happy New Year.