As I lie here next to you in our cabin at camp, we are experiencing the calm following the storm of your not being able to go back to the pool after lunch so you can take a nap. I don’t have the covers pulled over me and in true Ruby fashion you notice and reach for them, trying to make sure I’m warm enough.
My sadness over celebrating your fourth birthday catches me off guard. These past years with you have been long in some respects, but I’m not quite ready to leave them behind. You have really been my Ruby – a mama’s girl through and through. I will miss your tiny frame curled up in my lap, hanging off my leg, plastered against me, reaching up for me. I’ll miss hearing those needy cries for “Mama!” in your sweet little voice. Like when, a few months ago, you called for me at 4 AM because your back was itching.
But you’re getting bigger – in years anyway- even though the scale doesn’t show it much. You’re riding your bike without training wheels and scaling 15 foot fences. I know you’ll tackle this next phase with even more determination and less need for me, and I think that’s what makes me sad. And, to be honest, a little bit fearful. As those feelings surface, God takes me back to our beginning.
Early Lessons Still Carrying Me Through
My pregnancy with you was one of the most fearful times of my life. I was so scared of losing another baby. We were pretty sure we found the problem as to why my body terminated our two previous pregnancies but weren’t sure I would respond to the treatment prescribed. So, over and over, I committed you to God’s care and rested in wisdom not my own. I cannot count the many roller coaster ultrasounds, NSTs, and other tests we went through with some disconcerting results. Finally, when they decided to take you two weeks early, even the doctors were relieved to get the pregnancy over with and get you into my arms as soon as possible! We had all had enough of your shenanigans! Little did I know they were really just beginning!
You came out looking so much like your dad, complete with the strawberry blond hair he had as a baby. I didn’t want you out of my sight. The nurse bathing you couldn’t believe how strong you were – amazingly so since you were just a tiny 6 pounder. And I couldn’t believe how angry you were! Most babies are fine with colostrum. But I think you cried the entire 36 hours until you got milk. So much so, your dad tried rolling you into our bathroom at the hospital to give us a break from your screaming. Oh, Ruby! How well acquainted we’ve become with that angry scream over the years!
You walked early and showed good coordination for a toddler, often motivating your 3-years-older- than-you sister to try new things in order to keep up with you. You have been known to ascend the shopping cart at the grocery store, impressing the cashier as you lift what seems to be twice your body weight in groceries loading the conveyor belt for me. It really wasn’t that surprising when two different times this past year in gymnastics your coach told me, “She’s going to be really good. She’s fearless, she’s flexible, she listens, she’s coordinated. And she’s only three.” He encouraged me to help you pursue gymnastics more seriously. Your interest in physical activities coupled with your thrill for adventure has drawn you to the likes of Spiderman, Superman, and Batman. You are always dressing up like a superhero pretending to climb walls, leap buildings, get the mean guys, and “fight, fight, fight.” If you aren’t in your superhero get-up you’ll often be found wearing tennis shoes, a baseball cap, your Buckeyes t-shirt, and jeans. I’ll never forget the time you told me you didn’t want to go to church if you couldn’t wear your beloved tennis shoes!
I’ll admit, this past year with you has been another one of growth and learning for me. I thought I knew how to start a little girl down the path of femininity toward biblical womanhood. But that was before I encountered a Ruby. As is your modus operendi, you continue to shake things up for me and keep me returning to those early lessons of committing you to God’s care and trusting in wisdom not my own!
Strong Arming the Caricature
As I mentioned here, I used this book as a devotional early on with Stella and now with you. As you’ve become more verbal you’ve let me know how much you dislike it. I began to look at it thru your eyes and realize that you do not connect at all with the soft pastel colors and the pearls and lace pictures. And actually the more I looked at them, I realized that the matchy-matchiness kind of annoys me too. I’ve heard many a woman confuse the character of a godly woman with a certain type of outward appearance and specific personality traits. The pictures in the book are a caricature I want to avoid portraying to you as you set out learning what it really means to be a godly woman. But, what I do love about the book, and what you need to learn from it, is what God wants us to strive to be as women found in the ideal of the woman with the panoply of Christian virtue from Proverbs 31. So, I try to keep the necessary message of Scripture, but every application ends with us flexing our muscles and saying something like, “Godly women are strong women because Jesus was strong for them and helps them…work hard…be dependable…plan ahead…fear the Lord…trust Him with the future.” And, much to my chagrin, all of this muscle flexing has been quite convicting to me.
I’ve been forced to deal with the question if when you look at my life you see a woman who is using her femininity for tough gospel-living? Or do you see a woman preoccupied with flowery beds of ease like the latest recipes, decorating techniques, beauty regimens, TV shows, fashion trends, fitness pursuits, or good, but distracted, priorities? I want you to see me doing hard things for God’s glory. I want you to see me doing things that Candice Olson, Giada De Laurentiis, and the average soccer mom across the street can’t do. And that’s using my womanhood, and the roles and responsibilities that come with it, to draw attention to a God who has called me to go against what the culture (and even Christian culture) says a woman needs to do and should be. Yes, I need to care for my family and create a home for them – and I want to do it creatively and enjoy the tasks – but I don’t want that to be the be sum of my womanhood. How much I will have missed the point of God’s design if it is!
Why Is This So Important, Anyway?
So what is the point of God’s design and why is it paramount for you to learn and for me to model? Because, as John Piper describes here, “True womanhood is a distinctive calling of God to display the glory of His Son in ways that would not be displayed if there were no womanhood…our womanhood was made for the glory of Christ.” If showing the greatness of Christ is at stake, it’s a very big deal for us to get it right!
One way I can know I’m getting it right is by following the inspired example of women in the Bible.
Take Hannah. Devastated by years of unfulfilled longings and enduring the mockery and taunting of Penina. Yet the persistence of the trials softened her rough edges evidenced by her gracious response to Eli when he accused her of being drunk. There’s a strong, persevering woman who allowed a trial to have it’s full, God-intended effect. (Listen here for more exposition on the life of Hannah.)
Then there’s Esther. Having a beauty regimen was a priority of hers, but more importantly, we remember her because she had guts for God’s glory. She risks her life for the sake of God’s name and the good of God’s people, saying, “If I perish, I perish.”
And how can we forget Mary, Jesus’ mother? She, the finite, gave birth to the infinite, making her interactions and relationship with her God-man son perplexing, for sure. There were still so many unanswered questions and things she didn’t understand about Him and the big picture of God’s plan. But she trusted, and amazingly enough, not only submitted to Him herself, but encouraged others to as well. “Do whatever he tells you to do,” she instructs the servants in John 2. As a young girl, she had learned that the strength of a woman following God wasn’t in demanding her rights, but in surrendering her rights to His way in faith even without seeing the end. “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1)
We can also get it right by following the example of women through church history.
I think of Ann Judson, wife of imprisoned missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson. I thought being pregnant was difficult, but when she was pregnant, “she walked two miles daily to the palace to plead that Judson was not a spy [the charges for which he was being wrongly imprisoned] and that they should have mercy.” After their daughter, Maria, was born, “Ann was almost as sick and thin as her [gaunt] husband, but she still pursued him, with her baby, to take care of him as she could. Her milk dried up, and the jailer had mercy on them and actually let Judson take the baby each evening into the village fettered and beg for women to nurse his baby. On November 4, 1825, Judson was suddenly released…The long ordeal was over – seventeen months in prison on the brink of death, with his wife sacrificing herself and her baby to care for him as she could. Ann’s health was broken. Eleven months later she died. And six months later their daughter died.” Were their lives given in vain? More likely God used a relentless woman, committed to her husband and their gospel labors, to continue the pattern of suffering “for spiritual breakthrough in a dark and unreached place. ” (Piper, Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ, 100-101)
And my heroine, Elisabeth Elliot. Her husband is murdered by a savage people. She and her toddler daughter go live among the murderers because she knows God is powerful enough to change their murderous hearts into God-loving hearts. He isn’t getting their worship and she knows He deserves it.
And lastly, we can get it right by looking around us at the godly friends God has given us through the churches of which we’ve been part.
There’s CiCi, our 40-something recently widowed friend with two young kids who tells me, “Erica, through this all, the phrase I often say is, “‘Lord, I can’t wait to see what You’re going to do and how You’re going to use it!”‘ It reminds me Who holds today and tomorrow.”
We can watch Liz, wife and mom of 4 kids, who is moving to what would be considered an “unsafe” area in Detroit to reach the neglected and poverty-stricken with the gospel riches they can have in Christ.
And Carol, a missionary our church supports, who just finished an over 3-year battle with a tumor in her jaw which required numerous surgeries with the expected pain, embarassing physical side effects, and a radically restricted diet. Her medical care requires extended separation from those she loves most – her husband and kids. During all of the physical trials, her Dad passes away. This, added with previous difficulties of losing children during pregnancy, trying church circumstances when her husband was a pastor, and a house fire, and you see her life depicting the hymn line “when sorrows like sea billows roll.” She barely has enough time to stand before another wave of sorrow comes crashing in. But she knows that through many hardships she must enter the kingdom (Acts 14:22). This is the often the cost of bringing the gospel to the nations and she still says, “Here am I! Send me!”
So, my dear Ruby, I know you are impressed with the exploits of Spiderman and his friends. But there’s a real life, not a make believe one, waiting for you with adventure and toughness that not even the likes of Spidey can sustain. It’s the life of being a Christian woman. A strong Christian woman, with all the power that raised Jesus from the dead at work within you and through you! So, receive this power, my strong girl, and use your womanhood to attempt seemingly impossible feats for Jesus – turning not just buildings upside down, but the whole world upside down, for the sake of His name! “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)