Day 1: Preparing Our Hearts As we seek to turn...
The bittersweet result of not being picked, while painful, can also reveal hidden pride or an oversight of contentment that comes from doing what the Lord has called you too.
The people of the Amazon always remind me of this—helping me find my way back to humility, peace and contentment.
I hope you enjoy this short excerpt from my book, Wherever the River Runs.
Not long after my return from the Amazon, once I’d settled back into the swing of this oh-so-normal American way of life, my friend Mary Katharine picked me up for Pilates. I climbed into the passenger’s seat, sliding a magazine out of the way that she’d brought home from work. When I went to toss it into the backseat, I noticed the front cover: a collage of the Top 50 Most Influential Christian Women in the country today. Intrigued, I glossed over the list and recognized a lot of familiar faces, none of whom were me. I found this so fascinating—you know, that they could get to fifty without me. Not that anyone ever thinks she will be chosen for something like this—or should be—it’s just an interesting feeling when so many women you know, who do things similar to you, are chosen. Before getting in the car, I didn’t even know the list existed, but I’d been made aware of its material presence in the universe, and now there was yet another guest list I hadn’t made, another ball where the slipper didn’t quite fit.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean for you to see that,” MK said, wincing. Well, I’d seen it, and I was pretty sure that she was responsible for whatever despairing, left-out feelings of hurt and jealousy that were now oozing out of me, as if seeing the magazine cover had created those sinking sensations as opposed to merely letting them loose. What was more maddening was that I couldn’t hate the list. It would have been so satisfying to find fault with this grouping of women, to be able to point out someone’s personality defects or wackadoo theology. (Because those feelings are Top-50-Christian-Women worthy.) But the truth was that these were beautiful, talented, dedicated, Christ-seeking women who were having incredible impact, which honest to goodness made the whole thing that much more insufferable. I mean, if I could find fault with everything I’m not chosen for, invited to, part of, included in, well, then I could dismiss everyone and their silly lists.
“You know what?” I said to Mary Katharine, “All I wanted to do was get in the car and go to Pilates, and now I am list-less.” I wondered if this was where we derived the term, from some Latin person who didn’t make a list and said, “After further thought, I’m feeling listless today.” Mary Katharine didn’t think so. I was getting the feeling that the problem wasn’t with the list but with me.
It’s strange how something as simple as a glance at a magazine can expose a host of other issues, like when you spill your coffee in your car and it seeps behind the dash, slips into the hundred pinholes of the speaker, soaks the floor mat, stains your sweater, and leaves a lingering smell that reminds you for weeks of the fateful moments the lid tore away from the cup. Suddenly, you have more problems than just having lost your coffee. I’ve had this happen so many times in my life—when a single situation tips something over in me and out splash feelings of rejection, failure, insignificance, all running amok. It’s that moment when you think your heart is so blissfully pure and clean and content, and then, suddenly: the magazine. Or the blog comment, the Twitter feed, the email, the Facebook post, the Instagram of someone enjoying a superior life on the beach.
Where God’s Favor Rests
I suppose this is one of the reasons God comes down so hard on pride, why the Scriptures continually urge us to humble ourselves, to not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing, to take the lowly seat at the table. Pride is such an affront, not only to God’s glory, but also to the people around us. There’s just no way to effectively love and serve others while our gain and notoriety are in the forefront. I had to concede that neither my flesh nor my society treasured a humble heart for the prize it is: the place where God’s favor rests.There’s just no way to effectively love and serve others while our gain and notoriety are in the forefront.Click To Tweet
The jungle pastors were helping to straighten me out in this area. Their lives were teaching me that what we do for the kingdom of God is not measured by the praise we obtain from men and women, but by the praise that comes from God. Not that praise from others is inherently wrong—it’s quite a nice thing, actually. It’s just not the highest thing. Which means that if we make the list or hit the salary goal, if we get to dance on the stage we always dreamed of, if our poem gets published and a bunch of people applaud, we can freely enjoy the praise—without making it our god. Without even making it our pet parakeet. This has kept me from begrudging others when I don’t make the list and humble when I do.
But this wisdom came later. On the way to Pilates I gave Mary Katharine an earful about what’s wrong with Western culture and how we shouldn’t be trying to measure people’s influence and how popularity doesn’t always mean effectiveness. I swung between that very holy perspective and another one of my favorites, an approach I learned from one of the world’s great philosophers from the Hundred Acre Wood, Eeyore. This is where I sigh a lot and rehearse all the times I’ve been left out of things, dating all the way back to senior prom—which it may be time to let go of. Mary Katharine is very measured in her responses to me in these moments, usually letting me vent and bluster a lot of nonsense and self-pity about how I’m never chosen for anything, before quietly saying something like “Now, you know that’s not true.” And then she usually pats me on the shoulder. April, on the other hand, commences her thoughtful rebuttals by simply going bonkers. “Oh, who cares? Are you really going to lose sleep over someone’s made-up list? You of all people know there are bigger things to worry about out there, like all the starving people in the world.” There’s something to be said for both approaches.
The Wisdom of Miriam
While the jungle pastors had been a significant blessing to me—helping me recognize priorities, reminding me of what truly matters in kingdom living, and basically melting my heart—I still longed for the example and advice of another woman. I needed a model of godliness that could help me in moments like my magazine-cover angst. In other words, I needed Miriam, a seventy-year-old missionary and Bible teacher from Manaus, as beautiful as she is humble.
I’ll never forget the night she and I reclined on the veranda of the conference center after most everyone had nestled in bed. It was one of the few windows I would have to ask her about her life, so she obliged my late-night request, which meant Francie also had to agree to stay up and translate. Meaty jungle bugs swarmed the spotlights above us while the occasional bat zigzagged its way through our conversation, the view of the river having dissolved into the thick Amazon blackness. All was calm as I sat across from this wise and gracious woman, though few outside Manaus would have known her name.
God’s Miracles in Miriam
She told me about the time she’d been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer, and how she’d learned to thank God, even for a life-threatening disease. She explained how He miraculously healed her, though she never intimated her healing had anything to do with whatever faith or belief or thanksgiving she could muster on her end, simply that He’d chosen to give her more time to serve Him here. And for this she was grateful. She also told me about a harrowing accident that left her unable to walk for a time until an angel appeared to her, touched her back, and enabled her to walk again. I’d never had a miraculous experience like this, wasn’t even sure if I believed in them. Miriam wouldn’t have understood this—angels and healings are in the Bible, she’d say. Even so, it wasn’t the divine healings that so moved me as much as her humble, gentle spirit. She embodied that intangible essence that Peter described as being of unfading and great worth in the sight of God. It wasn’t the stuff of magazine covers, but it was what mattered to God. I found this to be about as rare as any angel sighting.
Near the end of the night Miriam lifted her finger in the air as if to make a particular point. “If every woman believed what God has in store for her, every woman would devote her life to the service of God.”“If every woman believed what God has in store for her, every woman would devote her life to the service of God.”Click To Tweet
And this is precisely where I’d gotten off track. It wasn’t just about pride or wanting to be noticed; it was also about unbelief. There was still part of me that didn’t believe that God as my portion was more than enough, that He really does satisfy, and that He’s set me apart for a specific purpose. If I could more fully embrace these truths, I would be free to prize Him above all else and, as Miriam put it, devote my life more fully to Him.
Finding Love in Him
I’ll never forget that night with Miriam under the stars. She was a woman who had found her life’s purpose in Jesus, because she had found her love in Him. We eventually said good night, and I crawled into a modest twin bed, pulling the thin white sheet over my body. I didn’t need the sheet for warmth, that was for sure, but I found it comforting to be lined in cotton, to have something that felt familiar to me in the jungle. I drifted off to sleep pondering Miriam, this rare saint whose silvery shoulder-length hair had shimmered in the moonlight, belying her age and embellishing her charm, each strand a testament to a life faithfully lived. I wasn’t sure what list she was on, but I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if someone could finagle me onto it.
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