There was a little girl I once knew whose entire life was an empty stage, and she knew in her heart she was the one meant to fill that space. The hall echoed with waiting spectators, but she couldn’t see who they were, for the glare of the spotlight left her blinded. So she shielded her eyes and stood center stage, waiting for her cue.
She waited a long time, and the more she focused on the auditorium, the better she was able to block the glare of the spotlight until it sort of faded into her periphery. That was when she realized – the seats were all empty.
She stood on a barren stage, in an empty performance hall, with nothing but a spotlight to keep her warm. How terribly downcast she felt about the whole ordeal.
Dejection tried to push in, but the girl quickly convinced herself that she had only to begin performing, and then people would come watch her. So she started, loud and bold.
“COME LOOK AT ME!” She cried out in her most dramatic voice, each word inflected with a sense of purpose.
“YOU WANT TO WATCH ME, BECAUSE I WAS MADE FOR THIS! THIS IS MY STAGE! ISN’T IT GRAND?”
And a few people trickled in. Some sat in the front row – they were her family – and they clapped the loudest and most enthusiastically. She liked that.
A few more came, and the girl squinted through the spotlight to see a seat fill up here and there, and so she raised her voice again.
“I WAS MADE FOR THIS STAGE! IT’S MINE! I WANT TO BE UP HERE, SO IT MUST BE MEANT FOR ME!”
As she shouted her monologue, more people came, but some also left. It seemed they were a fickle crowd, willing to come and go, and so the girl pulled back and looked around. And that’s when she noticed hers wasn’t the only stage in the room. In fact, the auditorium was filled with stages.
Some were quite large, much more so than the girl’s. And the ones who stood on those large stages had lights, and music. Some had lasers, and even back up dancers. The girl felt very small and inadequate next to those large stages.
But there were others, she noticed, who had smaller stages than her own. Some of those on the small stages stood nearly motionless with arms pinned to their sides, timidly speaking, their whispers drowned in the noise.
But some on the small stages spoke quite eloquently, and the girl noticed that people were listening and watching those speakers. They were illuminated by nothing more that the spotlight, and she felt compelled to incline her ear toward these strong speakers on the small stages.
The girl looked back out toward her own audience, and suddenly realized they all looked bored. Well, all of them except those sitting in the front row. They always looked proud.
And then the girl couldn’t remember her story, or why she stood on that stage in the first place. So she sat down, put her head in her hands, and began to weep. No longer a girl, she had grown into a woman, and she found that being on the stage wasn’t where she wanted to be. She was tired of trying to be heard.
She wanted to be in the audience, comfortably choosing which speaker to follow. So she pushed to her feet, and decided to leave.
Only she couldn’t leave, for the stage had grown around her. It wasn’t a cage, but she found there were no steps on which to descend. She was meant to stay up there. But why? And for what?
Turning circles on the platform, the girl tried to make sense of it all. Finally, she turned back toward the audience, but she couldn’t see them, the glare of the spotlight having grown increasingly bright. For a brief moment, she quit looking for the people and allowed herself to be warmed by the light. And that’s when she knew.
The stage wasn’t hers – it never had been.
And the story wasn’t really hers to tell. All of it belonged to the Light, and in the Light. She wasn’t there to be seen, but to reveal the Light. The audience wasn’t warmed by her performance, or her words – they were warmed by the Light alone.
So she stepped forward, this time more humbly, and with much more trepidation. Lifting her chin, she turned her face toward the Light, and with a smile she held her hands wide.
“Come see this Light,” she cried, in a hushed and hallowed voice. “I was made to show you this Light. Isn’t it Grand? This Light is for you, too.”
I both long for it, and resent it. Everything about my life is safe, and for that I am truly thankful. I’m free to move about as I please, and so are my children, and there are moments when I truly, genuinely do not take that for granted.
But there are more moments when I do take it for granted.
Like everyone else, I have been captivated by the photos of a little boy washed ashore. I think about his parents and their longing for safety, and the journey they took that was anything but safe, and my heart breaks because it was just so hard.
I think about the family who recently brought home a little girl from a Chinese orphanage, and they now sit cocooned in their home because they need her to know that they aren’t going to leave her. She’s barely two, but she’s conditioned to believe that everyone leaves, and so they must build trust. And how many children are living that way in this world?
I think of the young woman in Ukraine who spent the last two Christmases with us. She wants family and safety. She wants to be known. She wants life to be easier.
And then I think of my own children swimming in opportunity, and I worry that I’m failing. We have a house bursting with “stuff.” So much stuff. It’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and we have enough clothing to last us at least a month, maybe more, if needed.
Food piles in the pantry and fridge, but still I run to the grocery store almost daily, because I can. And because these people in my house eat like it’s going out of style.
We’ve tried to expose them to the suffering of this world, but as they bicker over who gets to play the PlayStation next, I fear we’ve done a poor job.
We took them to Walmart on Monday armed with a list of needed and necessary items for Syrian refugees. Our sole purpose in the store was to purchase for others, not for ourselves. And yet, in every aisle they asked for something. We reminded them over and over, gently at first, and then with more urgency, that this trip wasn’t about us – it was about suffering people.
But even I had to restrain myself from grabbing a few things for our family while there.
We brought all the items home, and they’re piled in the corner waiting be boxed.
“That’s really not that much stuff,” my oldest said last night as I pulled it all out and began organizing it. “How many refugees are there?”
“Thousands,” I replied. He raised his eyebrows.
“That will only help a couple of people.”
And so it is that my heart constricts again, because this box I’m putting together feels so small. I know that for the three or four people who benefit from it’s content, the gesture won’t be small. But this feels like a single drop of rain in a vast desert. Everything feels so small.
A solitary box fill with clothes and shoes is small.
Bringing “K” into our home for two months is small.
My children live in a world that is bursting with need, and I do know that they’re aware of this – they’re not clueless. Nor are they indifferent to the suffering of others. In fact, when given the opportunity, they are more gracious and giving than I am.
But it all feels so small.
I placed the sweatpants and tennis shoes, socks and underwear in the box, and before closing it up laid my hand on top of it and prayed.
“Lord, multiply this offering so that it isn’t small. This isn’t enough, Father. But it’s something – it’s a start. Make it sufficient, Oh God.”
My one box is small, but it’s something. It’s a start. And maybe if we work together as a collective whole we can make that offering a big one. Like the loaves and the fish, the offering can be made sufficient for the masses.
I tell you these things not to bait you for encouragement, but rather to let you know that I get it – what we have to offer feels small. But a lot of small can equal a big, so maybe we can join forces.
My small box combined with your small donation, and her box, and his donation all come together to clothe and feed the desperate.
My orphan hosting combined with their adoption, and your sponsorship, and their mission trip to paint the orphanage, and build shelving, and offer clothing all work together to show the fatherless of this world that they’re not alone – their lives matter.
[Tweet “Small can be big. It just needs a little boost.”]
Want to be small with me today?
A list of small things you can do to make a big difference:
The baby’s cries pierced through the walls for the third night in a row. Just when we hit a stride in her sleeping patterns, she enters a new growth spurt and the nighttime feedings start again.
I’m weary. So weary.
I stumbled to her room and lifted her from her bed. Her warm, doughy cheek pressed into my neck, and the moment was everything I could hope it would be, except for the fact that it was two in the morning.
Yawning, I stuck the bottle in her waiting mouth and leaned my head back, mind running through the laundry list of things that needed to be done once the sun made her way high up into the sky.
So much.There’s so much to do. On any given day, I’m not sure how it is I manage to accomplish all the tasks in front of me. And for all that I manage to get done, it seems I forget half as much. I’m forever a step behind in life.
I stumbled back to bed and fell onto my pillow, and before I knew it the alarm jarred me, yet again, from my slumber. I had work to do, but first.
I’m trying to dig into my Bible before I open my computer. I’m not always good at it. Some days, the pull of work is just too strong. But on this morning, I pulled out my Bible and started reading. I landed in Proverbs and flipped to Proverbs 31.
This passage of scripture both inspires and baffles me. How does she do it, this Proverbs 31 woman? I know that this wasn’t the picture of a single woman, but rather the composite of a woman. But still. I’m forever dropping the ball, and I don’t even have to sew my children’s clothes from woolen materials!
But on this morning it hit me. As I read through this passage for the hundredth (thousandth? millionth?) time, my mind wandered back to the Maasai women in Tanzania. I thought of the hut built by a woman’s hand, and the village of women who birth the babies and raise the children, kill and prepare the food. What strength they possessed.
Then my mind drifted to the stories of the German women who picked up shovels and rebuilt their cities after the war. And the women of America who entered the factories and kept the country running while our men fought.
I thought of the Ukrainian girls and women sent to slave labor camps, forced to build artillery for the enemy.
And then I thought of my own mom, faithfully raising and loving two children. I thought of her bringing in her sister’s kids because that’s what family does, even when it’s hard. I thought of the way she flew half way across the world to stay with my children for eight days so that I could have an adventure.
Photo by Tammy Labuda: TammyLabudaPhotography.com
And I read Proverbs 31 again with hot tears dripping from my eyes because it finally hit me.
Proverbs 31 isn’t the story of one woman, nor is it a composite of all the things I should be.
Proverbs 31 is the story of women – of womanhood. It is everything that we are, the collective whole of us. It is the strength that God knit into the very fiber of a woman’s heart.
This is the strength that carries a woman through back breaking labor, through childbirth and child rearing, through midnight feedings, never ending schedules, and days that stretch into nights with little or no opportunity to rest.
This is the strength that gets a mother through the year-long deployment of her soldier husband. It’s the strength that allows a woman to get up each morning and dig her heels into all that life has to offer – the good and the bad.
Proverbs 31 isn’t the unattainable goal of womanhood. Oh, no.
Proverbs 31 is a celebration of all that God has made us to be.
Sweet friend, are you weary tonight? Do you feel like you’re failing at every turn? Does life feel like it’s just a little too much?
Take heart, dear friend. He has knit into you a strength that cannot be explained. It can only be lived, one step, one day at a time.
You, dear woman, are stronger than you think.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”
I walked timidly into the chiropractor’s office. I don’t like chiropractors. Allowing someone to grab my head and twist it until my neck pops like a roll of bubble wrap makes my stomach get all twisty. I know these people are trained, and I’ve never actually heard of a chiropractor twisting someone’s head right off their body.
But what if it happened, and I was the one on the table?!
I went yesterday, though, because the day before I threw out my back. Because apparently I am an old lady now, and that’s what happens to old ladies who bend over and try to pick up a heavy baby.
Lift with the legs, not with the back!
So I think it was obvious to the people in the office that I was feeling a little nervous. I’m guessing the tip off came when I told the assistant, “I’m super nervous about this.”
She led me to a nearby room and had me lay on a water bed. But this was no ordinary water bed. It was a hydrotherapy water bed, heated to 100 degrees, then turned on to pulsate every bit of nervousness straight out of my body.
For twenty minutes I laid in the dark room while the water beat my muscles into submission, and I think I met Jesus there. When she walked back in and flipped on the lights, I felt momentarily offended. Why would anyone ever tell you to stop laying on a hydrotherapy bed?!
I’m kind of holding out hope that heaven will be equipped with hydrotherapy beds.
By the time I saw the doctor, I was ready to let him pull and pop and crack and maneuver everything around until I felt the tension lessen on my lower back, and I walked out having experienced both the good and the bad of an adjustment. And together they worked to free me of the pain that had threatened to push me down.
As I drove home, all relaxed and happy, I thought about those twenty minutes on the hydro bed and how utterly at peace I felt. My back didn’t hurt, there were no sounds of children or phone messages begging for my attention. It was quiet, save for the hum of the machine that coaxed out all the knots.
It dawned on me that I haven’t had enough of those moments lately. I haven’t taken enough time to sit still, to close my eyes, to simply relax. Yes, it would help me slip away and recharge if I had my own hydrotherapy bed (and don’t think I haven’t already priced them), but since that’s not an option, I need to come up with another solution.
I’ve felt creatively parched lately. A traveling husband, busy schedules, and little time alone to sit and think left me all knotted up. I sit down to write and the words feel locked, the characters muddled, the stories choppy and incomplete. I try to remember the most basic of tasks, and it’s like someone turns a jack hammer on in my head.
And don’t even get me started on the assignments that teachers are sending home right now. Torture, pure torture. The kids bring home the same predictable homework all year long, and then the last month of school we change it up and play Spelling Bingo, and Living History projects are due?
*bangs head against wall*
But isn’t that the nature of motherhood? It’s like walking into the unknown, your back all tied in knots. And you have to take all the stress and the frustration to the Lord, surrendering control so that He can loosen a few joints.
Sometimes the loosening feels like a hydrotherapy bed with the Lord offering refreshment through a quick nap, an unexpected play date, or a few moments alone to clear your head.
And other days, you’re not afforded the opportunity to slip away, so you surrender your control to Him, and He loosens the joints for you. You trust that He knows what’s best, and you try to resist pushing back against Him as He makes the necessary adjustments in your heart.
It’s a loose metaphor, I know. But it’s working for me today, and maybe it’ll work for you? Maybe you’re tired, weary as the end of the year push threatens to undo you. Maybe you can’t step away, so you simply need to lean into the Lord and let Him adjust the frustration and fatigue out of your spirit.
Or maybe you just need to buy yourself a hydrotherapy bed.
Happy weekend, everyone! I’m praying it’s a relaxing and sweet time for you all!
I screened NOBLE last night, and I swallowed over a lump in my throat through the entire film. Twice the lump dissolved and I let the hot tears roll down my cheeks.
I had never heard of Christina Noble before last night. I didn’t know her heartbreaking story, her raw, real faith, or her determination to make life better for the hundreds of thousands of street children living in post-war Vietnam.
I’m so glad I know her story now.
NOBLE walks the viewer through Christina’s life in flash backs, alternating between Vietnam in 1989, and her devastating childhood. We see her faith rattled as a young girl when her mom dies after she begs God to let her live.
We see her endurance under the abusive nuns of her orphanage, and the constant, gritty dialogue between her and a God she doesn’t understand, but she desperately wants to trust.
It’s a very real portrayal of faith, because haven’t we all had those moments? Perhaps not as heart wrenching as the one Christina shared with God after the nuns took her baby boy and gave him to be raised by another family without her consent. This was the baby boy conceived in a horrific gang rape.
And beneath the dim, candle-lit altar, Christina lays it all out in front of Him. “I don’t know what to say to you, except now we both know what it’s like to lose a son. I’m not being blasphemous. I’m not comparing myself to you. It’s just that if I stop believing now, I won’t be able to keep going. I won’t survive. I hope you’re gonna explain this to me very bloody soon, so until then you’re gonna have to listen to me swear and curse and shout and I won’t be asking for your forgiveness. Sorry about that.”
We follow Christina’s journey through her marriage to an abusive husband, and a dream in which she sees images of Vietnamese children.
Years later, when her own children are grown and out of the house, Christina makes her way to Vietnam, determined to follow the vivid call of her dream.
Though it looks rash and impulsive, and to an extent it was, Christina Noble’s move and passion for the street children of Vietnam makes perfect sense. It was a move she made after years of waiting, of raising her own children, of questioning and begging God for answers.
We can all relate to the frustration that comes with feeling like God is silent. “Lord, I’m asking, but I don’t hear you.”
Christina knew she needed to help the children of Vietnam, but she didn’t know how. The red tape and bureaucracy built seemingly impossible walls to scale, and it culminated with her most personal and faith filled talk with God in which she finally threw up her hands in surrender. “Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll walk. You lead.”
And that is the essence of faith. It’s the boiled down surrender of a life spent begging for answers. It’s the place that God longs for us to meet Him.
“I’ll walk. You lead.”
What a powerful prayer – a prayer where the Lord’s power can be fully unleashed. A prayer meant for worn out, exhausted mothers with messy counters and a too full schedule. A prayer for tired businessmen who long to know if there’s more to life than making money. A prayer for the young and the old, the rich and the poor.
“Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5: 2
“I’ll walk. You lead.”
This is the essence of faith.
To this day, Christina Noble has helped over 700,000 children in Vietnam and Mongolia. And as the film closes and the words flit across the screen, we’re given one last glimpse into her beautiful, boiled down faith.
“Christina Noble still talks to God.”
NOBLE releases today, Friday, May 8, in theaters across the country.