Step one: Recognize and Answer the Call to Adventure
My inner writer died.
I’m not really sure when it happened, but I came to the stark realization that it did a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to push past what some people I guess would call “writer’s block”, but it’s not a block—it’s a death. Life got busy. Priorities shifted. And I just did take time to breathe life into my inner writer.
So I mourned her death. Struggled with a little depression…and then began the process of rebirth.
“ None of us possess a life devoid of magic, barren of grace, divorced from power”
That’s the beautiful part about our creativity—as we grow and change we will often kill off the playful and inspired part of ourselves that wants to push limits and think outside the box…but we can get it back if we are willing to do the work.
So, I invite you on my QUEST to resurrect a part of myself that I lost sight of.
Step two: Get help–Assistance is always required to complete a quest
I mentioned in my last post how much I enjoyed Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way and that book was incredibly inspiring several years ago during my golden age of writing. So, naturally, I went back to Cameron and have found another installment that seems to be exactly what I need right now. I am starting my journey by reading The Vein of Gold, a book whose primary concern is healing the inner child. And let’s face it—I pretty much ignore my inner child. I’m sure she’s in there somewhere—probably sleeping. If I want my creative juices to start flowing again I’m going to have to wake her up. So I’m embarking on this quest with Cameron at the helm and one goal in mind: resurrect my inner writer and return to my golden age of creativity. I invite you to join me (through my blog posts, of course, but if you are feeling a little fuddy-duddy-ish, grab yourself a copy and take the journey with me literally!
“Something has changed within me. Something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game.” Defying Gravity—Stephen Schwartz—Wicked
Step three: Depart—and don’t let the valid excuses become reasons to avoid the Renaissance
“We are romancing our creative urges. Nothing kills a romance more quickly than a few broken promises” Julia Cameron
I started in several ways this week. First, I said yes spontaneously (me???) to an unexpected invitation to see Wicked with a friend—which just reminded me how much I really do love musicals…and the theater…
So I spent most of the rest of the week singing different broadway musicals at the top (and I do mean the top) of my ever-so-off-key lungs.
And I realized that my mood journal took a huge upswing this week—so many more positives than negatives. Coincidence? Well, maybe. But it sure did feel good. Did I do a lot of writing? Not really, but I don’t expect the world to right itself overnight. And hey—I did a blog post 2 weeks in a row, so that’s improvement!
So stop fearing the worst, continue to hope for the best, and take a few leaps of faith along the way and you might be surprised by when and where the Lord meets you in your unadulterated neediness.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” Joseph Campbell
When I was in middle school I had a crush on this boy and so a friend of mine decided she would play matchmaker and asked him what he thought of me. I was sitting within hearing distance, and I’ll never forget his response. If pretty were a scale, he said holding up his hands so that she could see the invented spectrum, then Ashley is right here. And he pointed to the far end of the scale, which if translated into numbers would have put me around a 2 or 3.
I remember feeling a little stunned because it was the first time I had ever been made to feel less than, unacceptable, or unworthy. Up to that point I had a lot of confidence for a middle school girl. I made good grades. I had good friends. I was nerdy, but still accepted by most of my peers because I was so nice. But that moment something shifted inside me and I began to see the world a lot differently.
I don’t share that story often because, honestly, I feel a little embarrassed that I let a jerkface boy create so much of my identity for so long. But the fact is, this happens all. the. time.
As a woman, I’ve been made very aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but the beholder is quite often influenced by the onslaught of cultural imaging and stereotyping. I think most women can agree that these expectations can be a little overwhelming at the best of times and absolutely crushing at the worst. Because, quite frankly, it’s tough being a woman.
It’s Tough being a Woman
Let’s face it, being a woman is not easy and when you have the weight of the world, at least your world, on your shoulders, things get evenmore complicated even faster. That’s Esther. Tough stuff.
So Esther is an orphan. When she was quite young her parents died. We don’t know how they died, just that both her mother and her father died and she is raised by a cousin—Mordecai (Esther 2: 5-7). A male cousin, no less. If that wasn’t enough trauma for one little girl when she wasn’t much more than a teenager she was taken into the Citadel at Susa as a candidate for “future queen” (Esther 2: 8).
Sounds great, right? Queen? What little girl doesn’t want that? It’s not quite that simple. Don’t you know what happened to the previous queen, Vashti? After a lot of feasting and wine the King, Xerxes, summoned her to his presence. He wanted to show her off—like a real trophy wife. She refused—maybe cause she didn’t want to be groped and fondled by a bunch of rich drunk guys. Or maybe because she was spoiled and drunk herself. Regardless, when she refused the king, she was banished and never heard of again. Killed? Who knows? Maybe (Esther 1:19-20).
Also, let’snot forget that word candidate. She’snot guaranteed the title of queen, but once she is in the harem…well, she’s not coming out again. And well, pleasing the King doesn’t just mean looking pretty. That’s only part of it. I think you can follow my drift. Once you’re in that Harem, you are the king’s—so there goes Esther’s dream of any kind of normalfamily life.
Beauty Treatments for the Beautiful
After being ripped from her adoptive father’s home, in Esther 2: 8-18, we see this young protagonist spend 12 months in beauty treatments. Well, that seems odd considering the palace officials only brought the most beautiful young, virginal women to the harem to be considered as candidates in the first place. But if our culture has taught us anything, even the most beautiful women are often made to feel as if they are not doing enough to be as beautiful as they could be. This is why beauty pageants, though not inherently wrong, do often create more insecurities in women than they do promote positive body image. I have no real feelings for or against pageants, but I do have a lot of feelings about the way a focus on beauty affects the way women interact with each other and view themselves. As a result, we see a lot of problems in a culture which validates women based on beauty, and Esther experienced these problems first hand.
To make matters worse, this atmosphere bred competition, and a brutal one at that. Esther wasn’t just competing against the other women either. She also had to contend with Vashti’s memory and even the cultural expectations as she hid her linage for fear of persecution. So, I can’t’ even imagine how the atmosphere of the harem inflamed her insecurities before and after being chosen as queen.
Competition Never Ends
Later in the narrative, we find Mordecai, Esther’s adoptive father, entering the narrative as a bigger player than a conduit for the new queen’s upbringing. In chapter 2, he had even saved the king’s life by discovering an assassination plot. Unfortunately, this camaraderie and favoritism with the king is short-lived as jealousy expands not only in the harem but throughout the king’s men as well. Because let’s face it, when you build your whole kingdom on competition for favor, you are just asking for conflict among your people. Haman, an official of the king’s, wants o be top dog and he sees Mordecai as a threat (and he doesn’t even know the half of it! Since Esther remained silent about her lineage, no one even knows she is related to the Mordecai). Then, in Esther 3 Haman’s jealousy is just too much and we see it spinning out of control.
Haman devises a plot, not only to rid the country of Mordecai but of all Jews. His genocidal plan is received with indifference by the king. Which begs the question of what is actually worse—theactive hatred of Haman, or the passive indifference and allowance of the king?
Either way, Mordecai sees the danger, but alos the home and he pleas with Esther to go to the King about the edict. After all, Esther has the King’s ear and may be the Jews only hope. However, as we read Esther 4: 4-14, her response is heartbreaking. In verse 11 she reveals that thirty days have passed since she has been called to the King’s side. Her time is gone. She no longer has the King’s interest. Her husband has grown tired and bored with her and though he saw her high on the scale before, she is now feeling like she’s fallen to that 2 or 3. And she allows this to control her self-esteem, thoughts, actions and reactions. She let a jerkface man validate her identity, like so many women before her and so many women after her will do. And it crushed her.
But Mordecai doesn’t accept this.
He reminds her that the King, her husband, this jerkface man does NOT control or validate her identity. You are a Jew! He reminds her. You are one of God’s chosen people, and He chose you for this moment!
Xerxes may have chosen Esther as his queen, but God chose her as his daughter. And that reminder is all she needs to find the courage to act, because after all–despite what our culture tells us–men and women do not control our identities. Only God can do that and when we rest firmly in the knowledge that he has chosen us for a purpose and for his glory, then the way others percieve us no longer matters.
Siezing your God-given Destiny
Esther 5 is so interesting because we see Esther taking charge and seizing her destiny and then at the last moment she seems almost to chicken out, but I’m not sure she hesitates for fear. Maybe, but I think it was the Lord guiding her words and steps. She fasted for 3 days and she’s hungry, tired, and scared, but it is in those vulnerable moments that we hear God speak with the most clairty, because we stop trying to control our own destiny and we step into what he has planned for us.
So, in Esther 6 we feel the increase of tension in a seemingly insignificant as we are waiting for Esther to reveal the plot to Xerxes. Without the pause, we would have missed the most vital part of the whole story! GOD causes XERXES to have a sleepless night revealing an important hero—Mordecai. This downplays Esther, Mordecai’s, and even Haman’s role in the story and brings the TRUE protagonist to the forefront—GOD. Even though His name isn’t mentioned anywhere in the text, evidence that HE is still in control simply leaps off the page!
Esther 7:1-10 Finally shows us justice for Haman’s plot. In the remaining chapters, vindication for all the Jews comes through another edict where the Jews are allowed to defend themselves, but here ends Esther’s involvement in the story. Her words are straight from the Lord and she uses every moment to her advantage, thinking before she acted, and waiting for the Lord to move.
Waiting on the Lord is never easy, especially when justice and revenge are more appealing options, but the older I become the more I understand that our happiness doesn’t depend on other people, what they think or what they tell us, our happiness depends on stepping into who the Lord created us to be–not what some jerkface says we are.
I know this may come as a shock to you, but I am not a risk taker. I don’t like roller coasters. I rode one, an upside down one, once—I gave into peer pressure. It was not fun. My bff wants so bad to go skydiving and she can usually talk me into just about anything (you really don’t want to know about the cab ride in Savannah…). I told her to go for it, I’d wait at the bottom with a couple of pom-poms, a glass of wine, and cheer her whole way down. I went into a casino on my 25th birthday—just for funsies to say I’d gambled. I put 5 dollars on slot machine card. Played once. My heart rate increased so badly it was kind of unreal. I gave the card to my bff who finished playing while I recovered. All this is to say if two spies came to my house and asked to hide, I’d have probably slammed the door in their faces and called the police.
So I guess that’s why God chose a woman like Rahab for this particular mission and a woman like me to face down teens every day in the last place 85% of them want to be—a classroom.
That’s what I love about God and His plans for us. He uses each of us in unique ways as long as we are brave enough to say yes. No, I’m not a risk taker, at least not for the sake of taking risks, but it takes courage to do a lot of what I have said yes to in my life—and a lot of what I’ve said no to as well.
Rahab was brave. She made some mistakes, sure. We all do. But God is gracious, and he is good and if you have the kind of faith Rahab did, well you just might move some mountains too.
Numbers 13: 26-31 and 14: 2-4 sets the scene for what happens later once Rahab enters the scene. Moses, Aaron and Miriam had just led the people out of Egypt and across the blazing hot desert to the foot of the Promised land. So, per God’s instruction, they send out 12 spies, one from each tribe of Israel. Once they return, they all report some pretty awesome thing–great land, good fruit, truly the land flowing with milk and honey. But, there’s one tiny catch…the place is swarming with GIANTS, they are powerful and their cities are fortified and there is absolutely NO WAY we can defeat them. Thanks for nothing, leaders of God.
The usual grumbling commences until Caleb speaks up. Hey ya’ll, we’ve got this. Caleb knows that it doesn’t matter how big and strong or how fortified the cities are, the Israelites have something the Canaanites don’t: God.
Still, the grumbling.
10 spies say “No, don’t go!” 2 say “Come on we got this!” but the people give into their fear and rebel. God is not happy and sends them back to wander in the desert for 40 years as punishment for their disobedience.
So, when Rahab enters the narrative, the Israelites have just finished their 40-year wandering through the desert The last time they sent spies into Canaan it didn’t’ go so well. And the spies? Well, the 10 negative Nancies were struck down with the plague.
The 2 who trusted God, they got to enter the Promised Land, though no one else did. We start our story really in Joshua 2:1-3. Joshua was one of the original spies, one of only 2 individuals who survived the wandering in the desert to see the Promised Land because of his faithfulness (see Numbers 13:8, 16 and 14:38). This time, however I note two things about the spies.
1) Joshua sent them out in secret.
2) The number is significantly reduced.
I don’t know why there are only 2 spies sent out, but I get the feeling Joshua is trying to avoid a repeat of the previous generation. God has encouraged him to be strong and courageous, so Joshua does what he thinks is best for the group moving forward, with guidance from God. The spies go to Jericho and enter the house of Rahab the prostitute. We don’t know what they did before they entered her home, but I think it’s fair to say they did their job, spying on the place, but their low profile only got them so far…after all their entire nation is camped on Jericho’s doorstep, so two strangers coming into town and asking questions is going to raise a few red flags. Why Rahab? Well, clearly the encounter is ordained by God, but it was probably one of the few homes open to them as strangers. There is a certain amount of fear–their reputation precedes them across the desert lands–and a good portion of the people of Jericho would have swept their kids inside their homes and locked their doors as the spies made their way through town. As the fear spreads, so does the panic and word gets back to the palace where the king of Jericho doesn’t sit idly by, but sends soliders after them.
So I imagine a “psssssst,” coming from Rahab’s home where she whisks the two brave, handsome men inside and straight up to a hiding place before going down to meet her next guests, the palace guards.
Joshua 2:4-7 gives us an account of this encounter. Somehow or other it is known that the spies have visited Rahab; I don’t know why, maybe it’s marked on the tourist map that all visitors must have this experience—like Madame Tussauds the wax museum (of course Rahab was a whole different kind of Madame, but let’s not get into that at the moment). At any rate, in they go and everybody knows it. The soldiers arrive and demand to know where the spies are–after all everyone has seen her take them inside; I guess she’s not exactly discreet as the town whore. But Rahab flips her hair and maybe uses her feminine wiles and spins a tale that sends the soldiers after the spies who are hiding on her rooftop all the while.
I think it’s important to know that Rahab is NOT an Isrealite. She is a Canaanite—and a prostitute at that. When the police come knocking on her door, she takes a great risk and LIES to them. This kind of lying/manipulation is not unheard of (see Exodus 1:17-19 and 2 Samuel 17:19), but it is a bit unusual given the circumstances. Not to mention murky morality. Despite the lies, God sees the woman’s heart and her compassion–and even more importantly her faith.
Joshua 2:8-24 shows us just how smart this woman is. Okay, sure she’s identified with the epithet “the prostitute” but clearly that’s not all she is. I mean come on, she owned her own house, she had fields or at least the means to dry flax (a type of grain) on her roof, she had the ear and eyes (at minimum) of the king. She’s not your average lady of the night. And she’s smart—she thinks on her feet. Best of all, she knows how to choose the winning team.
She not only confirms that Jericho’s people are melting with fear, she puts her faith in the men and in their God to save her from the destruction that is sure to follow. She could have turned them over, but God has spoken to her heart and given her a reason to side with Him. And she does.
In the end, both sides kept their bargains. In Joshua 6 we see how it all plays out. Rahab took a great risk, but then so did the spies. And God rewarded them both for their faith.
I can’t help but wonder how she convinced her family to come over for the ultimate sleepover in her home. Was she such a good businesswoman that they didn’t disown her because of her profession? Did she have to get into the profession for reasons that were really quite noble? Whatever the reasons, her family hovers around her day after day as the Isreali army marches around the city building tension, suspense and ultimately fear in their enemy until the walls come tumbling down. All the walls, tumbling around Rahab and their family…except their own. Faith over fear–a rescue worth remembering
This encounter reminds me of an Elevation Worship song that I love called Do It Again. Take a look at the lyrics and video. In the case of Rahab, her walls literally came tumbling down. What separated her from God wasn’t just her sin, it was a whole culture. She saw an opportunity to escape and all she did was say please, God and he provided. That kind of faith is unbelievable and hard for me to truly understand having grown up in a Western, sheltered culture. Regardless, I have my own walls. Some I’ve built myself and some others erected. God is bigger than all the walls in my life and my faith is what keeps me safe and guarded when those walls tumble (not if, because all walls fall when and where God says).
Because I’m a nerd I love the symbolism and numerology: scarlet cord, three days, seven times, direction vs. misdirection. Our lives are lived in patterns. So Rahab made her own mistakes. She chose a life for herself that was outside the moral standards of almost all cultures, which is why even in the New Testament, long after her transformation she is still labeled as “Rahab the prostitute”(see Hebrews 11:31). The epithet is misleading; Rahab’s sins were forgiven completely and she started over as a brand new woman right smack dab in the middle of the people of God. Sound familiar? We all have sins, regrets, and walls…. essentially, we all have pasts we carry, but the truth is we don’t have to carry them around with us if we just have faith enough to lay them down at the feet of Jesus–who will crush all of them!
It would have been easy for Rahab to feel like her life wasn’t what she planned and to just give up because God had failed her. But she didn’t. She asked God to rescue her and because he is faithful and true (even when we are not), He plucked her out of where her bad choices had landed her and straight into a new redeeming life. She married into the Israelite nation, and did you know her offspring would be a part of the lineage of Christ himself.
Faith is risky. It requires that you step out of the known and rely on the unknown. That you relinquish control in your life to the One who made your life. James 2:26 says faith without works is dead. Notice that it does not say you can earn your way into heaven, but that your faith should manifest in action. Rahab’s faith was not dead. She didn’t just say she was going to do something, she did it, transforming her life from ‘the prostitute’ to ‘the faithful one of God’. And we can transform too.
It’s amazing to me how often what I teach coincides with my world. Maybe its coincidence, but I doubt it. Literature is supposed to reflect the human experience and this week I am living proof.
It’s 2 am. I’ve become friends with 2 am. Not by choice, but by some weird insomniatic habit. It doesn’t seem to matter how early or late I go to bed, if I’m going to be hit by a bout of insomnia, it’s coming on at 2 am. Pop! My eyes open, I look at the clock and yes, 2 am. I have no explanation for it. I try to go back to sleep. Sometimes I try for hours with no success. Tonight, however, I don’t. I know why I’m awake tonight, so I succumb and I do the only thing I know to do to cope.
Earlier this week I read the Robert Burns’ poem “To A Mouse” with my students. If you are familiar with the poem, you’ll recall that it is an apology from a farmer to a field mouse for destroying her home right before the winter ‘hoar frost cold’ is about to settle over the land. There is much to glean from the poem. Empathy for creatures, unity with nature, but what strikes me the hardest actually comes in the last stanza:
“Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!”
I always ask my students if they think the poem is really just about a mouse after reading the last stanza and inevitably they always say no, because they realize that the farmer is projecting his own worries onto the mouse. We speculate about what the farmer may be worried about, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The point is made. Humans are cursed. We worry. Beasts plan, thinking about the present and what must be done now with an innate sense of survival implanted in them that helps them survive in the future, but they don’t worry about the future. They simply deal with what is in front of them. Humans aren’t like that. The past haunts us. Memories, like cobwebs, weave through our heads trapping our thoughts in endless suppositions of “what ifs” and “couldawouldashouldas”. The future, though never attainable, is our constant goal. Like the carrot at the end of a stick, we keep lunging for it, thinking we are just about to get it, just for it to be jerked in another direction or for it to be just out of our reach, because the future is simply unknowable.
And yet, we insist on worrying about both the past and the future.
Constantly. Without fail.
And I know that is why I am awake now.
I find that I am frustrated with myself, knowing that worrying is foolish and a waste of time energy and obviously sleep. After all, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go askew”. But knowing it is one thing, being able to do something about it is another. So what do you do, when you recognize a problem and you can’t fix it?
You consult an expert.
It’s interesting that I know this particular verse backward and forward, but how well it relates to Burns has escaped me until now. Matthew 6:25-27 reads:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; Or about your body, what you will wear; Is not live more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
The idea of beasts not worrying is prevalent in the verse (birds, ugh, but point made). No past haunting them, not future looming before them. They are cared for. Then the stinger. Does worrying actually do anything for you?
No, actually I think science is even proving that it harms us; worrying is toxic.
These are big words, true words even, and easy to say. Not so easy to put into practice. So what do I do next? I’m currently suffering from insomnia, so obviously this is still a struggle of mine. But, I will tell you what I’m doing right now. I’m going to stop thinking right now about the past and the future and think about right now.
It’s 3am. And I am thankful for…
Sunlight…Air…Hot, soothing tea…friends who listen…a God who cares…sleep…
The best part about being a writer is imagining how certain exchanges in life could be change if I were a different person.
Don’t get me wrong, most days I like who I am. I don’t believe in regrets. Every moment of every day shapes us into the people we are God ordained to be.
But sometimes I wonder….
What if I’d said this?
What if I’d done that?
What if I were more assertive, flirty, aggressive, competitive?
How would life be different?
Because it would be different.
One of my favorite contemporary authors, Robin Jones Gunn, wrote this in her best-selling Christy Miller series for teens:
“You can drive yourself crazy living in the ‘Land of If Only.’ […] I heard this lady talk once about how you could spend your whole life in the ‘Land of If Only’ by always looking back and saying, ‘If only I’d done this’ or ‘If only I hadn’t done that.’ It can really mess you up if you’re always wishing things were different than they are. She said that when things happen that you don’t understand, you have to believe God is still in control and nothing happens by mistake.”
As a teenager, I took this advice to heart, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized something important about this message. There is a difference between the land of “If Only” and the land of “What If…” The basic premise of trusting God to be in control is sound theology. Whoever I am and whatever I do or don’t do is valuable and as it says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Spending too much time in the land of ‘If Only’ questions the validity of God’s control over my life. This is the last thing I want to do.
But ‘what if’ is beautiful because it gives me a chance to explore different possibilities and build different scenarios to use a God given gift.
An Actual Exchange:
Person: “How are you doing?”
Me: “I’m doing okay. Or, I will be okay.”
Person: “I owe you big time.”
Me: Laughing a little, “No, no. It’s fine. Everything’s good.”
Male Character: “How are you doing?”
Female Protagonist: “I’m okay I think.”
Male Character: “I owe you big time.”
Female Protagonist: “Well, maybe I’ll let you buy me dinner sometime and we’ll call it even.”
The tone of the exchange is completely altered with absolutely no description—the dialogue can change everything and the responses/directions are endless.
The problem: there is a delicate line between ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ and once I cross it, I fall into the sin of ingratitude, which brings me back around to my Lent 2014 challenge of ditching the negative energy and focusing on blessings. The more I do this now, the more habitual it becomes, the thicker the line becomes, and ‘what if’ blossoms into what next.
Encouraging restoration, healing, and expression through writing.