Go Ahead, be the Smart One

Gentle Reader,

She was an intelligent and beautiful woman…

– 1 Samuel 25:3b (NIV)

This little character comment is tucked into a story of foolish stubbornness and near disaster. David, not yet king and on the run from Saul, decides to kill a man and his entire household after this man refuses him the hospitality so prized in that culture. An extreme reaction on David’s part, yes, but the situation could have been avoided if Nabal hadn’t lived up to his name.

Enter Abigail.

She stands in stark contrast to the man she married. Her quick thinking preserved many lives. 

It is remarkable how many Abigails get married to Nabals. God-fearing women, tender and gentle in the sensibilities, high-minded and noble in their ideals, become tied in an indissoluble union with men for whom they can have no true affinity, even if they have not an unconquerable repugnance.

David Guzik, quoting F.B. Meyer

It is both natural and logical to look at the marriage of Abigail and Nabal as a central element of the narrative; very much a, “Be careful who you marry, ladies,” conclusion drawn. (Of course, Abigail probably had very little say in the matter). This, though not incorrect, is quite a narrow view, however. There is something more to learn.

The first word used to describe Abigail is “intelligent.” She was smart. A thinker. Wise. The author goes on to mention her beauty, but this is not his primary concern. Abigail is not praised for having a pretty face or wearing nice clothes. Her honor is found in how she uses her mind.

Before you mistake me: There’s nothing wrong with beauty. It’s God-designed and given. No woman needs to feel bad about wearing make-up or going shopping. All too often we are belittled for such enjoyments. You are not reading that here.

What you are reading is a call to cease being ashamed of being smart.If Abigail hadn’t stepped out that day, the arc of history might look different, for who knows what roles the people of her household had to play? If she had chosen to keep quiet, to stay hidden, the story would have ended on a jarring note. People would have died, David would have detracted from his own reputation for justice and fairness, and she would not be remembered as a hero.

But she didn’t do that.

She took the brave path.

I can’t remember the first time someone communicated to me that my intelligence was bothersome. I do know that I was competing with a few boys for top grades when I was in fourth grade. They constantly told me that I’d never be able to beat them, because girls just weren’t as smart as boys. All those comments did was make me angry and strengthened my resolve to win. But then I got to middle school, the worst years in the life of every person, and my sense of identity began to falter. People didn’t like the smart girl.

So began a decades-long and not-yet-complete wrestling with myself. This is why I’ve deleted all of my social media posts more than once. This plays into the temptation to quit writing. I don’t want to stand out. I don’t want to be center stage. I don’t want to ace the tests. I don’t want to be the one who sees things differently, who tries to synthesize what she knows of life and theology into a complete and consistent worldview.

And yet, here we are.

Here I am.

Because this is who God made me to be.

I’ve never shared the exact number of people who subscribe to these words (and I never will), but it’s grown to an amount far beyond anything I ever imagined. There are hundreds of you opening up your inbox just to see what I have to say. People of all ages and experiences. Truly, a frightening reality, but one which I wish to steward well.

So, hear me: Go ahead, be the smart one.

Ladies, your mind is there for a reason. 

Men, her mind doesn’t make your mind lesser.

I have lost too many days and wasted too much energy in worrying over and feeling bad about being the smart girl. No more.

The world needs Abigails. Not to squash or dominate, but to speak truth and act in grace. Your Creator made you for this. Exercising your intelligence brings Him glory.  No, others aren’t always going to like it. Yes, you may find yourself on a lonely path from time to time. Keep on. Do as the Holy Spirit leads.

May you be blessed in your obedience.

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Yank My Uterus

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Bluntness ahead. I do not intend to offend, but proceed with caution if you are in possession of thin skin.

I believe in writing honestly.

I also believe there is wisdom in knowing when to write and when to keep silent.

No author is obligated to share absolutely everything with her audience. We bloggers may spill our creative blood all over the internet, but we are allowed privacy. We can hold things back without becoming liars.

At first, I wanted to keep this to myself. But here goes.

In a few hours, I will have a hysterectomy.

The more I thought about it, the more irritated I got that I had this sense of needing to keep the thing a secret. Millions of women suffer each and every day. We experience pain and a diminished quality of life. We feel like we can’t talk about it because, though skin and sex are casually splashed everywhere, the workings of our bodies remain taboo. The message is clear: keep it sensual, darlings, maybe occasionally athletic, or shut up.

If men were in our position, billions of dollars would be dedicated to finding a solution.

Enough.

There is a woman out there who needs to hear that she is not a freak of nature after a hysterectomy. She needs to be told that she is more than the function or presence of an organ. She needs to know that she is bright, lovely and amazing, with or without all of her factory parts.

A declaration, for myself and for you, dear lady:

I refuse to believe that I am any less beautiful or any less valuable because I no longer have a uterus. I reject the notion that my scars make me disgusting. (In fact, I think they make me fierce, because I’ve been to war and lived to tell the tale). I reject the belief that I’m ugly because my belly may never be totally flat. I am more than skin, more than surface. I am vibrant, vital and vivacious. I have a lot of love to give. I will nurture life, looking for opportunities to uplift and encourage others. This is not the end of my story, but merely a plot device, designed to bring me into the next chapter.

I know that I will feel depressed and anxious after surgery. This is normal. I won’t feel this way forever. I know that I will be in pain. That won’t last forever, either. I am going to rest and take my medication and ask for help and rock long tunics, leggings and comfy dresses for as long as I want. I’ll wear my hair big and messy, too, because why not? Or I will get all glammed up the second I’m able, even if I’m staying home, because also why not? My beauty is mine to own and to style.

I know that it will take me up to 12 months to fully heal internally. This will frustrate me sometimes, but I will give myself grace. It’s a journey, a process. The days may seem long but the months will go by faster than I expect.

As they say, haters gonna hate. I will let negative comments go in one ear and out the other. I know I made the best decision I could. I will not allow regret or “what if?” to weigh me down. I won’t stay stuck. I will move forward. I will surround myself with honest, supportive people who may not always understand, but who will accept me as I am and give me the necessary, gentle pushes to keep going.

I’m still me. I’m still a woman, and a complete one at that. I have passion and drive and interests. I bring a lot to the table. This is but a blip on the radar screen.

********

Now why, you might wonder (if you’re the nosy type), am I getting this hysterectomy?

– I’ve been in constant pain for years. Manageable a lot of the time, sure, but still. Constant pain. I’ve tried everything to treat the problem, to no avail. It just keeps getting worse. Why on earth would I want to keep dealing with that? Why on earth should I keep dealing with that? Nobody gets a medal for suffering. It’s not noble. It’s not romantic.

– I’ve never been “regular” (oh, no – I’m talking about menstrual cycles; shield your eyes and hide your children). It’s either nothing or a scene that Quentin Tarantino would envy. This brings with it a host of concerns. Cancer risk increases. Infection risk increases. My gynecologist put me on progesterone, the absolute, no exceptions, only hormone that I can possibly use, at the lowest dose, in an attempt to “flush things out” and that didn’t really work.

– I can’t have kids (and even if there’s some chance that I can, I shouldn’t). Imagine living with the constant worry of being placed in the “high risk and probably going to get liver cancer, which is hard to treat (not impossible, but hard), so there’s a good chance you’ll die” category if by some miracle you did get pregnant. Imagine how that would impact your marriage. You don’t exactly want to get frisky with your husband when you hurt and when you’re worried about dying sooner than you’d like, most likely taking any baby with you in the process. Don’t talk to me about “leaving it in God’s hands.” God never, ever requires anyone to operate without sense. God never, ever requires anyone to deny reality. That’s bad doctrine. Go sit in a corner. Oh, and don’t come at me with “the Bible never mentions hysterectomy so it’s bad.” The Bible never mentions the internet that you’re using. Go sit in a corner again.

– The longer I keep this jacked-up spare part, the greater my chances of developing the uterine cancer that runs in my family.

– I can’t treat the issues hormonally (save for the aforementioned progesterone that didn’t work). I must not take acetaminophen for the pain. I have to use ibuprofen and naproxen sparingly. (Thanks, freakish damaged liver. I loathe you). Herbs and oils and supplements…just no. Don’t go there with me. They’re unregulated, so who knows what anybody’s really getting in that capsule that promises sparkling unicorns and rainbows. Plus most of that stuff is more dangerous for my liver than any painkiller. And massages and chiropractic…more no. #thatsnothowanyofthisworks

I didn’t arrive at this decision overnight. It’s been…I’d say about 5 years in the making. I’m nervous, of course, because, well, it’s major surgery, but that nervousness is dwarfed by a sense of anticipation, which I know will be followed by relief. No more cramping that keeps me in bed. No more big ol’ clots. The idea that maybe, just maybe, I can actually enjoy sex again. (Yes, I said it. Sex is a good thing).

I’m not a moron. I know the risks. You don’t wind up with a foot-long incision on your belly, the result of a tumor, without knowing the risks of surgery.

So out the uterus goes, and I’m not ashamed. I’m not “selfish” because I want one less health problem to think about. I’m not “sinful” because I chose to heed the advice of four different doctors instead of trying to manipulate God by “praying it away” (not that we shouldn’t pray for healing; there’s just a difference between requesting in faith and demanding a specific response) or using products sold by a multi-level marketing (read: pyramid scheme) company in the hopes they’ll work their magic or availing myself of mystical energy healing or following the direction of a blogger dispensing medical advice despite lack of any real medical knowledge. My life isn’t going to suck, I’m not going to become emotionally numb, I’m not going to lose my mind, I’m not going to walk around singing, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…” I won’t sit in a chair, staring out the window, sighing heavily for the rest of my poor, sad, useless days. I’m not “less of a woman” because I will now lack a uterus. I mean, part of me is concerned that I’m losing the essence of my personhood, because I’m pretty sure it’s contained in my uterus, but I think I can find some essence on the black market. (If you don’t recognize that sarcasm, I can’t help you).

Christian women need to stand up and lead in these discussions of body and health. It’s time for us to reject the bad message that says our beauty must fit a certain mold, the bad theology that says we cannot be fulfilled or used by God without children or the possibility of any children or additional children and the bad cultural assumptions that keep us holding on when we need to let go. Imagine if we took control of the narrative. Imagine if we stopped being silent. What if we made sensible decisions and talked about them? What if we modeled the hope that God has a good plan, regardless of what happens, to the rest of the world? What if we realized that the 2.5 kids and the white picket fence are not, in fact, a promise found in Scripture? What if we dared to believe that we are women, even if we lose our breasts, our ovaries, our uteruses, our hair – because that’s who God made us to be? That it’s something more than outward appearance? What if we stopped judging ourselves and others by the modern Western ideal of womanhood? What if we looked to the Lord and said, “Thy will be done”?

Lord God, King of my life, Light of my world, Lover of my soul – Thy will be done. I am in Your hands.

Surgeon, yank my uterus. Get it out of there. Give me another set of sweet abdominal scars. I am a battle-hardened warrior, filled with the Spirit of the Living God. I fear not.

Let’s do this.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Silvia Tomo

Five Minute Friday: Reflect

2014

Gentle Reader,

Jumping right in. Kate asks us to: reflect.

Go.

I’ve got the biggest scar of them all.

Tomorrow marks one year since I became my own Discovery Channel. The surgeon sliced me open and stuck a jack underneath my ribs. Yes, you read that right. A jack. Cranked the whole set up and out of the way so he could spend five hours carefully cutting out the golf ball-sized tumor that was pressed against my diaphragm, making every breath tedious and painful. At least I thought the tumor made breathing painful.

Janky ribs? Way worse.

Certain sections of my scar still hurt sometimes. I think its affected by barometric pressure. Someday I might be able to tell you when rain is coming. Other sections, and the surrounding area, I can’t feel. The nerves are dead and may never come back. Incredibly weird sensation. (Or rather, lack thereof).

The little round scar, I call that my bullet hole. That’s where the drain was. Cripe o’Friday, having that thing removed hurt like a son of something unholy. The surgeon actually braced himself before he pulled. And had the nerve to tell me, “Oh, this won’t be so bad.”

Right.

There are other marks, but only I notice them anymore. One on my back, where the fabulous spinal block kept me from feeling the first and most intense pain. One on my neck, where they plunged a central line straight into the jugular vein.

The journey isn’t over for me. Just this week I’ve been going rounds with headaches, dizziness and nausea. Don’t mess with the liver, man. Just don’t. It will slap your face. Dark circles rim my eyes from lack of sleep. I don’t have much of an appetite yet am as bloated as if I’ve eaten far too much. I could happily glare at and say something snarky to the size six girls who “feel fat.” Probably wouldn’t even feel the slightest guilt about it.

I don’t have perfect skin. I don’t have a flat belly.

You know what else I don’t have?

A tumor.

There are not words enough in the dictionary for me to express my deep gratitude to the Lord for seeing me through this valley. He has been faithful when I have cried and raged and sulked and slipped into despair. He has spoken words of tender encouragement. Smacked me upside the head when necessary. This road seems endless and full of far too many twists. It is bearable because of Him. His goodness, His grace.

I praise Him. I love Him.

And I thank Him for giving me a sense of humor when I saw a few too many man butts as I lapped around the surgical floor, outpaced by slugs as I dragged poles and walkers in my wake.

Stop.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Woman from 2009

Add a little bit of body text

Gentle Reader,

It’s uncomfortable, sticking that picture of myself in this post.

But there’s a reason.

The other night Chris decided that he would take our camera, which we never use (hello, smartphones) to work. He needed to use it to take pictures of new employees at the hospital for their security badges. As he checked and cleared the SD cards, he came across this random photo.

From 2009.

The image of this woman upsets me. She hasn’t yet started to feel crappy all the time. She hasn’t yet been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Her skin is smoother. Her smile brighter. Her eyebrows need some work. She hasn’t yet succumbed to anxiety so bad it sends her into a pit of depression and despair.

There is so much ahead of her.

I study myself in the mirror today. I see the perpetual dark circles under my eyes. I see the roundness in my face. Skin forever itchy and marked. My hand absently strokes the lumpy, bumpy swathe of abdomen, wrecked forever by surgery and scar tissue. Stupid liver. Stupid chronic fatigue.

I wish I looked like the woman in that picture. (I wish I could fit into her size 8 jeans).

It’s sad and strange.

No amount of caloric restriction will flatten my belly. No amount of make-up can fully cover the dark circles. Nor can sleep, even double-digit hours at a time. No matter how hard I try, I can’t will myself into more energy. I can’t stop the aching in my joints. I can’t predict the days when I’ll spend my time throwing up.

I long for a time machine.

To go back and be that woman again.

The longing has stayed with me for a week now, ever since I first saw that picture. Some part of my brain, the part that has bought into the lies that thinness and a frantic pace equal happiness, keeps trying to work out the equation for time-travel. Or at least a miracle drug to make my sad liver happy again. (No, organic kale is not the fix. Sorry). I keep straying back to, “If I could look like that again…” “If I could do it over…” “It would be better if…”

Another part of my brain, the part that has learned to listen for the arresting voice of the Holy Spirit, knows better.

Most of the time, I don’t actually care that I’m a size 12. (There, you know). I have a better relationship with food now. I never exercised back then. These days I get out and take walks and have even done a little weight lifting here at home recently. I can’t change the fact that my health problems have caused me to gain weight. I see and hear women who are obsessed with being “skinny” (though they often couch it in terms of “being healthy”). All they talk about is food – what they do eat, what they don’t eat, how they eat it. They feel superior to heavier women and then judge themselves if the scale moves up an ounce. They make me roll my eyes because it’s not worth it. There’s no point in attaching a sense of value or self to the numbers on a scale or the number on a label in a item of clothing.

I’d rather have a lumpy, blobby stomach than a tumor. That big ol’ scar is a badge of honor. A mark of battle..

I don’t want to go back to straightening my hair every day. It takes too much time and it never, ever lasts longer than an hour. I’d rather sleep.

Same goes for eye make-up. I used to wear it all the time. Now…who cares if I do or don’t put on mascara? Big whoop. I have other things to focus on.

I was going through a rough patch, friendship-wise, back then. Now, at 31 (in a week), I’m learning that friends come and go. Closeness waxes and wanes. Things change. People change. It can be painful, but ultimately it’s okay.

This woman held a lot of resentment toward her husband. Chris and I don’t have a perfect or easy marriage today, but it’s far, far better than it was.

I remain neurotic, but back then I was far less comfortable with myself. Back in that day, which was probably a Tuesday, I was usually far too afraid to share my opinions. I let people manipulate and steamroll me. This blog was a whole lot blander. Though I try to be wise in what I say and how I say it, I’m now much freer in sharing what I think. I’m also better at spotting the manipulating and the steamrolling.

In 2009 I barely had an inkling of what it meant to be close to the Lord. Hardship has brought me near to Him. It has pushed me to climb up into His lap, onto His shoulders. I thirst for His word. I ache to know Him more. My ear is tuned to the sound of His heartbeat. I want to love Him more, obey Him closely, sit and bask in His glory. This, I would not trade for anything.

In a surprising plot twist, I realize that the woman from 2009 longed to be the woman I am today.

Isn’t that odd? So often we look back on the past with the proverbial rose-colored glasses. Or we look off into the future. We forget to appreciate now. Today.

Perhaps, like me, you also entertain the “what if?” kind of thoughts. Perhaps you have longed to “go back.” Or judged yourself today because you aren’t as thin, as young, as busy, as influential, as wealthy, as whatever as you were then. Perhaps you shut your eyes tight and hope to plow through and into a brighter tomorrow, ignoring these 24 hours. Dear one, you are missing the blessing of right now. You are missing the good things that God is doing. You are blind to the joy and the peace and the love and the happiness that shower you as His beloved child, even in the middle of horrendous storms.

Step away from the then and back off from tomorrow. Don’t miss this moment.

This beautiful, wonderful moment.

I’m abandoning my work in the time-travel field. I’ll stay the “plus sized,” Medusa-haired, tired-eyed person I am. It’s better.

I’m better.

Because God is good. He loved me as I was – and loved me too much to let me stay there.

My journey to faith. (15)