for me and my sister and women everywhere.

Today, you are seventeen. You’ve finished high school, and you’re preparing to move on to everything you believe will be bigger and better and everything that is yes. You are in the most beautiful season of life, just beginning to get a glimpse of who you are and the great passion that lies within your heart. This morning, I woke up to a text message from you, asking what Peter meant when he said that women should have quiet and gentle spirits. And while I feebly attempted to offer some thoughts on the matter, the truth is, I am still learning, and that is hardly the kind of conversation that can flourish in the world of 140 characters. “but let [beauty] be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of the Lord.” -- 1 Peter 3:4

A gentle and quiet spirit. What does that even mean in today’s world, where choices and opinions and the pressure to conform are heaped on us in heavy and unmerciful doses. Too often, it is difficult to discern. I come empty, and I pray for words.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is always creating. It doesn't matter if you‘re dancing on pointe across a brilliantly lit stage or dancing with your little brother after he wins his first little league game. It doesn't matter if you have watercolor paintings in some hip art gallery, or finger paintings on the fridge. It doesn't matter if you write best selling novels, or encouraging post it notes for your coworkers. It doesn't matter if you sing opera, or sing the Barney song fifty-six times to get your toddler to go to sleep. Whether you believe that you are creative or not, you are always creating. Because God in heaven who crafted you did so lovingly in His own image, therefore allowing you to take part in this grand adventure of creating life. Every moment of your life is spent creating something. How you live will determine what you create and what is left behind when you are no longer walking on the earth.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is a woman who knows who she is. Have you ever noticed that the people who scream the loudest tend to be the most uncomfortable with themselves? It takes security to live a quiet and gentle life. It takes not only knowing who you are, but whose you are. Sister, you belong to the Lord. Your worth comes from the image you bear and the work of the cross. When you allow others to determine your worth, your life will become about proving yourself, whether they see the whore or the saint. And that passion and spark inside you? God gave that to you, and wherever you are in your life, He will equip you to minister through that passion. Don’t you dare fall prey to the belief that He cannot use you right where you are. Resolve to know deep in your bones that He is able. Even if you have to write it on your bathroom mirror and repeat it to yourself every day.  This is beauty hidden in the heart.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit knows the importance of godly counsel. I think as women we often battle feelings of self sufficiency and believing not only that you can go it alone, but maybe even that you should go it alone. This is not true. We need other women (and men, too) who are firmly rooted in scripture and who speak truth into our lives on a consistent basis. Seek these people. Ask God to reveal them to you. And not only that, but ask God to mold your heart in such a way that you can serve others this way.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit has the ability to think critically for herself.  The lack of sound mind present in the world and in the church today burdens me. Some in the church have gone so far as to say that we as women should only endorse the thoughts of our husbands or our parents or our pastors and receive what they say as absolute. But you have been given the ability to discern what is good and pleasing to the Lord and how to live your life in a way that is healthy. Take your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. You have been given the responsibility of creating boundaries for your conduct. Perhaps those boundaries won't be exactly what your parents or youth pastor or friends at work think they should be. This is something that you must work through for yourself. And that is not just okay, its really and truly beautiful.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is a woman who serves others. The heart of Christ is the heart of a servant. When you bless others, your life becomes rich and full. Be quick to assist those who are in need. Do your work in such a way that the Lord would use you to draw those around you to Himself. You are the light of the world, called to be an ambassador. Service is often messy and awkward and it might mean you’re the first person there and the last one to leave. Usually, messy awkward heart service doesn’t come with accolades. But the true heart of service does not seek to make a name for itself. Rather, it strives solely to make Christ the center of attention.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit lives a life of gratitude. Every moment we have on this earth is a gift. Sometimes it seems extraordinary and beautiful and exciting, and sometimes it feels devastating and like we can’t make it another day. But we have been promised that nothing is impossible for the Lord, and that when we are faithful to the small things and obey His commandments, He will enlarge our hearts. In the presence of the Lord, there is fullness of joy, and we enter His presence through the gates of thanksgiving. This is the will of the Father for those in Christ.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit knows how to live grace. This might be the scariest of all, because grace moves you. Living grace means letting go. A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is often described as being gracious toward others, but if you’re anything like me, receiving grace can be terrifying. A woman who lives grace understands that the soul requires room to breathe. It is okay to admit that you don’t have every answer. You will make many mistakes along the way, and those are okay to admit, too. The beautiful thing about grace is that it was completed at the cross. You don’t have to try so hard to do everything right, you simply have to be.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit lives abundantly. You have been given this amazing, wild life. Fill it well. Never be afraid to go out on a limb, because the limb experiences are the most gratifying and rich. Don’t shy away from the excitement for fear of how others might see you. This time in your life, especially, is one of the most fun and adventure filled that you will ever have. Embrace the wide eyed wonder and enthusiasm.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit lives out her purpose. I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was so young, and engaged to be married. She had dreams and plans and ideas of what her life would be that never included becoming pregnant with the Son of God. The consequences of her pregnancy would be severe. Yet when the angel spoke that the Lord had found favor with her, she said "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said." Scripture says she treasured these things and pondered them in her heart. A quiet and gentle spirit accepts the mystery that He gives, knowing that what might seem like inconvenience or bring about fear could also be the thing that births the saving grace.

Sister, you are strong. You are beautiful. You have wonderful things to offer the world. You are loved more than you can imagine.

Wave the banner.

“He has taken me into the banquet room, and his banner over me is love.” -- Song of Solomon 2:4

Thoreau says that we are constantly invited to be what we are. His words have often  left me in quiet and loud wondering and mulling over what I might be. What in the world, this bruised and bleak world am I? In my arrogance, in my ignorance, I have stricken my own heel. Through communicating the darkness to myself over and over again, meditating on it day and night, I have created my own cancer, that which wreaks havoc throughout my bones, killing silently.

I have spoken many untrue words over my life. I have scarred myself with anxiety and anger in ways that many may never see. On many more occasions than I can count, just getting through the day has proven to be a trial in and of itself. The moment by moment choice to believe and hold on has seemed to require too much effort. I lie awake at night facing the turmoil of fear and depression, and at times, it seemed as if that was really all there was to being.

Today was the very monochromatic picture of winter. A chilled rain raced down to muddy earth, whose naked limbs remained still. The sky faded from light to dark gray. This is how the realization comes. I have waved the banner of death, and the white flag of defeat.

But this, the whisper comes, this is not who you are. I have given you fullness of joy, that which you have been created for. 

What grace is this, that life might be redefined? What right does the clay have to ask of the Potter why it is being crafted in such a way? I feel His hands molding me, and what have I to do except offer my own hands to Him in return? I long to give back all that I have broken in my haste and struggle to hold this life together through my own power.

Grace means unmerited favor. Not my power, but Yours, Lord. Scripture speaks of death losing its potent sting in the light of the glory of the Lord. This Creator God, patient with me in my waywardness, whispers a promise of love. Everything I have belongs to you. I have been defined from the foundation of the universe. My frame is not hidden from the Creator. My image, my soul, my emotions, my intellect, my pleasures have been known and, what is more, delighted in. What joy, to know that the Father delights in His children, to know that He still sings over me, still whispers grace, still looks at me and declares that I am good. I have been made holy, without blemish. Finally, joy.

I have been invited, beckoned into the residence of this Goodness. The hall of celebration. The hall of victory. The hall of plenty. In the presence of the Lord, there is fullness of joy. In the stillness, at the foot of the Mercy Seat, this weary soul finds rest.

Wave the new banner. This, my portion, will more than satisfy.

Bring the blade.

Its three in the morning, and my friend Ryan is looking for God. I am none but compelled to stay up and look with her. The winter bites cold, and my bones shake because I was made this way to withstand the weight of the storm. I used to want to be unmovable, but the tension only brought about pain. Sometimes sturdy means wobbling questions. I am thankful for this. Ryan can’t seem to find God, and has been looking less and less since the night when the last bit of innocence was stolen from her, and between the two of us, we know what it is to buckle under the pressure. Sometimes it leads her to bleed, self surgery just to feel some release, but it never seems to be enough.

She wants to believe that He still whispers a declaration of goodness when He sees her. She wants to believe that there is a Garden, but there was nothing alive or growing when she said no stop don’t and all that stopped was time. She says she doesn’t know if she wants to get better now.

In Hosea, scripture talks about plowing up the hardened ground of our hearts. Could it be that she is searching, but because her heart is hard, there is no space for the Lord to come and take root? I catch my breath, and I can scarcely imagine a more gory act than the plowing of the heart. A ripping and tearing of everything inside of us that brings about death, everything that we cling white knuckled to. We live in our caves, in our grave clothes, perhaps because the thought of reaching out again is just too painful. And the plowing is painful, too. It leaves us unrecognizable. That is grace. It waves a banner.

Am I really ready for this, I wonder. This miscarriage of the darkness inside me, and I know that my God is able to catch me when I pass out because too much of what has sustained me so far has only been that which brings about the bleak and despair. It is already happening, and I can hardly believe it when I see it. The heart beats stronger, the mind thinks more clearly, and the eyes see through the lens of blessing. Blessed be the Lord, who provides and sustains. Blessed be the Lord who allows the slow of winter’s destruction. He makes us new again. He makes us beautiful, we who were constructed out of the dust, designed to experience His glory.

Call the surgeon, mend the pieces

Everything.

I am quietly reminded tonight of the words of the Father (the Hope, the Good One,) who says “everything I have is yours.” What amazing grace, to live in light of this. He who clothes the lilies and feeds every bird of the air and beast of the earth gave of His very essence to make a way for me. As I sit in the dark, joy silently fills my cup beyond the brim. Peace, strength, wisdom, love, dignity, freedom, victory, truth, every providence is mine. The beauty of the altar is that one might come to be emptied and filled. In the presence of God, there is fullness of joy. What can heal this sickness, fill the cracks, mend the wound, mitigate the distance and dissonance. I crave more of Christ and less of me. I feel the quiet coming, and though it creeps slowly, it is certain. This peace that passes a feeble understanding that was never meant to be a foundation. My bones thirst for it, surrounded by the winter, the promise of what is new coming to life. “Behold, I am doing a new thing,” says the Lord. The earth is not worried. The very rocks know His name. Not my will, but Yours. God will be good. He will fulfill His promise.

When I think of the bare nakedness of winter, the notion that I can simply breathe in peace is overwhelming. What must it look like to exist fully within grace, to move with all the authority of heaven, everything that belongs to a King Creator? All the residual anxiety leads me to rush to fill the gaps of silence. But He is not in the emergency of the earthquake. He is not in the consuming rush of the blaze. He is in the still and small whisper, inviting me into the moment, beckoning me to come and lay down all that makes me heavy, leaving it to the light of His grace. How much more does the Father long to be gracious to His children, whom He conceived for the simple pleasure of communion. These are the green pastures and the still waters, even in the dead of winter. Manna in a frozen desert. Every single moment, wrapped up in the quiet fullness of joy. Though there are no leaves on the trees, though our skeletons shake in the wind, not my will, but Yours.

Like the earth, I must begin again, here in the quiet space between what is known and what remains hidden to the moment. Here, where I am called to be still. Here, where there is boundless mercy, relentless grace. Here, where everything is made beautiful in its time. Here, where there is fullness of joy.

Selah.