Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jael and my daughters

Just the other day, my second daughter sent me this picture. She's holding a metal stake in her hand. She entitled it "Jael". I laughed out loud remembering how often I'd told my girls while they were growing up that my favorite Bible story was Jael.

If you don't know the story it's found in Judges 4 and it happened during the time Deborah was Judge and Prophetess over Israel. Sisera, the military leader of Canaan had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Interestingly enough God had placed them under that oppression because they had kept right on ignoring God and doing evil.

Deborah knew God wanted to change that fact and so she summoned Barak, the military leader of Israel, telling him to go into battle against Sisera and his 900 iron chariots. God would make sure Barak won, she said. But Barak was afraid and refused to go without her. Deborah agreed to go with him making sure he knew he was a wimp and prophesying that Sisera would die at the hand of a woman.

And that's where Jael comes in. She was the wife of Heber a Kenite, who was friends with the king of Canaan, King Jabin. She lived in a tent. In that culture the men had multiple wives and each wife had their own tent, which they made themselves, maintained and lived in with their children.

So as Sisera's running for his life, because Barak is kicking his butt in battle, he runs to Heber's tents, after all; Heber is a friend of the Canaanites. He figures he's safe and as he runs by, Jael steps out of her tent and says, "Come in sir. Stay with me. Do not be afraid."

So he goes into the tent and lies down. She covers him with a blanket. He asks for water and she gives him milk. Then when he falls asleep because he was exhausted, she takes a tent stake and hammers it into the temple of his head all the way through into the ground killing him. Gruesome!

Finally in Judges 5 a song is sung about Jael calling her a hero and blessed among women! After Sisera's death, Isreal had 40 years of quiet in their land.

Jael was very brave. She lived in a society that placed very little value on women. She could not vote. She could not own property. She had to have a husband in order to survive and must produce children for him. She went against the social rules by inviting a man into her tent. Only her husband was allowed in her tent. She risked much for Israel. What happened to her later in her life? What did her husband say and do when he found out what she'd done? What motivated her to kill Sisera? Did she love Israel's God too?

This part of Israel's history in Judges 4 & 5 is interesting to me because it's a time when a woman was the leader of Israel. Deborah, their Judge and Prophetess put in leadership by God! And it was a women who completed the defeat of Israel's enemy.

I have a confession to make, I tend to be a Christian feminist which is why I love the stories of the strong women of the Bible: Deborah, Jael, Esther, Naomi, Ruth, Rahab and of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus etc. I love how they heard God's voice and did what He asked by going against their culture, the social norms and against their patriarchal society. I love how they risked it all for their God.

And as I contemplated this story, I think of my own 4 daughters. I realize that as a young mother, I thought I had the answers on how to raise them. I had the "godly" formula that would mold them into "godly" women. I thought I knew what they should be when they grew up. How they should conduct themselves, dress, what kind of man they should marry even how they should raise their own children. And I hung out with other mothers who thought the same way.

We only wanted what we thought was best for our daughters. But I view many things differently now. I do not have all the answers, but I do know there is no "godly" formula or any formula at all for that matter. I know God cannot be put in a box. And I know God is working in my life and my daughter's lives non-stop despite our errors and misconceptions.

Today I received a precious note from this same daughter along with an invitation to her Senior Art Exhibition at her college's new art museum. Her words of love and gratitude brought tears to my eyes and her father's eyes as well. She thanked us for allowing her to freely explore who she is and who she will become. She was grateful for our continued support and unconditional love. She commented on how blessed she is not to have parents pressuring her to become something or someone she is not. She is an artist, after all, and somehow along the way, I (we) have allowed her to be who God created her to be.

"You are so open and understanding and I feel like the whole world is so much more open to me because of it." "Thank you for understanding me..." she wrote.

When did this change come about for me as a parent? When did I stop putting each of my children in my mold trying to make them be what I thought the Christian culture demanded? Much of the change evolved out of my journey through childhood cancer with my son. I've grasped deeply the fact that I do not have control and with that comes the acknowledgment of complete TRUST in GOD in all things. This has also opened my eyes to the uniqueness of each of my children with their personality styles, their passions and their talents. It's allowed me to honor and respect their personhood.

And I won't lie. It's scary. It's risky. It can be painful.
And it feels so... out of control!

Allowing our girls to go out into the world seems wrong when in the Christian culture the world is seen as evil. Wouldn't it be better to keep them at home, insulating them from the world? Maybe. But what about their growth and knowledge of all God's people, the myriades of cultures and worldviews across the planet? Wouldn't it be best to learn about the world first hand by being in it? What about allowing them to make mistakes even those hard mistakes that impact the rest of their lives?

I want them to make their faith their own by being in the world and learning what faith is and what it means to walk it day by day. I want them to seek Him and see Him in the world. Because I know He is there. And I know He hears my prayers.

It would be so much easier just to keep them safe at home in a box alongside God. But it wouldn't be best. It wouldn't make them strong.

So this last picture is this same daughter apprenticing at an ironworks and forge out in the world somewhere.

I wonder if she's forging tent stakes?


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with Joy's words.

Stephanie said...

Oh my...

I SO needed this today, April.

Parenting is so hard... yet really what God wants is for us to let go and let HIM do what He needs to do to shape our kids into who He wants them to be. We are just vessels who need to not try too hard to "do it right".

Thank you for your words... your kids are so blessed to have you!