My best friend and I love touring houses the way some people love watching football games. It’s an addiction. When we wander through an especially gorgeous house decorated in the style of a bygone era –touchdown! Of the many tours we’ve taken over the years, one foray stands out: the time we inadvertently joined a parade.
In the days before smart phones and GPS systems, my friend and I relied on memory, fuzzy at the best of times. We found ourselves driving up and down the streets of a small town looking for an elusive address. We turned onto a small side street and drove halfway down the block before hearing the music. A marching band headed straight toward us! Behind the band, a local (unadvertised) parade enthusiastically followed. We stopped. They didn’t. Obviously, the drum majorette and her crew felt they had the right of way.
Then we noticed the people lining the sidewalk. They stared, some laughing and pointing. Inside the car, four red cheeks burned in deep embarrassment. Only loyalty to my friend kept me from ducking onto the floorboard and cowering out of sight. Instead, I faced the music–er, parade–with her. I held my head high, albeit, with a protective hand between my face and the car window.
“What do I do?” asked my friend who was, thankfully, doing the driving.
“Hit the gas and play chicken” didn’t seem a suitable reply. The only advice I could muster was, “Put it in reverse and back up until we find a parking space.” So that’s what we did. Some of the crowd applauded as we reversed. Some waved. My mother’s admonishment to always “be polite’ echoed in my ears, and I waved back. Once safely in the parking space, my friend and I turned to each other and burst out laughing. No words, just laughter. I have to admit, after leading a parade in reverse, touring the house was a bit of a letdown.
Now let me say, I’m an introvert. So for me, messing up in front of others is akin to one of those dreams where you show up at school in your underwear, after having studied for the wrong test and you’re at the wrong school. Poise and elegance aren’t in my DNA.
Like most of us, I long to be perfect. But too often, my life consists of flaws, hiccups, and “I can’t believe I said that” moments. I’ve also had my share of moments driving backwards down the parade of life without a parking space in sight.
And that’s okay. In fact, I like to think I inspire others, or at least make them feel better about themselves. Maybe that’s my role as a Christian. People aren’t really interested in conversing with saints. They want to meet sinners, like themselves, that God has redeemed. Isaiah 64:8 says,
“But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.”
If God can take my lumpy clay and mold me into something wonderful, then surely he can do the same for others.
And if I’m going to be even a little bit of an example, maybe it’s to show we shouldn’t let our insecurities have such a stranglehold on us. Take that parade. My friend and I didn’t quite panic, but we certainly were embarrassed. However, we went with it. That’s how life is. Sometimes you watch the parade, and sometimes, those very rare times, you get to lead it. Just don’t be so afraid of making a fool of yourself that you miss the parade entirely.
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Proverbs 31 scares me. The Virtuous Woman’s kitchen floor was always perfectly clean, no sticky messes for visitors’ sandals to stick to. She never ran by the bakery fifteen minutes before school for “homemade” cookies because her child forgot to tell her she was homeroom mother that week. And I assure you the Virtuous Woman never said to her husband, “Whoops, I forgot to go to the market. Can you bring a lamb home to roast?” I’d be afraid to let that paragon of virtue into my home. If there’s a checklist for perfection, there are no checks in my boxes. Seriously.
Take cooking. As a newlywed, I’d drag myself out of bed and make a full breakfast for my man. Remember this was over thirty years ago, when wives still did things like that. After a week, he confessed he didn’t like breakfast but ate it so my feelings wouldn’t be hurt. Well, I didn’t need to be told twice. I threw in the spatula and went back to bed. I didn’t make breakfast again until my son came along.
My sewing skills didn’t earn any medals either. Again, hark back to the olden days when schools still taught Home Ec. Knowing how to sew was a top priority for women. However, even my supportive, loving mother couldn’t figure out how to wear the apron I created.
And then there’s cleaning. If God is in the “big upstairs” wearing a white glove, ready to sweep it across the top of my shelves, I might as well give up now.
Fortunately, the lady in Proverbs isn’t a real woman. She’s a combination of virtues for which to strive. And that’s good news for people like me, who find “adequate” a sometimes daunting task. Even though I know God doesn’t expect me to be perfect, there are still nights I snuggle under the covers waiting for sleeping bliss, but instead my mind says, “Let me remind you how you screwed up today.”
It doesn’t help that it seems like everyone but me has their act together.
Is there some domestic secret? Why does everyone else seem to breeze through being a wife and mother, while I barely manage to limp along?
I remember one Sunday morning, between class and worship service, I caught up with a friend and fellow mother of a two-year-old.
She taught as a college professor.
Her house always looked perfect.
All the treats at her son’s birthday party were hand-crafted.
Maybe, just maybe, she could give me some tips on being perfect. Or at least help me achieve average a little more often.
“Sometimes, it just gets overwhelming,” I ventured to say as my son wiggled in my arms.
She laughed. “I know exactly what you mean. This morning my husband had to grab a pair of socks out of the dirty clothes.”
I managed to shut my mouth so it didn’t look like I was angling for someone to drop a worm in it. “The dirty clothes?”
“Yes. That’s just the way it goes some mornings, isn’t it?”
She helped me that day. Her secret wasn’t perfection. It was confidence in the fact that she didn’t have to be perfect.
So what if the cake isn’t homemade? It’s bought with love.
So what if I read a bedtime story instead of cleaning? I’ll just tell everyone the dust bunnies are pets.
So what if I’m sometimes slow at getting the laundry done? If it doesn’t smell, no one knows the difference.
No one is perfect. We tend to cut everyone else some slack while holding ourselves up to impossible standards we can never meet. So, my challenge for myself is to start treating myself like I’m my best friend. When I look in the mirror every morning, I give my best friend a compliment. When I screw up, I cut my best friend some slack.
God loves me imperfections and all.
As for the Virtuous Woman, although there are days I like to imagine her cowering beside the washer, eating chocolate and hiding from her kids, I still strive to emulate her. I’ve just learned to give myself a break when I fail.
I am a woman formed by God’s hands, shaped by His love, and saved by His sacrifice.
And that’s perfect enough for me!
At the age of nine, all it took was a pair of orange stirrup pants to make me feel groovy. Purple and pink paper flowers decorated my room. Peace signs adorned my notebooks. Some might say I was too young to be a true flower child, but I felt hip.
In junior high, all it took to feel special was a pair of white go-go boots, castoffs of my much cooler aunt. So what if I had to rub white polish on them daily so the worn places wouldn’t show? My boots were made for walking! My room smelled of incense, and posters of Shaun Cassidy and Donny Osmond hung on the wall. Okay, not quite a rock rebel, but I felt cool.
In high school, the piece of clothing that made me “with it” was a lime green peasant blouse, another hand-me-down from my aunt. My friend and I giggled when we heard her mother moan to a friend, “You can’t tell the difference between these and maternity tops.” What a shame to grow old and be so “out of it.”
Then, one day years later, I stood in the auto department of Walmart, waiting patiently while my husband studied each and every type of windshield wiper the store carried. Bored, I gazed around until my eyes spotted a grouping of mirrors.
That’s when I had it…my middle-aged moment.
I could see myself in the mirrors. In fact, I could see myself several times over. It wasn’t my dress or even my shoes that made me stare. It was my purse, a no-nonsense affair attached to my arm by two sturdy straps. It was a middle-aged woman’s purse.
I was middle aged.
I know how it happened. Those birthdays I’d joyfully celebrated had turned on me. But still, going from the bloom of youth to the top of the downhill slide–well, that was hard. It required a whole change in attitude…namely depression.
While I didn’t pull a black scarf over my head and take up residence in my rocking chair, I did, in a sense, give up. After all, I wasn’t young anymore, certainly wasn’t “with it,” and I hadn’t been cool for a long time. This depression could have gone on forever if I hadn’t realized I was looking in the wrong direction along my timeline.
While thumbing through a magazine one day, I came across an article about an artist. She was proudly in her sixties, making no apologies for her age. Her clothes weren’t the latest style. She’d even allowed her hair to go gray. And she looked wonderfully graceful, tailored, and confident.
I wanted to be her.
But how? I have the grace of a gazelle without night vision. If I wear anything remotely tailored, I guarantee I will spill soup on it or pop at least two buttons. Confidence? If I had that, I wouldn’t be eyeing the black scarf and rocking chair! After rifling through my wardrobe and contemplating a bonfire, I almost slipped back into my depression. I couldn’t be her.
Then I recalled the wise words of Psalms 139:14.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
I couldn’t be her, but I could be me. Ah yes, that was the lesson. Her grace and confidence came not from imitating others, but from living happy as herself.
Could I be happy as myself? Yes, but first I had to change my thinking. I needed to start acting like I believed the verse.
I am not pale, but fair (or on a good day, gossamer).
I am not chubby, but curvy.
I am not average, but fabulous and unique, the best (and only) me that exists.
God created me and he didn’t do it as a joke.
He made me wonderful! And He loves me. We all need to remind ourselves of that very true fact.
Seriously, try singing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of your voice (preferably in the privacy of your own home). Treat it not like a children’s song, but as an affirmation that yes, Jesus loves YOU. Not because you’re graceful. Not because you always say the right thing, and certainly not because you wear the latest styles. He loves you because you are worth loving. Of course you are–He made you.
Have I suddenly developed grace? No, I’m still bumping my way through life just like that night vision-impaired gazelle.
I’ll never be twenty again. Anything dewy about my skin comes from a bottle. Perky has never described my personality and now it doesn’t come near to describing my body.
But now, my timeline faces forward. So what if I’m middle-aged? That simply means I’m in the middle of life’s adventure, still looking forward to where it’s going to take me. God’s got plans.
As for that middle-aged purse? It’s gone, baby, it’s gone!