Inspiration, Encouragement & Instructions
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
Last week as I paged through an old photo album my son had randomly pulled off the shelf, I came across a picture of the two of us. I was caught off guard for a minute. I had even forgotten it had been taken. I just stared at it: Who was the woman on that page? Where did she get that well maintained hair and that exuberant smile? It certainly didn’t feel like I was looking at me--not a me that I remembered, anyway.
It was like I was facing those make-over photos in magazines, but in reverse--like the before was way better looking than the after. And as you can imagine, it made me just the slightest bit blue. Okay, let’s be real. I felt sad. Like I was staring at a person I used to be that I could never get back. That woman on the page in front of me looked so pretty, calm and joyous. Meanwhile, my personal profile at that exact moment (hair unwashed for days, sweat for perfume, and slumped on the couch exhausted from referring the children), well they seemed even uglier than usual.
As I sat there, I felt the rose-colored glasses (the ones I sometimes I get frustrated at my parents for wearing when they claim raising young children was the golden-age of their lives) somehow set themselves upon my mind’s eyes. I wanted to remember and believe that those first months of motherhood were full of joy, daily showers, and cute hair. (Because that is what the picture portrayed.) But I stared and stared and couldn’t really remember much of my first years of motherhood.
And even though I knew that the photo captured only a few seconds in my life, it messed with me. It messed with my confidence. It messed with my view of myself as I am now.
And it messed with my soul because I wanted to remember better. I didn’t want to face the fact that nine years have come and gone and I sometimes feel I achieved more in the before and less in the after. That somehow my life was fuller of meaning then than it is now. I think what I really wanted was to see something different than what I was seeing in myself at that moment.
The woman I see in that picture looks so confident and full of something I can’t pinpoint but am certain is now lacking. She is the woman who existed before life’s journey included roots settling deep, then being dug up, and transplanted. She is the woman who existed before the tidal wave of loss of place caused a sinking deep into the water that both drowns and makes new.
My day-to-day now is so far from the feelings of calm and peace that I see in the photo from the past. Instead, I feel like many of my days are filled with simply gasping for air--trying to hold it all together: To love my husband well. To raise good kids. To somehow use the gifts and experiences of my journey’s past to press into all that God has for me now and in the future. To hold fast to Jesus so I don’t get lost again.
And yet, I wonder what does this new women have that the younger woman did not?
Is the “after” just more wrinkles, and a heavier burdens? Is there anything good that this middle-age women has to offer that her younger “before” self did not?
This “after” women has more hope, faith and trust in the sovereignty of God. She has had to lean hard into the Holy Spirit’s power and peace to walk through the less-than-perfect days of living out true religion and undefiled worship in her marriage, parenting, career and ministry . As a result, she is increasingly insistent on asking God to move on her behalf--to come and help her rest in His plans so that she can find rest for her mind and soul.
What this older, but newer woman lacks in confidence she seemed to possess in the past, she makes up for in placing her confidence in who God says he is to her and in the world. She believes in the most visceral of ways that God ordains her steps and that peace is found in letting Him be in control. Sometimes she still tries to fight back for the control, but deep in her soul she knows and trusts that she can’t make any mistakes big enough to thwart God’s plans or do anything great enough to distract people from His glory.
And she is learning that to “laugh at the days to come” has little to do with circumstances, appearances, or accomplishments. And quite possibly not the jovial kind of laughter she always hoped would be coming.
Instead, this ability to look with hope at the days ahead is found in the position of her heart. And so, on the days when laughter is hard to come by, but tears pool just below her lower eyelids, she is able to remind her soul to rest in the fact that she is not in control of her life. She cannot stop time. She cannot change the picture. And this lack of control is truest of freedoms.
This relinquishing of control is a good thing because God is writing a story with her life and she believes that in each chapter the character grows and that growth is always for the good. By the end of the novel she will likely again be someone she doesn't recognize, but someone who is wiser, stronger, and unshakeable because of the experiences of her life. And because God loved her enough not to leave her the way she was.
Remembering the past as it truly was is such a challenging task, especially for someone like me who seems to always be forgetting. It is why we take pictures, write stories, and make home videos. We want to remember the good times of our past. We want to know where we came from and hold out images to pass on to the generation we are raising. It is our way of setting up stones of remembrance.
But what we can remember is fragmented and often lacking in details in some areas and full of added emotional exaggerations in others. Sometimes it's hard not to look at the old pictures and wonder if our best days are already behind us. Yet, every once in awhile it takes a look back to an old photo to realize where you are at, currently.
In looking back our eyes can be opened to what is in front of us. For me, that is opportunity, blessing and hope. Some days I think I want a life that is steady and without glitches, but then I remember all the ways I have grown and changed because of the mess of it all. I am not going to lie, getting older sometimes gets me down. But when I consider where my understanding of the world around me, God and myself were years ago and where they are today, I am so thankful for having the opportunity to be both the “before” and the “after” versions of myself.
And someday I will look back on this and likely wonder where the woman I am now went to. And I will again be grateful for a God who is always making all things in me new. I can either face the days seeing the "before" me as passing away and longing to get her back. Or I can trust that being made new will result in an "after" me that is more beautifully representing herself and her Jesus because the weathering of the storms brings out the heaven on earth moments my soul craves.
I want to leave you with a beautiful passage from Shauna Niequist's book, Bread & Wine, (an amazing read, by the way), in which she records an observation made by her grandmother. This was of great comfort to me because it made me realize the steps I walk are not new, I am not alone. Women from every generation have struggled to know how to fully be who God has made them in the midst of changing roles and aging. It gives me peace knowing that strong women all over the world have chosen to face what the world would call growing old as an adventure in being made new: A perspective that creates newness of grace, peace and perseverance. All of which is founded in trusting that all of the pieces and fragments of our lives are in the hands of a God we can trust to make good out of all things, beauty out of ashes, and redeem all the moments of our days.
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Her family and friends know her as, Jaci. She is the wife of a pastor, a mom of four, writing and communications education instructor, a visionary and an avid runner. As a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of the body of Christ united together to live out the Great Commission, she holds fast to this verse, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Of equal importance to her are these words, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Posts in the Run for Your Life, series: