A letter to my sons on International Women’s Day

Dear sons,

You’re going to hear a lot about women today.

As your mama, I want to offer some perspective.

See, I’m all for equal pay and equal opportunity and equal rights.

But I’m also all for men.

And it’s a right of this woman to be so.

I’ve tried to train you up to know the truth about how God made us, that He made man and woman, and he made us separate for a reason. He didn’t create our differences to diminish one or the other.

He made us different to teach us what we are and what we are not, to show off the reasons why being different is beautiful and important and right.

Do men hurt women?

Absolutely.

But I’ve survived hurts inflicted by women as much as I have by men.

See, humans don’t hurt because of gender.

Humans hurt because we choose to sin.

Which is why I’ve tried to teach you that you, me, dad–all of us–need a Savior.

We need Jesus Christ.

So on International Women’s Day, when much of the world screams about women’s independence and equality at the expense of men, I’m telling you that for me, the greatest aspect of being a woman is the privilege of raising you three to be great men.

A woman doesn’t *need* a man any more than you should feel like you *need* a woman.

What we need is to believe that men and women are uniquely designed in ways which uniquely compliment each other.

What we need are men who are taught to have courage so that the women they love realize they are worth defending.

What we need are men who are strong so that the women they love have a safe place to be weak.

What we need are men who are just so that the women they love don’t have to fear injustice.

What we need are men who stand up so that the women they love can stand next to them.

What we need are men who are free to hold doors and hold hands, who use their strength to be gentle, who use their courage to uphold, who use their leadership to serve, who use their minds to be loyal, and who use their hearts to love like crazy.

What we need are women who raise men to know that these things are not only okay, but that they are indeed right and true.

That’s why on International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating the three best men in the world I know, next to your father.

I thank God every day He picked me to be your mama.

I love you all.

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them. – Genesis 5:2

We have two choices. Which will you make today?

Years ago when I was trying to get my first novel published, I met with an editor who pushed my synopsis back across the table towards me and said with a harumph, “It’s way too dark. Our readers don’t want dark. They’ve got enough of that. They want to escape.”

Eventually I did publish that novel, and it’s called How Sweet the Sound.

In fact, Tyndale House is re-releasing it this fall and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Still, that editor had a valid point.

There’s a lot of dark in the world. I’m frankly overwhelmed with how vitriolic our culture is, and I don’t remember a time since I’ve been on the planet where things have been quite this stirred up. Why read a story or see a movie or listen to music that’s dark, when we’re staggering around in pitch blackness all day long?

One reader of How Sweet the Sound commented that the title belies the dark themes of the story, and if you only read the first few chapters, she’s absolutely right. There’s nothing good or light or cheery about a family ravaged by generational sexual abuse. There wasn’t anything good or light or cheery about it either when Tamar, in 2 Samuel 13, suffered the same fate.

But by the end of the story, there is hope.

Loads of it. 

Three novels later, and I admit my writing tends toward some deep and painful themes. That’s because each of my stories begins with something–a news story, an historical event, an injustice–that breaks my heart. (Believe me, there are days when I wonder what it would be like to write cozy mysteries or Hallmark-style romances.)

And each of my stories ends with hope.

Not the sort of hope where everything is tied up with a big, red bow and all the characters ride off in the sunset. But the sort of hope that comes when you learn you’re not alone, and that it’s possible to find joy in the midst of pain and suffering.

Still, I learned something from that editor, and from several editors since.

Darkness and pain must be balanced with light.

In story.

In art.

In life.

The world is dying a little more every day because it is starving for the light and color God has given to us.

As a follower of Jesus, I write stories from a Christian worldview. And while I am often passionate about the need for stories which don’t sugarcoat pain and tragedy, I’m even more passionate about the call to bring hope to a hurting world. 

Even without a Christian worldview, the world needs goodness. The world needs kindness. The world needs hope. The world needs love.

And the world needs that from us, now more than ever.

As confusing as headlines and media can be, at the end of the day we are left with two basic choices:

We can spread darkness.

Or we can spread light.

We can be angry.

Or we can give grace.

We can hate.

Or we can love.

We were made to be light, dear ones.

We were made to be on this earth, here and now, for such a time as this, for a purpose:

To show the world the colors of life and hope.

We have to acknowledge the darkness, yes.

But we have to know that truth and love can obliterate it

if we choose

wisely.

Dear Lord, begin with me. 

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“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (TMV)

On how to survive this constant fray.

It was quiet that day.

Mid-day.

Sun high.

Scorching.

Humidity as thick as the shame the woman felt.

That’s why she went to the well, after all.

No one else would be there.

No one cat-calling. No one spitting at her feet. No one turning the other way to avoid her. No one carrying invisible signs that read “slut,” or “worthless,” or worse.

There were no crowds.

To be sure, the man who met her there created and moved crowds on occasion. But when he really wanted to change a life, he picked a time no one would notice, except of course for the one who needed him most.

He looked in her eyes–first time anyone had done that in a long time. It unnerved her, that deep, gentle stare.

She had to turn away.

But he refused to leave. 

I’m talking about Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman. (Click to read about it in John, chapter 4.)

And I want to be more like that.

No shouting. No name-calling. No talking over people who think differently from me. No turning the other way to the hurt and shame of others.

I fail.

A lot.

Especially these days, when fury seems like the new standard, the resting posture of so many of us.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence I felt led to make 2 Corinthians 10:5 my memory verse for the second half of January. I need to take every thought captive more than ever. And I’m learning I have to get drastic to do so. I took all social media applications off my phone. I made a pact with myself to check it once a day, twice at the most, but only for messages–not to scroll and fall into the fray. I figure anyone who really needs to get ahold of me knows my email or my phone number, and that’s enough. It’ll have to be. This isn’t something everyone should or even wants to do. But for me, well, I’m finding that the more time that passes with this new quiet, this new posture, the more I feel peace re-entering my heart.

The less connected I am to the world, the more re-connected I am to Him.

(This is the great conundrum of course–how to be in the world, but not of the world; how to reach out without falling in. All we can do is try to find a balance the best we can, with the Lord’s help.)

I wonder what we’ll have to say for ourselves in five, ten, twenty years.

I hope we’ll be able to say we were kind in spite of the times; that we were still able to hear the birds singing in the morning; that we still noticed the small green spears of crocuses and daffodils emerging this spring; that we held banners of love high above signs of hate; that our children were able to watch us and learn swords of grace and mercy work best against hate.

I hope.

I sure hope.

I know for sure I can’t do it by reading and listening to the soundbites and the news feeds and the home pages anymore.  And I can’t do it at all without turning my focus, my eyes, and my heart on him, the man at the well.

Like I said, I fail. And I will again, because I’m human, and because it’s hard not to hear constant, deafening outrage.

But there is a voice calling, even and still in this wilderness,

and it’s filled with words like those found in Philippians 4:8-9:

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart. The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things in daily life, and the God who is the source of peace and well-being will be with you.

The source of peace.

The source of well-being.

Center your mind.

Implant them in your heart.

That’s my prayer for me first, since I fail at this worse than anyone I know.

It’s my prayer for you, too.

And maybe…maybe…something good will bloom out of these dark times after all.