BESIDE EVERY GOOD MAN: Loving Myself While Standing by Him
About the Book
Alone but Not Alone: Our Heart's Mirror
Have you ever held a baby before a mirror so she could see herself? She coos and points, laughs and makes faces at the eager child just on the other side of the glass. I treasure the memories of holding each of my children in my arms, lifting the little one to catch sight of his or her reflection for the first time. Perhaps you have experienced this with your own children, a younger brother or sister, or your niece and nephew.
There's a sense of amazement at the sight of a baby seeing herself for the first time. She may not even realize it's herself she's looking at. One of my own daughters would point at her own reflection and say, "I see baby!" never identifying that sweet smile as her own. It was only after I said her name, pointed to her image in the glass, and then back to her that she began to make the connection.
Now think for a moment. When was the last time you looked yourself in the eye? This morning when you were putting on makeup? In the ladies' room after lunch? In the rearview mirror when driving the car pool? As you rushed past the store window and caught your reflection from the sidewalk? And what did you see, dear sister, as you looked in the mirror at yourself? I pray that you were able to smile and see the beauty and confidence of a joyful woman who knows the Lord's peace. But from my own experiences, as well as those of other women, I know this might not have been the case.
Instead of greeting ourselves and holding our heads high, we ladies often immediately glare and criticize: If only my eyes were a little wider, my lashes a little longer. If only my cheeks were a little higher and my lips a bit fuller. If I only could lose some weight. If I could afford that new designer face cream. Or if not criticism, we sometimes can't even look ourselves in the eye because of past shame, present grief, or future worry. For most of us, the joyful exuberance of a baby seeing herself in the mirror for the first time has long since evaporated.
Our Heart's Reflection
Please don't misunderstand. It's not that I think we should be overly concerned with our appearances for the sake of vanity. Our culture certainly pressures us enough to be obsessed with looking younger, prettier, and sexier without my adding to it. No, I want us to look beyond the image we see in the glass. I want us to consider our heart's reflections so we can know where we are as we begin this journey together through these pages. There's something essential about knowing where you are that's helpful and necessary in planning where you're going next. I'll never forget my delighted frustration when my husband planned a surprise vacation for us and wouldn't tell me what kind of climate we would find awaiting us. I didn't know whether to take my raincoat or my swimsuit! I want us to know where we are so we can anticipate where we are going.
So we begin now by considering what has happened between that first glimpse of ourselves in the mirror when we were babies and who we are now as grown women. We do this not to become self-absorbed and preoccupied with ourselves but to have a greater understanding of who we are now and what our heart desires. I choose this starting point because it reflects so much of my own experience on my life's journey. Before I can consider my relationships with the men in my life, I must stand alone. And by standing alone I realize I am never alone; my Creator, the Lover of my soul, has been there beside me throughout it all. Therefore, we will look at ourselves, alone but not alone, so we may know where we are, but also so we may sense God's presence throughout our lives.
As I counsel and minister to numerous and various women from all walks of life, I discover that my issues concern them also. We want to explore and enhance our identities as women, our relationship to God, and our relationship to the men in our lives. We want to grow closer to the Lord, to be stronger and surer of who we are and how God has gifted us. We want to be closer to the men in our lives, from our father and brothers to our husband and sons, and know how to give ourselves to these relationships without losing ourselves in the process. We will cover these issues together in the following chapters.
Before we continue,allow me to address one other concern you may have. You may be asking yourself, Why is Serita qualified to walk with me on my journey? When did she get it all figured out? Please let me assure you, I don't have all the answers. Certainly I am no expert on male-female relationships. I'm not a psychologist or professional counselor, not a marriage therapist or relationship guru. But I am a woman blessed with a few glimmers of insight into how these three areas are intricately interwoven like the finest garment clothing a woman's life. I have lived as a daughter, sister, single woman, wife, lover, mother, and friend. I have studied the Scriptures and committed myself before the Lord to discover who He has created me to be and how I am to relate to those around me. I have learned from other women both gracious and courageous enough to reveal their true selves. Please allow me the privilege of sharing my heart, my study of God's Word, and the seeds of wisdom the Lord has bestowed upon me.
Masterpiece in the Making
Let's begin by being honest about where we are right now. If I may gently guide you to stand before the mirror of your heart, what do you see? What has transpired in life between the hint of a baby girl's smile that lingers from so long ago and the latest tiny wrinkle near your eyes? Who looks back at you?
As we attempt to consider who we are and where we are at this stage in our journey,two obstacles often obscure the image before us. Like a fog rolling in and hiding the stars, we lose sight of our purpose and the light our God wants to shine through us. The first of these obstacles results from being nearsighted. We become so immersed in the daily details of working, cooking, shopping, cleaning, and paying the bills that we lose perspective. Like a nearsighted person,we can't see things at a distance, only up close. But this creates a problem in that we can't see the proverbial forest of our lives for the immediacy of all the trees. When we lose a larger sense of purpose in our lives, then it's hard to stay motivated each morning when we wake up.
I believe the image we see of ourselves is not so much a reflection but a collage of hundreds of our reflections over time. It's as if a divine portrait painter has captured our image, with each detail and brush stroke revealing something of who we are and what we've experienced. See that line of color there? That's the blush of joy from your father's praise when you were four years old. And that delicate brush stroke near your lips? That's the faint scar from being overlooked by the boy you liked in junior high.
So many memories and moments of your lifetime. These bits of your life may be visible to no one but yourself, hidden beneath your flawless complexion and dazzling smile, camouflaged by foundation and blush, powder and mascara. Or some faint battle scars may grace your face and signal to others that you have endured and survived many hardships, many trials. Perhaps the truth about yourself is hardest to hide in your eyes,the mirrors of the soul.
Look again into your heart's mirror. As you stand alone now before yourself, what do you see? Regardless of whether or not the brush strokes of your lifetime are visible to those around you, can you see the accumulated beauty of an impressionistic painting? Step back. Can you see the larger frame of God's love around yourself? When you stand close to one of the great masters of impressionism such as Monet, the painting looks almost abstract, random steaks of color intersecting on the canvas. However,seen from a distance across the gallery, the rectangle of color captures the intricacies of a beautiful floral scene, a garden bursting with purple blossoms beside a serene pond of green lily pads.
Can you see the masterpiece God is creating in your life? I believe the psalmist well described this process of stepping back and taking in God's masterpiece:<
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.(Psalm 139: 13-14)<
All too often, I'm afraid,we lose sight of God's marvelous handiwork, His purpose and design, in the colorful canvas of our lives. We get so caught up in the everyday demands on our time and the numerous roles we must play that we lose sight of the girl alone in the mirror. That's when we must remind ourselves to pause once again and look at our heart's reflection. One of the Scripture verses that mean so much to me reminds me of this very need to refocus and see anew what God is doing in my life. "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength," writes the prophet Isaiah (30:15). Pause for a moment where you are right now, sister, and let yourself rest before Him. Take a deep breath and let His peace envelop your heart before we go deeper and examine who we are and how we relate to the men in our lives. Perhaps you can pray the following prayer or use it as a model to express the intent of your heart:
Lord, You are my Creator and the Divine Artist of my life. I ask You to help me see the beauty of Your brush strokes as I look back on my life and consider where You have brought me. Allow me to see beyond the nearsighted view of all my chores and responsibilities. Give me Your perspective so I may see the masterpiece You are painting through my life. Amen.
Have you seen the television program where people compete for prizes by facing a variety of terrifying stunts? My teenage children begged me to watch it with them once, and I was repulsed by the numerous ways the contestants faced their fears. They ranged from skydiving to facing all kinds of creepy creatures. One poor woman let spiders crawl all over her!
I don't believe we have to go on "reality "television to face our fears, for the other obstacle that keeps us from seeing ourselves is indeed fear. We are afraid to look at ourselves for fear we might not like what we see. In fact, it's sometimes easier to stay caught up in the busy schedules and demanding roles than it is to slow down and look at yourself. Painful emotions may be waiting to pounce on you. You may not be able to look into your own eyes without seeing shame from past abuse or grief over your heart's losses. Perhaps you have lost a parent or one of your own children to the power of an addiction. You may feel haunted by the consequences of poor choices.Even amid the many relationships in your life, the loneliness of your soul may feel unbearable.
But even as you feel afraid, you must remember you are not alone and have never been alone. You must realize God's perfect love casts out all fear: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18). This truth cannot make your feelings instantly evaporate, but it can ground you in something stronger and larger than whatever fears may be preying on you. One way to dispel these fears is to realize you have survived this far by the grace of God, and He will not abandon you now. He tells us, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you "(Hebrews 13:5 NASB).
Pray for courage, dear lady, and for God's assurance to fill your heart with confidence. Ask Him to dispel the fears of the past, the stress of the present, and the worries of the future as you embark on this assessment. You may want to use the following prayer as a way to express this desire of your heart:
Dear Soul Keeper, I ask You to banish the fears from my heart. Please remind me of Your presence so I may consider how to grow closer to You, how to see more clearly what I need to change so that I may love You and those around me more fully. Give me courage and strength to face whatever past issues need to be addressed. Give me peace to see Your hand in my present circumstances. Give me hope to trust in Your plans for my future. Amen.
Cinderella at the Ball
When I was a girl growing up in West Virginia, my cousins and I loved to play in my auntie's closet. We would go through her old cedar chest and find discarded dresses and old- fashioned finery. We thrilled to see ourselves in beautiful floral prints and hats with fine feathers. A broken pearl necklace became royal treasure, and clip-on earrings glinted like prized diamonds. We called this game "Cinderella Dress-up " and never questioned how all of us could be Cinderella at the same time. We were too busy getting ready for the ball! There was room for each of us to have her own palace, and apparently her own respective Prince Charming (although boys were not our concern at the time).
The point was the joy of limitless possibility. We could each be a fairy princess, could be anything we wanted to be and do anything we wanted to do! We were princesses waiting to be discovered. Maybe we developed this silly, sweet game from hearing too many fairy tales or from watching one too many Disney films. But I'll never forget my soul's unfettered joy as my cousins and I giggled in front of the mirror, believing anything was possible and knowing happiness awaited us in a chest of old dresses. Perhaps you had a similar game when you were growing up. Maybe playing sports or collecting dolls afforded you this kind of childlike hope and magic. Maybe you found it in the books you read or the stories you heard.
As we stand alone gazing at our heart's reflection, I believe it's important that we rekindle this innocent passion for several reasons. We not only want to assess where we have come from and realize that we are not alone; in addition, we need to reconnect with the early dreams of our girl's hearts. We do this not for reasons of nostalgia, a wistful remembrance of the "good old days," but as a way of remembering the power of possibility, a way of reconnecting to where we are going. Our dreams, like a bouquet of balloons, brought us joy...until the harsh winds of life snatched them away. We must reclaim those brightly colored dreams of girlhood and make them anchors for where we are going. For there's often something honest and authentic about those dreams. If we want to rediscover who we truly are and what has shaped us, then I believe we must look at those early hopes and joys. Somewhere within each of us is the girl who continues to dream. She may be bruised and battered; she may have a gag in her mouth so she cannot whisper into your soul. But she is there, dear sister, longing to be set free again. Can you see her playing dress-up in her mama's long dress? Can you hear her singing a simple song?
Before you dismiss this as foolishness, please consider that it's often our childhood dreams that guide our successes in the present. I was reminded of this while watching the 2002 Academy Awards. Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.(In fact, Denzel Washington won that same night for Best Actor.) Ms.Berry's acceptance speech was especially memorable, bringing me to share her tears as she thanked the numerous pioneers before her: Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Alfre Woodard, and Ruby Dee. She concluded by sharing how her girlhood dreams had kept her persevering and striving toward the achievement for which she was recognized that night.
The moment caused me to reflect on my own life and the many blessings the Lord has bestowed on me: the love of a special husband who is fulfilling his calling, beautiful children, my health, a wonderful home in which to nurture our family, a platform of ministry to other women, and special friendships with dear sisters. I considered the incredible privilege I've enjoyed to speak to various and diverse women,from society women to welfare mothers,business executives to homemakers,teenage mothers to great-grandmothers. In many ways the Lord has blessed me more than any fairy godmother ever blessed Cinderella. He has made me His princess, His leading lady. Similarly, I believe He desires for each one of us to discover our identity as His royal daughter.
The obstacles,however,are legion.In spite of the out- pouring of His blessings on my life,it is far from perfect.My joy in His purposes for my life has not been without sacrifice, considerable pain,and shattered dreams along the way.I 've lost both my parents to dreadful diseases.I 've waited in the emergency room over the injuries of my children.I 've endured a terrible car accident that left me wondering if I would ever walk again.I 've suffered the betrayal of women I once trusted. Even in my childhood game of Cinderella,the clock struck twelve and the ball was over.
Similarly, I recall hearing Ms.Berry speak about all the parts she hadn't gotten because of directors' prejudices and their misperceptions of her. No,it's not easy to hold on to our dreams. It's not easy to look at our reflection in the mirror and consider the composite portrait of who we have become. It requires honesty, courage, and humility. We have to be willing to look at ourselves alone, through no one else's eyes, no one else's expectations. We each have to find our own path and seek the Lord's wisdom on our life's journey.
Perhaps you're thinking it's too late, that too many changes have occurred in your life for you to begin again. These changes may seem especially clear in your relationships with the men in your life: too many words said in haste or anger, too many words left unsaid,too many acts to be forgiven on both accounts. Or you may feel it's too painful to stir up the dreams of your girlhood, that you'd only be stirring up memories and hopes that were forced to die long ago. Maybe you feel the ashes are so cold there are no sparks of life left from which to kindle a new fire. You once wanted to start your own business or pursue your love of music or become a teacher, but you're afraid there 's too much time and heartache between your past and your present.
If you find yourself in this swirl of disappointment and uncertainty, I invite you to claim the truth of God's Word and remember how much He delights in blessing us as His children and restoring us. It's like when my children were younger and would come in from playing outside with their jeans muddy and-shirts tattered, their arms scraped and faces dirty. Can you guess my first inclination? Yes, you're right! I couldn't wait to get them into the bathtub and then into clean clothes. I wanted to bandage any cuts and scrapes and wipe away any tears. Often I would be reminded of a verse in Scripture: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11. How true this is! Nothing is impossible with our God, so don't be afraid to muster your seed of faith and reconsider your dreams, desires, and destiny.
I hope you,dear reader,are actively pursuing your dreams-growing in your awareness of who you are and how God made you,striving for excellence in the pursuit of your calling, and standing strong next to the men in your life. I applaud your journey and hope you will find continued nourishment for your dreams and preventive insight into how you relate with men. May you continue to grow and flourish so God can work His masterpiece in your life.
Regardless of where you are in your life, whether or not you can touch the fabric of your dreams or only view it from a distance,whether there's a key man in your life or not, I encourage you to reflect upon who you see in your heart's mirror. Be as brutally honest as you can about who you truly are and what you honestly need. Don't beat yourself up for past mistakes or linger on the scars and age lines. Instead, give thanks and bask in the beauty that is there in your eyes, in your heart, as you prepare to embark on a journey of self-discovery, greater intimacy with God,and stronger strides with the men in your life.
Before we continue by looking at other forces that have shaped us, I encourage you to linger here before your heart's mirror as long as you need. Drink in the beauty of the Lord's presence in your life this far. Stand before yourself, knowing you are not alone. Dispel the busyness and fear that would so easily entangle you on your path. Reconnect to your girlhood dreams. Consider where you are going. And let the journey begin!<
Dear God, I'm scared and excited as I begin this journey. Please give me the courage to look myself in the eye and to seek Your truth. I pray I would be honest about the barriers in my life that keep me from loving myself and from loving the men in my life. Give me Your divine strength and a willingness to lean on You as the source of healing for broken areas of my life. Be my guide, the Lover of my soul, my Secret Keeper, and the One who stands beside me through all the seasons of my life. Amen.
Questions and Suggestions
1. Why did you pick up this book? What question or thought in this chapter struck a chord with you as you began to think about who we are and how you relate to men?
2. How would you describe the present season of your life? Busy? Hectic? Complicated? Relaxing? Painful? Hopeful? What are your goals for this season? In other words, what kinds of changes would you like to see in your life and in yourself?
3. Do something creative to express how you see yourself at present. It may be writing a poem,drawing a picture, painting your self portrait, cooking your favorite dish, or creating a collage. You don't have to share it with anyone and you don't have to be Martha Stewart to do it.
4. Consider keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings as you read each chapter in the book. Use this as a safe place to process your life and faith. You may want to address some of your entries to God as written prayers.
5. Who are your role models and inspirations? How do these women encourage you to strive for more? What is it about them that you would like to emulate in your life?
6. Commit yourself to praying about the specific areas and relationships in your life where you would like to grow. You might use the prayers provided in each chapter as a way to get started.
Excerpted from BESIDE EVERY GOOD MAN © Copyright 2003 by T.D.Jakes Enterprises,Inc. Reprinted with permission by Warner Faith, an imprint of Time Warner Bookmark. All rights reserved.
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