Last week I had the opportunity, thanks to the generosity of some wonderful people, to attend the Exodus Leadership Reunion in Orlando. It was literally a life changing several days for me. God opened my eyes to some things that I believe will be defining in my life for days, weeks, months and years ahead. I am deeply grateful for the chance to be a part of such an amazing and inspiring group of people.
There are many things I’m going to share about the last several days, but I want to start with the least expected and most surprising of my experiences.
One of the things I was looking forward to most on this trip was having the chance to finally get to have a face to face conversation with Brad Sargent, a man I have admired for some time. Brad is a man of intelligence beyond description, but what I like about him most is the way he radiates pure joy and excitement for the world around him.
One of the many things we discussed was the importance of storytelling in our lives, one in particular, Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings. During one of these conversations (there were a few ;>) I shared with Brad about why I am drawn to the character Eowyn. I have never been a fan of “girl power” messages mostly having to do with their tendency to encourage women to compare themselves to men and come out ahead. It’s rare to find a strong heroine that does not in some way out-do her male peers in her rise to glory, or in some way imply that she is not their equal, but superior. In the character of Eowyn we find a young woman who longs to do the job of a man, to protect and defend those she loves, so much so she’s willing to pretend to be a man. But when her moment comes the only way to do what must be done is to be exactly who she is, a woman. I remember when my Mom read this part to my siblings and I for the first time and I thought “that is the type of girl I am.”
On the plane ride home I started thinking about that conversation again and about our Creator and being made in his image. I started to deeply ponder what it is to be a woman made in the image of God. I’ll admit that the maternal nature of God is something I’ve always struggled with. I had my fair share of struggles in my relationship with my own Mom and through that filter I wasn’t able to get as comfortable with God the Mother as I am with God the Father. In that moment I realized that I have been able to relate to God as a daughter, as a child, even as a sister, but not as an image bearer. Silently and without even realizing it I began asking God to show me how I am made in his image as a woman and almost as quickly as I asked He showed me something astounding.
The picture that came to my mind was that of a lioness defending her cubs and then of Jesus on the cross. It seemed confusing at first but then it came together. As I thought and prayed I realized that when I think about the path to the cross I picture a sorrowful and resigned Jesus, I think of Jesus’ conversation with his Father in the garden and his human plea to let this cup pass from him. I see Jesus carry his cross, broken, bleeding, and silently mourning the actions of his creations. On that airplane somewhere between Orlando and Dallas God made it clear to me that this picture I have carried in my heart and mind for my entire life was wrong. The image of the lioness came back to my mind. There’s a beautiful violence and determination in the way mothers protect their young that isn’t limited to the animal kingdom, I dare you to lay a hand on one of my sisters children! The maternal instinct to protect is different than the protector in a man. I saw Jesus again, but this picture was different. The resignation I’d always seen was replaced by a steady determination. The sorrow I had always pictured was gone and instead I saw Jesus carrying His cross in righteous rage, every labored step forward roaring in the way that only a mother can, “You will have to go through me to get to them!”
For the first time I began to see what it means to be a woman who bears the image of God. I recognized that this was what I admired about Eowyn’s character. The image of God in women shows itself in our ferocity.
This is only the beginning of a discovery for me, I’m sure, but it reminds me how much bigger God is than I give Him credit for sometimes. I can’t go back to the image of Jesus I had before that moment. I recognize the fierce love I saw in Jesus’ face in the second picture because I have felt it, and that’s the image I was made in.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
– Isaiah 53:4-5