Tag Archives: women

A Complicated Eulogy for Elisabeth Elliot

complicated eulogy elisabeth elliot

You died on Monday.

I confess, I’d forgotten about you until I started seeing your name flash by in my social media feeds. Elisabeth Elliot, Tenacious Missionary to Ecuador, Dies at 88.

All week, I’ve been thinking about you…about the way your story, already romanticized into evangelical lore by the time I started high school, collided with mine: You were the woman whose husband was killed by a tribe in Ecuador while you were missionaries there in 1956. You were the woman who stayed there anyway and kept doing her work.

It was an epic kind of faith story, and it had already been shaping and defining American evangelicalism for nearly fifty years by the time it began to shape me.

My sort-of-boyfriend at the time had Africa-shaped stars in his eyes…and what was it about stories of martyrdom that appealed so strongly to him — to all of them — that whole burning-for-Jesus bunch?

Whatever it was, he wanted to be Jim Eliot, living fearlessly in some jungle somewhere, which in my mind, mean that I was supposed to be you.

You — the woman who waited five years in patient purity for Jim to decide whether or not God wanted him to marry. You, who followed him to South America (though you had wanted to go be a missionary in Africa), who made a home among the South American Indians for your small daughter, who went back to the tribe that murdered your husband to complete the task of sharing the beautiful story of Jesus.

Yours were impossibly huge shoes to fill, but I wanted the missionary boy to love me…and so I tried. I read everything you wrote and underlined big swaths of text. And much of what you wrote was about relationships, purity and gender roles.

When I was fourteen, wavering in my own purpose and identity, hopelessly in love with an older missionary boy, I read your books, and you pointed me into the Garden of Eden when God created man, and then, from one of his ribs, woman. “You can’t make use of a thing unless you know what it was made for,” you wrote. And a woman, you said, was made for man.

And maybe if I’d been older or wiser or less desperate, I would have read something different in those words. But at fourteen, I took them to mean that I ought to devote myself to the boy, submit to his dreams and plans, nod and acquiesce and wait as he tried to discern whether God wanted us to be together…or, finally, not.

I’ve been re-reading those books this week. Somewhere, either in transition or in spiritual angst, I lost (or gave away, or destroyed) Passion and Purity, but I still have Let Me Be a Woman and Quest for Love. And your words still raises all sorts of complicated feelings in me.

You took the hard line on gender roles. You believed that the meaning of womanhood excluded women from church ministry. You had nothing but contempt for the Woman’s Liberation Movement, set yourself up against a “Them” that you believed were set on turning woman into “a caricature, a pseudo-personhood.” You did not particularly want women in “the workplace” and were appalled that they were being let into the army. You wrote in certainties and absolutes that make me bristle now.

“The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on all speak loudly about what you believe,” you wrote to your daughter in Let Me Be a Woman. “‘The beauty of Thy peace’ shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul.”

Oh Elisabeth. If you could see my house right now. There are so many crumbs on the kitchen floor that I have to wear shoes in there so they don’t stick to my feet. Also I have been wearing the same sweatpants for two days because our dryer is broken.

Also,  I have come to terms with the fact that my soul is in total disorder, and that the beauty of God’s peace is still there, floating above it all, like the dust from my living room bookshelf swirling around, catching the light.

I read your words, and they sound stern and unyielding and a little obstinate. There are things that I don’t agree with. Often, your words make me angry, and I’m tempted to write you off altogether.

But then…you had the most contagious smile.

Photo from elisabethelliot.org
Photo from elisabethelliot.org

Your photos tells a different story than your books. You are dimpled and braided hair and gap-toothed, standing next to Jim. Then, later, you are holding your daughter, and your face has taken on a kind sad strength as you hold your baby girl. You are wearing those sensible shoes and that dress in the jungle, still doing your work.

Then, you are older, then older still — still gap-toothed and grinning. You look like you might be a little sassy, but that could just be wishful thinking.

The way you spoke of feelings in your books, Elisabeth, feels cold, detached, and absolute. “Keep a tight reign on these emotions,” you wrote to a twenty-four-year-old woman who had sent you a letter about the man she liked. “A life lived in God is not lived on the plane of feelings, but of the will,” you wrote, and I remember, as an emotional teenage girl, trying hard to shove my feelings again and again into submission like you seemed to do so easily.

Reading now and looking at your photos, I see a different version of that story — a woman who I expect felt everything deeply. Who woke up every day in a tsunami of grief, and had to find a way to stand up and keep going.

I can imagine you then: You are a young widow, a single mother, living far away from family, helping to birth babies in the jungle. You are afraid; you are lonely and sad, and you’re doing it anyway.

You say the creeds when you do not feel them. You learn, year after year, to “hang [your] soul on those strong pegs, those ‘I believe’s’” and to find strength and shelter.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” You learn to say it like the orthodox Christians, like breathing — in, out, in out — until the wave of emotion had passed and you were still, miraculously, standing.

And maybe I’m creating a kind of fan fiction, reading things into your life that weren’t there so that I can make sense of you. Or maybe you were every bit as complicated and broken and untidy and emotional as I am.

Either way, as I look at your soft, time-wrinkled face in your final pictures, it occurs to me that we’d both say the same thing:

The most important thing about your life is not what you said about God or women or marriage or purity. It’s what God said about you. Beloved, beloved, beloved.

It’s what he says about all of us. What he’s still saying as you wander through the gates of splendor toward Him. As you smile that beautiful, gap-toothed smile, and make your way home.


(Bird Photo by Jonathan Ashcraft at CreationSwap.org)

Mentoring Week at SheLoves Magazine

mentoring week sheloves

My lovely friend Heather Caliri dreamed up a beautiful series on Mentoring this week. Like many churchy terms, this one has some baggage for me. But it tugs, too, at some of my long-held desires and hopes. After all, there is something so beautiful about someone a little farther along in their journey who takes the time to turn around, look back, see you, stay.

I’m so honored to help Heather kick off the series over at SheLoves Magazine today with my piece “Making Space Anyway.” Here’s the beginning:

I was 14, maybe 15, when I gathered up all of my courage, walked up to the pastor’s wife in the church foyer, and asked her if maybe she would consider mentoring me.

She was tall and beautiful with a kind smile and platinum blonde hair that she wore swept up into a Grace-Kelly-style bun. Every week she sat in the second row, stage left, while her husband preached the morning message.

Those were the years when I flared like a Roman Candle, aflame with love for Jesus and, simultaneously, for an high school senior with Big Missionary Dreams. He was the kind of boy that people followed, and I was no exception. His faith was charismatic and his smile was easy, and I imagined that I would wait for him forever, follow him to the ends of the unsaved world.

I can’t remember why, exactly, I asked the pastor’s wife of all people. Certainly I thought she was lovely; probably I revered her in some vague and glowing way. But the most likely reason is that I imagined that I would be her someday. I thought I would follow The Boy to some far off place, and that someday, it would be me, sitting in the second row, stage left, while he preached the morning message at the front. I wanted to know how to be that girl.

She said no.

[Continue reading at SheLoves]

Love for the One Passing Through [at SheLoves]

SheLoves Post

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine today, sharing about the grace offered us at a church we were just passing through.

Join me? Here’s how it starts:

We went to the church in the city that spring, and it was a shaky step of faith.

We were newly planted in a house 20 miles away in the suburbs; I was half-a-year into therapy. In many ways, we were still tentatively rebuilding our marriage and our faith, one cautious bit at a time.

The churches we’d attended in the past couple of years were not entirely at fault for the way things broke down for me—for us. In truth, it was a mix of undiagnosed depression and anger. It was twenty years of faith-baggage all at once bubbling up and breaking across the surface of my life.

But I blamed the churches anyway. After all, we’d walked through their halls and their foyers, joined their groups, sat in their classes. When that didn’t work, we threw ourselves into a house church with hope and desperation, bringing hotdish to share, sitting in a circle to pray, pitching in to help run the crepe stand at the fair.

I’d done all the things that you’re “supposed to do”. I’d “plugged in” the best I knew how to, and still I felt desperately alone in my struggle. I went to every early-morning coffee-shop Bible study, and never once did someone look into my eyes and say, “How are you doing? Really.” Never once did anyone see me. [Continue reading here]

Wearing Hope: A Reflection and Giveaway

If you read my What I’m Into post last week, you know that the serious-book-reading didn’t happen in July. I read mostly for entertainment, not for serious mind-or-soul improvement. I read only books that paired well with our inflatable kiddie pool and hard lemonade. Because JULY.

So instead of reflecting on and giving away a book this month, I’m going to give away something else.

A scarf.

trades of hope scarf 2

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nebulous, confusing world of social justice –and about how I can engage in it without taking it all on at once. I want to be brave enough to approach the hurt and need of the world. I want to be wise enough not to take on the unnecessary burden of survivor’s guilt or the weight of legalism.

Some beautiful writers have been sharing their own One Small Change stories here on Wednesdays, and I’m thankful for the simple steps that others have taken in order to engage with justice. I don’t expect any of us to do all the things, but maybe one or two of them will resonate with you. And it’s exciting to think about the ways that we might inspire one another on to good, small things.

Recently, I heard from one of our lovely readers, Shannon Glaser, who works with an organization called Trades of Hope. It’s a fair trade organization that markets and sells beautiful products made by women around the world. I love the heart of this organization: to give women the tools to start and sustain small businesses in places where such an opportunity may not have existed.

Shannon sent me one of the beautiful scarves made by women in Nepal, where approximately 10,000 girls from 9 to 16 are sold, stolen or forced into the sex trade every year.

I’ve never been much of an accessories kind of girl. My fashion sense has never been fully developed, and my wardrobe is usually dictated by how late we are running on a given morning. But last Thursday I put on my beautiful aqua summer scarf from Nepal. I also put on the paper beads that I bought from Breaking Free – an organization here in Minnesota that works with survivors of sex trafficking and prostitution.

(I’m pretty sure there are more fashionable ways to wear a scarf than the haphazard way I looped it around my neck, but I tried not to worry about that too much.)

That day, the boys and I drove around the neighborhood, hunting for garage sales, and I couldn’t stop feeling them, these women that I don’t know. I felt linked to them by the things that I wore.  Every now and then, I breathed a prayer for these strong, beautiful women, and I still don’t understand prayer very well, but I think they matter…those mysterious moments of lifting strangers high.

I kept thinking of Dear Abby Leigh, who does a great little series on her blog called Dress for the Day. Her mantra is “Dress for the day you want to have…not the one that’s trying to have you.”

And I think, yes. I want a day that is not bound to the chaos of my own kids or the sloppiness of my own life. I want to build a mindfulness of others into my moments. And wearing that scarf the other day, I felt like it happened.

trades of hope scarf

Shannon has generously offered to give away a scarf to one lucky winner. To enter, simply check out the Trades of Hope catalog here and leave a comment below, letting us know what your favorite product is. (I’m kind of in love with this copper wire bird trio myself.) I’ll announce the winner this Friday (August 9th).

I think August is kind of an awesome time to shop for Christmas presents. This is the time of year that I always start to think about it because I hate the mad dash for free shipping during the first couple of weeks of December. I really like Trades of Hope because it feels affordable to me. As a Mama Writer on a Serious Budget, it matters that all the products are under $50. I love that.

Because this is a party-model business, I set up a special Addie Zierman party that will be open for the next month, if you’d like to order something. You can also follow Shannon on Facebook to keep an eye on new item releases and sales.

So maybe instead of buying those Target earrings for your mother-in-law for Christmas, you buy her the Nina Earrings. One small thing. Maybe you buy a Uganda Basket for your own kitchen table, and when you pray with your family before dinner, you remember those women whose hands created its spirals, and you ask for peace on their families.

It’s just one thing. But it’s a beautiful thing. And it matters.

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