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CaptivatingUnveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul
By John Eldredge Stasi Eldredge
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2005 John Eldredge and Stasi Eldredge
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Heart of a Woman
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Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. —Tammy Wynette
He saw that Fatima's eyes were filled with tears. "You're crying?" "I'm a woman of the desert," she said, averting her face. "But above all, I'm a woman." —Paulo Coelho
You belong among the wildflowers You belong in a boat out at sea You belong with your love on your arm You belong somewhere you feel free. —Tom Petty
Let's do it." Dusk was settling in. The air was cool, fragrant with pine and sage, and the swiftly moving river beckoned. We were camping in the Tetons, and it so happened that our canoe was on top of the car. "Let's put in." John looked at me as if I had lost my mind. In less than twenty minutes night would be upon us and the river and the woods. All would be pitch black. We'd be on the river, alone, with only a general idea of which way to go (down), where to take out (head for the road), and a long walk back to the car. Who knew what dangers lay out there? He looked again at me, looked at our young sons, and then said, "Okay!" We sprang into action.
The evening was stunning. The river's graceful movements caused the water's colors to shift from cobalt to silver to black. No other person was in sight. We had Oxbow Bend to ourselves. In record time we had the canoe in the river; life vests securely fastened, paddles at the ready, boys installed, and off we went, a race to drink as deeply of as much beauty as possible, together.
An old wooden bridge hung low across the river, its broken remains looked as though they would collapse at the next strong breeze. We had to duck to pass underneath. Carefully, we navigated the winding channels of the Snake—John in back, me in front, our three boys in between, full of wonder and delight. As the stars began to come out, we were like the children present at the creation of Narnia—the sky so clear, the stars so close. We held our breath as one fell slowly, slowly across the sky and disappeared.
A beaver slapped the river, the sound like a rifle shot, frightening two ducks into flight, but all we could see between the darkened water and sky were the white ripples of their wake, like synchronized water-skiers. Owls began their nightly calls in the woods above, joined by sandhill cranes along the shore. The sounds were familiar, yet otherworldly. We whispered to one another about each new wonder, as the paddles dipped almost but not quite silently in and out of the water.
Night fell. Time to take out. We planned to go ashore along a cove closest to the road so we wouldn't have to walk too far to find our car. We didn't dare try to take out where we had put in ... that would require paddling against the current with little ability to see where we were going.
As we drifted toward the bank, a bull moose rose from the tall grasses, exactly where we had planned to come ashore. He was as dark as the night; we could see him only because he was silhouetted against the sky, jagged mountains behind. He was huge. He was gorgeous. He was in the way. Blocking the only exit we had. More people are killed in national parks by moose than by any other animal. Remarkable speed, seventeen hundred pounds of muscle and antlers, and total unpredictability make them dangerous indeed. It would take about two seconds for him to hit the water running and capsize our canoe. We could not pass.
The mood changed. John and I were worried now. There was only one alternative to this way out, now closed to us, and that was paddling back upriver in what had become total darkness. Silently, soberly, we turned the canoe and headed up, searching for the right channel that would keep us out of the main current. We hadn't planned on the adventure taking that turn, but suddenly, everything was required. John must steer with skill; I must paddle with strength. One mistake on our part and the strong current would force the canoe broadside, fill it, and sweep our boys off downriver into the night.
It was glorious.
We did it. He did. I did. We rose to the challenge working together, and the fact that it required all of me, that I was in it with my family and for my family, that I was surrounded by wild, shimmering beauty and it was, well, kind of dangerous made the time ... transcendent. I was no longer Stasi. I was Sacagawea, Indian Princess of the West, a valiant and strong woman.
A Woman's Journey
Then the time came when the risk it took To remain tight in a bud was more painful Than the risk it took to blossom. —Anais Nin
I'm trying to remember when I first knew in my heart that I was no longer a girl, but had become a woman. Was it when I graduated from high school, or college? Did I know it when I married? When I became a mother? I am forty-five years old as I write this, but there remain places in my heart that still feel so very young. As I think back on what would be considered rites of passage in my life, I understand why my journey has felt so unguided, uncertain. The day I started my period, my family embarrassed me at the dinner table by breaking out in song, "This girl is a woman, now ..." Hmmmm. I didn't feel any different. All I felt was mortified that they knew. I stared at my plate, suddenly fascinated by corn.
The day I got my first bra, a training bra, the kind with stretchy material over the front, one of my sisters pulled me into the hallway where, to my horror, my father stood at the ready to take my picture. They said I would laugh about it later. (I haven't.) Like so many other women I was left alone to navigate my way through adolescence, through my changing and awakening body, a picture of my changing and awakening heart. No counsel was given for the journey into womanhood. I was encouraged, however, to eat less. My father pulled me aside and told me, "No boy will love you if you're fat."
I joined the feminist movement in college, searching, as so many women did in the '70s, for a sense of self. I actually became director of the Women's Resource Center at a liberal state university in California. But no matter how much I asserted my strength and independence as a woman ("hear me roar"), my heart as a woman remained empty. To be told when you are young and searching that "you can be anything" is not helpful. It's too vast. It gives no direction. To be told when you are older that "you can do anything a man can do" isn't helpful, either. I didn't want to be a man. What does it mean to be a woman?
And as for romance, I stumbled through that mysterious terrain with only movies and music as a guide. Like so many women I know, I struggled alone through the mess of several broken hearts. My last year in college, I fell in love for real, and this young man truly loved me back. John and I dated for two and a half years and then became engaged. As we made wedding plans, my mother gave me a rare bit of counsel, in this case, her marriage advice. It was twofold. First, love flies out the window when there's no pork chop on the table. And second, always keep your kitchen floor clean; it makes the whole house look better. I caught her drift. Namely, that my new position as "wife" centered in the kitchen, making the pork chops and cleaning up after them.
I somehow believed that upon saying, "I do," I would be magically transformed into Betty Crocker. I imagined myself baking fresh bread, looking flushed and beautiful as I removed the steaming loaves from the oven. No matter that I hadn't cooked but five meals in my entire life, I set about preparing dinners, breakfasts even, with determination and zeal. After two weeks of this, I lay on the couch despondent, announcing that I didn't know what was for dinner and that John was on his own. Besides, the kitchen floor was dirty. I had failed.
My story is like most women's stories—we've received all sorts of messages but very little help in what it means to become a woman. As one young woman recently wrote us,
I remember when I was ten asking myself as well as older females in my life how a woman of God could actually be confident, scandalous and beautiful, yet not portray herself as a feminist Nazi or an insecure I-need-attention emotional whore. How can I become a strong woman without becoming harsh? How can I be vulnerable without drowning myself in my sorrow?
There seems to be a growing number of books on the masculine journey—rites of passage, initiations, and the like—many of them helpful. But there has been precious little wisdom offered on the path to becoming a woman. Oh, we know the expectations that have been laid upon us by our families, our churches, and our cultures. There are reams of materials on what you ought to do to be a good woman. But that is not the same thing as knowing what the journey toward becoming a woman involves, or even what the goal really should be.
The church has not been a big help here. No, that's not quite honest enough. The church has been part of the problem. Its message to women has been primarily "you are here to serve. That's why God created you: to serve. In the nursery, in the kitchen, on the various committees, in your home, in your community." Seriously now—picture the women we hold up as models of femininity in the church. They are sweet, they are helpful, their hair is coiffed; they are busy, they are disciplined, they are composed, and they are tired.
Think about the women you meet at church. They're trying to live up to some model of femininity. What do they "teach" you about being a woman? What are they saying to us through their lives? Like we said, you'd have to conclude that a godly woman is ... tired. And guilty. We're all living in the shadow of that infamous icon, "The Proverbs 31 Woman," whose life is so busy I wonder, when does she have time for friendships, for taking walks, or reading good books? Her light never goes out at night? When does she have sex? Somehow she has sanctified the shame most women live under, biblical proof that yet again we don't measure up. Is that supposed to be godly—that sense that you are a failure as a woman?
Unseen, Unsought, and Uncertain
I know I am not alone in this nagging sense of failing to measure up, a feeling of not being good enough as a woman. Every woman I've ever met feels it—something deeper than just the sense of failing at what she does. An underlying, gut feeling of failing at who she is. I am not enough, and, I am too much at the same time. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough. But too emotional, too needy, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy. The result is Shame, the universal companion of women. It haunts us, nipping at our heels, feeding on our deepest fear that we will end up abandoned and alone.
After all, if we were better women—whatever that means—life wouldn't be so hard. Right? We wouldn't have so many struggles; there would be less sorrow in our hearts. Why is it so hard to create meaningful friendships and sustain them? Why do our days seem so unimportant, filled not with romance and adventure but with duties and demands? We feel unseen, even by those who are closest to us. We feel unsought—that no one has the passion or the courage to pursue us, to get past our messiness to find the woman deep inside. And we feel uncertain—uncertain what it even means to be a woman; uncertain what it truly means to be feminine; uncertain if we are or ever will be.
Aware of our deep failings, we pour contempt on our own hearts for wanting more. Oh, we long for intimacy and for adventure; we long to be the Beauty of some great story. But the desires set deep in our hearts seem like a luxury, granted only to those women who get their acts together. The message to the rest of us—whether from a driven culture or a driven church—is try harder.
The Heart of a Woman
And in all the exhortations we have missed the most important thing of all. We have missed the heart of a woman.
And that is not a wise thing to do, for as the Scriptures tell us, the heart is central. "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov. 4:23). Above all else. Why? Because God knows that our heart is core to who we are. It is the source of all our creativity, our courage, and our convictions. It is the fountainhead of our faith, our hope, and of course, our love. This "wellspring of life" within us is the very essence of our existence, the center of our being. Your heart as a woman is the most important thing about you.
Think about it: God created you as a woman. "God created man in his own image ... male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). Whatever it means to bear God's image, you do so as a woman. Female. That's how and where you bear his image. Your feminine heart has been created with the greatest of all possible dignities—as a reflection of God's own heart. You are a woman to your soul, to the very core of your being. And so the journey to discover what God meant when he created woman in his image— when he created you as his woman—that journey begins with your heart. Another way of saying this is that the journey begins with desire.
Look at the games that little girls play, and if you can, remember what you dreamed of as a little girl. Look at the movies women love. Listen to your own heart and the hearts of the women you know. What is it that a woman wants? What does she dream of? Think again of women like Tamar, Ruth, Rahab—not very "churchy" women, but women held up for esteem in the Bible. We think you'll find that every woman in her heart of hearts longs for three things: to be romanced, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to unveil beauty. That's what makes a woman come alive.
To Be Romanced
I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far—I will find you. —Nathaniel to Cora in The Last of the Mohicans
One of my favorite games growing up was "kidnapped and rescued." I know many little girls who played this—or wished they had. To be the beauty, abducted by the bad guys, fought for and rescued by a hero—some version of this had a place in all our dreams. Like Sleeping Beauty, like Cinderella, like Maid Marian, or like Cora in The Last of the Mohicans, I wanted to be the heroine and have my hero come for me. Why am I embarrassed to tell you this? I simply loved feeling wanted and fought for. This desire is set deep in the heart of every little girl—and every woman. Yet most of us are ashamed of it. We downplay it. We pretend that it is less than it is. We are women of the twenty-first century after all—strong, independent, and capable, thank you very much. Uh-huh ... and who is buying all those romance novels?
Think about the movies you once loved, and the movies you love now. Is there a movie for little girls that doesn't have a handsome prince coming to rescue his beloved? Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Little Mermaid. A little girl longs for romance, to be seen and desired, to be sought after and fought for. So the Beast must win Beauty's heart in Beauty and the Beast. So in the gazebo scene in The Sound of Music, the Captain finally declares his love to Maria by moonlight and song and then, a kiss. And we sigh.
Isn't something stirred in you when Edward, finally, returns at the end of Sense and Sensibility to proclaim his love for Elinor? "Then ... you're not ... not married?" she asks, nearly holding her breath. "No," he says. "My heart is ... and always will be ... yours." Or how about when Friedrich returns for Jo at the end of Little Women? Or the sunset scene at the bow of the Titanic? And we can't forget Braveheart, how William Wallace pursued Murron with flowers and notes and invitations to ride. She is captured by his love, riding off bareback with him in the rain. (Come now. Wouldn't you want to ride through the Scottish Highlands with a man like Mel Gibson?)
When John and I began to "date," I had just come out of a three-year relationship that left me wounded, defensive, and gunshy. John and I had been friends for many years, but we never seemed to connect in the romance department. I would like him, and he would want to remain "just friends." He would feel more for me and I would not for him. You get the picture. Until one autumn after he had become a Christian, and I was desperately seeking, our spiritual journeys, and the desires of our hearts, finally met.
John wrote me letters, lots of letters. Each one filled with his love for God and his passion for me, his desire for me. He spent hours carving a beautiful heart out of manzanita wood, then attached it to a delicate chain and surprised me with it. (I still cherish the necklace.) I came out to my car after my waitressing shift ended to find his poetry underneath my windshield. Verses written for me, to me! He loved me. He saw me and knew me and pursued me. I loved being romanced.
Excerpted from Captivating by John Eldredge Stasi Eldredge Copyright © 2005 by John Eldredge and Stasi Eldredge. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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