Smoke, strength and separation

“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

“I’ll warrant you’ll make plenty in it,” said Marilla. “I never saw your beat for making mistakes, Anne.”

“Yes, and well I know it,” admitted Anne mournfully. “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”

“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”

“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”

“Well, you’d better go and give that cake to the pigs,” said Marilla. “It isn’t fit for any human to eat.”

      –Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, chapter 21


Confession: I was so proud of that fire. I carefully crumpled the papers in the grate, arranged the kindling my husband had split for me, stacked on a few big pieces. All was ready to go. Struck the spark and it worked like magic. The wood kindled, the satisfying hissing and popping started…

…and the room began to fill with smoke.

Wait a minute. What’s going on?

I blew on the fire. I opened a window. More smoke, a solid mass of it in the sunlight from the window. Soon the house was cloudy. Upstairs I could hardly breathe, and a smoke detector was going off. Not bad for a fireman’s wife.

I’ve heard the word “flue” all my life but I thought it was just a nursery rhyme figment. You know, the flea and the fly and the flue. Oh, I’m a smart one, I am. I know my Mother Goose inside and out.

And it would have to happen on the night, the one impossible night I was playing hostess alone. The evening before, we’d looked at each other, aghast. Are you kidding me? You just confirmed with a client to spend all-afternoon-into-the-night tomorrow doing a major renovation on his computer systems off of business hours? I just confirmed with four families to come for dinner. As in final confirmation. Your client is driving from four hours away and you just said “we’re on.” My ladies know exactly what food they’re bringing and I just said “we’re on.”

Well, boy, let’s do this thing. You go fix computers and burn the midnight oil. I’ll prep the house, the food, and the kids and do the hosting. They’re bringing most of the eatables anyway, and we’re roasting hotdogs. The weather’s too cold for an outdoor roast; I’ll use the fireplace. It will be easier for me anyway, without all the fetching and carrying.

But nobody warned me about the flue. Nothing in any of my training had prepared me for the flue.

Smoke and more smoke! I put out the fire in the fireplace, whacked the smoke detector, and opened the house up wide.

When the first male guest arrived–my senior pastor, incidentally–he took a look, and then he called me into the living room and graciously showed me a little lever… just a little lever that swings to the side and opens the flue…

By then I had cooked the hotdogs in a skillet on my stove. But he rebuilt the fire and we all sat around it and told stories and roasted marshmallows for s’mores and were happy.

One of the things I love best about being thirty-one years old is that I can make an idiot of myself and actually live through it. Do you know what I mean? I do way dumber stuff now than when I was eighteen (mostly because the stakes are higher; I’m in charge of several people’s life expectancies and permanent happiness), but I don’t remember the last time I felt the crushing shame I used to feel regularly on the volleyball court or at a game of Rook, where the stakes existed only in theory.

Well well. One more mistake checked off my life list.

Beautifully, gently, through a series of events that are crushing in their own way, Jesus is teaching me that He doesn’t need me to be strong.


This is going to come up again soon, I can feel it… the (not) needing to be strong. If you have preliminary thoughts, I want to hear them. Are you a strong woman? Do you need to be?

And–There is never a good time to say this. But whenever I offer you anonymity on a touchy topic, I worry that you will stay anonymous. And this time it happened, a little. Please don’t be afraid. I will never ban anonymous comments (if that’s the way you find the courage to speak, please do so, with my gratitude and respect), but I–well, I have to remind you, if I may?–the more of yourself you bring to any situation, the more good power and influence you have. Be strong brave. It’s part of my job to make it safe for you to speak, if you wish to.

What is the opposite of strong? Are you a strong woman? Do you need to be?


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10 years ago

Isn’t it a little hard to define strength? I don’t know if I am strong or not. Am I weak because I can’t completely lay aside my pregnancy worries since having a stillborn daughter almost 5 years ago? Or am I strong because in spite of my fears, I am going through it for the second time since then? Even when pregnancy terrifies me for 3 reasons- I don’t have great pregnancies, I lost a full-term baby for no known reason, and my babies that lived were not happy babies- especially not the last one, who has been challenging all of her 3 1/2 years.

Am I weak because I battled depression (mostly due to hormonal problems) pretty severely for a couple years, or am I strong because I fought as hard as I could to be happy and healthy again, even though there were times it seemed like I was making less than no progress?

Am I weak because I allowed myself to get very overweight? Or am I strong because for the past 4 1/2 years, I have been working hard to lose that weight? It’s taking a long time, and I have had setbacks (almost 3 years where I couldn’t seem to lose more than a couple pounds) or am I strong because I have never given up and allowed myself to go back to where I was, and I am determined that even if it takes until I am 40, there will be a day when I am no longer overweight.

I don’t know. I feel more weak than strong a lot of the time. I do know that some people who seem strong really aren’t. They are more afraid than anything.

10 years ago

A bit dangerous responding to a question aimed at ladies (when one is not a lady), but I’ll chance it.

To me, strength is a positive attribute, regardless of gender. However, sometimes pride or callousness or arrogance masquerade as strength, and give it a bad name.

What do you mean by being strong? Do you mean “man-like”? What is strength?

10 years ago

Wow, I like your thoughts. It’s making me think… I have often viewed myself as strong. When I was 14, I managed and did all the physical labor in my Dad’s barn of 80 farrowing sows, carrying 4 (50 lb.) feed bags at a time! I also felt mentally strong, able to think quickly, too quickly often, able to manage life pretty well, able to block out all those memories of verbal/mental abuse that threatened to smother me…
And then when I truly surrendered my life to Jesus, over the years, I have often still tended to be strong for everyone, accepting life as Jesus allows, yet feeling a little responsible to help everyone not let bad things happen (control? yes, that desire…).
And yet I can feel Jesus using circumstances to call me to weakness. Like Audrey, we lost a baby girl 4 years ago, after 5 healthy children. I had often asked God to do whatever He needs, to truly break me. It makes me weak to allow Him to use even that to mold me. Now a mom of 6 living children, wife to a church leader, I feel weak a lot of the time. Weak when I try to understand how to relate to a 13 year old son, to let him become a man, and yet I feel strong when by God’s grace I can shut my mouth and let him think through something…
Weak, when my husband helps me out by dressing our 2 year old, and putting him to bed, weak because I imagine that I should be the one always serving him!
Sometimes I want to be “strong” and give my husband unsolicited advice about what he just should DO to correct a situation. And then I find that when I am quiet and pray for him and wait, then I really do have strength that is of the Lord!
I think we can be weak or strong, or both! as long as we are abiding close in the Vine, is what will not be chaff.

Beth Russo
10 years ago

First, I have to say the flue incident was cracking me up, and I love that you thought it was from a nursery rhyme! Hilariousville. Second, how come I’ve never thought of roasting hot dogs inside?? How fun! And finally, as far as strength, I think it all depends on the circumstance for me. When my daughter was in the hospital, I felt weak and helpless on the inside but gave an appearance of being strong for her. It’s a good question actually, and my guess is we are all much stronger than we feel for the most part. Whenever someone says, ‘I don’t know how you…’ or, ‘I could never…’, I just think to myself that you do what you have to do when you have to do it.

BTW, I’m still giddy with excitement over the daisy picture you made and am now focusing on doing it for my son’s wedding (for a shower) because it was just too close to my daughter’s wedding (Apr. 12) to get it done for hers. I have everything I need though – thanks for the great idea!

10 years ago

Ah! Good! This discussion! Am I strong? Um…..more often, I just feel plain “high maintenance. =)

10 years ago

Yes, I think ‘strong’ women can come across that way because they are hiding their fears!!! When my husband is late and I am afraid something happened to him, I tend to cover my vulnerability with anger!! The first time it happened, it really surprised me!!
Several verses come to mind. “When I am weak – Then am I strong!!! ” AND “BE STRONG” in the Lord. 🙂
Leslie Ludy made a comment in one of her books about the ‘fad’ of weakness. She said as Christian women, we are to be strong. Of course that is one of the greatest paradoxes in the faith. We get to be strong by becoming weak!!!!
We are headed to a Seminar this weekend for the “Physically challenged”. I often feel that my husband is such a great guy because he has had to deal with infirmity!!!! 🙂
I don’t think Joni’s ministry would be what it is, without her handicap.
I think the very weakest, vulnerable moments in my life have been walking through infertility!!
I don’t know what all strength the Lord has developed in me in this experience, but I hope I have grown in grace!!!! 🙂
I totally agree with your comment. As a teenager a mistake was so personal and embarrassing!!! Now I can laugh it off and say, ‘That’s the way life is”. 🙂
I grew up in a family of ‘strong’ personalities. I always felt that I had been given the lesser one. I was sensitive and timid. Followed in my sister’s shadow.
But the older I get the more I realize that is so not true. Every temperament is beautiful and God given. And this discussion could go on awhile. But the more quiet, sensitive types among us are not ‘weak’ because of it!!! 🙂
Blessings on your day!

10 years ago

Too often for me “being strong” means doing it in my own strength, rather than depending on God’s strength. When I feel weak and overwhelmed and at the end of my rope I turn the problem over to God and find that in Him I have the strength to carry on. God can’t really use us when we are confident we can handle it ourselves. Having said that, I don’t mean that Christian women can’t be confident, gracious, self-controlled or poised, just that those qualities come from God rather than themselves. Weakness, if it comes across as needy, whiny, or pitiful is rarely attractive.(but we all have our moments!) Brokenness, on the other hand, means acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers, but we know the One who does.

10 years ago

Strength has many facets.(as have been described well in the previous comments)

I react to our tendency to view strong women in a negative light…..hard, controlling and domineering.

I would like to define a strong woman as one who acknowledges her weakness(es) as well as her strengths. She honest enough to admit failure, Humble enough to ask for help and brave enough to try again and again and again. She recognizes that her true source of strength is not found in and of herself. She is constantly drawing her strength from the Well.

Am I strong?

I think I’m perceived as being strong. I’ve wondered if that means I’m strong or not, because I know that I really don’t feel very strong most of the time. I’m mostly just a scared little girl that needs a lot of coaxing and affirmation (and sometimes a kick in the rump) from my Father most days.

10 years ago

I am strong in Christ. Period.

Terribly weak otherwise…faltering, failing, stumbling along.

But my weakness is His strength.

On this I depend and in this I rest.

(Mostly. Getting to where I am now in being confident of this…that’s a story…and I know, too, it is a lifelong journey.)

10 years ago

When we refuse to allow others to see our vulnerability, and our necessity for the Father´s strength, we quickly intimidate others. Because we’re pretending to be something we’re not, and at least some of the time, convincing others we are something they can never be. Strong? In Him and Him alone. More light can shine through the cracks of BROKEN vessels.

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