We have all watched, read, and maybe even felt within ourselves today courage. It is not only a scary time of reckoning in our country, in our Church, and in our families; it is also a time where immense bravery continues to swell, and extravagant generosity relentlessly spills over. I’ve been so moved and sobered by the #whyididntreport stories, conflicted that these women feel compelled to share such private and difficult experiences but inspired at the sisterhood, integrity and activism they indicate. I’ve been shocked at the crowdfunding on behalf of national parks, immigrant’s legal representation, and natural disaster response teams; people have been and are still digging deep into their souls and pocketbooks in lieu of federal competency and ethics. Today, I remember what a special force women are when they share their stories, when they are honest and when they listen to one another. We women are very rarely affirmed for our honesty; it has cost most of us greatly at different times in our lives. And yet we crave this in one another; we recognize authenticity from the inside out. We see ourselves in one another and raise our heads a little higher, pray with a little more faith.
It is in that vein I gladly choose tonight to share this uplifting guest post. A while back I asked for women over a certain age to write so that more interaction with different generations may take place in this space. So often we are in danger of adding to our own echo chambers, and many of my peers yearn for more experienced voices to lead us—but our mediums may not often overlap. Barbara Meyer thankfully, bravely, replied. In the coming days I will share some Q & A with Barbara; you will love getting to know her, as I have–but this evening, I will simply share her essay. Thank you for reading and sharing this gem; may we continue to grow a brave and diverse sisterhood!
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KEEP YOUR TAMBOURINES CLOSE
Exodus 15:20-21 (NIV) Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing.
This is a picture of Miriam, painted for me by my daughter. I love it. Here Miriam is, white-haired and weathered. Yet, she stands defiantly raising her tambourine against the memories of her past. And I am fascinated. Her stories, her memories and worship, have been home to my own.
In my mind’s eye, I can see her standing off to the side as people scramble out from between the walls of parted water and collapse to the ground. She closes her eyes and breathes deeply, then reaches into her bag and lifts her tambourine high into the air. She shakes it once, twice. Slowly the music of the cymbals begins to cut through the din of chatter and sobbing. Then lifting her arm, she slaps the tambourine–slap, shake, slap slap shake, she begins to dance. One by one, women in the crowd rake through their belongings to find their own tambourines; they follow her and join her in this first dance of freedom.
Who was this woman who led the women of Israel in a dance? Miriam was not the young, energetic and passionate, 30-something woman depicted in Prince of Egypt.She was old. She was five or six, perhaps even a bit older, when she helped her mother save her baby brother’s life. Moses spent 40 years in Egypt as prince, then another 40 in exile in the wilderness, so when she raises her tambourine in Exodus 15, Miriam–Moses’ older sister–is at the very least 85 years old.
Scripture doesn’t tell us her complete story, but I have thought about this brave and powerful woman often. At the very beginning of the Exodus story, Moses and Miriam’s mother made a special basket and placed her special baby boy in it. She placed Moses in the river–technically obeying Pharaoh’s monstrous decree–and she leaves Moses’ older sister, Miriam, to watch over the basket as it floats into the waters where Pharaoh’s daughter bathes. It is Miriam who as a little girl speaks with Pharaoh’s daughter and brings Moses’ own mother, her mother, to be the wet nurse for him.
What a wonderful story–for Moses. Moses’ life is saved. He is adopted by the royal family. Miriam goes home and lives the next eighty years of her life as a slave. What did she think as she watched one brother grow up sitting in the lap of luxury and her other brother slaving each day to make bricks and build monuments to a tyrant? Were there brothers before Moses? How many babies did she see murdered by the Nile–her brothers, her friends’ brothers? Scripture never mentions Miriam’s children. Did she have a family in defiance or did she oppose the idea, vowing that she would never risk giving birth to a son, only to watch him die in those waters? We don’t know. What we do know is that Miriam had her tambourine right at hand 80 years later. We do know is that after all that had happened, the first thing she did was lead dancing and singing in joyful praise.
This says so much to me. She had her tambourine right there, right at hand. When you are packing, grabbing what will fit in a bag you can carry, what essentials do you choose? A kneading bowl, a warm shawl? One of Miriam’s choices was her tambourine. The fact that she grabbed it, packed it and had it ready tells me it was vital to her, precious to her. To me that says that dance, praise and thanksgiving were also vital to her.
Praise and thanksgiving have always been important for me. One of my favorite scriptures is
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:6-7 NIV).
Although I didn’t grow up in slavery like Miriam, I did grow up in a tumultuous life. My parents were alcoholics. My father died when I was about 3 or 4–I have no real memories of it, only stories told by my older siblings. My two older sisters, my brother and I were placed in foster care because my mother could not care for us. When I was in grade school we were brought back to her, but it didn’t last. She had remarried, but that man turned out to be a monster: violence, physical abuse. I went again into foster care. Life looked peaceful on the outside but behind closed doors, there was more emotional abuse.
In junior high, I met Jesus. He became my first loving father. When I say that He saved me, I mean it literally. I felt like I had crossed into a new land. In mercy He taught me to be grateful. He taught me to find joy in the moments. Little by little as He healed my heart, he turned my eyes from the sad, from the horrible, and he focused my vision on the goodness and beauty in the world around me. It became vital truth to me that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17).
As I came into His presence with thanksgiving, year after year, forgiveness was easier and bitterness lost its grip on my heart. I think that must have been true of Miriam as well—that is why she packed her tambourine. She is my hero so I too keep my tambourine close. Because when I get to eighty-five, I want to get there dancing.