Introduction: Controlling Interest
Let but the puppets move,
I’ve my desire.
- C H A R L E S C H U R C H I L L
Donna gazed at the stack of mail in her husband’s gloved hands as he stomped the wet snow from his shoes. “Anything interesting?” she asked, keeping her tone light.
He handed over the day’s bounty from their mailbox. “See for yourself.”
Donna quickly sorted through the belated Christmas cards, made thicker by family brag letters. Next year she might have something to crow about. If all went well, their son, Max, would be a freshman at the finest Christian college in the country. That is, if…
With a slight gasp she tossed the rest of the mail on the kitchen table, having found the one piece that mattered: a long, white envelope with the familiar blue logo in the corner. Yes. The school had promised a decision by December 31, still two days away. Surely a good sign.
She hefted the envelope in her hands, trying to judge how many pieces of paper it might contain. The letter had some weight to it. More than a kindly worded rejection, then.
Donna smiled, savoring the moment. Obviously her prayers had been answered. And months of hard work had paid off–visiting college campuses, completing online applications, gathering letters of reference, proofreading essays, forwarding transcripts. She’d drafted the cover letter herself. Made sure everything looked presentable. Max hadn’t seemed terribly interested, and she had a flair for such things, didn’t she?
Her husband looked over her shoulder. “So we’ve heard from The College of Your Choice.”
Donna shrugged, pretending his gentle teasing didn’t bother her. Wasn’t she allowed to have an opinion about where their son spent the next four years of his life? True, he’d been accepted at other schools, but this was the one that counted. The admission policy was far more stringent and the list of alumni far more impressive.
And the campus…oh, the campus! Handsome as any Ivy League school with its stately brick buildings and manicured lawns. Last October she’d strolled along the neatly paved walkways, imagining she was the incoming freshman: attending classes in well-appointed lecture halls, learning from the brightest and the best thinkers, meeting students from all over the world.
On the long drive home, Max had chided her, “Why don’t you apply, Mom?” She’d heard the hint of frustration in his voice. Had she pushed too hard, praised the school too enthusiastically? Meeting one-on-one with the admissions counselor might have been overdoing it. But the young woman had offered to answer prospective students’ questions. Couldn’t a mother ask them just as well while her son perused the campus bookstore?
Her husband disturbed her reverie as he slipped his damp coat over the back of a kitchen chair. “You are going to wait until Max gets home to open that.” His firm words chafed against her conscience.
“Of course.” Donna propped the envelope against the napkin holder, where it couldn’t be missed. “I’m not in the habit of reading other people’s mail.”
When Max finally strolled in an hour later, she grabbed the envelope from the table and waved it at him. “Look what’s here.” Her son opened it without comment, then sighed and handed it over.
“Here you go, Mom.”
Donna scanned the first three words–Congratulations! Your application– before letting out a huge whoop. “Max, I’m so proud of you!” Noticing her husband and daughter on the sidelines, she quickly added, “We all are.” He bobbed his head, then wandered off in the direction of his computer. Max’s lack of enthusiasm didn’t concern her. That was just his way. He’d warm up to the idea soon enough.
But he didn’t. All through January he waffled between one school and another, finding excuses not to make a decision. At least that’s how it seemed to Donna, who’d sent enrollment deposits to four schools, asking them to hold his place. “Eight hundred dollars’ worth of deposits,” she reminded Max whenever the subject came up. Donna made sure it came up daily.
By February she’d run out of patience. “We’ll start from the bottom. Which school don’t you want to attend?” With some difficulty he picked one–the same one she would have chosen as least likely. “Good,” she said, giving his shoulder a squeeze. “That wasn’t so hard, was it? Next week we’ll eliminate another one.”
She helped him make that decision too, though she could tell it was harder. Why Max didn’t just make a final choice, the best choice, was a mystery to her. When they finally narrowed it down to two schools–her favorite one or her husband’s alma mater–she breathed a sigh of relief. A nationally known, prestigious institution versus a low-profile liberal arts college close to home. No contest, really.
Max had promised to give them his decision after dinner. Donna cooked his favorite pasta dish and watched him devour it, proud of herself for not bringing up the subject of college all through the meal. As she served her son a slice of chocolate cake, she leaned down to smile at him. “You’ve made your decision, haven’t you?”
Max met her gaze for the first time that evening. “Yes, I have, Mom.” When he blurted out the name of the school–the wrong school– Donna fell back a step, as if she’d been slapped. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am serious,” Max assured her, exchanging glances with his dad. “They offered me a bigger scholarship–”
“Never mind the money.” A spark of anger heated her face, sharpened her words.
“You’re throwing away your life, Max.”Doesn’t he see? Doesn’t heunderstand? “If my parents had given me that kind of chance…” She choked on the words, tears tightening her throat. “If they’d been willing to pay for my education, to send me anywhere I wanted to go, that’s the last college I would have picked.”
“I don’t care if your father graduated from there.” Donna was almost shouting now, ignoring her son’s gentle protests, her daughter’s shocked expression, and the hurt in her husband’s eyes. “You’ve chosen a second-rate college in a backwater town in a state I’m ashamed to call home.”
Her husband’s low voice silenced her, yet the storm inside continued to rage, even as shame and guilt began their dual attack…
A piece of work, Donna. Mistaking motherhood for puppetry, she was determined to pull everyone’s strings.
Some of us have a friend like Donna.
Some of us work with a Donna.
And some of us (let’s be honest) are Donnas. Insisting on having our way. Thinking we know what’s best. Controlling whom and what we can, whenever we can. Pretending not to notice if we squash a few toes in the process. We don’t want to rule the universe–just our corner of the world. We don’t mind slight delays, as long as a positive outcome is guaranteed. When God pours his blessings on us, we’re truly grateful and more than willing to give him all the glory. But when he tells us “no” or “wait” or “soon but not yet,” we start thinking of ways to expedite the process. Really, Lord. I can help.
If I didn’t know better, I’d think an impatient Bad Girl wrote the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” Instead, it’s a line from one of Aesop’s fables: “The gods help them that help themselves.” Maybe those man-made Greek gods required human effort, but the God, the Lord Almighty, doesn’t need our help to accomplish his divine plan.
My definition of a Slightly Bad Girl is simply this: a woman unwilling to fully submit to God. We love him, serve him, and worship him, yet we find it difficult to trust him completely, to accept his plan for our lives, to rest in his sovereignty. And so we quietly (or not so quietly) try to take back the reins again and again. Let me handle things, Lord. I know what’s best.We pray, then move forward without waiting for an answer. We do all the right, Good Girl things and hope no one notices our desperate need to control every aspect of our lives. We read “She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God”2 and shudder at the thought, never seeing ourselves in those words.
If you’ve read the other books in my Bad Girls of the Bible series, you know how willing I am to open the pages of my diary, if only to encourage my sisters that God’s forgiveness covers the whole of our lives, not only the years before we knew him.
And so, Donna’s story is my story, and recent history at that. What kind of Christian mother manipulates her child, belittles her husband, and throws temper tantrums at the dinner table?
This kind, I’m afraid.
As the apostle Paul said, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”3 Amen, brother, and don’t I know it. When I finally calmed down, asked everyone’s forgiveness–individually and collectively–confessed I truly do love my adopted state of Kentucky, and assured my dear son he’d chosen well, peace was restored in the Higgs
household. But I don’t fool myself. Damage was done, and wounds were inflicted, requiring time to repair and heal.
Even two years later, when I sent these pages to my sophomore son for him to critique, he e-mailed me and admitted, “This brought tears to my eyes, Mother. I’m sorry I disappointed you so much.”
I wrote back at once. “The problem was all mine, sweet boy. You are exactly where God wanted you to be, which is wonderful. I love having you so close to home…”
That’s the trouble with sin: its influence lingers. My ten-minute tirade still has the power to hurt my precious son, years after the fact. No matter what I say or do now, he will remember what I said and did then. God forgives our sins completely, yet the consequences remain. Spoken words can never be unspoken. Even so, my son closed his comments with “Please don’t beat yourself up, Mom. You don’t deserve it.”
What I truly don’t deserve is a son who extends forgiveness so generously. Thank goodness the Lord knows what to do with Bad Girls (and Bad Boys, for that matter). He rescues us from ourselves. And showers us with grace. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
From the first page of his Word to the last, God reveals our badness and his goodness. Our neediness and his provision. Our brokenness and his healing touch. That’s the beauty of the Bible: “It shows us life and people as they really are, not as we wish them to be.”
It shows us the truth about God and about ourselves. I, for one, am grateful to learn our biblical ancestors were flawed. Knowing God loved this imperfect patriarchal family, we can be sure there’s hope for us all.
One reader shared with me, “I’m light-years away from the Good Girls of the Bible.” Here’s encouraging news on that score: even the Good Girls of the Bible had their Bad Girl moments. The five females we’ll be studying here are mostly good, yet slightly bad. Women of faith, but not without flaws. And all of them are seriously strong willed.
Sarah, our first Slightly Bad Girl, is touted in the New Testament as an example for us all: “For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.”
She did indeed call her husband lord. But, honey, that’s not all she said.
Wait until you hear the strident words that came out of Sarah’s mouth! Even so, God blessed her, entrusted her with a son, and loved her. So did Abraham. I’m breathing easier already. You too?
The other Slightly Bad Girls also may surprise you. Rebekah and Rachel: surely they were good. Well, like Sarah, they were beautiful. They were loved. And (oops) they were pushy, manipulative, willful, scheming…oh my. And while the stories of Hagar and Leah may be less familiar, they have much to teach us about the kindness and mercy God extends to women forced into bad situations. As a group, these women “grace the pages of Genesis with their laughter, their sorrows, their strength, and their power.” We’ll also consider the men in their lives and discover they made a few Bad Boy bloopers over the years.
Each chapter begins with our Slightly Bad Girl’s fictional modern counterpart to help us avoid thinking, “Things were different then.” Au contraire.
Fashions, food, and furnishings may alter over the centuries, but human nature hasn’t changed since the days of our first Bad Girl, Eve. Though historically these women spanned three generations and more than two hundred years, I’ve chosen to place each opening scene in the present day so we can more easily relate to their stories.
Prepare to have four thousand years swept away as Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel walk right into your living room. So glad you’re on hand to greet them, sis.
P.S. Wherever you went to college–or didn’t go to college–is fine with me. Really.