Here Be Dragons
Fire-breathing dragons don’t make very compassionate nurses. Despite their appropriately sized ears, they don’t actually hear very well. Claw-hands that are great for tearing into enemies are rather clumsy at changing bandages. Dragons have fantastic immune systems themselves because of their constant high internal temperature (It’s incredibly hard for bacteria to live and grow in the furnace of a dragon’s stomach), and therefore, these reptiles have a hard time conjuring up sympathy for those who are suffering from fever and flu. And of course, a dragon is more likely to smother its patient in flames than words of mercy and tenderness. If you’re looking for a nurse, might I suggest NOT a dragon.
I’m in the middle of writing a fantasy story, and I began to question my antagonist. What is her problem, anyway? I asked it in a hundred different voices, from a thousand different directions. And what I discovered through a bottleneck of uncomfortable questions is that she is me. And I am a dragon.
I’ve spent years covering my heart with scales of fear so thick no arrows can penetrate them. No pain is getting in here! It’s no wonder that I question constantly if Jesus loves me; how could I begin to feel it? My heart is armored against hope that might disappoint, love that might fail, truth that might crumble.
Gentle Spirit, come.
Much like a dragon, I have claws, and I know how to use them. I love to work with my hands, and while there’s nothing wrong and so much right about that, my labor has oft times become a distraction, a procrastination. I know this relationship needs attention right now, but I must pull these weeds, replace this siding, sew this quilt, practice this concerto, frost this cake. My hands are too busy. Too often, they have become weapons and tools, rather than what they were made to be: foot washers, bread breakers, brow soothers.
And my fire. Oh, the fire. One of the earliest humble criticisms I remember receiving was that my words were sharp and painful. I’ve stood by it, defended it, vindicated it. I was probably lighting the fires of the stake I was tied against and didn’t even know it. It’s not that my words were untrue most of the time, but they were coated with acid and that doesn’t make anything go down easily. How many times have I justified my passionate speech with glowing declarations that “This is who God made me”? Little girl, get out from behind that, stand in front of the fire, let the Lion pull away those scales with claws that do healing work.
Lamentations 3 is one of the most anguishing passages in all of God’s word. It breaks me. Every. Single. Time. It is literally teeth on gravel, hunted and trapped, bitter darkness. And yet! Isn’t that one of the best words in the entire English language? Yet! It peals clearly with “but wait!” And yet, in this chapter of it-can’t-get-much-worse, please-let-me-go-ahead-and-die, is one of the most hope and wonder full verses in the whole of God’s word!
“The steadfast love the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end,
they are new ever morning,
great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:20, ESV
New every morning. I was praying over this verse at about 7:30 the other night, rejoicing that although the sun was setting where I stood, morning is always dawning somewhere on this broken world.
I’m pressing into those new mercies, because I no longer want to fight battles with armor and fire. Dragons are great at war, of course. Their weapons are pretty much indefensible.
But I am waging a different war. One that requires weapons of gentleness, peace, patience, love. Extravagant, selfless love. War of humility and submission and obedience. Weapons of new mercy.
I want to raise children who battle against the curse and the brokenness and the darkness by their faithfulness and courage and joy, and someone needs to show them how to do it. Someone must place the sword in their hands and teach them how to use it. This calls for bloody work, but it’s a battle worth fighting. Someone must show them that the battle fought with tenderness, kindness, grace is of eternal consequence. Victory in this arena is one of the most beautiful things the world has ever seen.
Weapons of War
Warriors are amazing people. Those who wield weapons of war so that we may live lives of peace are honored and revered in our home and hearts. David speaks of God training his hands for war, to scale walls, to fire arrows, and defend cities. Our un-peaceful world also needs warriors that hold the hands of those who are hurting, that bind up the wounded, and heal the brokenhearted. We need words that proclaim the coming day of our King’s favor.
We welcomed some friend’s kids into our crazy Saturday for the afternoon recently, and there was one small moment that reminded me of the power of gentleness. Our friend’s five year brought me handfuls of flowers from my cut flower beds and asked me to put them in water. I did so, and he asked me if he could put them on the table, “To be pretty for small group.” My heart grew three sizes right then, because he had noticed that I almost always have flowers gracing the table at small group. Are flowers weapons of war? They felt like powerful ones right then.
There’s a pen stroke or series of them in calligraphy called a flourish. It is included in a piece strictly as adornment, and therefore is completely unnecessary. It isn’t part of the text of what’s being penned at all. All of the letters and the message of the finished calligraphy piece would be there without it, but the flourish is sweeping, arcing beauty applied to illuminate the text. It must be created with smooth, practiced confidence to be effective, as anything else results in a stiff, uncomfortable stroke.
When correctly executed, the flourish takes what was sufficient and transforms it into art. It has such power that it can take rigid letter forms and create grace. Pen strokes as weapons of war? Yes. Without question.
Here is the work of an artist. An artist can declare bare truth in such a way that it is sweet winsomeness. My fine art professor reminded us all time and again, “It doesn’t matter what you draw. It’s the how!” Scripture lays down some raw truth in places that are more like fire than water at times, for example Christ calling people vipers and rotting tombs. Art is honey. Art welcomes us. This is why I draw, why I paint. I choose soft bristles of brushes and brilliant color and elegantly textured paper as weapons of war.
All this talk of indwelling dragons and war can be heavy. It can feel like a losing battle and is certainly an ancient one. Take heart, dear friends! There is a cure. From before the foundations of time, there was a plan to change our dragon-hearts from the inside (which is the only real way to slay a dragon). Blood of a perfect sacrifice is transfused into our veins at the cross, changing our very being. The Lamb has conquered the dragon.
The beautiful featured images are by Julie Jablonski and used here with her generous permission on behalf of The Cultivating Project.
Second-generation homeschooling mom of five wee snickbuzzards, Jordan Durbin is a maker of humble pottery, fine artist, calligrapher, gardener, pickle maker, baker of all things gluten-inclusive and butter-laden, violinist, vocalist, rabbit raiser, wife of one good man, lover of her blessed Redeemer. She has a Bachelor’s degree in fine art from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. She is an avid coffee drinker, reader, and published children’s book author and illustrator. She aspires to proclaim the resurrection with every moment of her life.