‘Tis The Gift: Unpeeling Judgmentalism, Freeing Me

tis the gift of love and delight person walking in Yosemite Park Valley by mountains

Maybe this one beautiful life is a grand unpeeling, humbling, coming down. Maybe this is the gift.

Onion-Peeled Me

The layers keep coming off. Parenting peels. I can’t count the judgmental, “My child would never do…never say…never those grades,” layers that have been stripped away.

Three years ago I couldn’t have imagined. Time froze the first time the attendance office called. It froze again last Monday the moment I realized that for the first time in months, the call office had not called. I couldn’t have imagined the hard choices we’d be forced to make, the big plans we’d have to change, the full reframing of how family life would look.

I couldn’t have imagined so many layers peeling.

It’s more than parenting. It’s seeing my part in what is, like King David saw his part in his lot. And in trusting that God is always working, freeing, peeling for good in his children’s fraught days.

Always. Which is why, if you’ve run into me lately, you might have heard me hum.

If you did, it was probably this. ‘Tis the gift.

‘Tis The Gift

It’s an old Shaker song, but I’m appropriating it. Because the lyrics perfectly express the gift God is giving me.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where I ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed;
To turn, turn, will be my delight.
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Joseph Brackett, a Shaker in Maine, 1848

Simple Gifts performed by Yo-Yo Ma & Allison Krause

But it’s not just epic events. It’s seeing the spot on your shirt and spinach in your teeth after you were out. It’s realizing your skills aren’t as all-that as you thought and that you really do need help.

He that is down fears no fall.

John Bunyan

But more, it’s feeling what comes with all that—all that humbling, peeling, coming down—as a gift. It’s bowing and bending and turning without resenting. It’s seeing the ruins fall as freeing not devastating.

Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Because, he that is down fears no fall.

‘Tis the gift.

Un-Dragoned Me

In C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—the book that opens with the best line, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”— I see me. And I see the gift.

Eustace is a proud, selfish boy at the start of the story. On one of the islands, he steals away to a dragon’s lair. On goes a golden bracelet and off Eustace goes off to sleep. Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” The bracelet digs into his large dragon leg, and his dragon claws can’t get it off.

After lonely, agonizing dragon days, Aslan leads him to a large well. Eustace figures that if he could get in and bathe it would ease the pain. But Aslan tells him to undress first.

He tries. But no matter how many layers of dragon skins Eustace manages to peel off, he was still a dragon.

The Pleasure of Feeling the Stuff Peel Off

Here Eastace explains what happened next.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 

Perfectly delicious, swimming and splashing—doesn’t that sound freeing?

Oh sure, it hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.

‘Tis the gift.

‘Tis the Gift to Come Down to Where We Ought to Be

Now if you see you see me around town and hear me humming, you’ll know my story.

It’s the unfolding, ongoing story about the simple gift that can feel as painful as the undragoning of Eustace and the multi-layered peeling of an onion, but is in fact as delightful and freeing as can be. You find it in the valley.

By now you know. The gift is humility. It’s being freed from the tyranny of me.

God in His wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet, and is dealing with us accordingly. Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humour, compassion, humility, or meekness by giving us some extra practice in exercising these graces under specially difficult conditions. Perhaps He has new lessons in self-denial and self-distrust to teach us. Or perhaps He wishes to break us of complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.

Perhaps His purpose is simply to draw us closer to Himself...

—J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

Psalm 25:8-9 (ESV)

Not Mine To Hold: Lots, Portions & The Gift of Letting Go

Would you rather listen than read? Great! Here’s the link to the Keep On With Abigail Wallace podcast.

I’m not good at letting go. Sometimes I hold on to dreams that aren’t God’s plan for me. For better and for worse, I am the bee—the busy bee that won’t rest until it extracts sweet nectar from every flower. I look for the good.

But I am also the frantically, futilely buzzing bee,*

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.

Yes, for better and worse, I am that bee. I hold on to dreams that aren’t God’s plan for me. I’m not good at letting go.

Triggers and Portions

This May everything triggers me. Because this spring more of my long-term, sweet parenting dreams have been dashed. Which means every graduation picture, academic award, and smiling family is a trigger. God’s good gifts to others are not guaranteed to me. They’re not my portion.

But what is a “portion” anyway?

In the Bible the term was sometimes translated “inheritance,” as in the allotment of land God gave to Israel when they entered the Promised Land. All the tribes received a physical space, land to call their own—all except one.

In Deuteronomy 10:9, we read about the priestly tribe whose portion was not land, but the LORD. “Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him.”

The Bible has a lot to say about the Lord who is our portion.

  • The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. Psalm 16:5
  • You are my portion, Lord; I have promised to obey your words. Psalm 119:57
  • I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Psalm 142:5
  • My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26
  • “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:24

I want to count it joy that the LORD—not successful sons, or a famous husband or a thriving ministry— is my portion. My chosen portion. I want to believe, I do believe, what Elisabeth Elliot said, that what God does to me, he does for me.

Which means I must stop buzzing at the window and choose to hope in him to receive the lot for me.

How to Reframe Pain Points to Trigger Your Joy

This blog is for softer, stronger saints who embrace—not just survive, but embrace; not just go through, but grow through—God’s sometimes uncomfortable grace. It’s about a faith that can reframe trials as joy. It’s about using our pain points—like upbeat posts of what is not our lot—to prompt us to take joy in what is our assigned portion.

This is just another way we count loss as gain. We do feel the loss, and can grieve what is not. But then we do the 90-second reset, and reframe the pain with a truth script. It might sound something like this:

The Lord is my portion. I will sit at Jesus’ feet. I choose the good portion that can never be taken (Luke 10:42).

By grace and with effort, we can use the triggers to push us to the One who is wisely working all things (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28) and who will perfect that which concerns me (Psalm 138:8). We can choose to renew our minds with truth.

Can we use our “triggers” not to set-off envy, self-pity or grief in our lot, but to push us to the perfect portion we’ve got?

Self-Inflicted Pain

I used to think letting go was weak and grasping dreams was strong.

To be sure, sometimes clinging is strong—like when Abraham “hoped against hope” that he and Sarah would bear a promised child. But Abraham had a sure and personal promise from God. These sort of dreams we must never release.

But I’m talking about my personal dreams, the ones that become nightmares as they crumble.

Mary Lowman explored the “the gift of letting go” in her podcast this month. She says letting go of these five things—our past, the small stuff, the desire for revenge or have control, and, yes, our dreams—is both freeing and peace-giving. I agree.

But there’s one more thing she said keeps looping through my head. It did when, in my garage, I heard that buzzing bee. When I let go of a dream, I realized how much of my pain was self-inflicted. Which reminds me of what Jonah prayed in the fish’s belly, Those who cling to worthless idols [read: my mama dreams] forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

This month I feel that. And I don’t want to forfeit God’s grace.

The Strength Of Letting Go

Now I see strength of character revealed in those who let go of personal dreams. They don’t cling.

These friends have freedom and peace. They refuse to allow a dream hold their joy captive. They refuse to let “the givens” and “the not givens” steal their peace. These people live like the Lord is their portion—not will be their portion, but is, right now, today.

Whether or not a husband, wife, or children, health, wealth, or house, graduation or award are given, these meek people have chosen their lot and in it, they find peace.

These quiet, strong saints know how to let go.

Not Mine To Hold

Elizabeth Elliott wrote,

I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things which happened to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned portion? Are some things then, out of the control of the Almighty?

Keep A Quiet Heart

Heaven is not here, it’s there. If all my dreams were fulfilled this side of heaven, I might settle for this world rather than the next. I forfeit God’s grace if I keep buzzing at the windowpane, if I don’t let go of my dreams.

I don’t hold my lot. The Lord holds my lot. He is my portion. In him, not in my accomplishment or my sons’ success, is my portion.

The portion he gives is best. So I will let go, trust God and rest.

The Bee I Shall Be

I write a lot about bees—bees elegantly working and critically stinging, futilely buzzing and unfairly stinging. But today it was about bees who stop buzzing.

So can you guess what happened after this last, wing-weary bee video I filmed in my garage?

I gently took the bee off in a tissue and shook him out into his lot, which happens to be a yard full of thousands of blooming daisies.

* * * * *

I was the triggered, buzzing bee and, so help my God, I shall be the quiet, free bee.

Because left to my own will—clinging to my dreams, ignoring my portion, and outside my lot—I would have died upon the windowsill.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 30:15

*‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,

‘And tell her, “Not that way! All, all in vain

You weary out wings and bruise your head,”

Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,

“Let queens and mystics and religious bees

Talk of such inconceivables as glass;

the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,

Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!

”We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows

What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)

And shake her out – and gaily out she goes

Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,

To drink their hearts. But left to her own will

She would have died upon the window-sill.

– C.S. Lewis, Poems

Bee letting go and sipping nectar from daisy
Released & Free

Time To Let Go: How I Stopped Buzzing At The Window

Van loaded with boxes and crates windows open

We shall be like the bee

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.

From C.S. Lewis, Poems

Writing on the Wall

So is that what everyone thinks I should do? I should switch schools? That’s the best solution?

It was already the second week of school. The kids were in the buildings. I’d met parents and prepped my new room.

But as I looked at my boss and eight colleagues sitting around the table, I knew. Some bowed their heads. A few nodded, ever so slightly. Two looked me in the eye and grimaced in symathy.

After 20 years working at the same school building with trusted co-workers, some treasured friends and, I’ll admit, a precious window —recall, I stalk natural light— it was time to go.

Buzzing at the Window

I can make this work, I buzzed to myself. I can handle all the trouble if I can stay here with the people I know and the room with a window.

It’s humbling to say. But if you know me, you already know I do this: I buzz.

I see a way and stay the course and sometimes to a fault. I’m loyal and steady. It makes marriage and marathon training easier and helps keep book club and dinner group going strong for so long.

Keeping commitments matters. Faithfulness is a virtue. It’s a fruit of the Spirit and a good and godly way to be.

But could it be that sometimes I disguise my selfishness or stubbornness as faithfulness?

I might have done that with the little red dress that I would not give away. And I might have done it last week—and died on the window sill. I might have withered at the old job site. Buzzing at that window stole my sleep and made me sick.

Faithfulness is a good thing. But this was not about keeping a commitment. This was about selfish refusal to change.

Those honest faces around the table told me the truth, they instructed me in the way: Now was the time to go.

Ripping off the BAND-AID

Abigail, it’s the best way to do this. It’s ripping off the Band-Aid, my colleague Kay, said. Now you can heal.

Or, I shall be like the bee

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers.

With help from Kay and other kind colleagues, we loaded and tossed and packed and hauled and unloaded and tossed and unpacked 20 years of desk entrails and materials in two hours—flat. The picture above is my van all packed. It took Kay and Tracy’s trunks, too, to pack up those 20 years.

I got watery saying a few unavoidable good-byes. The propped door set off the school alarm and, alas, I had to explain. As I crammed the van, I lamented. I grieved lunch walks with Kathy (this kindness post started with Kathy) and camaraderie with Jess and Michelle.

I’m not too proud to admit it. I mourned the big new window with light and breeze and Jiminy cricket singing round the clock to me. The new building had no Kathy, Michelle or Jess and the new room no windows.

But, as God would have it, I went to work Wednesday morning and sat down beside the window. I left for home that afternoon from a windowless room. Just like that.

Moving twenty years in two hours is ripping off the BAND-AID. The day shook out the bee in me.

Shaking out the Bee

Abigail, you might want to transfer after this year. I think you might be happier and it will be easier that way. But it’s up to you.

That, I sheepishly add, came during a rare after-hours phone call from Kay last May. Kay is the most senior in our department and she knew. Kay saw the writing on the wall.

But I buzzed on through the summer and into school’s first week. I wearied my wings and bruised my head. Anxiety was like a load of bricks on my chest all night.

‘If we could speak to her,’ my doctor said,

‘And tell her, “Not that way! All, all in vain

You weary out wings and bruise your head,”

Might she not answer, buzzing at the pane,

“Let queens and mystics and religious bees

Talk of such inconceivables as glass;

the blunt lay worker flies at what she sees,

Look there – ahead, ahead – the flowers, the grass!

”We catch her in a handkerchief (who knows

What rage she feels, what terror, what despair?)

And shake her out – and gaily out she goes

Where quivering flowers and thick in summer air,

To drink their hearts. But left to her own will

She would have died upon the window-sill.

– C.S. Lewis, Poems, 1964. p. 127

Until I heard my Doctor speak to me, in those looks around the table on Wednesday. He made the way plain. There was no more buzzing at the window pane.

I knew the move was right.

But left to my own

Freeing up You and Me

My JoyPrO’s don’t always have bows tied. But this one kind of does. My new workplace is a delight. One week in, there’s so much to enjoy that I seldom miss the light, the breeze, and life outside my window.

Are you a bee like me sometimes? Do you buzz hard at the window thinking through it only is the way to life’s laden flowers? Do you hunker down and “faithfully” stay the course when God’s good way is to turn?

If you do, you are not alone. But I’m here to tell you that God is good. He instructs us buzzing sinners in the way—us humble, buzzing sinners.

And if we don’t let go, our faithful LORD might lovingly shake us free.

Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness…

Psalm 25:8-10a

Play The Part: Don’t Let FOMO Ruin The Show

Author playing a part in costume for Nativity
Not playing it well. I’m the far left of the herd.

We are led to believe that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part we have played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

C.S. Lewis, The Last Night

 

I’m not sure if the role was wrong or if I just played it wrong, when I played a donkey in the pageant back in third grade. A donkey was a step up from white-tight, cotton-ball sheep or a gaudy, gold cardboard star. But it was nothing compared to Mary or even to a shepherd.

At least shepherds were people. Donkeys were just beasts. Plus, I resented the fuzzy brown hood and those tan, straight-leg, corduroys. I was a sulky donkey. I did not play the donkey part well.

When Uzziah Played The Wrong Part


Around 750 B.C. Judah’s King Uzziah wanted a new role. For the first 40 years Uzziah played the king part—his God-given role—like a pro.

He set himself to seek God…as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper (2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

God helped him against his enemies and he became very strong. Engines on towers, irrigated farmland, and his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped. But
Uzziah wasn’t content to be king. He stole a part not given to him. He took the role of priest. 

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense…But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests and they withstood him and said, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense.’ (2 Chronicles 26:16-17).


They were right. The fragrant, smoky offering part was assigned to Aaron’s priestly line. It was not in God’s script for his kings.
So the 81 confronted Uzziah and said,

“It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.”

Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. (2 Chronicles 26:18-19)

Because King Uzziah stole a role not his own, he lived leprous and alone for ten years until he died. 

Don’t Let FOMO Ruin The Show

It sounds extreme. But Uzziah is a type. His sinful overreach—incited by his fear of missing out on a better priestly part?—was written down for our instruction, that we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Uzziah warns us to master the FOMO that tempts us to take a role not assigned to us.

The fear of missing out,” writes blogger Jon Bloom, is “the Thing”-or the part- we think we need to be happy. In a word, it’s coveting. And coveting isn’t limited to material “things,” making it so illusive.

It’s a shape-shifter that assumes whatever form matches our current vulnerability to feeling like we’re missing out. Today it might be coveting someone’s income, tomorrow it might be coveting someone’s achievement, the next day it might be coveting someone’s harmonious family, next week it might be coveting someone’s opportunities or church or advanced degree or capacities or interior design or . . . you name it.

This is why we often experience Facebook and Pinterest as purveyors of “missing out.” They point out all the things that we don’t have. They remind us of what we are not. They show us where we have not been. 

But the root problem isn’t social media or marketing. The root problem, says Bloom, is deeper. It’s “our active sin natures that tell us that idols satisfy. That fear that we are missing out is coming from inside us” (James 4:1-2).

So how do we fight FOMO?

Stage Tips: Play. Your. Part. Well.

That’s simple. Stay in your lane, on your stage. Focus on playing your assigned role well.

1. Play-work, take- an active part in salvation’s story. It’s on stage at this second in you. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12b-13

2. Play yourNot my part, or your best friend’s, or your fantasy role. Play your actual, factual, realio-trulio God-given part. Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. 1 Corinthians 7:17

3. Play your part. It’s not a one-man show. You’re only part of this grand play. But it is an important part. God picked you for this role. God arranged the parts in the body, each one of them as he chose… there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20

4. Play your part well.  Not grudgingly, but cheerfully; not half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly. And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing you will receive the inheritance as a reward. Colossians 3:23-23

But what if you’re in a role you didn’t want? If you didn’t tryout for this part?

But I Didn’t Tryout For This Part

My friend Jenny was new to her 50’s and working her way back to university when brain cancer hammered her husband. The youngest of their three sons was still in school when Phil went home to Jesus. Then her oldest married married a lovely lady with a lovely young daughter and suddenly Jenny was Nana frosting sparkly pink princess cakes.

A few years ago Christian author and speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss, also in her 50’s, shocked us with this announcement:

No one could have been more caught off guard by this turn of events than I. In recent years, I have found myself in the most settled, contented, healthy, fruitful place of life and ministry ever. I did not have the slightest inkling that He was about to call me to step out into a whole new realm of faith and service…

For decades, I have [served] as a single woman, wholly devoted to Christ and His kingdom. Over these months, it has become clear to me that the Lord wants me to continue telling that gospel story . . . as a married woman.

Like Nancy, and Jenny, we’re often caught off guard when we find ourselves playing parts for which we didn’t tryout, and in roles God chose us to play.

Play Even The Little Parts Well

Brother Lawrence lived in a French monastery in the mid 1700’s. The Practice of the Presence of God tells of his “great aversion” to kitchen work and how he prayed “for grace to do it well.”

He is King Uzziah’s antitype. After fifteen years in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence wrote: 

Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; I rise happier than a king.

The Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2), and the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5) wrote us into this grand play with just the right part. He casts each role, to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17, Acts 17:26-27). He placed us on the perfect stage to make God look great.

Even if sometimes we fail.

About That Donkey Part

I’ve cameoed in that donkey part more than I care to admit in the years since third grade. I’ve written before about how brutish I’ve been—with infertility, church conflict, in relationships that try me. My FOMO on other roles, roles I would have chosen for me, gives me some sympathy for King Uzziah. l do not always play my part well.

But always if I look back to the Director, his grace frees me to play my part. But there’s more. In every act, He holds my hand and guides me

Please know God picked you for your part. He is with you. He wants to guide you through.

When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Psalm 73:21-24