Tuff Love

Antoinette Tuff

When we think of bravery, we think of soldiers defending our country, firemen running into a burning building, and a man who won’t back down from a bully. When we think of brave women we think of (I think of) that girl holding a bow and arrow from the Pixar film, Brave. I also think of Disney’s Mulan. These are women who know how to defend themselves in a fight. They know how to kick their attacker in the weak spot, bite and scream. They know how to “SING”—thanks to Sandra Bullock of Miss Congeniality. I love these kinds of women! I want to be one. I pretend I am one. I’m stealthy like Catwoman and clever like Sydney Bristow on Alias. Pretending is all I get to do, unfortunately, but it doesn’t mean I must be a trained fighter to be brave.

Scenario: You are trapped inside a school building held captive by a man with an armed gun. Who would you pick to save your life?

  1. Catwoman
  2. A professional karate instructor
  3. The Police
  4. Mrs. Miller from first period. She’s the one with the cat calendar on her desk. She also watches Dancing with the Stars and eats tuna sandwiches every Wednesday.

I’m sure all of you chose the first option, Catwoman, because she is pretty hardcore, unless, of course, you’ve been watching the news. If you have, you would know about a woman named Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper at a middle school in Decatur, Georgia who is not much different from Mrs. Miller of the fourth option. Tuff recently convinced Michael Hill, a mentally confused and heavily armed young man, to surrender to authorities after he entered her school with a gun. You can hear the recorded conversation she has over the phone after calling 9-1-1. She is calm, and she does not try to manipulate or overpower Hill physically. Instead, she forms a cautious bond and gives him a reason to hope. He hasn’t hurt anyone. He just needs help.

There are three things about Antoinette Tuff’s situation that expanded my idea of bravery, and I have listed them below:

Her physical weakness allowed her to be emotionally influential: Tuff was physically incapable of setting herself free of her captor, but that probably worked to her advantage. She spoke in a non-threatening manner to Hill, calling him “sir” and cautiously allowed him to lead the situation. This made her safe. He was willing to listen as she admitted that last year she had “tried to commit suicide” after her husband left her. Because she had overcome her own depression, she was able to show Hill the truth that everything was going to be okay. Without demanding or reprimanding, she exposed the lies that told him there is “nothing to live for.”

Her feminine nature allowed her to be a mother figure: At first, Tuff spoke to Hill like a subordinate, but eventually the roles changed and she became like a protective mother. After Hill decided to surrender, she started calling him “baby” and “sweetie.” She said, “We’re not going to hate you,” and she told him she was proud of him. She even said, “I want you to know that I love you.” Hill gave control of the situation over to Tuff. He handed her his weapon. He let her signal the police to come and arrest him. All the while she provided a pocket of protection from the hate and the judgment that would come from his actions. He was free to surrender and accept the consequences because he knew Tuff had forgiven him.

Her love was gentle, not “tough”: Anyone who saw Hill walk into a school with a loaded gun would want punch to him in the face, call him names, and tell him to be a man. At least, these would be my feelings. Hill needed to be a man. Of course, this reaction would have only made the situation worse. Some might believe Tuff coddled Hill, forgave him too easily, and sheltered him from the truth that he was a terrorist. Maybe she did coddle Hill, forgive him easily, and shelter him from the truth, but that was what Hill needed: gentle love, not tough love. Gentle love disarmed a lethal situation.

I would like to point out that not every situation will benefit the same way as Tuff’s situation. Her kindness saved lives, but not every gunman will respond to gentle love. Tuff’s love may not stop every kind of threat, but at least we know that her approach can be very effective, and anyone can use it. She said she prayed throughout the entire situation. Her response through prayer and kindness turned out to be more powerful than the traditional form of physical bravery. Tuff did not just help save the lives of everyone in that situation; she had started a process of restoring a young man who had evidently lost hope. She has even expressed a desire to see him again. For Tuff, she was not pretending to love Hill. She genuinely wanted to help, and Hill recognized her sincerity and had allowed it to change the direction of his life.

Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Culture & Media, Current Events | Leave a comment


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image by Sarah Maizland

It’s  not unusual for someone to compliment me on my hair when I’m out and about. In fact, it is unusual when it doesn’t happen. Yesterday an elderly man at Trader Joe’s smacked me with his empty re-usable grocery bag and said, “Nice hair. You look really nice,” and marched off. Tonight while at coffee with a friend, I walked by a table and heard/saw a girl gawking at me and comment to her friend, “Oh my gosh, I love that girl’s hair.” One talent agency told me cutting my hair was one of the best decisions I could have made as a commercial actress.

Before you stamp my face with a capital A for “Arrogance”, let me explain. While I do like it, I can take no credit for it. And the compliments are not just inflating an over-confident ego.

My “new” hair style has reminded me every day for the past three years of the new person I’ve become. It wasn’t by choice. In fact, it may have included kicking, screaming, and crying.

Lana & Lynds Salt Mines
Me & my sister, Lana

It’s been two years exactly since I finished my last cancer treatment. I spent twenty months undergoing chemotherapy for my leukemia. But before all of that started I had very long, naturally super curly hair. It was sort of my trademark. “You know, Lyndsay – the girl with the curly hair.” That was a common description of me. And I liked it. It represented me in a way.

And then I went through chemo and within weeks it was just a pile in the trash.

I felt like part of me left with it.

Suddenly it wasn’t just cancer that I was dealing with, it was who I was. I was an overly responsible young adult with a drive like the Energizer Bunny. I was not known to be compassionate. Reason over emotion was natural for me. Tears were like a stranger showing up at my doorstep when they occasionally filled my eyes. Nothing really shook me. I considered it my lot in life to be strong for my loved ones. I was a pillar. But I was suddenly the one crumbling.

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This was the very first day I went with my short hair. This is a nervous/freaking out smile.

The first day I donned my very short, fine, new hair and left the wig behind, I was scared to death. My confidence had nose-dived to near zero. Every time I looked in the mirror all I could think was, “This is not me. I don’t even know who I am anymore.” Stepping outside my house while going through that inner turmoil was like walking into one of those dreams where you’re standing in public and realize you forgot to put pants on. I felt so exposed, and so confused.

The first person I’d see with my new ‘do was a stranger. I was getting lunch for my husband at the In ‘N Out drive-through and the guy taking my money through the window stared at me oddly. I gave him a sheepish smile and pretended to check my phone to avoid eye contact. He handed me my order and said, “You know, I don’t usually like short hair on girls, but that hair cut looks really beautiful on you.” I turned fifty shades of red, thanked him again, and drove away before he could see me cry as I thanked God for being so incredibly kind.

It was as if, in that moment, God held out His hand to me and invited me to cross an invisible threshold with Him. I was blind to what was in front of me, but secure in knowing my Leader would not allow my foot to snag along the path. I knew when I accepted His invitation that I would not remain the same.

I refuse to credit cancer for bringing this change to my life, but it forced me to take a good long break from normal life. I had to rely on God like I never have had to before. I came to understand suffering in ways I couldn’t have dreamed. I became acquainted with perseverance when my emotions were screaming at me to quit. And the Lord was so kind to me through it. He helped me nestle closer to His heart as my own began to bleed for other people with compassion, as I surrendered my right to judge, as I confronted lifelong fears, as I explored parts of my personality (that God created) that I never knew existed, as the cold front glazing my emotions melted.

I felt . . . new.

I decided to keep my hair short. Pre-cancer Lyndsay was gone. Instead of it bringing up painful memories of treatment and insecurity about my identity, it was a reflection of what beauty God made from my ashes.

I wonder how many of us experience significant trials and are just relieved to emerge alive instead of recognizing the ways that God has worked “all things together for good.” I wonder after which tragedies we just allow bitterness and resentment – even toward God – to cast a shadow over the brilliance that God is trying to emanate into our lives.

Every time someone comments on my hair cut . . . every time someone tells me how brave I was to try something so drastic . . . every time someone says they wish they could “pull that style off as well as you can”, I smile, thank them, and thank the Lord. He has changed me inside and out.

(Top photo courtesy of Sarah Maizland. All images property of Lyndsay Wilkin)

Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Self Esteem | 8 Comments

Psalm 126: Sowing with Tears, Reaping with Joy


Psalm 126 is one of the fifteen “songs of ascents” in the beloved book of poetry and praise. This chapter tells of a people who were laughing, full of joy, and who thought they were dreaming because the Lord had done such wonderful things for them. The goodness of God was proclaimed amongst themselves, and declared among the nations.

David proclaims that this restoration did not come without tears and brokenness and desperation. The harvest came forth after the seed was sown with weeping. Then he says:

He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

It paints a beautiful picture of one who is so grateful for a harvest, he is walking away with sheaves stacked so high he can barely see where he is going. He can’t stop rejoicing and singing songs of praise. He has toiled and wept. He is not patting himself on the back — he is completely beside himself and in love with a generous Provider.

This Psalm is a foreshadow of the coming Christ who was the seed, sown by His weeping Father, that had to die and fall to the earth in order to bring life and to bring a harvest that would never perish.

Bifrost Arts recently released an album called He Will Not Cry Out : Anthology of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Volume II. On this record is a song titled “Psalm 126” (track 7), beautifully sung by Molly Parden of Nashville. The lyrics are taken directly from the psalm and artfully organized to be very singable while preserving their original worshipful purpose.

I love that when I sing or listen to this song I can see how God has restored me in different ways and will continue to do so. It also reminds me of the harvest I pray for in my own heart, my relationships, and in my life. It encourages me that the challenges and tears will only make the victory that much more sweet — not because of what I have done, but because of what only God could do.

What kind of harvests have you toiled and wept over? What harvest is proving to be impossible without God’s love and provision in your life? What harvest is going to cause you tremendous rejoicing and singing when it is finally reaped? What harvest is going to make your heart explode with thanksgiving?

Click here to listen to the track. The lyrics are written below if you would like to read along!

Psalm 126

Our mouths they were filled, filled with laughter
Our tongues they were loosed, loosed with joy
Restore us, O Lord
Restore us, O Lord

Although we are weeping
Lord, help us keep sowing
The seeds of Your Kingdom
For the day You will reap them
Your sheaves we will carry
Lord, please do not tarry
All those who sow weeping will go out with songs of joy

The nations will say, “He has done great things!”
The nations will sing songs of joy
Restore us, O Lord
Restore us, O Lord

Posted in Art, Culture & Media, Theology & Philosophy | 2 Comments

A New Anxiety


“And he described Jesus in one word. Are you ready for this, Noelle? Jesus was RELAXED.”

A friend of mine shared with me about a podcast she had heard from Dallas Willard. I can’t remember how we got there, but this was a divine word that I knew was not an accident. I consider myself a fairly even-keeled person, but all that usually means is that I store the extra highs and lows on the inside until they ooze out and somebody’s gotta clean them up. It’s not until my anxiety is called out by name am I able to deal with it.

Motherhood has brought on a new anxiousness. Everyone calls it “natural”, but anxiety is not healthy, even if it’s for good reason; it eats away at you, one thought at a time. While I want to be a more relaxed parent, I know it’s simply so not my style. I’m trying to accept that. I like structure, and knowing, and stats far more than I like to just “let things happen.” Because, what if I let things happen and it turns out horribly?! How do my motherly instincts fit into this equation?

First it was feeding. I experienced so much stress with my first two months of nursing; I’m surprised my body didn’t just give up all together. By God’s grace, we fought through and my son has gained weight without issue, and now we have a wonderful feeding relationship.

Then came the sleeping issue. Swaddling correctly, sleeping position, is he breathing, etc.  Then general health questions — why is he congested, what is this skin reaction, immunizations, germs in the church nursery and grocery store, indigestion . . . it’s enough to work one into insomnia, and at times it did. By God’s grace, my son is figuring out his sleeping on his own, and all of those health worries have worked themselves out. Imagine that.

Lately I’ve been worrying about pumping schedules, my husband’s role in parenting, and my hesitancy to leave my child with other people . . . if my insecurities are worth listening to or fighting through.

Last night, my husband asked the dreaded “is there anything you need to talk about?” question. What started as a minor concern about the perception of others blew up into a complete projectile spit up (baby pun intended) of anxiety that had been building up itself.

Does caring/loving your child so much HAVE TO accompany such high levels of anxiety? Does thinking about your child 24/7 HAVE TO include worrying about them 24/7? I think the answer is no, but I realized this was something I most definitely was NOT doing.

When Dallas Willard described Jesus as RELAXED, we’re not talking about the ultimate vacation or spa day. Jesus really, in every circumstance, trusted the Father. This is a NEW place for me to trust God. I may trust Him with my marriage, our jobs, family drama, friendships . . . but suddenly I’m like the kid with the new toy. I don’t want to share it. It’s new, and I want to figure it out. I want this part all to myself. Why am I so relaxed about trusting the Lord in these other areas of life, but not this new one? My child.

If I could only stay reminded of how much more God loves my son than I ever can or will, I could finally relax. I could finally trust. My shoulders would drop away from my ears, my hands would soften and I could drift back to sleep, if I could just remember how to be like Jesus in this way: at times angry, at times staying up late, at times up early, at times in pain, at times with the weight of the world on His shoulders, but all the while trusting the will of the Father to be the ultimate good.

Originally published on Noelle’s personal blog

Posted in Being a Woman, Family, Parenting, Theology & Philosophy | Leave a comment

Life Lessons from the Dog Whisperer

Our dog suffers from anxiety issues and low self-esteem.

Before owning a dog, it never occurred to me that dogs could suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem. There are a LOT of things that never occur to non-dog-owners. Then you get a dog and the next thing you know you’re consulting a dog whisperer and shelling out sixteen dollars at the natural food co-op for “Rescue Remedy,” a plant-based stress-reliever with which to lace the doggie bowl water.

True story.

The dog in question is Gracie, a year-old labradoodle. Gracie came to us last October when she was  four months old. She was a remarkably good puppy: housebroken, not prone to chewing, and patient with our young daughters. She quickly made friends with our neighbors’ golden retriever, and — since both yards were already enclosed by an electric dog fence — as soon as Gracie understood the limits of the fence, we set her free. For most of the winter she was a “free-range dog”; we’d snap on her electric collar in the morning and let her out to play. She’d remain outside until bedtime, with occasional visits inside for food and naps.

We thought that by giving her so much freedom, we’d given her the ideal dog’s life. No being cooped up inside, no crating, no loneliness. Gracie and the puppy next door roamed their two acres at will, romping together until sundown.

Then the barking started.

Around spring, we noticed that Gracie barked — loudly and obsessively — at anybody who wasn’t immediate family. This included our mail woman, the UPS man, visiting friends, and passing neighbors. At first the barking was limited to when Gracie was outside, but before long she’d follow visitors inside and — no pun intended — hound them. Next, she started leaping up from inside the house to bark and growl out the window at perceived threats.

Nothing helped, and the situation was becoming intolerable, especially since we were expecting our fourth child in a matter of months. When our daughters’ four year old friend came to play, Gracie followed the poor girl throughout the house and yard, barking aggressively. She accosted delivery people in our yard and our neighbors’ yard. One day I heard her outside, barking like her life depended on it. She sounded so terrified that I went out to investigate. Instead of a rabid bear or threatening intruder, she’d cornered . . . a brown paper bag that had blown out of the trash.

Our neighbors suggested that we contact a professional, and recommended someone who’d trained their dog. “He’s the dog whisperer,” they kept saying. We were skeptical, but desperate. And that’s how we met Zev.

Zev turned out to truly be a dog whisperer, and a people whisperer as well. A diminutive man with a fringe of shoulder-length ringlets, he looked like a member of a seventies-era folk band. His voice, calm and soothing, never rose above a croon — not even when Gracie spent thirty minutes barking at him during our first session, not even when he conducted a session with our ENTIRE family (three children under five years, plus my husband) right before dinnertime.

I assumed that Zev would work directly with Gracie, or give me some magic commands and hand gestures to stop her barking. I assumed wrong.

The first thing Zev said to do was to shut Gracie in the house whenever we weren’t around. He also suggested bringing her crate back up from the basement (where we’d banished it because it seemed so cruel to put our dog in a cage), and leaving her leash on whenever possible, so that we could easily grab her.

In other words, Zev suggested that we limit her freedom.

Next, Zev worked on our family’s relationship with Gracie. He encouraged us to spend more time reviewing the basic commands that she’d already mastered, like “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Come.” He told us to take her for more walks, and to play fetch.

What was the point of all this? Well, we thought we’d been right to give Gracie her freedom — a “long leash,” so to speak. In doing so, it turns out we’d actually given her a responsibility she couldn’t handle. Gracie thought her job was to protect her territory, but when we allowed her to roam without restrictions she got jumpy and anxious — so she barked. As Zev put it, “It’s like giving a five year old a gun and telling them to defend the house while you’re out.”

Gracie needed to feel secure, loved, and confident within the context of a relationship with our family. That was the point of practicing basic training, going for walks, and playing fetch; these things made her feel like she was safe with us, so that when she got anxious and started barking, we could call her to come and be calmed.

Of course, this isn’t just about dogs; it’s about us.

“Freedom” is an ideal that people strive for, especially in this country. But freedom, divorced from any constraints, without the boundaries of relationship, can be too much of a good thing. When we reject community, we tend to get jumpy and anxious, just like Gracie. The very relationships that “limit” our freedom — relationships with friends, family, spouse, children, God — are actually what give us the security and confidence to be more fully ourselves.

And Gracie? She’s doing better, but she’s still a work in progress. Just like all of us.

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