Honoring the moms in my life

May always makes me think of my mom, because Mother’s Day and her birthday are both this month. She passed away eleven years ago at the age of 68, much sooner than either of us wanted to say good-bye. That first spring I couldn’t go near a card shop because all of the items out for Mother’s Day were just too painful. Now, though the grief of missing her is still there, it is tempered with good memories.

One of the things I most appreciated about my mom was that she could be a friend to us without sacrificing her authority. I could talk to her about anything.

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My mom and I when I was a baby.

My mom and I before my wedding.

In my college years God brought a new family to our church. They noticed that I came to church alone and invited me home with them often. Mrs. C. became like a second mother to me. I’ve often referred to her as my spiritual mom. Her gentle example as a wife, mother, and homemaker taught me much, though I don’t think she was deliberately trying to teach me anything. We’ve corresponded for years, though her notes have become less frequent as she has gotten older and developed several health issues. I’ll always be thankful for her influence on me.

My third mom came into my life when I got married. My mother-in-law and I have had a very amiable relationship with no in-law horror stories. She had several problems in her life that would have made some people angry and bitter, but instead she sought God’s grace to surround the irritants like an oyster making a pearl. It has been sad to see her decline over the last few years, but we’ve been blessed to move her near us and to be able to include her in our family life.

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The newest mom in my life is my sweet daughter-in-law, who is a loving wife to my son and mother to the cutest grandson in the world. 🙂

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There have been other women as well who had a word of encouragement for me along the way.

I am thankful for “Aunt Sylvia,” my mom’s best friend, who never married or had children of her own but brought us Christmas presents, was always kind to us, and who bravely battled cancer. She once stepped in to pick me up from camp to explain that my parents were with my sister who had been hurt in an accident while I was away, and I am sure her calmness affected me.

I remember spending many nights with my grandmother when she lived near us and accompanying her on road trips in the summer. She was always crocheting any time she was sitting down and her hands were free.

I remember working on a church bulletin board with a lady whose oldest was a teenager while mine was still a toddler. She encouraged me not to dread either the “terrible twos” or the teen years or any stage in between but to believe that even those stages can be good, and I am happy to report they were.

I am thankful for Aunt Bobbye, my mother’s sister, for her being available to us any time we needed her, for her zany sense of humor, her care and support at my mom’s viewing and funeral, and for her love and care and continued interest throughout my life.

I remember and am thankful for walks and breakfasts and lunches and “play dates” with friends in the same season of life as we encouraged each other in our mothering.

I am thankful for godly pastor’s wives I’ve had and their sweet spirit and godly counsel.

In every season of life there have been a few ladies just ahead of me that I could watch and learn from, though they may not have known they were being observed. Even now, on the cusp of an empty nest, I’m inspired by a couple of older ladies who have been shining and cheerful examples in their “upper middle age” years.

I am thankful for so many women who were examples to me and made me a better woman, wife, and mother. I hope I can encourage others as these ladies did me.

I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day and feel renewed in your roles this morning.

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Book Review: Spiritual Mothering

Spiritual MotheringWhen our pastor’s wife announced that the ladies would be going through a study of Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt, I was a little wary at first, because in reading a few of Susan’s other writings, I thought she came across as clinical. I’m happy to say, though, that that’s not the case with this book, and she comes across as much more warm and personable. This edition is a revision of a book she wrote about 25 years ago.

She begins by noting that Titus 2:3-5, the instruction about older women teaching younger, is not to be taken in isolation or out of context and only read during women’s ministry functions. It fits within the broader framework of our Lord’s command to make disciples, and the function of the church as a whole, and the context of living life for God’s glory.

To glorify God means to reflect back to him the glory he has revealed to us (p. 53).

No earthly relationship will meet all of our needs. Fulfilling the purpose for which we were created is he only way we will experience wholeness. Mary focused on glorifying God. She did not speak of Elizabeth as her only source of help; spiritual mothering is not a cure-all for the older or the younger woman (p. 52).

[Re giving birth in a stable]: [Mary] exercised the discipline necessary to move beyond disappointment and distractions and to carefully think about the thing that really mattered–God’s glory (p. 56).

Mary could adjust to these extremes [angels and stables] in her life because she saw them from the vantage point of obeying God’s will, not from the perspective of her expectation or preferences. In defining herself as a servant, she had relinquished control to God. Her purpose was not her convenience but God’s glory (p. 57).

Susan defines spiritual mothering thus: “When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory” (p. 36). Her main Biblical models throughout the book are Elizabeth and Mary, and my first thought was that I don’t think that’s primarily what the passages that speak of them are there for. But she draws out many applicable principles from their time together and draws from other relationships as well (like Ruth and Naomi). However, she points out that the principles of spiritual mothering can be seen in and drawn from many passages where God compares His care of His people to a mother’s love. And because we draw from His example and because He equips us, spiritual mothering has nothing to do with having biological children or even being married: God calls each woman to nurture in this way and enables them to do so. Usually we’re in the position of an older lady to some and a younger lady to others.

It would be easy for some women to quickly disqualify themselves by saying, But I don’t have the gift of teaching.” Sorry, that won’t work! A closer look at the word translated “train” will render that reasoning invalid. The Greek word is sophronizo and denotes “to cause to be of sound mind, to recall to one’s senses…the training would involve the cultivation of sound judgment and prudence (p. 72).

The popular concept of mentoring and coaching suggest some degree of structure and formality. Spiritual mothering may involve mentoring and coaching, but it is broader. Nurturing seems to be more compatible with what Paul is advocating in the Titus command (p. 72).

Before reading the book, I was a bit afraid that Susan would be pushing a formal and structured relationship, which can too easily seem artificial. She does share ways that can be implemented. But overall she advocates this type of nurturing in connection with other interactions, activities, and ministries, which I’ve always felt was a more natural way to go about it. “Spiritual mothering has more to do with demonstrating ‘the shape of godliness’ than with teaching lesson plans” (p. 93).

She discusses characteristics of the relationship and sprinkles many examples from modern life throughout the book, as well as opening each chapter with one woman’s story. Each chapter ends with a challenge of meditating on a specific passage of Scripture and taking definite steps in regard to the chapter’s subject matter.

Other quotes that stood out to me:

Servitude is not easy. Obedience is not a one-time decision. Obedience is a lifetime discipline. But it does bring a simplicity to life because it settles the issue of who is in control (p. 59)

This command [Titus 2:3-5] is sandwiched between the exhortation to “teach what accord with sound doctrine” (v. 1) and a statement of purpose: “that the Word of God may not be reviled” (v. 5). Sound doctrine must be the basis for the older-woman/younger-woman relationship and honor for God’s truth must be the goal of the relationship (pp. 65-66).

A reverent life is the product of a reverent view of God (p. 69).

Resentment erects barriers that cause older and younger women to miss each other. Resentment is a product of a self-centered approach: unless you are doing and being what I want you to do and be I am offended. Living for God’s glory frees us to value and appreciate rather than resent one another. We can appreciate our diversity of temperaments, life-stages, life-situations, abilities, and callings from God. We don’t have to be or do the same thing. In fact, there is no real unity without diversity. Two of the same things don’t need to blend to become one (p. 131).

There were just a few places where I agreed with what Susan was saying but didn’t feel that it quite came from the passage she was using for its basis, and one or two places where I felt she was wrong. For instance, on p. 52 she says, “Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms how to glorify God: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4, NIV). Completing the work he assigns us – joyful obedience to his will – is the way we glorify him.” It is a way, but not the only way. A couple of other ways: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV); “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8, NASB).

But overall I thought this was a good and helpful book and I gleaned many good things from it.

The ladies at our church who were studying the book met every other week to discuss a couple of chapters at a time, and I am sorry I missed that, because I think it would have reinforced the principles and truths brought out in the book. I did hear that they also had some panel discussions with some older ladies, which I would have loved to hear, and paired up an older and younger lady for some one on one time. I’ve been meaning to ask some of them how that went but haven’t thought of it while at church.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday) and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Thoughts about women’s ministries

img_0065Every now and then I come across a blog post or article saying something like, “I’m tired of fluffy pink crafty ladies’ meetings. I want to be authentic and go deep.”

I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.

And those are all good points.

I’d like to make a few observations.

1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.

2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”

3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.

4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.

5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.

6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)

7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.

8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)

9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.

10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.

Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.

I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.

See also:

Mentoring Women
Church Ladies’ Groups
Why Older Women Don’t Serve
How Older Women Can Serve
I’m An Older Woman…So Now What?
How Not to Become an Old Biddy
The Quiet Person in the Small Group

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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When God wants me to do something I don’t want to do

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I had another interesting intersection between my devotions, messages at church, and my other reading last week.

I’m in Exodus in my Bible reading just now, and I can always empathize with Moses’s reaction when God calls him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. Overwhelmed, he he responds with all the reasons he couldn’t possibly do such a thing, and God graciously promises His provision in every facet.

Who am I? Why would they listen to me? I will be with thee.

What if they ask me what God sent me to them? I AM THAT I AMThus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you

They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. God provided three signs to demonstrate before Israel.

O my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

God was very patient with Moses until, at this point, Moses says, “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.” I’m not sure exactly what all that means, but it seems to indicate he’d really rather God sent someone else. God tells him his brother Aaron will be his spokesperson, and sends him on his way.

I would probably have had all the same objections Moses did, and more. They make sense and seem quite valid, except that God promises to overcome each one, no matter how the situation seems to appear at this vantage point.

Some of our Sunday evening services have dealt with Jonah, who, as you know, disobeys God’s command to preach to the Ninevites and goes in the opposite direction. His reasons are less sympathetic; in fact, they are wholly unnoble. The Bible doesn’t say he was afraid of them or afraid to speak to them. He was afraid they would actually respond to his message, and he was so prejudiced against them that he did not want that result. His chastening was pretty severe, and he repented in the belly of a fish. But his heart still wasn’t entirely right. “It displeased Jonah” when the people of Nineveh repented. In fact, he tells God that was why he didn’t want to come to them in the first place, because “Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:2).

Then, when I’ve had time after my devotions, I’ve been reading in The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs. Around the time I was reading about Moses in my Bible and hearing about Jonah in church, I came to the section about Mary in this book. What a contrast. She may have had concerns and fears, but didn’t voice them. Or she may have just believed that God was sufficient to take care of whatever the repercussions would be. No objections. No “what ifs.” No apparent anxieties or apprehensions. Just, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

I found in my quote file this from Elisabeth Elliot, though I failed to note which book or newsletter it came from:

The story of the glory of heaven brought into a common, little house in Nazareth to a simple peasant girl, who must have been amazed and baffled, but she was instantly obedient. How often you and I insist on explanations and understanding before we’re willing to be obedient. There are many things in God’s world that will never be understood until we obey. Her response, Mary’s response—”Let it be to me according to your word. I am the handmaid of the Lord” — should be our response, too, shouldn’t it? Whatever He asks us to do.

I haven’t been called to anything of the magnitude of these three, but sometimes my response is more like Moses’s to what God has called me to do. First, “Who, me?!” Then, “I can’t, for all these very good reasons.” Sometimes, “That’s not my spiritual gift.” And sometimes, sad to say, “I know You will be with me; I know You will enable and provide. But I’d really rather not.” I’d like my nice, quiet, even life with very few and very minor bumps in the road, if that’s ok.

But that’s not ok. My life is not about my ease and comfort, or at least it’s not supposed to be. It’s about glorifying God and allowing Him to work through me in whatever way He wants to. I may not feel equal to the task, but that’s ok. That reminds me the strength to do it is not my own, but His. His provision and enabling usually comes at the time of obedience, not before. And what times I have cooperated with Him in this way, it has been wonderful to see how He has worked and to experience His presence through those things. When we believe on Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know God is with us by faith even if we don’t always feel it. But somehow when we trust Him through difficult things, we experience His presence and help and grace in ways not known before.

Sometimes I get to the, “Yes, Lord, I am Yours: Your will be done” after reluctance, objections, repentance, and reassurance. I hope, like Mary, to get to the place where I can go there directly.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Book Review: Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World

radical-womanhoodI got Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley some years ago when I caught it on sale – both because it was on sale and because I have enjoyed some of Carolyn’s writing in the past. It’s been on my TBR shelf ever since, and every now and then when I’ve noticed it, I’ve wondered why I keep getting books on this topic when I’ve already studied it out in Scripture and read several books on it and pretty much have nailed down my views. I guess because it’s one of my main interests. But I was compelled to pick it up recently (maybe due to guilt for its having been there so long) – and I was extremely glad I did.

Carolyn comes at the topic from a different angle than I have read in the past, and that makes for a refreshing viewpoint. She grew up as an unbeliever and a full-blown feminist. Her world changed completely when she became a Christian at 29, and attending church was a major culture shock. Over time and through her own study of the Bible and the preaching and teaching of it by her church, she came to different conclusions about womanhood than she had been raised with. She wrote this book partly because she wished her 30 year old self had had something like it to help her navigate through the conflicting viewpoints, but also because she discovered in her speaking engagements that a lot of women didn’t know what the Bible said plus didn’t know how our feminist-influenced culture got where it is today.

The eight chapters are divided by topic, with a history of feminism related to that topic, a Biblical perspective, and a testimony from different women about living out that particular aspect of Biblical femininity.

She points out that feminism did address some serious needs and inequalities, but then went too far. “There’s a difference between restoring God-given rights to women and setting women above both men and God. The history of the feminist movement shows that one led to another–and much earlier than the 1960s” (p. 32).

Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in 1776 concerning the fact that women were not equal in legal status to men and urging him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands…Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness” (p. 32). She “was not suggesting that women should throw off every aspect of feminine existence, trashing the roles of wives and mothers. She simply wanted laws that recognized women as fully legal, adult entities in this new nation” (p. 33). She predicted that failure would “foment a rebellion” in which women would “not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation” (p. 32). Unfortunately, though they had a “close and loving marriage,” he “did not take her seriously on this point” (p. 33).

Her prediction proved true, though. By 1848 the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention met and compiled a “Declaration of Sentiments” including a list of their grievances.

These grievances led to needed reforms in education, marriage, suffrage, and employment for women. But mixed in with those needed social reforms was a challenge to Christianity–its church governance, biblical teaching, and community service…eventually [leading] to the destruction of biblically defined concepts of God, sin, gender differences, marriage, and more (p. 36).

Carolyn deftly details the history of feminism from there, comparing it to what the Scripture actually teaches, and providing some background information on some of its activists. I was surprised to learn–though I shouldn’t have been–that some of feminism’s most strident voices had distinctly anti-Christian views at the core of their philosophies.

I have many more places marked than I can quote here, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

All my previous feminist philosophies resulted in merely kicking at the darkness, expecting it would bleed daylight. But Scripture says it is by God’s light that we see light (Psalm 36:9) (p. 26).

The irony of Stanton’s claims is that when the Bible is actually properly taught, history shows that women’s status improves (p. 38).

Spiritual battles are won or lost in the day-to-day thoughts we harbor. Ideas matter! (p. 59).

Every one of us is prone to agree with Satan’s character assassination of God. We often chafe at the good boundaries God has given us. We are easily tempted to think the worst of God. And we doubt that what God has provided is anywhere near as good as what He has restricted. In some ways, we may have more in common with self-proclaimed feminists than we may realize (p. 60).

Back to my beginning thoughts about why I should read a book like this when I’ve already studied it out, Carolyn had this to say:

If you are a longtime Christian, I pray you will be refreshed in your commitment to these godly principles. Biblical womanhood is not a one-size-fits-all mold. It’s not about certain dress styles, Jane Austen movies, tea parties, quiet voices, and exploding floral patterns…or whatever stereotype you are picturing right now. To live according to biblical principals today requires women to be bold enough to stand against philosophies and strongholds that seek to undermine God’s Word and His authority (p. 29).

This was quite an eye-opening book for me. Though every chapter was interesting and filled with information, most interesting to me was the one on the home and it’s history from home-based businesses producing goods to consuming goods, and the fact that my beloved major, home economics, was originally an outgrowth of Social Darwinism!

I wouldn’t agree with just every little thing taught by every Christian leader Carolyn quotes, but I don’t recall coming across anything I would consider a glaring error in the book.

I feel like I have only shared the tip of the iceberg and haven’t done this book justice. Let’s just say I highly recommend it.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
My rating: 10 out of 10.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

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Those Perfect Friends

(Photo courtesy of stock images on FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(Photo courtesy of stock images on FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

A recent conversation with a young mom friend brought back to mind a struggle I had years ago. We all have those friends, the ones who seem to do everything and do it well, while we’re struggling just to keep our heads above water.

One of my friends like that was a lady at church about my age with children similar in age to mine. She was not only a mom and homemaker, she worked part-time. Her house was not only picked-up, it was clean. On top of that, it was beautifully decorated. She sewed (her clothes, her children’s clothes, curtains, etc.) She did craft projects; she helped out in various ministries at church; she sang. And she was hospitable: she had people over regularly.

I don’t know how many times, after being with her, I would come home discouraged and wonder what in the world was wrong with me that I couldn’t do half that. I finally came to the place where I just had to accept that people had different gifts and capacities, and hers were more than mine.

The funny thing is, if I had talked with her about it, she probably would have felt like she wasn’t doing all that much and would’ve pointed to one of those friends in her life. She probably would have lamented to me about what she didn’t get done or couldn’t do or the ways in which she felt like a failure.

None of us has everything totally together. When friends excel in one area or another, we compare ourselves to them and end up envying them, or feeling discouraged, or trying to find a fault with them to burst the bubble of their seeming perfection. The Bible says this is not wise: “But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12b).

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. We all have different gifts, capacities, and circumstances.

2. There is always going to be someone who does what I do better than I do it.

3. It’s ok not to do everything, or even strive to do everything, like someone else. One friend I had in early married days was an organizational wiz. But one day as we were talking, she shared that she made one kind of soup and sandwich for her family’s lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and another kind on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. And I thought – how boring! Not to criticize her – if that’s what she and her family liked, that was fine. It did save time trying to decide what to do for lunch every day. But I decided I didn’t want to be that organized: though it took more time, I liked a little more variety.

4. We can learn from each other and appreciate each other’s gifts. Though I might not want to implement all of my organized friend’s habits, if I have an organizing question, she’d the one I’d ask for advice. I may never exercise hospitality with the ease of another friend, but I can ask her for tips or observe what she does. My friend whose home is decorated so nicely may be able to help me with a decorating dilemma.

5. Remember you only see part of the picture. Our seemingly perfect friends have their struggles, too, and probably none of them feels perfect.

6. We’re all in a state of growth. Organization used to be one of my major struggles, and whatever improvements I made, it seemed like I’d never get on top of everything. One day I realized that I would never reach 100% organizational perfection (and even if I did, it would take the rest of my life to maintain it). But that didn’t discourage me: instead it was the greatest relief. Organization (for me) is not a destination; it’s a journey. I still have areas I can improve upon, but I’m better at it that I was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago.

7. Some seasons are more limiting than others. When there is a new little one in the house, or someone is ill, or the family is taking care of an elderly loved one, or a husband is working 60+ hours a week during a crunch time, our time and attention is needed in other areas. Elisabeth Elliot said about limitations, “But my limitations, placing me in a different category from…anyone else’s, become, in the sovereignty of God, gifts. For it is with the equipment that I have been given that I am to glorify God. It is this job, not that one, that He gave me.”

8. Remember life is not a competition, at least in this sense. Oh, there are times of competition: athletic events, political races, perhaps even a job promotion, etc. But everyday life is not about trying to best others at every turn.

As we seek to improve in any area, our competition should be against ourselves rather than trying to be as good as or even better than someone else.

But ultimately, we need to keep our eyes on Christ, seek His will for our lives, and live to please Him. What He wants us to do may not look like what He wants others to do. Even in those everyday practical matters, He can help us or lead us to the resources we need to improve. If we’re walking with Him in His perfect will, we’re right where we need to be.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

(Sharing With Inspire me Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Wise Woman Wednesday)

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The Mother’s Hymn

The Mother’s Hymn

by William Cullen Bryant.

Lord, who ordainest for mankind
Benignant toils and tender cares!
We thank Thee for the ties that bind
The mother to the child she bears.

We thank Thee for the hopes that rise,
Within her heart, as, day by day,
The dawning soul, from those young eyes,
Looks, with a clearer, steadier ray.

And grateful for the blessing given
With that dear infant on her knee,
She trains the eye to look to heaven,
The voice to lisp a prayer to Thee.

Such thanks the blessed Mary gave,
When, from her lap, the Holy Child,
Sent from on high to seek and save
The lost of earth, looked up and smiled.

All-Gracious! grant, to those that bear
A mother’s charge, the strength and light
To lead the steps that own their care
In ways of Love, and Truth, and Right.

(HT to Ivory Spring, where I saw this a couple of years ago).

My heart echoes the last stanza especially, even though mine are grown men now.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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The Value of Housework

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Housework is probably not on many people’s lists of favorite things to do. I tend to get frustrated over having to put aside the more interesting or even spiritual pursuits in order to dust or do laundry. But I do value housework. I don’t get excited about the need to dust, but once I get started, I enjoy the clean surfaces. I like the results of picking up, sweeping, doing laundry, washing dishes, even if I am not fond of the process. But even the process can be lightened up with listening to an audiobook, podcast, or music, or conversation while working with someone.

I’m embarrassed to confess this, but, believe it or not, when my husband and I were first married, I often wouldn’t do dishes until we ran out of clean silverware. We didn’t have a dishwasher, and I was a part-time student with two part-time jobs and the adjustments of being newly married. Plus both my jobs involved cleaning – a person’s home and five banks (my husband and I did the banks together – nice job for students because it could be done any time the bank was closed), so by the time I got to my own home, well, who wanted to clean then? But that meant that washing dishes, plus everything else I didn’t get to, took up a big chunk of time on Saturdays. I eventually learned it’s easier (and more sanitary and less disgusting) to clean in smaller doses as I went along, especially once I had children and no longer had big chunks of time to do anything.

I’ve been in homes where housework wasn’t valued – where I would have been afraid to eat or use the bathroom, where bugs crawled all over everything. I’ve been in hotels where there was pink stuff growing in the corners of the shower and the bedding looked questionable. I’ve been in restaurants with a waitress that acted like she could care less about serving and food that was under or over-cooked or unidentifiable. I’ve even gotten food poisoning from restaurant food. It makes such a difference when people care.

I just finished reading and reviewing True Woman 201: Interior Design by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss yesterday, and one of the chapters I most appreciated dealt with work. Before discussing “keeping the home,” they couched the discussion in the greater spiritual principles that work is good, that we work because we’re made in God’s image and He works, that Jesus did humble physical labor longer than He worked as an itinerant evangelist and teacher. In the course of that chapter the authors quoted a couple of feminists of the past concerning housework:

“Women’s work within the home gives her no autonomy; it is not directly useful to society, it does not open out on the future, it produces nothing” (Simone de Beauvoir).

“Women who adjust as housewives, who grow up wanting to be just a housewife, are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in the concentration camps … they are suffering a slow death of mind and spirit” (Betty Friedan).

Wow – pretty strong stuff. It made me wonder – did they live in a pigsty, then? Or did they hire housekeepers but devalue them as “lesser” specimens of womanhood? Or did they value housework if someone was paid for it but not if women did it in their own homes? Reminds me of the G. K. Chesterton quote, “[Feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”

I decided to list all the advantages I could think of for housework:

1. Sanitation. I have been in homes where there were roaches crawling over caked-on food on counters and appliances and toilet seats and sinks were black. Bleah.

2. Sense of peacefulness. When things are chaotic in the house, it’s hard to relax. But when everything is in order with my surroundings, my mind and heart feel more orderly.

3. Not being embarrassed if someone comes by unexpectedly, or not having to do a major overhaul before having people over. There may be shoes off by the couch or a newspaper or glass on the end table, but there’s an overall sense of order and cleanliness.

4. Saves time. Staying on top of things is much easier than having to do major clean-ups.

5. Being able to find things rather than having them get lost in the shuffle or buried.

6. Save money. Things last longer when they’re taken care of, plus you avoid purchasing things that you forgot you had.

7. Releases you to be creative in other areas. For some of us its hard to be creative in a mess.

8. Multitasking – with some chores you can listen to music or a podcast or an audiobook while your hands are busy with something else.

9. Almost instant gratification. You can see the dish pile diminishing and the dust disappearing.

10. Sense of accomplishment. I’ve been thinking over this post for a few days, and just this morning while listening to Robinson Crusoe heard this passage, in which he brings supplies into a cave. “At first this was a confused heap of goods, which, as they lay in no order, so they took up all my place; I had no room to turn myself.” Then he tells how he arranged things, made furniture, fixed a place to hang his gun, etc., then “so that, had my cave been to be seen, it looked like a general magazine of all necessary things; and had everything so ready at my hand, that it was a great pleasure to me to see all my goods in such order.”

Of course one can go too far and make everyone feel like they can never relax for fear of getting something dirty or out of place. You want a place where everyone is comfortable, not a museum. I knew of one women who did all sorts of things around the house that she thought a good wife was supposed to do only to find that those things didn’t really matter to her husband: he’d rather be greeted by an attentive, peaceful wife than neglected by one who was in a constant frenzy over the house. It’s good to confer together over these things. Some people don’t mind a little dust as long as clutter is picked up. We all have things that “bug” us or make the room feel unclean, but then have other things we can live with, at least for a while.

And we don’t have to go all Disney princess, singing “Whistle While You Work” while bluebirds tie bows in our hair.

And there are seasons and moments of life when housework takes a back seat (when a young child is in the house, when there is a “teachable moment” with a child or an opportunity to sit and play with him for a moment, when a husband wants you to do something or go somewhere with him and leave the dishes for now, when a friend needs a listening ear, when you’re tired, etc.).

And it is ok to pay someone to clean your house: it’s not a sin if you don’t do it all yourself. Even the Proverbs 31 lady had help. I’ve known elderly or working women to hire household help  for various tasks or people to hire help for special occasions. By the way, if you’re a mom, it’s perfectly ok and even a good thing to have your children do household tasks. It’s good for them to learn to pitch in, to learn the value of work, to value keeping things clean and orderly, to train in that way for their own homes and jobs. We always had the attitude that kids doing work wasn’t just “helping Mom,” but rather instilling in them that we all pull together as a family to get things done (more on children and chores here).

But the point is that housework is valuable and does provide meaningful service, for ourselves, for our families, for guests.

Of course,  the feminists quoted probably didn’t have any problem with a woman swishing a broom occasionally: what they particularly disliked was the idea of a woman being a full-time homemaker. I’m glad for many of the choices available to women today, but one of them is being a fill-time homemaker (I realize that not everyone who wants to be at home can be). I prefer the term homemaker to housewife, because I am not married to my house: I am creating a home. In a sense every woman is a homemaker, because every woman has a home, whether she’s single or married, has children or does not, works outside the home or does not. And as someone who has been a homemaker for 36 years, full-time for 32, I can tell you it isn’t a mind-numbing, useless existence. It can be as creative as you make it.

Some years ago I wrote Encouragement for Homemakers, and want to pull a couple of quotes from there:

Homemaking—being a full-time wife and mother—is not a destructive drought of usefulness but an overflowing oasis of opportunity; it is not a dreary cell to contain one’s talents and skills but a brilliant catalyst to channel creativity and energies into meaningful work; it is not a rope for binding one’s productivity in the marketplace, but reins for guiding one’s posterity in the home; it is not oppressive restraint of intellectual prowess for the community, but a release of wise instruction to your own household; it is not the bitter assignment of inferiority to your person, but the bright assurance of the ingenuity of God’s plan for the complementarity of the sexes, especially as worked out in God’s plan for marriage; it is neither limitation of gifts available nor stinginess in distributing the benefits of those gifts, but rather the multiplication of a mother’s legacy to the generations to come and the generous bestowal of all God meant a mother to give to those He entrusted to her care.”
~Dorothy Patterson

I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.
~Helen Keller

What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and the work flow.
~ Martin Luther

And I’ll add this one just discovered in the True Woman book:

“The reason we give priority to managing household responsibilities is not that vacuuming, dusting, or cooking are intrinsically valuable or satisfying tasks. It’s that we want to create a peaceful, orderly, welcoming environment conducive to nurturing and growing disciples for the kingdom of God” (p. 154).

So take heart as you go through your home bringing order out of chaos: your work is both valuable and meaningful. And perhaps be inspired by this:

The Blue Bowl

All day long I did the little things,
The little things that do not show;
I brought the kindling for the fire,
I set the candles in a row,
I filled a bowl with marigolds—
The shallow bowl you love the best—
And made the house a pleasant place
Where weariness may take its rest.

The hours sped on, my eager feet
Could not keep pace with my desire.
So much to do! So little time!
I could not let my body tire.
Yet when the coming of the night
Blotted the garden from my sight,
And on the narrow graveled walks
Between the guarding flower stalks
I heard your step, I was not through
With services I meant for you.

You came into the quiet room
That glowed enchanted with the bloom
Of yellow flame. I saw your face;
Illumined by the firelit space,
Slowly grow still and comforted—
“It’s good to be at home,” you said.

~ Blanch Bane Kuder

See also:

Encouragement for Homemakers, which, incidentally, contains my favorite ever comment from my husband.
Happy Housewife Day!
I confess: I don’t really like to cook.
A Real Home.
Wanting things to be “perfect.”
A Homemaking Meme.
Another homemaking meme.
A prayer for home.
Two views of housework.
Meditations for daily tasks.
Thy list be done.
The Value of Homemakers.

(Sharing With Inspire Me Monday)

Book Review: True Woman 201: Interior Design

True Woman 201I’m not sure how I first came across True Woman 201: Interior Design: Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (now Wolgemuth). But I saw that it was a study of Titus 2:1, 3-5, a passage I’m very much interested in, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Nancy’s writings. In fact, I’ve been asking myself why I haven’t read more of her. My “interior design” can always use some work, so this seemed like a good book to work through.

It is set up as a ten week study for either an individual or a group. Each week contains five daily 15-minute or so readings around one particular “design element.” There are leader resources as well as videos which run about 20 minutes that cover the highlights of the lessons on TrueWoman201. So a group studying together would work through the lessons for the week, meet together and watch that week’s video, and then discuss the lessons. I only watched 3 or so of the videos. Though they did provide a good recap, I just didn’t feel inclined to listen to the same things I had just read.

Normally when you hear Titus 2:1-5 preached or taught, people hone in on a woman’s responsibility to love her husband and children, be submissive to her husband, and be a “keeper at home,” with much debate over exactly what that last one involves. Off the top of my head I can only think of one time where I have heard the whole passage dealt with, and that was at a lady’s conference where there were sessions on each section. So I very much appreciated that the authors here dealt with every part of the passage, beginning with verse 1. Titus is told to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” and the authors explain that one’s doctrine is a set of beliefs and that “sound” doctrine is healthy, without contamination. They discuss the use of a “plumb line” in decorating or building to help one’s work to stay straight and show how we need to use the “plumb line” of Scripture to make sure we’re “in accord with sound doctrine,” “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14).

There is so much in here that it would be hard to encapsulate it all, but here’s a little bit about each “design element” after discernment:

Honor: “A True Woman makes much of Christ…She is ‘reverent in behavior.'”

“The basic meaning of the ‘fear of God’ is ‘reverential awe.’ It’s a personal, jaw-dropping awareness of God’s majestic greatness and holiness, reflected in a commitment to honor Him by turning from sin and faithfully obeying His Word” (p. 41).

Slander and being “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3) are seen as a lack of reverent behavior toward God and our fellow man, a self-promotion and self-indulgence that dishonors His sacrifice for us.

Affection: “A True Woman values the family…She “loves her husband and children.”

The authors make some interesting observations in this section, one noting what’s not on this list. If we were going to come up with a curriculum for discipling young women, we’d likely list Bible study, prayer, etc. – which are essential for all believers. But the specific things mentioned in this passage emphasize God’s priorities for women, which in our day is countercultural. This passage also emphasizes that these things must be learned. And they observe that this passage is for all women, even for those who are single or without children (Nancy was single with no expectation of marriage at the time of this writing), because marriage and childbirth is part of God’s plan of redemption, the marriage relationship picturing that between Christ and the church.

“As God designed it to function, ‘family’ helps us to understand what it means to have a heavenly Father and be part of a household of faith….God gave us these images so we’d have human thoughts, feelings, experiences, and language adequate and powerful enough to understand and express deep spiritual truths” (p. 68).

Discipline: “A True Woman makes wise, intentional choices…She is ‘self-controlled.'”

“Sometimes we focus too much on trying to change or stop the behavior, when what we need to do is go back and find out what kind of thinking produced that kind of behavior in the first place. It’s easier to fix the ‘what’ if we understand the ‘why.’…Here are some examples of the type of false beliefs that may have accounted for your behavior:

I have a right to return tit for tat.
Life should be easy.
He’s the problem, not me.
I deserve to be happy.
I just can’t handle it!
Indulging is better than holding out.

What if you paused to recalibrate your mind with truth?” (p. 101).

Virtue: “A True Woman cultivates goodness…She is ‘pure.'”

“Virtue and purity are two sides of the same coin: the presence of goodness and the absence of defilement” (p. 111).

The authors discuss the difference between “positional purity” that Christ wrought for us when He died on the cross for our sin, and “personal, practical purity (sanctification)” in which our everyday lives grow bit by bit to match our “position.”

“Two of the three times when diabolos refers to slander, it’s speaking specifically to women. God created women as relators and gave us an amazing capacity for verbal communication. Unfortunately, Satan likes to turn this strength into a weakness. He likes to turn virtue into vice” (p. 121).

“The Bible’s definition is broader…Slander means to speak critically of another person with the intent to harm…even if the information is correct. That’s why diabolos has been translated ‘malicious gossip’ as well as ‘false accuser'” (p. 122).

“Getting rid of vice and growing in virtue isn’t easy. It takes work. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Make every effort to add to your faith virtue’ (2 Peter 1:5). That’s right: love-motivated, Spirit-enabled, Christ-glorifying effort” (p. 131).

“In ancient Greek, the word pure originally meant ‘that which awakens awe’ or ‘that which excites reverence.’ Purity is ravishingly beautiful. It makes the gospel attractive and believable. When you make every effort to cultivate virtue in your life, the great ‘Refiner and Purifier of silver’ will reveal His beauty in you, and others will be drawn to love and worship Him!” (p. 131).

Responsibility: “A True Woman maintains the right work priorities…She values ‘working at home.'”

“In our minds, the question isn’t ‘Should women work?’ but rather ‘What is God’s view of work?’ ‘How do I choose which work receives the most time and attention at this stage of my life?’ ‘Am I giving my home the focus and priority God wants it to have?’ And ‘am I determining the value of my work based on earthly or heavenly economics?'” (p. 135).

“Work…exists because we’ve been made in the image of the great worker, God. We work because He works. Work is a God-ordained activity. Honest, diligent, attentive, productive, innovative, creative, faithful, fruitful, conscientious, hard work bears witness to God’s nature and character” (p. 142).

“Work does not primarily exist for the purpose of financial gain (though we may get paid). It’s primary purpose is to glorify God” (p. 142).

“No legitimate work, undertaken for the glory of God, is menial or meaningless. Hard physical labor wasn’t beneath the dignity of the Son of God. Jesus worked as a carpenter for about seventeen years and only about three years doing itinerant ministry. Carpentry was a lowly, ill-paying profession. Yet Jesus was doing God’s work when pounding a nail just as much as He was doing it when preaching on a hillside–because He was doing what God wanted Him to do when God wanted Him to do it” (p. 143).

“[The Proverbs 31 woman] could be a bit intimidating for the most energetic, gifted woman. But the thing that stands out in this passage is not so much all this woman’s abilities or all the things she does. What makes her extraordinary is the fact that she is so utterly un-self-centered and that she consistently demonstrates a heart to serve her family and others–all grounded in her reverence for God” (p. 149).

“To be idle is to ‘not be working or active,’ to habitually avoid one’s responsibilities, or to fill one’s time with things of no real worth or significance. Idleness is not the opposite of busyness. Idle people are often extremely busy. Take the woman of Proverbs 7 for example: “She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market,  and at every corner she lies in wait” (Prov. 7:11-12). Though this woman was busy, she was actually being idle; for she wasn’t doing the ‘good work’ she was supposed to do” (p. 151).

“The reason we give priority to managing household responsibilities is not that vacuuming, dusting, or cooking are intrinsically valuable or satisfying tasks. It’s that we want to create a peaceful, orderly, welcoming environment conducive to nurturing and growing disciples for the kingdom of God” (p. 154).

Benevolence: “A True Woman is charitable…She is ‘kind.'”

“In the type of ‘random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty’ that society commends, the benefactor and the beneficiary generally have little if any awareness of each other’s deepest motivations and needs” (p. 159).

“For a believer, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit that is empowered, enabled, and directed by God. When our kindness extends beyond those who deserve or reciprocate our benevolence, when it reaches out to those whose shortcomings and failures we know full well, that is when we reflect the heart of Him who is ‘kind to the ungrateful and the evil'” (Luke 6:35) (p. 159).

Disposition: “A True Woman cultivates a soft, amenable spirit…She is ‘submissive.'”

“Jesus Christ is the epitome of submission. His ‘not-My-will-but-Yours-be-done’ attitude is at the heart of the gospel story” (p. 182).

Legacy: “A True Woman is a spiritual mother…She ‘teaches what is good.'”

“Deborah had a God-given nurturing instinct that gave her courage and compassion. She wasn’t driven by the things that drive many modern women–power, control, position, or recognition–but by a mother’s heart. She saw herself as ‘a mother in Israel'” (p. 211).

Paul’s use of the Greek word neos in Titus 2:4 “indicates that his categories of older and younger had more to do with experience, life stage, and spiritual maturity than chronological age. A neos is a newbie, a ‘greenhorn’–a fresh, inexperienced novice. It’s a woman new to the circumstance in which she is placed. The point is, if you want to be the kind of woman who brings glory to God, you should actively learn from the lives of women who have walked the path before you, and actively teach those who are coming after. Regardless of your age, the Lord wants you to be both a learner and a teacher” (p. 219).

“The older we get, the bigger the catalog of failures Satan can throw in our faces. You may think, ‘I don’t have anything to offer.’ But you can teach out of your failures as well as your successes” (p. 223).

Beauty: “A True Woman displays the attractiveness of the gospel…’So that the word of God may not be reviled.'”

“A Christian woman whose life doesn’t bear witness to the transformative power of the gospel causes the gospel to be blasphemed, defamed, and dishonored–it’s as though she invites vandals to deface it with foul graffiti. If, on the other hand, she cooperates with God and allows Him to change her, she ‘adorns’ the gospel. To adorn means to beautify it and make it attractive. Outsiders will look at her life and say, ‘Wow! Her life makes me think the Bible is true!’ We can’t just tell them it’s true. They need to see and feel and experience that it really is true through our lives” (p. 235).

They stress that God’s design for genders is not fluid according to whatever the world’s thoughts are: they’re a part of “sound doctrine.” On the other hand, they agree that God’s design doesn’t turn out cookie cutter Christians who all look the same, that how this works out in a life might differ from woman to woman. I appreciated that while they held fast to those areas where Scripture is specific, they dealt evenhandedly with controversial issues like a woman working outside the home, sharing a list of Biblical women who had other kinds of jobs, but stressing the primary ministry of home and family. They mention also that though many of these characteristics should be true of men as well, there are reasons that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to list some characteristics for men and some for women.

If there is a “201,” there must have been a “101,” and there was: True Woman 101: Divine Design, which focuses on God’s plan and design for womanhood. I have not read it yet but probably will some day. It looks like it’s laid out the same as this was with 5 daily readings for each chapter, covering eight weeks rather than ten.

Back to True Woman 201: I thought the layout was a bit distracting at first. The spiritual “interior design” theme was couched in a similarities to the design of a home, and there are lots of photos relating to that kind of thing scattered throughout the pages. Verses and quotes are in sidebars. I got used to it after a while, and it’s a minor complaint. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this study. I appreciated the authors’ thorough and gracious treatment of the topic and I can enthusiastically recommend it to you.

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

I’m an older woman…so now what?

Im-an-older-woman-so-now

Younger and older women alike sometimes look at Titus 2:3-5 with varying degrees of emotion and sometimes more questions than answers:

The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;

That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,

To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

First of all, how old is “aged?” The ESV graciously says “older” instead. Sometimes women resist the admonition in these verses because they don’t want to admit to being an “older” woman (although I’ve often said we’re all older than somebody.) But being now on the far side of my 50s, yes, I have to admit I am probably getting there.

The second questions that comes to my mind is “How am I supposed to go about this teaching?” I don’t think the text means that older women are supposed to buttonhole younger women and lecture them. That would not go over very well at all!

I shared in a post on mentoring women that Paul probably did not have in mind classes or retreats when he wrote this. I don’t know if they had such things (as we think of them) then. We do have them these days, and they can be a great blessing. Even still, there would only be a small number of older women in an “official” teaching capacity. Are the rest of us off the hook? I don’t think so. I also mentioned there that some churches have formed one-on-one mentoring programs, or some women have specifically asked an older woman to meet with them regularly. For me personally, the best teaching I received from older women wasn’t necessarily done deliberately. As a Christian teenager from a non-Christian home, I mostly went to church alone unless I took my younger siblings. Another family in my church invited me over regularly, and God used them greatly in my life to show me how a Christian home operates. The wife, in particular, was a lovely example to me in every way: her relationship with her husband and children, her homemaking, her sweet spirit. But I don’t think they took me on specifically as a “project.” They were just hospitable, and their character and spirit came through everything they did. Similarly, often in the everyday activities of church life – nursery duty, baby showers, ladies meetings, ladies Bible studies, putting bulletin boards up, etc. – very often God would send me “a word in due season” from sometimes a seemingly chance remark by an older lady. One of the few times of specific instruction I remember was when a mom of teenagers was taking about one of them (favorably) while we put up a bulletin board and said something like, “When your kids get older, don’t dread the teen years. Don’t expect those years to be tense and rebellious. You can have a good relationship with your teens and they can grow a lot during that time.” That stayed with me through my own kids’ teen years, and I am so glad it did, because the worldly wisdom by then was that it’s a necessary rite of passage for teens to be rebellious and somewhat estranged from their parents. That lady’s advice probably saved our family from some grievous attitudes during that time. So, though there are other more official ways to teach, to me, to employ an overused phrase, “doing life together” is one of the best.

Then there is blogging and writing. Again, this may not be something Paul had specifically in mind, but it’s a great avenue to share truth in this day. Many of us won’t go on to write books, but we can share from our experiences through a blog. For me, again, some of my favorite blogs have not been specifically didactic, though I have learned from that kind as well. When I first started blogging, the blogging world (at least among the women I knew) was chatty and neighborly, more like visiting over the back fence. There wasn’t as much talk then of “branding” or finding one’s niche. Sometimes I consider whether I should make my blog a little more professional or focused, but for now, even though I do get a little teachy in some posts, I still prefer the “doing life together” aspect, and hopefully sharing a Christian view of handling life in the process. I do wonder whether that costs me some readers who don’t view a blog like this as a “serious” blog next to the didactic ones. I probably would never make any list of “Best Christian Women Bloggers Over 50.” But that’s not my goal. My goal is to blog about life and what God is teaching me along the way. As I mentioned, some of my favorite blogs were the same type. For example, my friend Dianna, who, sadly, isn’t blogging any more, wrote mostly about her home and family, but her sweet godly spirit shone through and was an example, and often a rebuke, to me, just in her writing about the course of her day or some project she was doing at home.

When it comes to what to teach, I am much relieved by what the text says. I don’t think this is an exhaustive list: I think older women can teach other women the Word of God in an expository manner and touch on other subjects than what is listed. Lisa Spence discusses this more fully in her post I am more than my motherhood. But what relieves me in reading about the specific topics listed is this: I don’t have to take sides in the latest “mommy wars” topic being debated or on any couple’s marital debate, but in my interaction with women, I can teach and encourage loving hearts and godly attitudes. I’m relieved that I don’t necessarily have to teach younger women how to raise their children, because I’ve been astonished at how much I have forgotten about some of the details, and some recommendations have changed over the years (even with my own three children in the nine-year span between the births of the oldest and youngest, I had three different official medical instructions about the position they were supposed to sleep in from the same doctor). Plus there is a lot of room for different opinions and methods even in Christian parenthood. I’m happy to share any specifics I might remember when asked or if I think of something that would be helpful. But above the details, I’m concerned with godly character.

I have read a number of times over the years the question from younger women, “Where are the older, godly, Titus 2 women?” More recently I’ve seen the question, “Where are the older women bloggers?” Lisa makes the point that older women can’t write about parenting their teens or adult children as they write about their 2-year-olds because we need to be circumspect about their privacy. They may not want Mom to share anything about their interactions, good or bad, even if it might be helpful to others. Sometimes older women hold back because they don’t feel qualified: they feel like they’d have to “have it all together” in order to say anything. Years ago at a ladies meeting when I wanted to set up a panel discussion and entertain some questions about how to love one’s husband, I had a hard time getting anyone to be on the panel for this reason: everyone felt their own need of instruction, no matter how old they were or how long they had been married.  Some things I wrote in an earlier post, Why Older Women Don’t Serve (in the church), come into play here as well: sometimes older women in the “sandwich generation” are taking care of elderly parents or facing their own health issues. Sometimes, honestly, they don’t feel wanted. I’ve shared before that I was stunned when a younger mom shared with me that the younger women didn’t come to our ladies’ meetings because all the ladies there were “older.” My first thought was, “Well, of course that’s the case if the younger women don’t come.” I was admittedly hurt and my confidence was shaken. We weren’t that much older: this lady was in her early 30s and most of the ladies who attended the meetings were in their 40s and 50s. I wrestled for a long time with how to make our meeting topics and luncheon themes and decorations more contemporary and appealing to younger women, but I’ve always had a little hesitancy since then in dealing with younger women, feeling that they don’t really want to be around me. Aimee Byrd touched on the fact that older women bloggers are out there, but they don’t get as much notice because everyone follows after younger women bloggers (many of whom are doing a wonderful job.). Perhaps older women just need to be encouraged that we really do want to hear them.

So to younger women who are seeking Titus 2 women in their lives, I would say this:

  • First of all, pray for God’s guidance, direction, and provision.
  • Second, look around among the women in your church or family.
  • Observe. In every stage and season of my life, God has placed ladies just ahead of me that I have learned much from just by observing.
  • Interact with them, whether going to ladies’ meetings, talking with them at baby showers, asking them over for lunch or dinner, etc.
  • Feel free to ask questions. They’re much more willing to share when they know their thoughts are wanted.
  • Don’t expect perfection. You won’t find it. No one is faultless. In addition, sometimes an older woman will share something with you that offends you. Sometimes that’s because we are not willing to change in an area we need to; sometimes it’s because the older woman was not terribly gracious. In a post that has stayed with me for years, Courtney Joseph told about someone confronting her about modesty in not the most gracious way, but to her credit, Courtney took to heart the things she said because truth rose above the attitudes (her follow-up post here encourages readers to extend grace even when others have not acted graciously towards us. That’s what grace does.)
  • Don’t expect a fairy godmother. In some source I forgot to note, one woman lamenting not having  Titus 2 woman in her life wanted someone to come into her home, watch her children, help her with housework, answer all her questions, and solve all her problems.
  • Be teachable. When I looked up the Greek word translated “teach” in Titus 2:4, the definitions listed were:

1. restore one to his senses

2. to moderate, control, curb, disciple

3. to hold one to his duty

4. to admonish, to exhort earnestly

Most of us wouldn’t mind that from a book or speaker, but would hold at arm’s length, or even be offended, at someone trying to do these things on a personal level. Incidentally, this is the only occasion this word is used in the New Testament.

  • Glean. Sometimes you’ll get different opinions from different older women whom you respect and who both love the Lord. This was hard for me as a young mom until I hit upon the idea of gleaning – kindly listening and then taking from their advice what would best work for our family and leaving the rest.
  • Read. I’ve probably benefited as much, if not more, from reading books written by godly older woman as I have from personal interaction, both books specifically designed to teach Titus 2:3-5 as well as biographies and even, in some cases, Christian fiction.

To older (however you define that) women, wondering how to go about living out Titus 2:3-5:

  • Concentrate on being before doing. Notice verse 3, which we often gloss over to get to the rest, talks about an older woman’s character. Holiness, self-control, discretion, concern for others, truthfulness, and being willing to share with others are all a part of what we need to cultivate in our own lives.
  • Be aware that younger women will probably observe your actions long before they ask you specific questions. Don’t do anything for “show,” but be mindful of your example, seek God’s grace to be a good one, and confess to Him (and anyone else involved) when you fail. Seeing how someone handles a failure can be as instructive as anything else.
  • Pray for God’s guidance, direction, and grace.
  • Remember the source of wisdom and the way He wants us to share it: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5); “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17); “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
  • Don’t wait for perfection. That won’t happen til you get to heaven. Women need examples and instructions from women with the same struggles and faults they have so they’ll know they can seek God’s grace, forgiveness, and help with them.
  • Seek ways to interact with and develop relationships with younger women. Show interest. Sometimes that might mean seeking them out at a church function rather than the friend you always talk to. Sometimes that might mean extending hospitality. A couple of women I know minister specifically to younger women, one by offering to babysit, the other by offering to help out at home for a few days after a baby is born. Those might not be your way of ministry, but God will direct you in what you can do. And He may not lead you into an “official” ministry, but just being available and encouraging, being a conduit for that “word in due season,” is a great help in itself.
  • If you feel a younger woman does need confrontation in some area, pray much about it first and seek to have a gracious attitude. Don’t assume her motives are wrong: maybe she was never instructed or hasn’t thought about the issue. It’s usually best to speak from the position of a relationship with the person rather than from that of an acquaintance, to talk with that person privately, and not to discuss their issues with anyone else.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of seeming as though the way things were done “in our day” are the only way they can ever be done.
  • Don’t cross the line into being a busybody.
  • Somehow we usually think of these verses in regard to newly married women or young moms. But don’t forget about single ladies and middle-aged ladies. I’d love to see more writing from godly women about handling an aging body, parenting adult children, being a mother-in-law, caring for aging parents, preparing for “old” age, etc.
  • Realize that younger women do want to hear from you.

May God give ladies of all ages grace as we seek His will and interact and learn from each other.

Related posts here at Stray Thoughts:

How Not to Become an Old Biddy.
Mentoring Women.
Why Don’t Older Women Serve?
Ways Older Women Can Serve.
Despise Not Thy Mother When She Is Old
With All Our Feebleness.
Finishing Well.

Sharing at Literary Musing Mondays, Inspire Me Mondays, Me, Coffee, and Jesus, Testimony Tuesday, Wise Woman, #TellHisStory, Works For Me Wednesday, Thought-Provoking Thursdays.