How about a resolution to Be Yourself? (a.k.a. – a Proverbs 31 post)

You are more precious than rubies.

You are more precious than rubies

I am reading a new book that I’ve wanted to read for awhile now: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I am enjoying it immensely. I avoided it for a while after hearing about it, because I expected a self-righteous written lecture about how to obey all the Old Testament legalities that most of today’s Christians consider unimportant. But it isn’t that at all.

Consider her “Proverbs 31” chapter, where she studies the chapter of Proverbs that begins “A wife of noble character who can find?” and continues with a long (looooong) list of all the things this exemplified woman does in her role of virtuous woman. I expected this chapter to make me feel “UGH”, but to my complete surprise, that isn’t how this author writes at all.

In this time of New Year’s Resolutions, I simply adore how Rachel Held Evans addresses the Proverbs 31 woman. First, she points out that no such woman ever existed. The chapter is not about someone who did in fact “do it all”. Also, in Jewish circles, it is not considered to be a list of things that all women should strive to master. In fact, the only instruction in that passage is given to other people – they are instructed to “honor her for all her hands have done”. Simply put, it is not a to-do list!

You are not blocked from being a valorous woman if you can not sew. You are not blocked from being a virtuous woman if you can not cook. You are not blocked from being a woman of noble character if you are not married. Not at all.

So what if you work, and purchase the clothing you wear from another person? The Proverbs 31 woman had servants, surely she didn’t sew every single item she wore, so if you work honestly and spend your money honestly, you are still clothing yourself and are a valorous woman.
It doesn’t matter if your method of cooking is opening a can of soup or ordering pizza. The point is that neither yourself nor your family is going hungry because you ignore them. So you are still a virtuous woman.
And since our society today does not require a male person to be the sole representative for his family in matters of law or policy, so if you are a single or widowed or divorced woman, you can still can be a woman of noble character without a husband today.

It’s not a to-do list, folks. You can use the strengths God already gave you, to be the best you can be, without trying to copy anyone else. You don’t even have to copy the non-existent Proverbs 31 woman.

So enough with the resolutions to change. Enough with the resolutions to be “good enough”. Enough with the resolutions to be more like someone else – whether that person have a model’s figure, an Olympian’s strength, or the homemaking instincts of Martha Stewart. Enough.

God made you who you are. How about a resolution to Be Yourself this year?

For my part, I ordered a unicycle. Yep. A unicycle. If I were to rewrite Proverbs 31 for myself today, “makes others laugh” would be part of it, I’m sure.

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When God says “Don’t do it”

I think that most of us have had the experience of doing or saying something and almost immediately having a realization of “I shouldn’t have done that”.

For me, it’s almost always accompanied by a heavy sinking feeling in my stomach as I realize that whatever I just did or said was most definitely the wrong thing, and that it has implications and ripples far beyond what I had anticipated, and that it is not being received or understood in the way I had intended.  It was just flat-out the wrong thing for me to do.

In conversations with friends, I have sometimes commented that it would be nice if instead of that sinking feeling afterward, if I had some sort of early-warning system instead to PREVENT me from saying or doing the wrong thing.

Well, in God I do.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. And sometimes I ignore Him and plow ahead and do something dumb anyway. Sometimes I allow logic and good intentions to drown out His voice and end up astonished that things did not work well.

But when I’m quiet, and prayerful, and I listen for His still, small voice, I can save myself (and others) from my own bullheadedness.

God may prompt you to bake some cookies for a neighbor. Or drop a little-used coat off at a charity drive. Or put an extra $5 in the offering plate at church. Those are easy to understand, and in most cases easy to do, and they often come with a human reason as to why they are important. In my own life I have one wonderful story about a time God prompted me to do something, and showed me why. I was going to Ecuador on a sponsor tour/missions trip. We had been told to pack work gloves for a day we would spend working at one of the projects. And somehow to me it felt very important to find exactly the right kind of work gloves. I have hands that are difficult to fit with gloves. My palms are small, and my fingers long. I knew I wanted leather gloves, not stretchy fabric ones, and that made the hunt even harder. I probably spent 16 or more hours looking for just the right gloves. I visited every big box store and hardware/building store in my city. I felt driven to find exactly the right ones. Finally I settled on a pair. Solid leather, with fingers the right length, palms a little wide but that was OK, and a velcro wrap-around on the wrist so they would not slide off. They cost much more than I had wanted to pay, but they were wonderful and worth it.

I arrived in Ecuador, and enjoyed the trip very much. We arrived at our work day and I was shocked. I was not on the work crew at all. I was assigned to the CLEANING crew. A whole day working not with lumber and hammers, but with soap and water and mops. My leather work gloves were useless for working with water. Water would stretch the leather, keeping it from being able to protect my hands. The stretched out leather would rub, and leave me with blisters. I was disappointed, and irritated that I had thought buying those gloves was so important, and I stuck them back in my bag and went to work bare handed with the mop.

Fast forward a couple of days to the day I would meet my sponsored child. I was packing a backpack in my hotel room to give to her, and I came across my leather gloves in my luggage. I could not return them; I had removed all the labeling. So I tossed them into the backpack and hoped my sponsored child’s family would have a use for them. Meeting my sponsored child and her mother was WONDERFUL. Simply wonderful. After lunch we sat down at the park and I gave her the backpack of gifts for her and her family. She dug in to the backpack, exclaiming over the useful and girlish things I had packed – the school supplies, the hair accessories. She quickly handed over the kitchen utensils and leather gloves to her mother and continued exclaiming over the rest. After a moment I noticed that the mother was crying. I asked her why, and learned why I had felt it so important to purchase those leather gloves. Two months before, the family’s house had caught on fire and burned down. The family was OK, and they were staying in a tent on the property, still all together. The extended family had banded together and were slowly buying enough cinder blocks for the mother to rebuild her house, but the mother had been struggling because the work part of the project was up to her – and moving the cinderblocks by hand had been hurting her hands, leaving them abraded and with small cuts. She could not do much work with the cinderblocks at any one time, or she would put her job as washer woman and maid in jeopardy.

I had given her leather work gloves. Gloves that exactly fit her small Ecuadorian hands with exceptionally long fingers.

Sometimes God shows us in no uncertain terms that he knows exactly what he is doing.

I often hear sermons asking “What does God want you to do?” – I believe that it is just as important to ask “What does God NOT want you to do?” Sometimes it entails just listening to that voice that says “no” or “stop”, or “don’t say that” or “stop talking now”.

Just as easily as he can prompt us to do good, he can prompt us to avoid evil. He can prompt us not to share that gossip you heard about a neighbor. Or not to buy that oh-so-beautiful but out-of-budget item. Again, many of these are things that we can see the benefit in. That doesn’t make them always easy to do, but when we listen to God and choose to stop ourselves, we are aware that listening has benefitted us.

But sometimes what He tells us flies in the face of what we believe to be right. But which is ultimately “right” – God, who knows all and sees all, or us humans, who know little and see little? That is so hard to remember and to do in practice.

How experienced are you in listening for God’s voice? Can you discern what He is saying even when it does not align with what you believe is the “right” thing to do?

What if you had a coat in your car you intended to drop off at a charity on your way home from work, and you had a strange moment where you thought maybe God did not want you to do that. Which would win – the logic of dropping off a coat here you knew it could be used for good, or the belief that God wanted you to do something else? How long would you spend arguing in your head between the logic you believed and the voice you thought you heard, before picking one?

I’ve been working on this a lot lately. There are so many “good” things that I can do, but which are the things I am *supposed* to do? Knowing that there are only some that I am supposed to do means that there are some that I am being told not to do. Sometimes God does tell us not to do something we believe to be good. He has something better in mind, but we have to believe Him, and obey Him by not doing that thing we think is good, before we can get to it. If we stay too busy doing things that “we think” are good, we can miss the things that “He KNOWS” are right. In the example of the coat, perhaps if you listen and hold on to it for just a day or two longer, you may have the privilege of handing it directly to a person who needs it. Who knows? Only God.

God is never taken by surprise. He knows all the possibilities, all the implications, and all the ripples. He KNOWS what is best. But are we listening to him?

That still, small voice of God can be hard to hear in our busy world. What do you do to ensure that you can hear Him? What has He told you to do? What has He told you NOT to do? Have you been blessed with knowing the reason for his instructions, like I was in Ecuador? Or are you still just trusting Him, knowing that He knows best?

My best day ever – and his worst

If any of you follow my husband’s blog, you know we have been in training to become foster parents. Well today, finally, after long months of preparation, we received our first child! I am over the moon I am so happy. He’s a healthy, active one-year-old boy. I absolutely could not be happier.

I have been wanting to be a mother for the past 14 years. I wanted it, I planned for it, I expected it. And it never happened. Not biologically. Not via adoption. Not even through foster care, although I have been certified before – there was a snafu in where my paperwork was sent and although I did babysitting for other foster parents, I never was placed with a child who was MY foster child. But today I am a mother, even though it has the societally-created word “foster” in front of it.

There is a cloud above Cloud Nine – I know, because I’m on it!

But as happy as I am, I acknowledge that my happiest day is this child’s worst. He was removed from his family – the people he knew and trusted. (Whether they deserved his trust or not.) He doesn’t have the food he’s accustomed to. He doesn’t have his lovey. I don’t know if he takes a pacifier, or what kind of bottle he’s used to. I don’t know his bath routine. I don’t know what he’s accustomed to at bedtime to help him relax and sleep.

Can you imagine leaving your one year old child with a babysitter, and not telling her these things? Leaving her to figure out the questions of bed time, what to feed and when, and even what lovey he neeeeeds to have before he’ll go to sleep? I can’t either.

But that is the life of children in foster care. Most of their parents aren’t together enough to communicate that sort of thing to the police and caseworkers who remove the child from the home. If the child is lucky, the workers have enough time to grab things that look like the child’s and put them in a bag or pillowcase to bring with the child – but sometimes the situation at the time precludes that from happening.

The child is scared. Confused. Lonely for his loved ones. Missing his lovey. Missing the sounds and smells of his home.

I made our new foster son a bottle earlier. He cried and reached for it when he saw it, so I knew I’d done something right. He tried to feed himself, but I took it out of his hands and insisted on doing the feeding with him in my lap. As I looked down at him, I remembered how hard I’d fought to have this precious boy in my lap, and my eyes teared up. He lay there drinking his bottle and stubbornly refusing to look at me, and I suddenly realized and remembered all that I wrote on here and more. I started to rock him and sing to him, willing him to relax and look at me, to start the process of learning that he was safe here and would be cared for, even if I stumbled a lot while doing so. Praying that he could leave the damage that had been done to him in the past, and move forward, and open his heart to new people, regardless of what may happen with his parent’s court case.

After half an hour, he finally looked at me, and I smiled at him through my tears. He kept the eye contact for the rest of his bottle while I rocked and sang to him. His recovery will take a while, and will take specific interventions, but I’d say his willingness to do that means that in spite of this being his worst day ever, he is off to a fine start.

How do you deal with frustration?

If you are alive, then at some point you have been frustrated. Plans fail, things you are expecting to happen fall through, things that need to be accomplished to reach a goal seem impossible. So how do you deal with that? I don’t know anyone who finds it easy to deal with all the time.

Sometimes we see the reasons for those frustrations while we’re still here on earth. In the Bible, God tells us “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) While in that passage God was talking about retrieving the nation of Israel from captivity, it sometimes applies to individual Christians in troublesome situations today.

My husband and I, for example. Several months ago we were incredibly frustrated when he was unable to find anywhere to go for his research. We really believe that God got him into graduate school, and directed him toward the particular emphasis of poverty in developing nations, so why was it that all the contacts he had in those nations were refusing to let him come and do his research there? He had a contact in Uganda, on the board of directors for an orphanage, who said he could come. No problem, sounds like useful research, definately plan to come, it just needs to be approved by the full board of directors and they’ll meet in a couple months. And a couple months later the board of directors met and said “no”. We were surprised, and had no back up plan at that time. So we scrambled, and I contacted someone I knew in Uganda, and asked if she could find us someplace. She said sure, that would be easy, she’d let us know in a week. But then all of her attempts fell through as well. We were at a loss.

By this time all the deadlines for  grant applications were past. Even if he found somewhere to go, we would have to find the money to pay for it by ourselves. Just how were a university student and his unemployed wife supposed to do that? But there was nothing to do but keep trying, so we kept trying.

the next attempt was through someone my husband knew in international ministry, who attempted to get us placed in Kenya (no dice), and then Nicaragua (looked like it was going to work, then they stopped responding to emails). After waiting to see if communications with that group could be re-established, our attempt was through the pastor at our church. We knew the church had several “sister churches” overseas, so perhaps one of them had a ministry location that would work for my husbands interviews. The pastor thought of four people, two in Kenya and two in the Philippines, who might fit the bill. But he only had contact with them through Facebook. Whoever heard of making a request to allow sociological research at your location through Facebook? But that’s what we had, so my husband dutifully sent off simple, one-paragraph requests through facebook’s messaging. And he got a reply!

One person in the Philippines replied yes! He would be happy to find us a place to do the research, to help us in setting this up, and he wanted to host us at his house for the entire trip! Not only that, he gave us permission to drive his car, and would assign one of his staff members to us as guide and translator if we needed one!

We were stunned. What a blessing! We had a location, we had help in getting around, we had a place to stay. Now, how in the world were we going to afford what was left? It looked like we would need the money to send him to the Philippines (yikes), and some grocery money and spending money. But how to afford that flight? My husband contacted a relative of his who used to travel a lot, and asked her if she had any frequent flier miles she wouldn’t be using, if she would be willing to transfer them to him to assist in paying for the flight.

That night my husband and I had a fight. Every time we had talked in person to someone about my husband going oversears for a month to do research, they had assumed I was going with him. Even when we told people straight out that I was not, they kept talking as if I were. It was crazy. I would say “when HE goes there…” and they would respond “You two will have such a good time!” It was starting to annoy me. And then my husband started doing the same thing! I had just done the budget spreadsheets for the month. I knew exactly how much money we had available. I knew where it needed to be spent. I knew how much money we needed to keep in savings so we could keep renting our house (and eating) until the next installment of financial aid arrived. And I knew that left no money for a plane ticket – let alone two. So my husband kept asking “if we could find a way for you to come with me, would you want to come?” and I kept responding “It doesn’t matter what I want to do, we can’t even afford to send YOU!”

It ended amicably, with a hug for us both and an “of course I’d want to come – I just don’t know how we could afford it” from me, and a prayer from both of us that God would somehow figure something out.

A few hours later we received an email from my husband’s relative. Sure, she had frequent flier miles for him, but in addition she thought it wasn’t right for us to be apart for so long so early in our marriage – so as our anniversary present she was sending us BOTH to the Philippines, and in Business Class!

To wrap it all up, here we BOTH are in the Philippines. Our travel was paid for. Our housing was provided at no cost. Our food has been paid for except for some lunches we had on our own. Our transportation has been provided at no cost. Our translators have all been volunteers who refused pay beyond us covering their lunch cost. We have officially spent less money during this trip than we would have spent during the same amount of time at home.

And all those grant deadlines that were missed? If he had gotten any of those, it would have only paid for HIS travel.

And that Uganda orphanage that we really wanted him to go to at first, and we were pretty upset about when they said no? That area of Uganda is now experiencing a small outbreak of the ebola virus, and residents are being warned against congregating together. He might not have even been able to do his research if he had been there.

And that job I kept looking for and not getting? If I had been employed, I would not have been able to drop everything and come with my husband to the Philippines.

I do intend to keep all this in mind the next time I am frustrated because I have not been able to accomplish something. I’m human, and I’m sure I will forget sometimes. Or I’ll think that I’m a unique case and have a right to be frustrated. Or all kinds of other things. But in the end, I really hope I can remember this experience forever, and that it will forever color how I deal with frustration. Because sometimes you don’t get what you want, instead you get something better.

It’s Resurrection Day!

Today is the day when I celebrate God’s desire for a relationship with us. A desire for relationship so great that he was willing to put to death his own son – part of himself – to have it.

Since the beginning of time, since God created the universe and all that is in it, God has yearned for relationship with the people he created. Yet time after time, the people have turned away and chosen other things rather than the simplicity of loving and trusting God and walking with him. God offered love, we chose rules. he offered himself, we chose to listen to judges and kings. He offered relationship, we chose punishment. He offered life (remember, he’s God, so it’s his to offer), we chose all the things that led to death.

With all those rules so nicely spelled out and humans appointed to oversee us, one would have thought we could figure out how to live “correctly”. But no. We’re human, and we make mistakes – all the time.

When some humans figured that out, and started calling out for a Savior, God again replied. His reply was Jesus. Jesus came to earth, lived as one of us, and accepted the penalty that was rightfully ours. He took the rules, the people who stand between us and God, the punishment, and the death – all in our place so we would not have to experience them anymore. All we have to do is accept that it is that way. Just accept it – that’s all.

He’s there.  He wants relationship. What do you want?