A Woman’s Work (It’s Not What You Think)

A Woman’s Work (It’s Not What You Think)

I liked winter ok until I had children. I say “ok” because I was never a great lover of frigid weather. I have miserable memories of walking to school in the snow uphill…both ways! the winters we lived in Germany. The month-long Houston winters are just right for me.

Since having children, though, I’ve come to hate winter due to the illnesses that take residence in our home. There’s one particular virus that was with us for so long it should have paid rent. These illnesses come home with my children from preschool or Sunday school and start replicating themselves so that there’s enough to go around. And also so that there’s a backup, because even if one of us is able to successfully fight it off after a few days of misery, we just catch it again from each other.

When I was single, an illness meant that I laid on the couch for a few days, reading or watching TV as fever allowed. That sounds like a spa day to me now. Because you know what illness looks like when you’re a mommy? It looks like pretty much every other mommy day, only with a layer of “Oh God I feel like I’m going to die” added to it. I don’t even want to talk about the days when I’m sick at the same time as one of my children. I’m lucky that I have a husband that can rearrange his schedule and be home when it gets bad, but as a financial advisor that works solely on commission, if he doesn’t work we don’t get paid. So we try to avoid him not being at work.

In January I chose “Purpose” as my word of the year. My intent was to be purposeful in every area of my life (like marriage, mothering, money-making activity), which I’d hoped would translate to greater productivity and increased joy in my family. I didn’t take into account the many illnesses that we would have to deal with since the Great Vomit-Inducing Virus of the Fall of 2012 hit our family. Since then, we get better for a few days, maybe even a week or two, only to succumb to yet another illness.

As you can imagine, this has played havoc with my Year of Purpose. Before we became ill last fall, I was losing weight and exercising regularly, but that sort of self-care went by the way-side. My blog and business ideas are the next thing to go when I’m exhausted from caring for children or dealing with an illness myself. As a matter of fact, my husband and I are too tired and/or sick most of the time to do anything other than the necessary.

I’ve been pretty down about this state of affairs lately and was ready to throw in the towel labeled “Purpose” until I came to verses 13 and 14 describing the Proverbs 31 woman:

She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar. (Proverbs 31:13-14, NASB)

I know that the parallels will not be immediately obvious, but try to stick with me on this one.

The first life-lesson that I gleaned from this verse (and in the verses following) was that the Woman of Valor is a planner. This excellent wife plans and participates in activities dealing with family, friends, the management of her home, and business – all areas in which I’d like to have some successs. This may sound like such a simple thing, but to someone like me that feels overwhelmed by all that I want to do because I’m not feeling my best, this is a lifeline.

The Woman of Valor also works with delight (the NIV says that she “works with eager hands”)! This thought was both refreshing and convicting for me. Sometimes I feel like I’ll go crazy if I unload the dishwasher one more time or change yet another diaper. I think that one of the reasons that she could work eagerly and with delight was because everything she did was for the benefit of her family. If I change my thought process to ask myself how a task benefits my family, I’ll be happy to do the dishes because a clean(ish) kitchen makes the house feel so much more pleasant, and a clean diaper makes my little one happier.

The thought also occurs to me that I can think about ways to make my work more delightful. Maybe listen to an audiobook while doing dishes or cleaning the bathroom? Watch a movie while folding laundry? I’ll have to think about this one.

Doesn’t this sound disgustingly June Cleaver-ish?

But wait…

It’s just as important to me to see what the Woman of Valor is not doing as what she is doing. And you know what she’s not doing? Entertaining her kids every second of the day. I see on Pinterest and blogs and articles linked on Facebook all these ideas for interacting with your kids all day. There are sensory boxes and cookies to bake and crafts to make and…my head is spinning just thinking about it. Those are all good things, but they don’t work for me. The thing is, I’m an introvert and need some time to myself throughout the day, even from the children that I adore. And I just don’t have the patience required to craft and cook with toddlers. If I did, I would have become a preschool teacher rather than an engineer. So I happily leave those activities to the professionals.

Also, I think kids and parents need time throughout the day when mom and dad aren’t in their kids’ faces. I don’t feel like cooking and cleaning need to be group activities all the time. And my kids need to have time to play on their own. My three-year-old, Michael, is displaying an incredible imagination. He can find ten different ways to play with one toy, and I love that. He likes for me to play with him sometimes, and I do, but he has a lot of fun on his own.

I want my kids to see and experience that life’s not all about play and having fun. Besides laughing and having a good time, we also do chores and other work activities. The Woman of Valor seems to do a good job balancing all of those areas of her life and modeling that behavior for her kids, and I want to do the same for my kids.

But one of the most important life lessons that I learned while pondering the Proverbs 31 passage about the excellent wife is that I should not seek a sense of self-worth in any activity, even if it’s about caring for my family. Verse 30 tells me that worship, not just work, is praiseworthy. God created me with a specific set of skills, abilities, and the capacity to learn and grow emotionally and spiritually, but He didn’t create me to be the best wife or mom or engineer. My true purpose is to worshipfully submit all of that skill, ability, and capacity to Him so that He can achieve His purposes through them.

I keep thinking about the fig tree that Jesus cursed because it didn’t bear fruit. It looked good, but it wasn’t fulfilling its purpose. I’m afraid of being that fig tree, of looking productive and busy, but not fulfilling the purpose for which He’s created me. Rather than making my Year of Purpose about “productive” work, I need to work at worshiping God and allowing Him to work out the details.

Which is nothing at all like June Cleaver.

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How Am I Influencing My Husband?

How Am I Influencing My Husband?

I came across the following old Jewish story as I was reading about women in Biblical Israel:

“The story says that a pious man once married a pious woman. They were childless, so they eventually agreed to divorce one another. The husband then married a wicked woman and she made him wicked. The pious woman married a wicked man and made him righteous. The moral of the story is that the woman set the tone for the home.” (Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, eds. Packer and Tenney, P. 430)

This story stood out to me because, as I’ve meditated on Proverbs 31:11-12, I’ve been taken aback by the influence that a wife has on her husband. Any kind of influence is a grave responsibility. But when it comes to the husband you love, the father of your children…the stakes get higher and things get real fast.

So I had to ask myself how I’ve influenced my husband over the course of our relationship. But the funny thing is, when you ask yourself a question like that, it’s hard to come up with any answers. Sure, he eats more sushi now. And yeah, I’m pretty confident that he never would have seen The Real Housewives of Anyplace if I hadn’t tuned in. But I don’t know what kind of lasting impact those decisions have made in his life.

I finally did come up with a concrete example. When Garrett and I met, he was a choir director in a local school district and was also on staff at an Episcopalian church as a staff singer. For all you Baptists and non-denoms out there, it turns out that some churches hire professional singers to sing in their choirs. Yeah, I didn’t know that either.

Anywho, I was a member of a large Baptist church and enjoyed the contemporary upbeat music that all the kids listened to. As our relationship got more serious, I told Garrett that, as beautiful as the Episcopalian service was with its high-church music, I would very much appreciate it if he would return to his Baptist (or similar) roots.

Now here’s where I need to tell you that Garrett loooooves all that high-church music. And believe me, he certainly has the voice for it. He wasn’t too thrilled with contemporary services at first, frustrated by songs that he’d never heard and the lack of written music.

Fast forward five years, one marriage, and two kids later. We’re looking for a church in the new area of town we’ve moved to. I’m trying really hard to find churches with choirs so that Garrett has that outlet, but he decides that a choir isn’t necessary. The man that loved his work as a professional church singer now also loves contemporary worship music to the point that he’ll choose that over the traditional style.

I influenced my husband in a material way without really realizing I was doing it, and certainly without a grand plan. How else am I thoughtlessly influencing him?

As a woman that likes facts and figures and data-driven actions, I’d like to know exactly how I’m influencing my husband. And not only that, but also specifics like, “In what areas should I influence Garrett in the future,” “How can I influence him for the better,” and “In what areas should I limit my influence of him?” But, much like my thoughts about the work I need to do in regard to my husband’s heart trusting in me completely, I’m at a loss.

So I’ve decided that my best course of action is to pray that God reveals to me areas in which I influence my husband, for the worse or for the better, and the wisdom to know how to alter my actions when needed.

I wonder what areas of influence will be revealed five years from now…

Leading a Small Group Bible Study: Set the Tone with Music

Leading a Small Group Bible Study: Set the Tone with Music

Back in my single days, I taught a single adult Bible study class made up of men and women of all ages that enjoyed digging into and discussing Scripture with me every week. I learned a lot about leading a small group Bible study and shared some of what I learned via a blog I created dedicated to the subject. This post is a refresh of a post that appeared on that blog.

Imagine that you’re visiting a small group for the first time.  On your way to what you hope will be the group of your dreams, you pass a small group in another room which is alive with music, chattering, and smiling faces.  But once you reach your destination, you find stillness and soft voices.

Wouldn’t you want to go back to the first room?

As teachers, we want our classes to be places where people feel free to talk and share.  But first we must create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

To create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, you can:

A good first step in creating an atmosphere in which people want to linger is some good upbeat music.  Something that brings a smile to your face, a bounce to your step, and a feeling of “Hey, y’all!”  (Or “Hey, you guys!” for northerners.)

It can be as simple as doing one of the following:

  • Use a CD player.  Keep an inexpensive CD player with your small group gear, along with a collection of CD’s or you’ll end up listening to the same CD for a year.  Trust me – I  KNOW. You can work with the music that you already have by burning CD’s or grabbing some from your stash.
  • Bring a radio to class and tune in to a Christian station.  This will work only if you get good reception in the room in which your group meets. And that’s not a given (the room my class met in did not get good reception at all), so test it out first.
  • Create a small group playlist for your smartphone/tablet.  Keep a portable speaker system with your small group gear. If you’re using your phone, be sure to put it in airplane mode first so that the music isn’t interrupted by a phone call…and so that you won’t forget and answer the phone while it’s on speaker. (Can we say awkward?) Or you could use an old phone that doesn’t have service activated for playing music.

Think about whether or not small group members will need to reach you before choosing to use your phone for playing music.

And a note about volume: the music should be loud enough to be heard, but quiet enough for people to carry on a conversation. Think “fun and casual,” not “everybody dance now!”

To get you started with your small group playlist, here are a few good options:

  • Forever Reign – Hillsong
  • Running – Whiling
  • Gold – Britt Nicole
  • Good Morning – Mandisa
  • I Need a Miracle – Third Day
  • God’s Not Dead – Newsboys
  • Give Me Your Eyes – Brandon Heath
  • Made to Love – tobyMac
  • Friend of God – Israel & New Breed

Now it’s your turn – what would you add to your small group playlist?

Unexpected Revelations about the Woman of Valor

Unexpected Revelations about the Woman of Valor

My Scripture focus in 2013 has been Proverbs 31:10-31. And I’ve been surprised by the impact this passage about the woman of valor has had on me so far.

For one thing, I expected that these verses would have no impact on my appearance. My initial thoughts were that it’s all about what the excellent woman does, not how she looks. I was surprised to find that the woman of valor is a classy lady in every way. I couldn’t help but think that a classy lady might care something about how she comes across to other people in her appearance.

This was a wake-up call I needed because I’d pretty much let myself go physically. People, I’ve been hanging on to maternity clothes, and my youngest is 16-months-old. Sad, right? I just hated that I’m not the size I was before I had kids, so have avoided shopping. I also hadn’t had my hair cut since before my youngest was born. And in case you weren’t aware, that’s plenty of time for split-ends to take over.

I’m happy to say that I’ve done something about both of those issues. I’ve made a few clothing purchases to help me look less like little orphan Annie. I still have a long way to go in that department, but I’m not so embarrassed to walk out of the house anymore.

And the big news is that I finally got my hair did!

Wow, I’ve been wanting to say that for so long.

It feels good.

Another way that I’ve been surprised by the passage about the excellent woman is that I thought it would be all about me. Instead, I’ve spent an awful lot of time thinking about my husband. And of myself in relation to my husband.

Proverbs 31:11-12 states,

“The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.”

What this says to me is that the valorous woman’s husband had complete trust in her. He trusted her with his strengths, weaknesses, feelings, hopes, past experiences, future plans. He had no need to go elsewhere for this type of deep connection and respect.

Ummm, yeah.

I won’t elaborate on this other than to say I HAVE SOME WORK TO DO. And I honestly don’t even know where to begin.

I will say that it’s a bit scary to think of the responsibility a wife has in caring for her husband’s heart. Again, SOME WORK MUST BE DONE.

Although I’ve been surprised by what God is showing me through this passage, I love it. LOVE IT. Unexpected revelations remind me that God is working in my heart and life, even when I can’t always feel it. And I definitely don’t always feel it. So keep teaching me, Abba. It’s just what I need.

Leading a Small Group Bible Study: How to Title Bible Study Lessons

Leading a Small Group Bible Study: How to Title Bible Study Lessons

Back in my single days, I taught a single adult Bible study class made up of men and women of all ages that enjoyed digging into and discussing Scripture with me every week. I learned a lot about leading a small group Bible study and shared some of what I learned via a blog I created dedicated to the subject. This post is a refresh of a post that appeared on that blog.

I’m not a witty person.  I’m amazed by people that say the right thing at the right time, spur of the moment. And by people that have a quick comeback. Why can’t I be that person, instead of the person that sits with a dumb smile on her face when a quick comeback is deserved by the other party?

But let’s not get side-tracked by my lack of social skills. What I’m trying to convey here is that my lack of wit became a handicap as I tried to come up with clever titles for my Bible study lessons each week.  I would wrack my brain to come up with something cute and funny that would grab the attention of the group members. I usually wasn’t successful.

One day I had an epiphany.  I noticed that a popular speaker gave simple names to many of her messages.  The names conveyed exactly the topic of the message.  Nothing clever.  Just on target.

That I can do!  I decided to name my lessons with one word or a simple phrase that summarized the major points of the lesson.

Simple titles had three benefits:

  • Simple lesson titles made me a better teacher. A simple lesson title taught me to focus on one main topic that I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to cover in that particular passage of Scripture.  Lesson preparation became much more focused as this forced me to cover only major points that supported that topic.
  • Class members had a topic to focus on.  They left each class with one word or phrase ringing in their ears that summarized most of what we discussed.  We won’t remember every word that was spoken during a lesson, but we can remember a simple phrase that helps us recall some of the major points.
  • My angst over lesson titles disappeared. And I wasted less time.

A good example is worth a thousand words, so I’ll share with you five titles that I used as I taught through the gospel of Matthew:

How do you come up with lesson titles?

Leading a Small Group Bible Study: 5 Ways to Keep Their Attention

Leading a Small Group Bible Study: 5 Ways to Keep Their Attention

I planned blog posts for the next couple of weeks in church on Sunday. I know, I know, I should have been paying attention. And I was trying, because it was a pretty good sermon. But I’m chronically tired, thanks to a 15-month-old that has started waking up at night. A lot. And sitting in the half dark, listening to a sermon is like hearing white noise. And hearing white noise gets my mind working. Before I knew it I was jotting down notes about blog posts.

Drifting off is easy to do when someone is talking and they don’t expect any interaction from you. So let’s keep that to a minimum in our small group studies. We do that by getting group members involved.

The following are five ways to get group members involved in the lesson:

  1. Create a fill-in-the-blank handout. I used to do this for every lesson. They kept us all on-track during the lesson, and waiting for the answers to the blanks kept everyone a bit more attentive.
  2. Limit the lecture time and present questions for discussion. The discussions were what I looked forward to each week. I never asked a right or wrong question (like, “Who built the ark?”) since people are afraid to answer those and they don’t promote discussion. I’d ask questions like, “Can you think of an example to illustrate the last becoming first?” or “What goes through your mind when you read about God asking Abraham to present his son Isaac as a sacrifice?” The Holy Spirit does glorious things when believers get together to discuss Scripture.
  3. Get other senses involved besides their hearing. Show a replica of an artifact, have them draw a picture, even use molding clay! I once got Play-Doh for everyone in class so that they could press their fingers in it and see their fingerprints (to illustrate the impact Christ has on us).
  4. Split the group up into smaller groups for further discussion. I once paired everyone up with one other person (or two other people) to discuss a question.  I was happily surprised to see that people that wouldn’t open their mouths in the larger group chattered away when discussing with only one or two other people, rather than a roomful. In a group of married couples, two or three couples could make up a smaller group for discussion.
  5. Get everyone involved in Scripture reading. We visited a Sunday school class after the service last Sunday, and the teacher did something interesting. Instead of reading the chapter we were studying himself, he started off at one end of the group and had us take turns reading a verse each. Everyone had their noses in their Bibles, following along so that they would know what verse to read when it was their turn. I thought that was a great idea and filed it away for future use.

Do you have any ideas for getting group members involved in a Bible study lesson?

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