Currently reading through The Measure of Success: Uncovering the Biblical Perspective on Women, Work, and the Home by Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank.  I’ve been following Carolyn McCulley’s articles and interviews on this topic for a year now, and I was really looking forward to her book release.  Turns out JE knows me better than I imagined, because the book came in the mail before I even had a chance to order it!  He heard about it and had it delivered to our home.

And … I promised JE I wouldn’t launch out on any crazy work ventures until I finished reading through this book.  Haha.  It’s giving me opportunity to reevaluate my priorities in this season of life and pray about what my “work” is to look like — in the home, toward my family, and other endeavors — all as unto the Lord.  That last part is trickier than I would have thought, and culture has informed my views of work and success more than I thought.  I wrestled with “ambition” in the past.  What ambition should look like for a believer and specifically for a believing woman (here, here, here).  Mostly generalities, and more questions than answers.  But with some understanding for my life as a single and then as a wife with no children.

But it’s time for a fresh application.  More on this to come.

On a completely different note, we discovered that Ian already inherited something from me.

That ugly cry.

Some people look really pretty while crying.  Sorrow still looks attractive on them, if that makes sense.  They can talk through their tears — some can even sing.  I don’t cry very often, but when I do, my face contorts and the well of pent-up emotion erupts all over my face.  JE says it’s a face of absolute pain and misery.  And nothing comes out but accompanying ugly sounds.

Ian has the same ugly cry, where his face contorts into a mixture of several emotions mixed into one look and sound of anguish.

Haha, sorry baby boy.  If you ever have a sister, I hope she cries prettier than we do …

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“Women and Work.”

November 28, 2012

Totally appreciated this article today — “Women and Work” by Carolyn McCulley.  Extremely timely.  Nuggets of wisdom to keep and look over through the years.  Here are some excerpts that I’ll be mulling over in the months to come:

[O]ur modern concept of “career” is largely a self-centered one. It’s ultimately about self-fulfillment and self-definition — how you are defined by what you do … Pursuing your identity in a job is not the same thing as cultivating your skills or professional networks in order to be more productive and demonstrate excellence in your work. In fact, I believe you can do your work much better if your identity is not bound up in your job. When you know that your primary identity is as an object of mercy who is now an adopted child of the Father and a co-heir with Christ, neither the triumphs nor the setbacks of your vocation can shake you.

Should women work? Absolutely! Women should work and work hard every day. As Christ-following women, the Bible calls us to work for God’s glory. But the location of where we work is neither the definition nor the measure of our productivity.

We hand each other a lot of “shoulds” about whether it’s better to work outside of the home or not when you have children, but few people talk about sequencing across the full spectrum of an adult woman’s life — planning for the early years of fertility and the later years of second-chapter wisdom and influence. There may be a number of things God has given you to multiply throughout your life, but not all can or need to be done at the same time. What’s most important now in light of eternity? Give yourself to that cause and plan ahead for the next season.

You may have read this far expecting me to tell you concrete things to do. I’m sorry, but I can’t do that. Your life is unique, and the Lord is guiding you to do all the good works He has planned in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore your life will not look the same as anyone else in your circle of friends, family or church. There may be many similarities, but it won’t be cookie-cutter-similar.

A few years ago, a brother in the Lord told me something that kind of confused me.  “Guys find you intimidating,” he said.  “I can’t quite explain it.  You’re ambitious.”

More recently, I’ve heard different family members (immediate and extended) say things like, “A woman can’t be too ambitious.”

And I’ve been thinking about this, even as I brush shoulders with those in the MBA program who find me comparatively unambitious, at least not career-wise.  I’ve been thinking about this in terms of passion for gospel ministry.  In terms of church planting.  In terms of exploring missionary calling.  In terms of being a woman.

Does a woman with no specific calling or direction in life, an “unambitious” woman, make for a more suitable helper?  Must a single woman mute some of her “ambition” early on if she hopes to marry, especially since the roles of wife and mother may call her to lay any other “ambition” aside?

What of the woman who is persuaded that this “ambition” is her calling?  Is she in disobedience if she interrupts or drops her current “ambition” to support a future husband’s ministry or calling?

Are ambition and femininity antithetical?  For women, are ambition and family antithetical?

Lots of questions.  :]  Some of these questions are easier to answer than others, especially if the terms are defined biblically.  And some of these are easier to answer on a case-by-case basis.  But I think it’s important to think about these things rightly.  So I’m curious to know: in light of your knowledge and application of Scripture, what do you think?

Suitable helpers.

February 22, 2010

Steph and bridesmaids (photo from Steph)

Jen and bridesmaids (photo by Courtney)

My dad and I were watching one of the videos in a historical mini-series today, and in between scenes, he suddenly commented, “You know, behind every great man is a great woman.”

This wasn’t the first time we had this sort of conversation, so I just nodded my head.

He continued, “Great men had the help of the women in their lives.”

And I began to think about those I considered “great” men of God.  I thought about their wives, their mothers, their sisters, and even their daughters.

I thought about these “great” women and their quiet, hidden service.  Who can say that their love, encouragement, and faithful support were inconsequential?  Who can say they wasted their lives because they humbly chose a supporting role?

And then I thought about my good friends, Jen and Steph, who were both married this past month.  They’ve committed themselves to their husbands until death do them part.  They’ve committed to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, that the word of God might not be reviled.  They’ve committed to adorn the gospel of Christ with their new roles as wives, as suitable helpers.  In doing these things, they didn’t blindly fling their lives and identities away.

Just as Christ was no less God by humbling Himself and coming in the form of a servant, so woman is no less child and heir and beloved of God by humbling herself and embracing a sometimes less-visible role.  Eve was gloriously created as Adam’s “suitable helper” before the fall.

Not all women are called to be wives and mothers.  But all women are called to be women, in accordance with God’s glorious design.  And part of being a woman involves the beauty of humble submission and loving support of the leadership of the men in her life — father, pastor, elders, and other overseers.  (Note: In cases where they call her to sin, she does not submit, but her loving support still does not cease.)

We should never, ever call such women  “weak” or “passive” or “marginalized.”  It takes incredible faith, strength, courage, and longsuffering love to embrace a role that helps and supports frail, sinful man.  It requires eyes long-trained to see the invisible and sovereign Christ who is at work in and through such men.  It takes much greater strength for a woman to commit herself to support, counsel, and encourage a sometimes-failing leader in her life than it takes to rebel and go her own way.  We ought to honor, not pity, such women.  We ought to imitate them.

“Men get all the glory then,” says one.  “These women’s lives are wasted, because they didn’t make a name for themselves,” says another.  But that’s just not true.  The God who sees is the One who rewards.  And she’s no fool who works for an eternal reward that infinitely swallows up any perceived earthly “loss.”  She is a woman of godly insight and vision who finds her purpose in the pursuit of His calling, not in her title or society’s opinion of her role.  And with that, she has the smiling pleasure of her God.

Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of the hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.  And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
(I Peter 3:3-6)

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.  She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.  She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”  Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
(Proverbs 31:25-31)

Let me be a woman.

May 9, 2009

Yellow FreesiaThe gospel story begins with the Mystery of Charity.  A young woman is visited by an angel, given a stunning piece of news about becoming the mother of the Son of God.  Unlike Eve, whose response to God was calculating and self-serving, the virgin Mary’s answer holds no hesitation about risks or losses or the interruption of her own plans.  It is an utter and unconditional self-giving: “I am the Lord’s servant. . . . May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).  This is what I understand to be the essence of femininity.  It means surrender.

The gentle and quiet spirit of which Peter speaks, calling it “of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4), is the true femininity, which found its epitome in Mary, the willingness to be only a vessel, hidden, unknown, except as Somebody’s mother.

Femininity receives.  It says, “May it be to me as you have said.”  It takes what God gives–a special place, a special honor, a special function and glory, different from that of masculinity, meant to be a help.  In other words, it is for us women to receive the given as Mary did, not to insist on the not-given, as Eve did.

Perhaps the exceptional women in history have been given a special gift–a charism–because they made themselves nothing.  I think of Amy Carmichael, for example, another Mary, because she had no ambition for anything but the will of God.  Therefore her obedience, her “May it be to me,” has had an incalculably deep impact in the twentieth century.  She was given power, as was her Master, because she made herself nothing.

I would be the last to deny that women are given gifts that they are meant to exercise.  But we must not be greedy in insisting on having all of them, in usurping the place of men.  We are women, and my plea is Let me be a woman, holy through and through, asking for nothing but what God wants to give me, receiving with both hands and with all my heart whatever that is.  No arguments would ever be needed if we all shared the spirit of the “most blessed among women.”

(Elisabeth Elliot, “The Essence of Femininity,” Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, page 398.)

Deep roots.

November 4, 2008

There’s something to be said about trees with deep roots.

There’s no denying the reality of the elements.  There’s no denying the reality of the effects of seasonal changes on the tree.  But the tree’s roots reach deep and sustain the tree through every season.

I’m praying for deeper roots as I grow.  Roots that reach deep in the ground of His person, His Word, and His character.

There are seasons that a woman physically goes through that tempt her to fall and rise with her emotions, to reflect on the curse and her mortality more than on the Redeemer, and to heed her physical condition above her spiritual calling.

There’s no denying the struggle is real, but so is her Creator and her Helper.

Deep roots.  That what is unseen may sustain her through what is seen.  In every season.

A “Successful” Woman.

December 20, 2007

The seniors are now reading through Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

In preparation for the prologue & tale of the “Wife of Bath” (a headstrong, opinionated wife from the town of Bath who declares she knows what women want most), I had my students interview 4 different people with 3 questions. The students had to interview a man 30 years+, a teenage boy, a woman 30 years+, and a teenage girl. One of the questions was, “Define what a ‘successful woman’ is.”

Here are some of the responses they received for that question from various people (name, age):

“A successful woman is one that has a good job & a good education.” (Betty, 18 )

“A successful woman is a woman that went through school & [is] doing what a man is doing. Always trying to strive forward.” (Donovan, 17)

“A successful woman is someone who is independent. They don’t have to depend on anyone else but themselves. They can fix anything that is thrown at them & deal with it. They don’t let others put them down.” (Andy, 35)

“A woman that knows if she were to die tomorrow, she would be okay with what she accomplished in life.” (James, 19)

“Someone who knows what she wants & is going to work hard to get it.” (Linh, 48 )

“She went to school & has a good job. She’s got money & is a classy woman. She has manners & is respectful & has a happy life.” (Mario, 42)

“She knows herself & the world around her. ‘Stay-at-home’ moms can be successful because they have goals that they have reached or need to reach. A woman who helps others & looks at the bigger picture in life.” (Anonymous girl, 18 )

“She feels accomplished & has dreams that [have] been reached. A successful woman has the irreplaceable people & things in her life, such as her family, job, & more.” (Frank, 56)

“Someone who is moving up in the world.” (Dennis, 18 )

“A successful woman communicates honestly in relationships. She does not bring up the past. She starts everyday brand new.” (Richard, 57)

“Oprah is the definition of a successful woman.” (Sammie, 16)

“An educated woman who is wealthy & happy.” (Betty, 34)

“A successful woman is someone who accomplished her goals without the help of a man.” (Ricky, 38 )

“A successful woman loves what she is now. She gives love to the people who love her. She goes on with her life even after a tragic event happens.” (Edna, 54)

“A successful woman is wise & reasonable.” (Wilson, 49)

“A successful woman has to have a rich man in her life who can buy her things.” (Ishmael, 18 )

“She’d be raising a great child. She passed her life down.” (Lina, 32)

“A successful woman would be someone that likes me. She knows I’m better than all the other boyfriends. She’d win the competition. She’d be happy forever.” (Brandon, 17)

“If you don’t have family to share your success, how successful are you really?” (Claire, 31)

“A woman who can look at her life & say, ‘Ahh that was fun!’ Life is short.” (Peter, 18 )

“Beyond through all these rubbish, Oprah is not an example. She is financially capable of buying her desires, but that is not important.” (Darius, 35)

“A woman who struck a balance between personal & professional life.” (Ms. C, 36)

“Not only does she have a job, but the job is one of the top positions.” (Inderjit, teen)

“A ‘successful’ woman is a woman that obeys God’s will & teaches her children to do the same.” (Jeannie, 44)

“Bluntly, a woman who is strong inside that will not let her emotions get in the way of what she has to do.” (Anonymous boy, teen)

“Was a leader not a follower.” (Sophia, 17)

“Someone who doesn’t get pregnant before marriage & knows where they are leading to in life.” (Janelle, 15)

“They have a lot of money with good family & job.” (Perlito, 54)

“Someone who has a husband who she loves & he loves her. & maybe a child or two.” (Lorena, 44)

“A woman that remains true to herself.” (Tonya, 42)

“[A woman with] a good relationship with God . . . someone who is humble.” (Colleen, 30)

“She just didn’t settle for being a housewife. She has a career & children who love her.” (Julian, 17)

“To have & finish her education. Then, going into a good college, & after, graduating. After graduating, you get a good working job. You then get married, have kids & with that good job, you are supporting your family. After all that’s done . . . you see that cycle go around all over again.” (Chastine, 17)

“If they’re dedicated to something or someone, then they’ll be successful.” (Conrad, 19)

“Someone who goes by her own rules.” (Alissa, 18 )

“Someone that is independent, a strong decision maker, & has good leadership skills.” (Kent, 52)

“A woman who looks 20 when she’s really 50.” (Bob, adult)

The majority of the responses (even the ones that I didn’t post here) had to do with education, job, the achievement of goals, wealth, happiness (undefined), & loved ones.

But this question still lingers – “What good will it be for a [woman] if [she] gains the whole world, yet forfeits [her] soul? Or what can a [woman] give in exchange for [her] soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Who is the woman who will hear, “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29)?

A woman who fears the Lord (Proverbs 31:30 – see Proverbs 31 for details), who loves the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:5), who sits at His feet & listens to His words (Luke 10:41), whose beauty is from the adorning of gentleness & quietness (I Peter 3:3-4), who wins souls – not by her own persuasiveness but by His power (Proverbs 11:30; Acts 20:24), & a woman who teaches others to do the same (Proverbs 31:26; Titus 2:3-5) . . . a woman whose “children arise & call her blessed; her husband also” (Proverbs 31:28 ) & her God (Matthew 25:23; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but in short, as the Navigators say, ” . . . know God & . . . make Him known.”

Let’s not spend our lives chasing after the wind, pursuing things that do not satisfy. Does that mean we need to quit school, quit our jobs, & quit everything else? Not necessarily. But the point is not to pursue these things as of first importance.

Let’s not be deceived. Success is not defined in worldly terms; it is defined by the Creator who created us “in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), the One who will one day judge our hearts (of Christ, or no?) & our work (for His glory, or no?).