I sit here, in my pajamas, staring at a computer screen, at Sarah's call for us to celebrate International Women's Day, and my mind goes back in time. When it comes to women who have blazed a trail before and taught me what they know, there is really only one woman who comes to mind. She was my pastor's wife, and we were close, probably much closer than she knew, because I clung to her in my heart as a child does.
She became my spiritual mother, she nurtured me, she took time with me, talked me through hurtful issues in my marriage, depression, and an inability to gain any semblance of control of my life for the happiness of my family. She taught me to be strong, to be the kind of woman who when her feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan says "Oh no! She's up!", she taught me to go to my word first thing in the morning, to cling to Christ, to look to Him to fill an insatiable appetite, to plan my day so that my family is fulfilled and nurtured on earthly bread and the nourishment of the Word.
I watched her worship, her expressions wild with adoration and like she was right before the throne and I watched her love and I watched her hold her tongue when that was not her nature, I watched her strong and protective, her support of her husband powerful, I watched her back not break and I watched her have humility enough to ask me if she looked appropriate when I told her she looked cute in her new jeans. She was real, and she was bold, and she was grace. For the first time I learned those things could co-exist. In fact, they should.
She has really been my spiritual midwife.
She birthed the girl you know now, the one set free from legalism, the one who knows to look up to Christ at my first breath, the one who talks to my kids about the gospel and Christ's bleeding out when I've failed them and fallen far short of being the mom I want to be.
She was the first to place a book into my hands on parenting and to teach me how to look to books as a mentor, to gain wisdom from them, to seek out God's wisdom, to desire growth and revelation.
Before I met her, I was confused and lost in a sea of pride and legalism but then my marriage began to strengthen and I began on a journey to learning what being a godly woman really means. And looking back on how young and foolish I was, she was so very gentle with me.
There have been a few other women who have been spiritual midwives. One is my neighbor, an eighty-eight year old widow lady, Mrs. Olive, a sweet 'lil 'ole woman who seems fragile upon first glance. She is slightly bent over and her hands are a little gnarled and shake from a stroke and she can barely talk, her communication having returned to that of a toddler. But to stop there and not see more would be sorely underestimating this strong woman. The permanent bend in her back is from so much stooping and serving, the gnarled, shaking hands have penned many beautiful letters to friends and family in calligraphy, a forgotten art form. And her lack of voice? She doesn't let it stop her from telling me and my girls she loves us, placing her hands over her heart, tears in her eyes.
I have sat on summer and fall afternoons on her screened in wrap-around front porch, us swinging on her oak swing, Mississippi breeze blowing gently, as her voice so shaky and slow, told me of her husband, an alcoholic, and how he beat her. She told me of how the kids would run outside and play up under the house so they wouldn't have to be around. She told me that she was never free until the day he died, and how she is still married and celebrates her anniversary with him, even in his death. She lost two adult sons, and another two babies when they were very tiny, and life was full of much trial and pain.
It was really the little things that Mrs. Olive did that taught me so much, changed my theology, sort of turned my world upside down.
She would put her trash out on Tuesdays and write a thank you note to the men that came round that said "Happy Thanksgiving!"
I'd notice when I'd walk over, how she brought out a plate of food to the mailman, every day.
It had never crossed my mind to be generous to these people in my life--I didn't grow up that way. She touched everyone she had contact with. She didn't hide inside her home, hoping no one would come knocking. She walked outside with a smile, offered food and warmth and love.
She doesn't live across the street anymore; she is older now, and lives with her daughter, but I remember weeks when we barely had food, and she would show up on our stoop, her steps unsure, walker in hand, holding out a box of fruit and snacks. She rarely made a cake without sending some over.
Now, because of Mrs. Olive, we try to do the same and love those around us, those who normally might go unseen, unnoticed.
My Granny is another person I greatly respect and admire, a woman who has taught me dignity, respect, graciousness, trust, integrity. She has taught me about love and about servant hood. This is another woman whose strength I look up to and hope to emulate. She prays for her family and has bent over backward many times for all of us.
When I have an appointment, she calls to check in on me so that she can keep the children. She takes care of me. I'm amazed at her ability to care for so many in her life, to cook for, to serve, to bend for, to love.
She has been through much in her life, in her marriage, with her children and in her young life as a child. She still cries at times, at seventy-six, when we talk about the abuse she received from the woman who raised her. That kind of pain never really goes away, not even at her age. But what I see is a woman who has risen above her circumstances and has loved well. So well.
My Mama is another person whom I learned from, from the way she worshiped in the house to how she always had supper on the table for us early in the evening, to how she made sure we had baths every night and rolled our hair for Sunday morning. I remember these routines and rhythms that made me feel secure and held me and I want to give the same to my girls.
I remember my mother very rarely fought with my dad in front of us. This memory guides me when life is full of suffering and confusion and I'm tempted to swerve over into selfishness. It helps me to plant my hands firmly back on the wheel, knowing how I benefited from this as a small child.
Because my mentors have taught me to search out wisdom, I have sought and found that wisdom in resources such as Carolyn Mahaney's cds, Sally Clarkson's books and blog, and Ann Voskamp's blog. Ann has no idea that she has mentored me, but oh she has and it has meant more than she'll ever know. It was because of her I started writing again after 15-plus years.
Ro Elliot from Tuning My Heart has helped guide me through depression and this blogging world we all write amongst, and there have been other women who have helped steer me along the way, or helped me see through a different lens, or have just been sisters to me and sojourners along my journey. Some of those are L.L. Barkat, Emily Wierenga, Shelley Miller, Elizabeth Marshall, Amber Haines, Kelli Woodford, Nancy Franson, Cora and Susan who have shored me up and poured into me at pivotal moments, Tara Pohlkotte, Holly Grantham, and then there's Michele Ault, who came along side and helped with homeschooling when I was completely new at it. I'm forever grateful to her for helping me wade through the mess that was my unorganized, confused Mama-self.
All of these beautiful brave women I am so grateful for. I admire the strength, courage, integrity and grace with which they live out their lives and bang on their keyboards.
And you, awesome readers, amazing beautiful you, yes, *you*, you have encouraged and lifted me up, held my arms up when they were tired. There were times I know I would not have continued writing without you. You. Are. Amazing. Wonderful. Spectacular. Loving. Gracious. I'm thankful to God for you.
I have other mentors and friends who've walked with me on this earth--I've learned from all of them and I'm a blend of a better woman only because of them, a blend of what I pray is a little bit of forgiveness, a dash of wisdom, a generous sprinkle of hope, a smidgen of purity and soberness, and a profane amount of kindness, love, and grace. I'm woven together, and the pieces of me are tattered edges of these women, scraps of themselves they've given away, spun here now into a tapestry that I hope glorifies God and gives the earth beauty. And I don't take it for granted, this heirloom tapestry spun with toil and pain and sacrifice. Neither do I fold it up, lay it down on the end of some bed in a room where it's rarely seen, for pure beauty's sake, for looks, no, for this beautiful weave is used everyday in the exhausting, glorifying, body-breaking, bending, serving, hands-lifted-high, heart-poured-out work of being woman.
The women that have been this to me, that have given and have become a part of this woven fabric are my very good friends Danae, April, Kerry, Joanie, and Markey, and Ro, and I celebrate their love, devotion, honesty, bravery, fearlessness, and the fierce grace and nurturing they lavish on everyone in their lives, including me. I cherish their prayers, their letters, their gifts of time, of things of monetary value, their shoring up and harboring me when I was lost in a storm of suffering, and most of all, I cherish their vulnerable hearts laid out before me. I love you--you ought to know that. And today, I celebrate beautiful you, all of you women so beautiful.
Related: Bending, a story I wrote about my grandmother (and grandfather), the one spiritual midwife that has always been there, and will until she leaves this world. I love you, Granny.
"I open wire gate, walk through tiny garden and white azaleas toward the kitchen. Her soft, croaky voice, with it's high notes, weathered with time, wafts out the screen door as she instructs the children that have already flown inside to her, ahead of me....'Ah! You are making chicken and dumplings!' She nods--I see the twinkle of pride in her eyes."....... Click here to read more...
3 gifts that changed today: Getting to run alone at the lake for the first time in months
Being able to spend a day all to myself, going to the coffee shop to read and write
Reaching out to a new friend, inviting her to meet and her pleasant yes!
Going over to a friend's house in a heap of a mess and her talking me through it
Keeping four kids for a friend so she and her husband can have time together--the blessing of caring for others
Eight kids under one roof--ahhh!
A special night out under the stars, a bonfire, hot dogs, marshmallows
Telling boys "No, don't put your feet in the fire, please!" and "Put that back in the fire and don't pick up anymore planks of wood that are on fire!"
The way a boy took up with my little Lilly, playing with her and how she cozied up to him on the couch to watch a movie
A boy telling me he can take a shower in 2, when asked if he can take one in five, and his beaming smile when I tell him job well done, a shower in two minutes flat!
Husband helping him wash the thick shampoo off under the faucet that was left in his hurry
How my little Lilly looks like a tiny, weightless bunny as she boing-boings on our trampoline, her feet so high in the air
Lilly saying "Back!" which means she wants Daddy to carry her up on his shoulders
Husband carrying Lilly all around the yard on his shoulders while the kids play
Their squeals of "Daddy!" when he walks in the door
Aged asagio cheese, chocolate, and red wine
My yard blooming spring
Feeling better, feeling hope
This post shared with Sarah Bessey's International Women's Day synchroblog, Ann, Laura, Heather,