“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” Proverbs 31:10
“I know you have a little life in you; I know you have a lot of strength left.” Maxwell, “A Woman’s Work”
I had a co-worker ask me once, “Are you a woman of excellence?” I didn’t know what that meant but I was pretty sure I could be included in that category. I was a good mother and a good wife. I tried as hard as I could to be a good example to others. Eventually, I came to use the woman revered in the 31st chapter of Proverbs as my measuring rod. I asked myself, did I do all the things that she did? I went through the check list and asked myself: Do gooder? Check! Hard worker? Check! Take care of home so that my husband did not have to worry? Check, check, check! I could answer “Yes!” to all of those questions. Woman of excellence? Two thumbs pointing back at me, BINGO! I visualized the title and a picture of myself in the dictionary! I did try so very hard to live up to that title, even before I knew what it meant.
So fast forward 20 years and now I am no longer the good wife (my ex-husband had a different opinion on how good a job I was doing with that, LOL) but, I maintain that I am still a woman of excellence. My mom was a woman of excellence before me and I drew on her strength. She set the example and now I strive to be the good example for my own daughter to follow. In an age where women are known to be capable of doing pretty much anything – sometimes for money, sometimes for fame and sometimes (shamefully) for free – I try to hold on to my integrity. To be the exception, rather than the norm. It’s not easy, not by a long shot. I fight to go against the grain because I want to raise up young women after me who will do the same – to be known as someone’s (or maybe just their own) woman of excellence.
When we were small my mother was mother to a blended family. My father’s first family resulted in 5 children (3 girls and 2 boys); while my mother brought her own two boys into the mix. Add us three (me, my sister and brother) and we had a real Brady Bunch. I grew up watching my mom love us all, even her non-biological children, with the same love. She loved us all, chastened us all, fed us all and we loved her, each of us, desperately. She is a woman bred in the country, not highly educated but you wouldn’t find a lady with more class. She never made a difference between us and them. And when my elder siblings own mother passed, she was a comfort to them. My sister was devastated at her loss and had said to herself, “Daddy’s gone and now Madear is gone – I’m an orphan!” And she wept. Until she saw my mother. Her face lit up and she grabbed us all up and hugged us and kissed us, realizing she was not alone. She still had a mother. She was not an orphan.
So I strive to be that woman, to leave that kind of legacy, to love and nurture children that are not mine as I do my own. Because of the example that was set before me, I am a strong woman among strong women. And I accept no less from the women I mentor. “You are a strong woman because you come from a line of strong women.” I let them know it is in their blood. It’s in the blood of every woman. We are all sisters. But being a woman of excellence is more than blood ties, it is a choice that we can make. We can choose to raise our children well and to be good examples. We can choose to live our lives purposely and consciously, always keeping in mind that others are following in our footsteps.
One day, right before my son’s senior year in high school, I said to my mom: “Madear, my kids are about to graduate high school. I made it! I did what I set out to do. I’ve raised my children. There was a time when I didn’t think I would make it and now it’s done! Can you believe it?” She looked at me and said “Did you ever doubt it? You came from me!” She knew what she put in me. She knew she had shown me what it was to be strong. She knew I could make it even when I questioned that myself. My circumstances revealed just how strong I could be for my children’s sake.
At this time of year, we remember Mary, the mother of Jesus – the epitome of a woman of noble character, despite the fact the she chose to bear a child out of wedlock. We know the story: an angel appeared and told her she had been selected for a great honor – to bear the Savior of the world. Hers was not an easy decision to make. Not only was there a stigma attached to unwed mothers but she rightfully could have been stoned for her actions. Joseph could have refused to marry her and left her alone in her shame. She accepted the will of God for her life, even though it meant that she would be shunned and ridiculed by others. We know, from the biblical accounts, many details of the birth of Jesus – how the wise men sought him, how there was no room at the inn so she gave birth to him in a manger. We know how Herod pursued the child to kill him to keep him from fulfilling his destiny. Not much is mentioned about his childhood other than a side trip to the temple at age twelve when he got separated from his earthly parents. When Mary scolded him for causing her to worry, he replied, “Didn’t you know I would be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49, paraphrase)
See, I think his response tells us a lot about the challenges she faced raising such a young man – headstrong, eager to get to the task at hand. But he was not ready. It wasn’t his time yet. He needed to be prepared. Mary had to find a way to chasten him, to teach him – he, who was born the son of the Almighty God. She had to raise her son in a harsh world. She taught him humanity, the good and the bad of it and what it was like to have and to not have. She taught him compassion. Because of her position in life, he likely had to learn some hard truths. I cannot help but see her influence in his teachings. I cannot help but see his love and concern for his own mother in how he responded to the needs of others. She bore many indignities to bring her son into this world and then, she watched him die. Jesus loved her so that he gave her a son, his disciple, to replace him. Mary was a woman of her time but she was no namby-pamby woman who was just an incubator for the great birth. She was more than a vessel – she was his first teacher. She was not just a woman with an insipid, Mona Lisa smile. Jesus loved her as a son would love his mother and they had a real relationship. God chose her for her qualities, for her excellent character, to take an active role in raising his son. But it began with her choice to be a woman of excellence.