I am constantly amazed by the Holy Spirit’s guidance to mold us into living vessels for the kingdom in spite of ourselves. My overwhelming gratitude coupled by Mother’s Day fast approaching has prompted me to share with you a few unique mothers of the Bible. And, if you’d indulge me, I’d like to exhort some ladies that poured into this jar of clay along the way.
Being a perfectionist, I had my mind set on what I would do and how I would act when I became a mother. And, it was when not if because most of us who like perfection also like to be in control! Sounds about right for someone that doesn’t have any kids to mess up their plans yet.
This goal of being the perfect mom was magnified by my misguided maternal example. Although my mother tried to show me love, she was unable to completely understand a love she didn’t receive as a child. It was only by the grace of God that I overcame the emotional bondage of my childhood and discovered how to love my children.
If you’ve ever doubted the sufficiency of His grace, please keep reading. I am the poster child of transformation!
Have you ever eaten someone’s cooking and thought “This is too good to be homemade”? My dear friend, Adriana Esposito Reed, inspired me to never serve my family a Stouffer’s Lasagna. While it should have given me a pasta inferiority complex, it had the opposite effect. And, it wasn’t only her cooking. She graciously opened her home to me, which meant the closet doors too. Did I mention she was a fashion merchandiser? As a teenage girl, I didn’t think it could get any better. I thought imparting wisdom while dressing your daughter for a big event only happened in the movies.
As I went off to the dance dressed to the nines, those electrically sliding beside me had no idea that Adriana was behind the scene making it all possible. Make no mistake, I loved being treated like Cinderella. And, as mentioned previously, my clock would always strike at midnight and I would have to return to the reality of my home. Although I hated leaving Adriana’s house, upon each returning visit I learned how to offer hospitality. It is a moral imperative to welcome others into our homes especially those who might be just a little different from us. I had nothing to offer Adriana yet she had so much to give to me.
The New Testament word for hospitality is philoxenia, which means a love of the guest or stranger. It can also mean love of the whole activity of hosting. The atmosphere of hospitality embraced and transformed me, a young idealistic girl desiring to be as beautiful on the inside as Adriana made me on the outside.
Likewise, in Acts 12:12 Luke shares with us an amazing mother who exemplifies the gift of hospitality. This is the only time Mary, the mother of John Mark, is mentioned in the Bible even though she hosted the apostles and many others before the crucifixion and after the ascension. Talk about behind the scenes. That is the heart of hospitality–sharing your home and all that comes with it because you see others as children of God. Contrary to our carnal nature, it is not because you want compliments about your cooking or a delightful discussion about your decor. Nor is it the opposite fleshly excuse of not inviting others into our home because we’re self-conscious about our belongings more than being God-conscious about our becoming. Just think what could mutually occur as believers gather to glorify their Lord.
As you read Chapter 12, you discover that many were gathered at Mary’s house to pray for Peter’s deliverance from jail. God was answering their prayers at the exact moment they were praying. He had to be for when Peter knocked on the door and the servant girl, Rhoda, ran to tell the others, they didn’t believe her. She recognized his voice and joyfully announced his arrival only to be told, “You’re out of your mind!” (15) God hears the cry of our hearts so don’t be astonished that you receive an answer to prayer. Simply be amazed by His great love for you!
John Mark’s mother, Mary, heard firsthand of Jesus’ introductory public miracle at the wedding in Cana. She knew about Martha’s tough love lesson to sit and enjoy your guests. And, she was a part of the early church that met in houses for “all the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44). Consequently, the very next verse about selling possessions describes Mary’s brother, Barnabas. Moreover, Acts 4: 36-37 shares this personal example, “Barnabas sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles feet”. Wow! He gave his land for the sake of Christ, and she gave up her Jerusalem home to be used as one of the first churches.
Some of you may be thinking, ‘She was obviously a widow with the means to have a servant and a big pad, so it wasn’t too laborious for her to be hospitable to Jesus and the apostles’. Although that may be true, let me remind you that she lives in Jerusalem. The place where Jesus was crucified after eating the Last Supper. The place where the Jews chose Barabbas over the one they called Hosanna in the Highest with the wave of their palm branches. The place where Christians were a persecuted sect.
Mary was an sterling example of hospitality as she yielded her home and sacrificed her time, money, and talents to serve the Lord by serving those created in His image.
Do you have a Mary in your life? A hospitable mother who sees you as a child of God? If so, take time to thank God for her and to show her your appreciation. And, if you are like me, and know that it’s your turn to be what Adriana was in my life, then let’s pray together that God will move us from our comfort zone to make our homes a place of comfort for others.
Mother Knows Best
We have all done things we’ve regretted. Often we beat ourselves up or have someone close to us ready to remind us of the error of ways. Occasionally, that is a mother, yet look out if anyone else dares to say the exact same thing about her child. The lion may be the king of the jungle, but we all know who takes down the prey.
Likewise, many of us have avoided regret by heeding mom’s advice. I have had my share of smart sages along the way–Sandy Boosz, Marlene Bittinger, Dorothy Armstrong, Joel Smolinsky, Joyce Maiorca… While each of these ladies “is worth far more than rubies”, I recall a time that a certain mother-figure’s words were ointment to my wounded heart (Prov 31:10).
During my senior year in college, I was student teaching and working full-time. While this should have left little time for socializing, I somehow managed to have a boyfriend. We had dated casually over the summer so when he wanted a more serious relationship I was taken off guard. Moreover, the combination of sleep-deprivation and self-deception clouded my reasoning to the point of agreement. My inability to say no was laced with a fear of rejection, which had always steered me wrong in the past. But, I had walked in this unhealthy pattern for so long that I had deceived myself into thinking I wasn’t afraid of being rejected.
Although I was more miserable each time I saw him, I fooled myself into thinking it was a ‘good enough’ relationship. And, my facade had convinced those around me with the exception of one woman willing to speak the truth in love. Even though Kathy Murphy and I had swapped stories over ice cream, we had never discussed my lame love life. However, my avoidance of the topic didn’t stop God from speaking to her.
That night I began to understand the gift of discernment. More than challenging my life choices, she questioned the motives of my heart. You see, it was more than advice as she seemed to be participating with God to bring healing. Make no mistake, Kathy was concerned about my possible reaction. Yet, her longing to please God more than a friend directed me on a path of freedom. This journey began with baby steps complete with bumps and bruises, but they didn’t hurt as much as my former self-destructive patterns and their consequences.
I doubt that any of us wake up in the morning and plan to go in the wrong direction. However, that’s what we do when we are conflicted by the messages of our culture, the lies of the Satan, and our carnal side that opposes the truth of who we are in Christ. While we are fallible human beings, we have been chosen by God to be His instrument. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuits, said discernment always aims at enhancing one’s participation in the work of God; it is always undertaken for the glory of God and the healing of the world. It is the exact opposite of the friend who tries to manipulate us based on his self-interest and particular agenda. On the contrary, discernment guides us on the quest for the will of God and the understanding to carry it out. Kathy’s sensitivity to the Spirit provoked me to action as I finally realized how self-deception had blocked my understanding of God’s plans for my life. Now as I look back at the painful process of discovery, it seems like the sorrow only lasted for the night and the joy truly came in the morning.
Speaking of discovery, one can empathize with King Josiah who not only discovered God’s law and its unfailing truth but the character of Yahweh whose love for His children exercises mercy and justice. Reviewing the life of King Josiah in 2 Kings 22, we see an eight year old boy that reigns for over thirty years following in the footsteps of his grandfather Hezekiah rather than his evil father Manasseh. At the age of 16, Josiah repents and seeks the one true God, which leads to sweeping reforms against idolatry and other pagan practices. As they tore down the false idols they repaired the temple of God. During this purification process, the high priest and scribe found the Book of the Law (most likely Deuteronomy). Much like me, King Josiah is overcome by his lack of spiritual understanding as he begins to see that deception has led to disobedience. By now, he is twenty-six and serving God the best that he knows how. But, it still isn’t enough. He yearns for clues that will direct him. Perhaps a burning bush like Moses or a even a donkey like Balaam.
Wait a minute…King Josiah needs a Kathy Murphy in his life to steer him on the path of righteousness. Consequently, Jo doesn’t have just any prophet near the palace–he has Jeremiah! The weeping prophet is at his service yet he sends his loyal counselors to the prophetess Huldah, “who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jersusalem in the Second District.” Huldah tells them God will bring justice on his people for they have sinned against him, but “Because your (Josiah) heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares The Lord…Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place and on those who live here” (14-20).
The discernment of Huldah opened the eyes of Josiah and he was able to see God’s involvement in his life had purpose and direction. Whether thousands of years ago or simply twenty something, God seeks to bring healing and wholeness to His beloved. He cared for King Josiah enough to call Huldah not Jeremiah to share his presence. And, he loved me enough to send Kathy Murphy to participate in the divine activities of transformation. God is present in the situations of your life.
Huldah’s prophetic message and King Josiah’s reading of the law brought revival to a nation. Kathy’s faithful action and my brokenness brought renewal to my life. May this humble sharing of God’s Word empower you to discern His intentional and intimate participation in your life.
It is characteristic of the evil to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. It is characteristic of the good spirit, however, to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace.
Spiritual Exercises Ignatius of Loyola
Oh, the first time I saw her…it was love at first sight! However, in the most pathetic Charlie Brown moment, I knew she didn’t notice me even though I was sitting next to her son. You see, I had recently moved from the inner city to a rural town, and didn’t quite fit in with my new fourth grade class. That is whole future series in itself, but let’s suffice to say that it was more than just the new girl syndrome.
Getting back to my first impression, there she was standing at our door with a tray full of cream puffs. To a girl from the ghetto this seemed like the royal treatment. The concept of a mom bringing a desert, and not just any desert, to her child’s classroom blew my juvenile mind. And, the fact that it wasn’t even a holiday party, stirred my young emotions even more. At that moment, I decided that she was the kind of mother I wanted to be.
Sure, I didn’t know anything else about her aside from her fabulous baking, but my youthful observations of her son told me she was intelligent, nurturing, industrious, and conscientious. Okay, so at the age of ten, I probably said to myself, “Wow, this boy is so lucky to have a mom that is smart, caring, well-off, and even helps him with his homework!”
Fast forward to junior high, I am now friends with her son, Bart, and confirming all of my assumptions. While I still haven’t met her, I’ve had opportunities to admire from afar. One such time, she came to share our foreign language options for high school. Spanish and Latin didn’t have a chance since she was the French teacher. No, I wasn’t just thinking about eclairs and fondue!
Perhaps some of you are waiting for the climactic moment when I am sitting in her class and come to the realization that she wasn’t what I had imagined. You are partially correct. She was more inspirational, more supportive, more encouraging than I could have ever dreamed. Not only did I want to be a mother like her, I wanted her to be my mother.
And, the feelings were mutual as she made me birthday cakes complete with my favorite meal, Boeuf Bourguignon. Without complaint, she painstakingly assisted me with college applications and graciously helped me through the drama that accompanies any high school girl. Moreover, when I had to deal with the trials of my home life, she was there to comfort me without the appearance of interfering. Carol Wilking was and is an amazing woman that modeled servant leadership to a young girl searching to be more than what her environment told her she was.
Carol resembles Deborah, the great leader of Israel, who sat under her palm tree day after day to decide matters for the people (Judges 4:5). Like last week’s lesson on Huldah the prophetess, the Bible mentions who Deborah was the wife of, but doesn’t give us a record of her as a mother. Regardless of this lack of information, it is clear that both ladies were mothers in their service to those seeking Godly guidance.
While Deborah lead the people into battle, Carol instilled strength in me. Evidenced by the respect commanded, Carol, like Deborah, was influential in her work and community. And though strong leaders, both were more concerned about the person than the success. Carol’s maternal instinct wanted me to succeed academically, socially, and spiritually so her insight and confidence helped me to focus on what I could do rather than worry about what I couldn’t. It was this kind of stirring that aided the Israelites when all odds were against them. They were victorious against the 900 chariots of Sisera’s expertly trained army and I overcame the enemies of self-doubt and shame (Judges 4:14-16).
To celebrate and preserve their victory, the Israelites composed and sang The Song of Deborah. Because she exceeded the expectations of others, it is recorded in Judges 5:7, “Deborah arose, arose a mother in Israel”. Like a mom wanting the best for her children, she raised the standard and they followed her instruction. Likewise, Carol Wilking far exceeded my high expectations as she helped me to reach my potential and achieve my God-given purpose. Following my surrogate heritage, I pray that I serve others by leading individuals and organizations with conviction and a willingness to join them on the journey.
The Song of Carol
Ma mère, je t’aime
Tu as toujours été là pour moi
De appels téléphoniques douteux à Kudos pour le déjeuner aux livres pour Madison
Ma mère, je t’aime
Vous me l’a donné quand je n’avais rien à donner
Vous avez cru en moi quand je faisais confiance à personne
Ma mère, je t’aime
Tu m’as montré comment me respecter
M’obligeant à vous respecte encore plus
Ma mère, je t’aime
Tu m’as appris à conduire
Quand vous m’avez généreusement servis
Ma mere, je t’aime.
Mother May I?
Have you ever noticed how many women are mentioned in Paul’s personal greetings to the Christians in Rome? While my personal favorite has always been Phoebe, the deaconess, I recently took note of verse 13, which reads, “Greet Rufus, chosen in The Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.”
Mark, who wrote primarily to Roman readers, speaks of Simon the Cyrene as having two sons: Alexander and Rufus (15:21). Does this Simon sound familiar? He is the one who shouldered the cross of our Savior. If tradition is correct, then it is not surprising that his son would follow in his footsteps as a follower of Christ. Consequently, we all know behind any great man is a great woman. Simon the Cyrene and Rufus were ‘chosen in The Lord’ because they had a wife and mother who was chosen too. She understood her ministry in the home as unto The Lord. So, she served Him by serving them through the love and maintenance of her household.
While in seminary I was introduced to the spiritual discipline of household economics. Trust me this is not going to turn into a financial lesson. Surprisingly, economics is rooted in the Greek word oikos, which means household. It is the management of the household, meaning the ordering of what is necessary for the well-being of the home. Of course, this may include the budget, but it also takes into account (no pun intended) simplicity, benevolence, community, caring for the environment, and much more.
Let me flesh this out for us by using the personal example of Steve’s mother. Unlike our nameless Biblical reference, this mom’s name is Lois. This one definitely sounds familiar to many of you because you also know her as my mother-in-law. And, believe it or not, she is not an outlaw even though we couldn’t be more different. She is practical, I am passionate. She is playful, I am purposeful. She is musical, I am dramatic. The list could go on and on, and it shows itself so clearly in people’s first impressions of us.
You know the idiom, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, and that’s exactly what others think of the minute they engage either of us in conversation.
For those you who know me personally, you could probably write your own blog about the first time we met. Of course, I would have to censor much of it! I guess that needs explaining. New acquaintances often think I am a sweet, demure woman because I am petite. Then, I open my mouth and they think to themselves, “Yikes, that’s not what I expected!” Yes, my website picture speaks for itself. Reversely, my mother-in-law is often misjudged as intimidating, when in fact, she has more compassion and sincerity in her pinky toe than I manage to muster up on a good day.
I know this to be true as I thought I had read her book from cover to cover, and wanted no part of going to her house for dinner with her son. Even though I had never spoken to her at our college or other public events before we began dating, I was absolutely sure she was not going to be welcoming. However, I was willing to do just about anything to snag her son, so I overcame my presuppositions and went to meet the parents. That night I was able to get a glimpse of her story and was captivated. After reading the chapters of her life and being a part of it for twenty years, I can tell you that the best thing about snagging him was getting her for a mom.
Lois has taught me how to manage my household while enabling me to pursue my call to ministry. With patience and understanding, she has helped me to become more practical, more balanced, and more relaxed. For example, about a year into our marriage, we were discussing my teaching career and children. While I had it all planned out to take time off until the last one went to kindergarten, and then go back to public education, she informed me that they are as much work or even more once they are in school. Because I was still a newlywed, my idealistic control freak thoughts were not shared with my new mother-in-law, but boy did her son hear it!
Consequently, I am now a mother of four school-aged children, who is humble enough to admit I was wrong. Fulfilling your role as a mother requires love in ACTION. In other words, love is consistently working hard even when you don’t want to. It’s doing laundry when there are frogs in their jean pockets. It’s cleaning up vomit at three o’clock in the morning when you stayed up past midnight to finish a project. It’s attending sporting events when you don’t have a clue. All of these things and more are only done well if you manage your household by making choices that aren’t always popular. As a parent, I have reminded myself of Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
This is what Steve’s mom was trying to teach me–simply keeping up is not faithfully managing what God has given you. As the children grow and the dynamics of the household change, the reordering of the family’s time and money must be discerned. Is it time for mom to go back to work? Do all the children participate in the activity? Should we cancel our cable and give the money to missions? Perhaps the simplicity and interdependency I am trying to express is best illustrated by the statement, “Show me your checkbook, and I will tell you what you believe.”
Again, this is not about finances. it is about faithfully managing your household so that your walk matches your talk. With every season, I ask myself the hard questions as I make decisions for my family. I weigh the busyness with the “please, please, mom”. And, I look at the monthly bills and the time I would be away from home. I consider if the purchase will make me feel guilty or blessed. And, just like Paul’s dependence on Rufus’ mother, I have Lois there to help me find my way. She has truly been an example of Luke 12:34, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also”.