Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thirty One Thursdays - The Value of Virtue

New to Thirty One Thursdays?  Start by reading the Intro Week.

Proverbs 31:10
"Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies."

Have you ever casually glided into a high-end jewelery store just to oggle the diamonds? You find yourself staring through the top of the case at that ring/necklace/bracelet that you will only ever wear in your imagination, when you notice a small puddle of saliva collecting on the glass underneath you. "Good afternoon, may I be of assistance to you today?" A condescendingly tall, gem-strewn woman appears, ruining your tastefully lustful moment, offering you her assistance and a cup of hot tea. Quick, lean on the drool pool before she notices. "No thank you," you say, unsure of why you're speaking in an English accent, "I'm just browsing today." She smiles politely and walks on, as you wipe your moistened sleeve across the glass top.  You move on to the next case, aching desire returning to your chest as your admire the beautiful gems.

Proverbs 31:10-31 tells us about the Virtuous Woman, and right off the bat we're let in on just how valuable she is.  No one is quite sure of her identity, or if it's even an actual person being written about.  Chances are we're reading about an ideal to be pursued.  If verses 10-31 are an extension of verses 1-9, then the writings on the Virtuous Woman are an admonition to King Lemuel from his mother.  She is advising him in the way of seeking out a wife and counseling him in the qualities he should look for.  It is almost certainly not, as we often assume, a biography of a specific woman.

It is also good to know that the series of verses is a poem; an alphabetic acrostic.  Each verse (or line of the poem) corresponds to a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, in order.  Here's a picture of the Hebrew alphabet (sometimes called the Alef Bet after the first two letters) just so you have something to identify with.

Remember, Hebrew is written and read right to left, so the first letter is Alef.  There are also a few repeated letters here, because they are written differently when used in different contexts (in case you were wondering why you were counting more than 22 letters).  Because the writing on the Virtuous Woman is a poem, we can assume that some words were chosen for the sake of the poetry.  We can also rest in the fact that the series of verses itself is intended to be beautiful, and also intended to be remembered.  It may have been written in the form of an alphabetic acrostic to provide for easy memory for a young man.

So we begin with Alef, verse 10.

Let's go back to that feeling you got in the jewelery store, when looking at a beautiful, unattainable piece of jewelery.  Well that is just the beginning of how the world feels about this Virtuous Woman.  We learn that her value, or what she is worth, is far above these beautiful jewels.  The word virtuous comes from the Hebrew word chayil, actually meaning strength, ability, or efficiency, and could be comparable to the strength of an army or the wealth of a city.  It is often used to describe strength of character, and is translated this way in only two other places in the Old Testament.  The first, in the description of Ruth found in Ruth 3:11.  The second, in Proverbs 12:4; "An excellent wife is the crown of her husband."  The words far above come from the Hebrew word rachowq, meaning remote or distant.  It is often used in the context of being very far off but still able to be seen.  It makes me think of how God is distinguished from mankind in His holiness, or how Wisdom is distinguished from foolishness in its perfectness.  In a similar way, a woman of virtue is distinguished from other women of the world in her beauty.  This verse is actually telling us that a woman who has strength of character is a very rare find indeed.  She is set far apart even from the most beautiful thing you've ever laid your eyes on.  Wow.  It's humbling for me to even think about assuming that I could attain this rare beauty in my own life.

But it's crucial for us to remember that we are not the ones who attain it for ourselves.  God is the one who will turn us into these rare gems only when we submit ourselves to Him.  I've been going through a study called Following God; Life Principles from the Women of the Bible. I think the authors of the study state it perfectly:
"[These women are not rare] because God is unable to make many women like this, but because few stay consistently yielded to Him as to attain this level of excellence."
The virtuous woman is not rare because of God's selectivity; she is rare because of mankind's quickness to rebellion.  If I look into my own life and find that I am lacking these rare qualities of strength and efficiency, before complaining to God about it I have to be willing to also look honestly at my level of functional daily surrender to His will.  Becoming a woman of virtue requires submitting to God above and before all else.  Nothing else will get us there.  Nothing else will instill in us the described value.

As we read past verse 10, we will begin to look in detail at the varying traits of the Virtuous Woman.  The list is not intended to make us feel bad about ourselves (remember, it was probably written to a man in the first place!), so I want to encourage you to lower the shield of pride as you read.  The purpose of the Proverbs, this poem included, is to give wisdom and instruction, not to bring condemnation.
"To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth-
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance"
Proverbs 1:2-5
Let's read this poem about the Virtuous Woman as simple instruction that we can see with fresh eyes and be guided by from this point forward.  Let's resolve to read it no longer as that unachievable, guilt-laden to-do list.  If we can come with honesty, humility, and willingness to let God be the teacher, then we will surely learn new truths here.  And we will be transformed into women who are beautifully rare indeed.

THIS WEEK'S ACTION STEP:  Print off a picture of the most beautiful piece of valuable jewelery or pile of gems you can find. Gotta love google image!  Find something that is attractive to you. Tape it to your bathroom mirror, the one you look in every day while getting ready (ya know, the one you've looked into so many times and seen a less than beautiful reflection in). And while you throw on your make-up and tie back your hair, remind yourself that the steps you're taking today in submitting to God, however small they might be, are turning you into something more beautiful and more coveted than that piece of jewelery. Let the image be a visual reminder of what God has destined you for and called you to.

"The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain."
Proverbs 31:11

Blue Letter Bible. "The Proverbs of Solomon 31 - (NKJV - New King James Version)." Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 30 Dec 2010. < >

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

NEW (I swear!) Lunch Ideas for Kids

While browsing through Ross a few weeks ago, as we all do from time to time ("Oh that yellow tea kettle would look amazing on my stove!" "Ooooh those heels are CUTE... and CHEAP!" "Oh yeah I DO need new bath towels!"), I came across their children's book section.  (Ross sells books??)  And while browsing through the randomly shelved books, I came across this little beauty:
Sesame Street Silly Snacks; Cooking with Kids.  For $3.50 (compare at $10.00... yay Ross!) I picked up oodles of new lunch and snack ideas that my toddler, and probably most other young kids, will actually consider eating!  Unbelievable!  I LOVE finding new lunch ideas for kids because they are so darn picky and don't want to eat anything healthy (even though that's all we ever have in the house!) and if I have to make one more box of organic mac 'n cheese I might barf! 
I want to share a few of my favorites with you, in case you feel the same way.  Right now.  Because I like you.

Lily Pads
2 Cups packed fresh baby spinach leaves (about half of a 6 oz bag)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 Cup all-purpose flour (or a little less if using whole wheat)
1/2 Cup low-fat milk (although I always use whole, and find that 1/4 Cup is plenty)
Slices of your fave cheese

1. Put the spinach in a bowl of a food processor.  Pulse on and off until the spinach is coarsely chopped.  Add the eggs,, butter, salt, sugar and nutmeg.  Process until combined.
2.  Add the flour and process until combined.  Add the milk and process until the batter is smooth.
3.  In the meantime, lay the slices of cheese on a cutting board.  Cut out circles using a 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter.  Save the scraps for another snack.
4.  Heat a skillet over medium heat and brush lightly with butter (or spray with cooking spray).  Drizzle the batter onto the skillet in circles about 2 inches in diameter (like a silver dollar pancake).  Cook 1 minute or until the edges turn dull.  Flip each Lily Pad, then top as many as you wish with the cheese circles.  (I don't have a circle cookie cutter, so I sprinkle parmesan on top of each one.)
5.  Cover and cook and additional 30 seconds or until the cheese melts a little.  Remove the Lily Pads to a plate and repeat the steps with the remaining batter.

Yam Yums
1 large (or 2 medium) sweet potatoes
1/2 Cup pure maple syrup
2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp butter, melted
Salt and black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Line a large baking sheet with foil.
2.  Cut the scrubbed but unpeeled sweet potato crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Place the slices on a cutting board.  To make the Yam Yums, use small metal cookie cutters about 1 1/2 inches in diameter to cut the potato slices into shapes.  Or, cut out shapes or letter with a sharp knife.  Save the scraps for another use.
3.  Stir together the maple syrup, orange juice and melted butter in a small bowl.
4.  Arrange the Yam Yums in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
5.  Season both sides of the Yam Yums with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Brush them generously with part of the maple syrup mixture.
6.  Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the Yam Yums are tender, turning the pieces over once and basting with the remaining maple syrup mixture.
7.  Remove the Yam Yums to a wire rack or platter and cool.

Frosty Orange Bowls (for a breakfast, side or dessert)
2 small navel oranges
1 container (6 oz) orange, lemon, or vanilla yogurt (the thicker the better)

1.  Wash the oranges.
2.  Cut off a quarter to a half inch or the orange from one end (taking the "top" off), revealing the pulp.  Cut a small amount of orange peel off the other end (giving a flat surface so the orange will stand up straight, acting as your bowl).
3.  Carefully cut the pulp from each orange with a small knife, grapefruit knife, or grapefruit spoon.  Save the empty orange shells for step 5.  (Ok, I think this is the tricky step.  The first time I tried these I used all the pulp as well as all the juice from inside the orange.  It works much better of you can use mostly just the pulp and save most of the juice for something else.)
4.  Place the orange pulp and the yogurt in a blender container.  Cover and process until almost smooth, about 12 seconds.
5.  Spoon the orange mixture into the reserved orange shells, slightly mounding the mixture on the top.  (Pour any remaining mixture in a small cup to be eaten now or frozen for later.)
6.  Place the oranges in a small container or individual custard cups.  Loosely wrap each with plastic wrap.  Freeze about 1 hour or until slightly firm and frosty.
These can be wrapped tightly and frozen overnight and up to several days.  Let stand at room temperature 15-30 minutes to soften before eating.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thirty One Thursdays - Introduction

Proverbs 31:10-31. It can be the greatest source of encouragement or the most brutal pond of reflection. Ha. We read a description of what seems to be the perfect woman. She's a gal with a plan and a purpose and the ability to execute. And all with a smile on her face and song in her heart, of course. This passage can be an intimidating read, but I've been thinking lately that there must be more to grasp in this passage than just "Man I feel like crap after reading that."

Proverbs 31 sets forth quite the ideal when it comes to womanly achievement. But I'd like to believe it wouldn't be there at all if there wasn't some quality of attainability within it. The woman described is a rare find, of more value than any jewel, but maybe we can become this rare woman.

So I present to you Thirty One Thursdays. It is a study, a realization, a challenge. Over the next 22 weeks we will use Thursdays at Life On Purpose to dive into this passage of scripture. Each week we will look at one verse and only one verse. We'll break it all down nice and slow, like an awkward middle school dance. How do you feel about it? What does it mean? Am I supposed to do that? CAN I do that?? And each week there will be an Action Step to go along with the verse. Sometimes it will be something simple to help us remember what we read. Sometimes it will be something a little more complicated to really help us apply what we read. Sometimes it will be funny or weird or moving or require us to change. But there will be something, each week, to help us better understand (and perhaps better emulate) the woman we're reading about.

I would love for you to join me. And I would love for you to commit to participating in Thirty One Thursdays. (Don't be scared of commitment!) If you're going to join in the fun, simply leave a comment below. Tell us that you're jumping in with us and WHY. Do you want some study direction? Do you want to see what strange challenges we're going to do? Are you ready for a change? No matter what the reason, let us know you'll be here on Thursdays. We will form an online club of crazy, motivated women!

-Comment below telling us you're in and why.
-Read Proverbs 31:10-31 once a day this week. And if you're really feeling ambitious go ahead and write a short response after reading.

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies."
Proverbs 31:10; NIV

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Just" A Mom?

Last week I had to have some blood drawn for general prenatal labs, an experience that I dread. But there I bravely sat, in the registrar's office, verifying that all my information was still the same before heading down the long hall to face the needle. The woman efficiently typing away my maiden name, current address and insurance information said, "And you still work at The Dance Center, right?" "No that has changed," I said. "Well what do you do now?" The question took me by surprise. What DO I do now? What definition do I have? "Oh, umm, well I'm just a stay-at-home-mom." As soon as the words fell off my tongue I wanted to shove them back in my mouth. "Oh ok. Well, teaching dance must have been a lot of fun." Her response felt like a calculated right cross, adding further humiliation to my insignificant life.

Why did I feel embarrassed to tell her that I'm a stay-at-home-mom? And why was she moved to empathize with me over the fact that I'm not active in the workforce anymore? Do you ever feel like you're "just" a mom? Like what you give in your home every day doesn't really mean anything? Do you sometimes feel like you're not doing anything "real" with your life because your day-to-day consists merely of laundry, dishes, diapers and sitting on the park bench watching your kids throw sand into the air? I do!

But I regret allowing these thoughts to manifest themselves so boldly in my mind. "You're nothing more than a mom now" is a dangerous lie that the enemy tells to try to get us discouraged and off track. Before I had kids, I shamefully admit, I was a harsh judge of women who aspired to be "just" moms. I thought, doesn't she want something more for her life? Has she no ambition? Now that I have a son, I realize how completely wrong I was in my assumptions.

The Lord is showing me what a privelege it is to be the entrusted care-taker of young lives. When He gives us a child, He gives us a gift; and not just the gift of the child. He gives us the gift of motherhood, something totally underestimated by the world's standards, but a blessed, enriched, fulfilled occupation in His sight.

When your first child was born, you received a CALLING. It is a calling with a great purpose. It is a calling with unimaginable reward. And it is a calling that requires a response. We can choose to respond grudgingly, with unwilling hearts to fulfill this call, or we can respond as Mary did:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
...for the Mighty One has done great things for me."

Mary was a young girl with her whole life ahead of her. She had the potential to bring great honor to her family name. And now she was found unmarried and pregnant, making her less than nothing in that society. She was a disgrace, not even worthy to live. And she responded with a heart of thankfulness. She saw what God had in mind for her, and any ambition she had had for her future life turned dim in light of His Will over her.

Women of God, we should make this our response as well, understanding that God has placed a personal, intimate, glorified calling over our lives as mothers. It is a calling that ushers in a great amount of responsibility and we should not take it lightly, as the world often does. Don't let the lie of the enemy convince you that you are something "less" than significant because of what you DO. You are a daughter in a divine family, and you have been given an enormously important role to fulfill.

The next time someone asks me what I do, I hope I will respond in confidence, chest puffed out, beaming with pride, "I am a daughter of the Most High God! I am a blessed vessel! I am a shaper of lives and giver of wisdom! I am strong, powerful and able! I AM a Stay-At-Home-Mom!"

Ok, that might be a little much to profess in the middle of the registrar's office at the health lab, but I definitely plan on not lowering my eyes to the ground the next time I answer this question. I will choose to respond in thankfulness for the amazing gift God has given me!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

First Snow

Here are a few pictures of Maddox playing in the first snow of the season a couple weeks ago. The night before he was so nervous watching the snow fall outside. Getting out in the daylight was much more fun! Afterwards, we came inside and had some hot chocolate at the kitchen table together. God's blessings are so rich, and it's moments like these that help me realize and remember that.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Stress-Free Holidays... or Something Like That

I headed out of the house to run a quick errand the other day and couldn't believe how stressed-out I felt by the time I arrived at my destination. And then I remembered that it's December, and in December, people are crazy on the road. Have you noticed that yet this year? All of a sudden the Christmas spirit hits and what's supposed to turn everyone into selfless, giving, caring human beings instead transforms ordinary people into extraordinary jerks. But then, it's not just on the road; it's everywhere! And it's not just other people... that's right, it happens in my home, my life, and my heart, too. And while we can't change how stressed out the people around us are, we can definitely be more conscious about the stress in our own lives this holiday season. Here are a few tips that I've found helpful so far in achieving a low-stress December...

1. Keep Christ on the Throne
I want to put this out there first because most times in life if we can stay focused on Christ everything else will fall into place. It is important to remember what we are celebrating during Christmas, and that is the birth of our Savior. If we can keep our eyes on Jesus, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to let the little things go and see situations for what they are and do all the other things I'm about to mention. He is the one who enables us to be at peace in our souls, no matter what time of year it is.

2. Organize
Sounds so simple, right? But how often are we running around town the few days before Christmas because we don't know what dish to bring here, or what gift to give there? Organizing early relieves stress. For our family there are three areas that I have gotten organized early this year: Budget, Gifts, and Events. It has been especially important in these areas to know what we are doing ahead of time, while there is still time. That means sitting down with hubby and deciding how much we're going to spend, who we're going to buy for, what we are going to buy, and where we are going to go (and not go) this Christmas. I am very visual, so having it all written out on a note card is tremendously helpful. I carry the note card with me so I can reference it whenever I forget what I'm doing or where I'm going or why I'm going there! Wait, how much money am I supposed to spend on that secret santa gift? Note card!

3. Prioritize (Events and Everything Else)
You can't do it all. Wait, let me say it again, with a little more emPHAsis... YOU CAN'T DO IT ALL. That's right, and neither can I. We like to think, especially at Christmas-time, that we are all-powerful all-conquering wives and mothers. We are the hostesses with the mostesses and ain't NOBODY gonna bring a better casserole to that potluck! This, I believe, is the central source of almost every woman's holiday stress. And do you know what that really is, all masked in homemade wrapping paper? It's pride. The best place to start in prioritizing is admitting that we can not, in fact, do it all. Now that that's out of the way, we are free to make room for a few special events in December, and politely decline a few other invites. Decide what is important in your family, and what is not, and prioritize accordingly. No one benefits from running all over town to make a bunch of appearances. And NO ONE benefits when the woman of the house is too high-strung to enjoy anything that's going on.

4. Set a Budget, and STICK TO IT
In our family, we do not put Christmas gifts on credit cards. It's all cash at Christmas. We are not able to do this because we have a lot of money, on the contrary, we have both been working only part-time or volunteer jobs for the last year, at least, with plenty of medical expenses to top off the regular bills. Sticking to a budget is all about deciding what is important to your family, and setting financial goals and expectations accordingly. If we expect of ourselves to pay for Christmas in cash, then we will take the necessary steps to make that happen. Maybe that means we start saving a little earlier, or maybe that means we buy smaller gifts and less of them. I want to encourage you, this is especially easier to do while the kids are still young and we are teaching them what to expect from us. If our young kids expect hundreds of dollars in gifts each Christmas, it's only because we have enabled those expectations. So go ahead and establish a budget first, then decide who you can afford to buy for and what you can afford to buy within those means. Organizing and prioritizing. Remember that Christmas is about Jesus' glory, not ours in giving the best gifts to everyone.

5. A Little At A Time
In other words, don't procrastinate. Do a little something every day this month. That big list (which hopefully is a little smaller after prioritizing) will shrink a little more with each passing day. By the time the 24th rolls around, the lights will be hung, the gifts will be wrapped, and there will be hot apple cider on the stove for the whole family to enjoy. Riiiiight. :) But really, not all the gifts have to be bought at once. And if you get half the tree up today and half up tomorrow and decorated next week, GREAT! Tree is done! If you hate shopping for a new dress for the party, do it NOW, even if the party isn't for two more weeks. Doing a little at a time allows us to take our time on the road, smile at people we stroll past in the store, and continue being pleasant to our kids. Ha. It allows us to move with ease through the holiday season, thinking about other people first.

6. Keep A Clean Home
This is that icing on the cake tip. It is not equal to remembering Jesus... cleanliness is not next to Godliness, but it helps a ton in alleviating stress when we can manage it. We have some friends who set their kitchen timer for 15 minutes every night and pick up the house until the timer dings. It is amazing what can get accomplished in 15 minutes! I always feel so much better the next morning if I take a few minutes to finish the dishes the night before. Our homes are supposed to be our havens away from stress. If we feel anxious in our homes because of the pile of papers, or the sink full of dishes, or the should've-been-mopped-yesterday floor, we can not expect to feel peaceable anywhere. This, I am finding, is true any time of the year, but is magnified during the holidays. Prioritize making your home the place you want to come home to.

This Christmas I want to remember Who I celebrate. I want to enjoy the company of my family. I want to be a giver of hugs and kisses and stress-free smiles. I'm guessing you want all these things, too. We will only achieve this for ourselves and our families if we are intentional. I can do it and so can you... let's choose a stress-free holiday!
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