When I went through my divorce in 2000, it really shattered my self image. The guilt and disappointment and shame was crushing. I'd done some things during my first marriage that made me feel like I could never hold my head up again, and no matter how hard I tried (or cried), I just couldn't forgive myself.
Starting in 2001, I went to several group counseling weekends in a program called The Road Adventure. Slowly, slowly, I began to forgive myself and believe that I was worthy of God's love. I attended my last session of the The Road on the weekend of June 21, 2002. At that point, I was mired in my perceived inadequacies as a single mother. In fact, I was so caught up in worrying that Ethan would be scarred for life that I could scarcely get anything out of the session.
There was a young man, probably around 20 years old, in my small group. He was a recovering drug addict, and he wanted a fresh start. He became a Christian during that weekend session, and I got to pray with him and encourage him.
At the end of the session, he came up to me and nervously announced that he had something he had to tell me. "My grandmother has this cross stitch hanging in her kitchen," he began, with halting speech. Where could he possibly be going with this?
"It's about that woman in Proverbs. You know? The virtuous woman? Well, you remind me of that woman. I think you are a virtuous woman."
Immediately, tears started streaming. He looked alarmed. "Did I say the wrong thing?"
"No," I choked out. "You can't imagine how much I needed to hear that!"
I have no doubt that God prompted that young man to take a risk and tell a virtual stranger something so intimate. I wanted so much for his words to be true. I longed to be a virtuous woman, to become a Godly wife and mother. My dear friend Jenny had been encouraging me to start memorizing scripture, and now I had my first passage. I memorized it in the New International Version, which refers to this paragon of a woman as "the wife of noble character." But I will always think of her as "the virtuous woman" (as she is called in the King James translation) because of the way God directed me to the passage.
Here it is, along with excerpts from my journal. Proverbs 31:10-31:
10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Opening my arms to the poor means I must welcome and love the needy. Instead of waiting for them to ask for help, I will reach out to them. I will need to open my eyes before I can open my arms. Lord, I need your help with that. Help me see the needs around me: emotional, physical, and financial.
Thursday 7/11/02: The virtuous woman "has no fear for her household when it snows, for all of them are clothed in scarlet." As a virtuous woman, I take care of Ethan well. I am prepared for difficult situations. I keep him well groomed.
Monday 7/15/02: The virtuous woman "makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple." This tells me it is good to appreciate beauty and to do all I can to make my surroundings lovely. It is also fitting to take care with my clothing and appearance.
Thank you, Lord, for the blessings you've given me. Thank you for the means to buy the new furniture and decorate my room so beautifully.
Tuesday 7/16/02: The virtuous woman's "husband is respected at the city gate..." I guess this means that the virtuous woman is a support to her husband and contributes to his success. Others see her virtue, and her husband is respected for that.
I want to become that sort of wife, Lord. Please prepare me for the future. I put my dreams and hopes and doubts in your hands. Let your will be done concerning my prospective marriage, and let it be done in your perfect time.
Wednesday 7/17/02: The virtuous woman "makes linen garments and sells them..." Hmm... I guess that means I am successful financially. It means I do quality work that is valued by others. Through God, I can provide for my household.
Lord, I want to thank you for blessing me so richly. I don't have lots of money, but I always have enough. You meet every need. I know that my success at work is directly related to you.
Thursday 7/18/02: The virtuous woman "is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." I love that one! I am a strong woman, deserving of respect. I am free of anxiety and assured of my future. I am full of laughter, not worry!
Thank you, Lord, for these wonderful qualities. Thank you for making me strong in my weakness. Thank you for giving me laughter.
Six Years Later
It took me many months to memorize those 21 verses, and my heart was changed in the process. Of course I will never attain the perfection described in Proverbs 31, but I continually strive for virtue in my marriage and my parenting. When I feel too tired to drag myself out of bed for my quiet time, I remind myself that the virtuous woman gets up while it's still dark. When I feel helpless to guide Ethan in a difficult situation, I remember that the virtuous woman speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. And when I ask God to give me the words, that verse is true!