She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy…” Proverbs 31:20
The first time I heard about the Wife of Noble Character was when my grandmother passed away nearly 15 years ago. At her eulogy, my aunts read a beautiful piece they had written about the Proverbs 31 woman, and how my grandmother exemplified that character in so many ways. I had not been raised in the church, knew nothing about the Bible, and certainly did not know or understand the concept of being a wife of noble character.
But as I listened to my aunts tell stories of the many ways my grandmother had taken care of them and their home, I found myself drawn to the passage and fascinated with the stories. My grandmother was remembered for sewing dresses for dolls out of flour sacks, preparing huge pots of homemade chocolate pudding and freshly baked bread for dinner, and opening her home to strangers in need.
I longed to have been a part of that type of existence, sitting at my grandmother’s table as young child, watching as her wooden spoon laboriously stirred the chocolate concoction, and slathering butter across a chunk of warm bread. Or perhaps learning to make her famous blackberry jam from backyard berries.
Because my dad was the baby of the family, my brother and I did not get to know my grandmother as well as our older cousins. By the time we were in elementary school we had moved far away from her, and by the time I was in junior high she had begun to suffer from dementia. So in some ways, memories of my grandmother that others have are precious to me, connecting me to the woman she was in her prime, before her mind began to deteriorate.
My dad and his sisters have told me other stories of their childhood, of how “bums” traveling the rail system would stop in town looking for a warm place to sleep, or a hot meal to fill their bellies. History books tell me how hard times were in the early 1940’s, but some stories can’t be found in textbooks. Like how at times, my dad and his siblings would come home and find my grandmother had invited one of these transients into her home to sit down at the dinner table.
Apparently, there was some sort of system, a sign that would tell others looking for food and shelter that a home was a friendly one. My aunt said that often the transients would put some sort of mark on the house, or perhaps snap a branch on a shrub, to let others know that this was a friendly home. When I think of that, I imagine one of the large peony bushes in my grandmother’s front yard, with a snapped stem dangling as open invitation to those in need.
As I prepare for a new chapter in my life, this year of grad school and unemployment, I know that the Lord is calling me to give some of my time in service to others, in His name. I can’t be sure yet exactly how much time that will be, or what that time will consist of, but I have a few ideas.
As much as I love to cook, I know that there will not be a snapped branch at the end of my driveway inviting the homeless to dinner. In another time and place, that would have been me. But in this day, I ask the Lord to show me clearly how I can open my arms and extend my hands to those in need, using the gifts and abilities He has blessed me with.
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.” I Corinthians 12:28
This morning, I decided to spend some time looking for those opportunities. I had read an article in the Houston Chronicle yesterday that publicized some volunteer opportunities in the Houston area, which then led me to a website that matches volunteers with organizations that need their assistance.
And this is the list of possibilities that I am praying about:
1. Working with a women’s shelter as a Life Skills instructor, teaching women about things like balancing checkbooks, preparing healthy meals for their family, and training themselves for future employment.
2. Helping to deliver meals to home-bound senior citizens
3. Mentoring local exchange students
4. Serving as a spiritual volunteer with local hospice organizations
5. Visiting those with no family connections at local nursing homes
In less than two weeks, my children will begin school. A week later, my classes begin in full force. But even when school begins for me, I will have two full days a week that will be “open” to these opportunities. And I have to tell you, I am excited to see how the Lord is going to lead me in this.
Those who know me know that I have been somewhat anxious this summer to see how my family’s financial needs were going to be met while I stepped away from the work force. There have already been several money stones overturned, so to speak. But more importantly, even as I wonder today where all the money will come from, I have peace that it is coming.
And I think that one of the best ways I can reflect that peace is by saying, “Lord, take the time that I have and use it for YOU.” Instead of scrambling for a part-time job or biting my nails to the quick every time the refrigerator gets empty, I need to embrace this time and look for ways to bless others. I want to walk in confidence each day knowing that my needs will be met, so much so that I can focus on others whose needs far, far outweigh mine.
It is clear that the Wife of Noble Character, no matter how busy she must have been taking care of her husband, her children, and her home, doing things by hand that our lives of convenience can’t even comprehend, was still able to give to others outside of her home. And part of my noblejourney has to include that.
Scripture is clear in that the older women are called to teach the younger. I am blessed to have had those women in my life. And while my grandmother is gone, the teaching is still there.
All three of my aunts, Ruth, Juanita, and Shirley, exemplified the wife of noble character in many ways. But it was Shirley, whom I spent a lot of time with when I was young, who had the greatest impact on my life. She is my grandmother’s youngest daughter, and the best example of a wife of noble character that I have today. Some of the best memories of my childhood involved being in her home. Looking back, I wonder where she found the time to do all the things that she did. She worked outside of the home, but also worked diligently in the home. I don’t think I have a single memory, probably because it never happened, of her just sitting idle. If she wasn’t cooking or serving, she was sewing clothes for her family, or crocheting, or doing something constructive with her hands.
When she did sit, I can remember her quickly reaching for the basket next to her chair, overflowing with yarn and stitching needles, or perhaps some cloth with a needle waiting for her to resume stitching. Her dinner table was always overflowing with vegetables from her garden, including sweet corn and the most amazing pickles I’ve ever eaten in my life.
I knew at an early age that Aunt Shirley loved the Lord, even though it would be many years before I would come to know Him. Once I remember my younger cousin, James, being very sick, and soon the house was filled with people I did not know, laying hands on and praying over his weary body. It was always clear from where her strength came.
I’ve always looked up to Aunt Shirley, amazed at the many things she has done for her family over the years. But once, several years ago when her sister, Juanita, was dying from breast cancer, Shirley confided in me that she had always wished that she had been more like Juanita in some ways. My aunt Juanita taught Sunday School at her church for many years before getting sick, and I think that Shirley looked at that and saw such an admirable ability, that she was not able to see her own. She did not believe that she was a teacher.
At the end of our conversation, she mentioned needing to leave and run errands. (She never sits still for long!) When I asked where she was going, she casually mentioned, in a very off-handed manner, that she was delivering homemade bread to some elderly shut-ins.
I won’t say how old my aunt is today, but I will tell you that she still hasn’t slowed down, even though the vast majority of women her age have probably come to that place where they embrace rest. Each time she comes to visit, she is quick to show me her latest craft project, whether it is making jewelry or homemade greeting cards. I know that many of the things she makes end up as gifts for friends and family, blessings to others. And the greatest thing of all about her servant’s heart is that she is so unaware of it. She serves with a spirit of total humility.
Shortly before my grandmother passed away, at the age, I believe of 85, I helped to sort through some of her things at her apartment before she moved into a nursing home. Sitting next to her chair was silver tin filled with quilting blocks. Poking out from one of them was her needle, waiting to be picked up. Elsewhere in the house we found boxes of partially finished quilts. The tops were all finished, but abandoned.
My aunt explained that grandmother continued to make lap quilts “for the old people” at the nursing homes. But as her eyes failed and her fingers became less coordinated, she had been unable to do the more difficult finishing. Comparing these unfinished tops to the finished pieces that I own, I recognized a wider stitch, less perfect measurements, and a few more ragged edges.
But I know that is not what the Lord saw. He saw, even until the end, that servant’s heart. Those open hands and extended arms, just like Shirley’s, reaching out at all times to do something beyond herself, for others, for Him.
A servant’s heart cannot be manufactured. It is a calling from the Lord, led by the Spirit. And I am so thankful today, as I seek ways to serve, that I have had such wonderful examples of the Wife of Noble Character teaching me, leading me, and encouraging me, even when they are gone or far away.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, Godliness; and to Godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” 2 Peter 1:5-9