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As women living in the 21st century we often take for granted our choices and freedoms. Both my mother and mother-in-law were told that they could not go to college. They were to get married and raise children and leave the higher education to the men. Both of these women are highly intelligent and both went on to work full-time jobs to help to support their families. Hours could be spent dwelling on the injustice of their limited choices; but dwelling on the past rarely moves us forward. Reflecting on the past, however, can teach us many lessons. I admire both my mother and mother-in-law for the lives they live, the lives they raised and the countless ways in which they continue to touch all of our lives today. When you look at the tapestry of their lives, when you reflect back on the past, you can see God’s handiwork throughout.
I was raised with the mindset that I could do or be anything I wanted to be. I was the first girl in my family to graduate from college and I am proud that I achieved that goal with honors. I was determined not to be a stay-at-home mother: I would have a career and a family. Shortly after graduation I began to work in the buying office at Dillard’s. I was an assistant to the Juniors’ buyer for swimwear, dresses, and knits. It was part of the Management Training Program, an elite position where only fourteen were chosen from over 300 applicants. After six to ten months in the buying office, helping with merchandising in the stores, and lots of grunt labor which included everything from gift wrapping and cashiering to loading trucks at store closings, we were given management positions in the stores complete with salaries and full benefits. I learned quickly that “salary” meant much more than a 40-hour work week and “retail” meant nights, weekends and holidays at work. Patrick and I were already engaged when I was promoted to Area Sales Manager in Odessa, Texas. Needless to say, that job position didn’t work out. Six hours away from my fiancé and soon-to-be-daughter was not a good arrangement. When my requests for a transfer were denied, I resigned and found another management position closer to home. By the time our wedding day arrived, I realized that retail would not be a good match for family life. Patrick hired me for part-time work with his company for a morning shift, while I apprenticed with a seamstress in the afternoons, hoping to eventually start my own line of children’s clothing. This also enabled me to pick Missy up from school instead of leaving her with a sitter. Within six months I wanted nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mother and wife. I would spend the next twenty years trying to prove that it was a worthy venture.
All these years I felt like I had to account for my time and every.single.accomplishment. Read a book– What could I have been doing that was more productive? Take the kids to the park—not until the house is clean, the laundry done, and the refrigerator stocked with groceries. In the quest to be equal, I tried to keep up with my husband. If he was doing physical labor 8-10 hours a day, then I should be as well. If he didn’t have time for a nap, why should I get one? I invalidated all the stay-at-home mothers in America, by not validating myself. Even after adding homeschooling to our daily regimen, I didn’t cut myself any slack. We started homeschooling in 2001 and from 2003-2011 we added a child into the mix at an average of every 17 months! The snowball was heading downhill and the sewing, reading, and any semblance of free-time went straight out the window. And I actually wondered why my health was failing.
I am finally beginning to understand that God is the one, and the only one that I have to please. It was Him calling me to stay at home in the first place, to home school the children, and to help Patrick in his business ventures. Providing a loving and stable environment for our children is in itself validation enough for any mother. Anything we add to that to encourage and support our husbands, to build a stronger marriage, or to raise up our children to be good stewards will bring glory to the Lord. Working ourselves to the bone, neglecting ourselves at the sake of our well being, and pushing ourselves so much that it leaves little energy for our relationships only fuels the myth of the worthless, misused and maltreated stay-at-home wife. It was me all along. I didn’t acknowledge my own dignity and worth in the vocation that God had called me to. How did I think that others would see what I could not?
I see it all so clearly now. I see my loving and supportive husband beside me the entire time: cheering me on, helping me out and lifting me up. I see our nine beautiful, independent and happy children and realize that they are confident and secure. I see our grown daughter and son-in-law raising beautiful, confident and secure children of their own. I see our college girl spreading her wings and finding her footing. I see my husband and I working together to build an even stronger and healthier marriage. And I see myself acknowledging the good I have achieved by cooperating with God’s plan. These are the things that bring glory to the Lord. It is only through His grace, love and mercy that we have accomplished them. Our dignity lies in following the will of God. It is a calling that is unique to each of us. St. Paul actually said it pretty well:
*12As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.g13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.h
14Now the body is not a single part, but many.15If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.16Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body.17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?18But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.19If they were all one part, where would the body be?20But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.”22Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary,23and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety,24whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.26If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
Maybe I would do well to read my Bible a little more frequently, and then maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t take me twenty years to realize that I am exactly where God wants me to be. I am taking my role in His body and I am going to try hard to just be the finger: and not the whole hand, the head, the feet and the right ankle.