Cheese and Toilet Paper — Don’t Run Out.

She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
~Proverbs 31:21

Santa Claus is  coming to town!No wonder Santa dresses like that! I never realized that you should wear red when it’s cold!

Okay, so this verse sent me to the commentaries. Apparently the word translated as “scarlet” may also mean “double,” meaning that her family isn’t necessarily wearing red, but probably just wearing extra clothes. In fact, the CJB translates the second line this way: “Since all of them are doubly clothed.” This makes more sense to me, despite the few commentaries that work very hard to make “scarlet” make sense.

Jewel’s family, then, doesn’t have to worry when the temperatures drop. Mama planned ahead. Far, far ahead. I wonder how long it would take to make extra overcoats for everyone in your family when you have to start with a sheep!

Frankly, I can’t relate. She probably had to start in May to be ready for October, when I can just run to the store when I need to, even at the last minute. It’s helpful to me, then, to extend the core of this message — preparedness — to other areas of my life.

To me, this verse boils down to anticipating the needs of your family. There are things we know, like the fact that the baby needs milk and diapers. We also know that it’s usually cold at a certain time of the year and warm at another, and that we all need to dress appropriately. The mortgage payment is due at the beginning of the month. We all really need toilet paper and soap. Oh and cheese. For the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT run out of cheese.

These are things that are not surprises. If we’re caught unprepared, it’s because we simply didn’t prepare! Remember your English teacher saying that failing to plan is planning to fail? Or what about this one, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”?  Well, she was right! Yes, I had that English teacher, and yes, I was that English teacher!

(That doesn’t mean that I’m always perfectly prepared!)

YES, I sometimes call my husband and ask if he will bring home dinner, pretty please, because I just didn’t get it together that day.

YES, I have taken my baby to Walmart in his very last diaper, praying for no explosions before getting back home with a box!

YES, I have completely run out of baby food because I just kept procrastinating and failed to make more.

YES, I sometimes faced a new school day with no idea what I was going to have my students do.

YES, I have a lot of other examples, but this is good enough.

The bottom line here is that your family looks to you to take care of them. It’s easy to resent that, wondering why it is always you who has to be sure you have toilet paper and cheese, but just because resentment is easy doesn’t mean it’s helpful. Daddies have a list of things that they could wonder why it has to be them, but it doesn’t go over so well if they hem and haw about taking out the trash or mowing the lawn, does it? So neither do we have the right to have a bad attitude.

Instead, we can view our responsibilities — mommies’ and daddies’ — as privileges. Mommy makes sure the bathrooms have toilet paper so everyone can be clean and healthy. Daddy makes sure the grass is cut to make it more enjoyable to play (and to avoid fines from the city). Mommy checks the fit of winter clothes in the fall so no one gets hypothermia, and Daddy kills the spiders so that everyone will just come on in and chill out about it. (Or you know, whatever jobs work in your family.) God gave us our spouses and children to love and to care for. This is an awesome and humbling and terrifying and amazing job.

Let’s try not to blow it by running out of cheese.

♥ ♥ ♥

My Son, is she an ant or a grasshopper? (Avoid the grasshoppers.)

My Love, don’t answer that question about me.

My Lord, thank You so much for the lessons You’ve taught me in my last seven years of marriage, and especially in my last year of homemaking. You are so patient and gentle and wise, nudging me to truths and revealing to me my purpose in my home. Give me a teachable spirit and show me more and more the beauty of loving and serving my guys.

♥ ♥ ♥

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(This post is part of a series on Proverbs 31. Click here to see all posts in this series.)
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Open Arms

She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy.
~Proverbs 31:20

I have a secret to share with you. Someday, if God ever blesses me with a little girl, I want to give her the middle name Charity. I love that name, both because it’s pretty and because I’m all about name meanings. While I might love the sound of a particular name, if I don’t love the meaning — if it doesn’t carry any weight, any significance — it’s stricken from my list. I might use it for a potential book character, but never for a child.

Charity. I want my (someday maybe) daughter to be tenderhearted and sincerely gracious to everyone. I want her to File:Homeless man in Anchorage.jpgchallenge me with her desire to serve. I want her to love like Jesus loves, and that’s what I see in this verse. No hesitation, no questioning, no excuse-making. Just loving.

I read the verse above in the NASB, and it was just too familiar. I “got” it. Yep, she helps the poor.

*yawn*

It didn’t impact me at all, so I read it in one of my favorite translations, which I discovered on Biblegateway.com. Just about every time I look up a verse in this version, it comes alive to me in a whole new way, and that’s what happened here. It put flesh and heart to this verse for me. See if it does the same thing for you:

She reaches out to embrace the poor
and opens her arms to the needy.
-Proverbs 31:20, Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

This is not handing a couple of bucks to a bum with a sign.
This is not writing a check for a charity drive.
This is not making your teenager work in a soup kitchen at Christmas.
This is not gathering up unwanted items and asking Goodwill to come get them.
This is not emptying the change jar to help your kid’s VBS team win.

This is embracing.
This is opening yourself.
This is necessarily inconvenient.
This is inevitably sacrificial.
This is gritty.
This is real.
This is a lifestyle.
This is evidence of a heart totally transformed by Jesus Christ.

This is not a verse that describes me, and this is a major problem. 

 

♥ ♥ ♥

My Son, find a woman who truly considers others before herself. She will teach you much about Christ’s love that I have failed to show you.

My Love, pray for me.

My Lord, change me.

♥ ♥ ♥

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(This post is part of a series on Proverbs 31. Click here to see all posts in this series.)

Where Can I Get a Distaff?

She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.
~Proverbs 31:19

Image-SHE LAYETH HER HANDS TO THE SPINDLEIf idle hands are the devil’s workshop, then he must be extra frustrated with our Jewel! When faced with a few unscheduled minutes, it seems like she finds something insanely productive to do every time. But let’s back up.

What in the world is a distaff? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I was wondering, too. It’s used in spinning. Let’s let Dr. Wikipedia expound:

It is designed to hold the unspun fibers, keeping them untangled and thus easing the spinning process. It is most commonly used to hold flax, and sometimes wool, but can be used for any type of fiber. Fiber is wrapped around the distaff, and tied in place with a piece of ribbon or string. The word comes from dis in Low German, meaning a bunch of flax, connected with staff.

(So if you look at the picture, what she’s holding under her left arm is the distaff, and the spindle is in her right hand.)

And here we go again with the wool and flax! This is an extension of verse 13, where we found out that she works with these materials delightedly. So now here she is, after dark (see verse 18) spinning away to make thread that she can use to make cloth, which she can finally transform into usable goods. Now that’s an undertaking that is NOT speedy, yet she works diligently and delightedly.

I never do that. Make my own thread, cloth, and then clothes, that is. Do you? I used to admire people who were skilled and talented enough to make their own clothes from a bolt of cloth, but no more! Until I see you with a distaff and spindle, forgetaboutit! I guess we’re all chumps.

We must remember the historical and cultural context of verses like these (click on the image above for some insight along that vein). Must we have a spindle and distaff? Of course not. Instead, look at the heart of the issue: Jewel displays industriousness in place of idleness. How does that look in our modern, western lives?

Okay, here’s my brainstorm. Turn off the TV. Close your laptop. Let your phone charge on silent in the other room. DO something useful! Only you and God can determine what that something is, what you could and should be doing that would be in some way profitable. The answer for Jewel, because of her context, is probably different than the answer for us, but the idea is the same. How can you be useful? Helpful? This doesn’t mean you have to totally spend all your energies on others and neglect yourself — we’ll discuss that in a later verse — but it does mean that you should be looking for ways to serve others more than you look for ways to serve yourself. TV probably serves yourself. The computer, your phone, getting your nails and hair done, likely mostly serving yourself. I’m not saying to never do these things; I’m saying to evaluate activities like this, to evaluate their frequency in your life and whether that time could or should be spent differently.

Industriousness over idleness. This is a daily fight for me, but it’s a fight worth having. I don’t think I’ll ever look back and say, “I sure wish I’d spent more time on Facebook.” I may, however, regret never trying my hand at spinning.

♥ ♥ ♥

My Son, find a woman whose heart is bent toward service, toward being helpful, toward being useful. And then return the favor.

My Love, please don’t use my new phrase, “industriousness over idleness,” when you catch me — in your opinion — being idle. Please. It will make me be more idle, and then we’ll have rebellion on top of idleness to contend with. HA! 😉  But seriously, this is a battle for me. I’m still learning every day to delight in my work, and mostly I do. I’m a work in progress!

My Lord, sometimes it’s enough to remind myself that what I’m doing is helpful and useful to my guys. That they need me. That my work makes a difference. And then sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes I just plain don’t feel like folding a shirt or puréeing a carrot or sweeping a floor. In those moments, Lord, I ask for help. I ask for reminders that while what I’m doing is helpful and useful and needed and difference-making to my guys, that even more, it’s a service to You. Now that is a high calling.

♥ ♥ ♥

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(This post is part of a series on Proverbs 31. Click here to see all posts in this series.)

Burning the Midnight Oil

She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
~Proverbs 31:18

Late to bed, early to rise… so it would seem! We already know that Jewel is up with the chickens, and now we find out that she also keeps right on working into the night! We’ll talk about that, but first let’s look at the beginning of the verse.

The version quoted above is NASB, my favorite, but here are a couple of other translations to get us really focused in on the meaning of the first part of this verse:

She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. (ESV)

She sees that her business affairs go well; (CJB)

She sees that her profits are good, (HCSB)

She sees that her trading is profitable, (NIV)

Remember that she recently (in verse 16) bought a field and planted a vineyard. She also apparently makes clothes and belts to sell for more steady income (verse 24). Recognizing that the profits are helpful to her family, she refuses to slack on her commitments. She even continues working into the night to make sure she gets it all done. We might call this “burning the midnight oil,” but I doubt it’s midnight for her!

She is up with the chickens, after all. You really cannot consistently stay up past midnight, get up before dawn, and perform the kind of hard labor she does. Maybe for a time, but not for a lifetime. I doubt she stayed up “late,” as we consider it.

Sunset tonight in my neck of the woods is at 8:28 p.m. Generally, if it’s not too cloudy, opening the blinds in my house provides sufficient light for most of the day. However, that beautiful light begins to fade around dusk. And naturally, because the dimming light makes it harder to see as night falls, I go ahead and close the blinds, brush my teeth, and head for bed. What. Don’t you? In the words of Gretl von Trapp, “The sun has gone to bed, and so must I! Goodnight!”

Okay, not really. I, just like you, turn on the light so I can keep doing stuff. And Jewel did the same thing, except her light was an oil lamp. So we’re likely not talking about midnight here, but more like what we might call “evening.”  She, like me, probably put the kids to bed, and then stayed up a bit. Although I’m speculating, I bet she went to bed well before midnight so that she would be refreshed and alert for the next day’s tasks. And so should we.

I think I’ve always pictured the woman in this verse toiling away into the wee hours of the morning while everyone else slept, but it just doesn’t seem to fit with her character of wisdom and responsibility in the rest of the chapter, does it? Although this is not really the point of this verse, what I got out of it is that work is good. Profit is good. Work hard, but don’t risk your health by being a workaholic. (That last part isn’t there, of course, but that’s how it hit my heart!) If you consistently need to stay up until the wee hours of the morning, reevaluate your commitments so you can work on changing your bedtime to a healthy one!

What about you? Are you a night owl, or do you call it a night as early as your grandma? 😉

♥ ♥ ♥

My Son, I’ve told you before to avoid the lazy woman. Let me add to it this: avoid the over-committed woman. Over-commitment to work, school, extra projects, church functions, personal endeavors, etc., leads to overtiredness, which leads to irritability and lack of productivity. She will be stressed, snippy, and sour. She may do a lot of things, but she will probably do none of them well, and few of them happily. And where do you fit in once your newness wears off? You don’t. Not really, anyway. You just happen to be around, but all she wants to talk about is how stressed she is. How fun! Rather, find a woman who does work hard, but who also works smart. Someone who knows what she loves to do, knows what she is good at, knows what is profitable, and works very hard at those few things. If she takes on too much, everyone will pay, and no one will profit.

My Love, my focus in this post is not mainly what this verse is about, I know. In fact, it doesn’t talk about going to sleep at all, but I inferred that she must sleep if she rises in the morning! Still, this verse is mainly about recognizing a profitable endeavor, and working hard at it. So what is my profitable endeavor? At this time, my profitable endeavors do not make money, as you know. In the future, when the time is right, I hope to be able to do what I know I love to do, what I am good at, and I hope that it will be profitable! But for now, I am so thankful for this opportunity to invest in our little guy. He’s worth the temporary sacrifice! (But boy do I have to become a bestselling author to make up for this, am I right?!)

My Lord, it is amazing to me that I have had different answers at different times in my life to the questions I gave Bennett. Years ago, I would say that I loved to teach, that I was good at it, and that it was profitable in more ways than one. Now, I would say that I love being a homemaker, that I’m *learning to be* good at it, and that it’s profitable in ways I cannot yet imagine. Someday, I hope to say that I love writing, that I am good at it, and that I will be a bestselling author! Please?! Seriously though, I know I am so, so blessed, and that You deserve all the praise. You are my Provider, and You have always taken care of me. Teach me to use my time well to serve you, whether I get an earthly penny for it or not.

♥ ♥ ♥

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(This post is part of a series on Proverbs 31. Click here to see all posts in this series.)

Girded Loins and Strengthened Arms

She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
~Proverbs 31:17

Oh man. Here’s the verse I was dreading — the exercising one. Bah. Let me see if I can make it NOT about exercising… 😉

(Just kidding.)

(Kind of.)

“Gird” is a weird word that we don’t use often. In fact, I’ve mostly only heard it in reference to girding one’s loins in preparation for battle. In ancient times, men would pull up their robes and tuck them into their belts to allow more freedom of movement in battle. (I mean, imagine wearing a maxi dress in a sword fight. You’d hike up your dress, too!) So “to gird” means to surround with a belt, or to fasten with a belt; eventually, however, both the verb and the entire phrase just came to mean preparing for action or for a difficult task. And here in the Proverbs 31:17, the more literal translation is also “She girds her loins with strength.”

This whole idea creates a weird image in my mind. I begin to picture her literally tying up her dress for battle like the warriors, but then I get stuck on the word “strength.” How do you surround your loins with a belt of strength? It started as a literal image in my mind, but then I wonder if it’s more figurative. I cannot wrap strength around my waist.

(Unless I exercise.)

This verse is cool, albeit convicting. It seems to apply to any kind of strength, including physical, mental, and spiritual. The physical is obvious: keeping house and raising children requires physical exertion. She girds up (prepares) herself for hard work every day, and her body is strengthened. You can apply this also to intentional exercise, and I think you should. Being a homemaker in modern, Western society does not typically require the kind of physical labor that Jewel was accustomed to. Frankly, being a homemaker today can easily lead to flabby thighs and bat wings, no matter how busy you are with being domestic. I see it happening to me, and I’m still trying to work out a way to incorporate exercise into my routine with a busy baby underfoot! So yeah, this verse is about exercising. (Bah.)

But it’s also not. Jewel is daily going into battle against her selfish flesh, against the schemes of the enemy, against the culture; essentially she’s waging war against the spiritual darkness that is relentlessly trying to invade and conquer the little and big hearts living in her home.  So she must figuratively gird up her loins, or, as Peter instructs:

Therefore, prepare [literally: gird up] your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:13

The task before us is great. We must be ready; we must intentionally seek to strengthen ourselves against the enemy. How? Well, we can’t do it ourselves:

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

The very best and most important thing you can do for your family — and really for everyone you come in contact with — is to stay grounded in Him. Gird your loins and make your arms strong, for we go into battle every day.

♥ ♥ ♥

My Son, is she a strong woman? I don’t mean the kind of strength that the world recognizes…the sarcastic and pushy kind. I mean the kind of woman with inner strength and fortitude, regardless of her circumstances. The kind of woman who is not shattered when her world shatters, but who looks up with bleary, blurred eyes and says to God, “I trust You and I praise You. Tell me what You would have me do, and I will do it.” Now that is a woman.

My Love, as per usual, I wish I were the woman I am recommending to our little guy! However, I take confidence in the working of the Holy Spirit as He refines me, and I am thankful for the wonderful example of strength and fortitude you are to me every day. I love you.

My Lord, You are the Source of all wisdom and strength, and only You know what each day holds for me. I ask for Your guidance as I face the enemy each day, and I pray that You fill me with Your supernatural strength to withstand his attacks and to guard my home.

♥ ♥ ♥

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(This post is part of a series on Proverbs 31. Click here to see all posts in this series.)

Considering, Buying, Earning, and Planting

She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
~Proverbs 31:16

I love the simplicity of this verse. I have simple reflections in response, simply because there’s no reason to try and build something complex out of it.

Consider. Don’t just buy something because it’s pretty, or because you saw a commercial about how useful it is, or because it’s on sale. Consider whether it’s truly useful and necessary. Consider whether you have space for it. Consider whether you have money for it (do you have debt that still needs repaying?), and whether you could get a better deal elsewhere. Also consider the off-brand. A pretty good rule of thumb is that if you saw it, loved it, and grabbed it, then put it back.

Buy. Obviously this doesn’t mean buying everything you want (see above). Once you have determined that an item is useful and necessary, a good deal that you can truly afford, and practical, just buy it! Don’t waste time wondering about it. If you doubt your purchase that much, there’s a reason. Don’t buy it. But otherwise, buy it. 🙂 Notice the example in the verse. What did she buy? A field. Why? Because it would yield a great return for her family. How does that new pair of shoes stack up under all these criteria?

Earn. Work. Not all jobs have a monetary compensation, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t be working. For instance, if you, like me, are blessed to be able to stay home with your kids, earn that privilege. Don’t spend your days “running errands” (shopping needlessly) or merely socializing. If you don’t have enough to do to mostly fill your days, then consider how you can turn those extra hours into something useful. Shopping, unless it’s for groceries, is often not useful. Playdates definitely are useful, both for child and parent, but not really if you’re having a playdate every day. That’s just playing. Imagine coming home from a long day at work and asking about your spouse’s day. Frequently being met with words like “shopping” and “playing” would probably really annoy you, and rightly so. We should all be working; it’s what we’re made to do. That’s kind of why I like the term “homemaker” instead of “stay-at-home mom”. The first implies that you’re actually doing something, and reminds me to get to it!

Plant. Do something useful with your time and resources that will ensure some sort of return for someone. This is also called making a good investment! There are a myriad of possibilities. Maybe for you this means some sort of home business, where you are getting a financial return on an investment. Maybe it’s more spiritual, as you pour into your spouse, your children, your friends, the community. Begin to evaluate your days, recognizing ways you’ve already been planting, and looking for new ways as well.

Finally, recognize that in the verse, all of these components work together. She considers a field, then buys it. She already has earnings, and she uses them to plant a vineyard in her new field that will undoubtedly yield more return for her family and community. In short, this Jewel is practical, thoughtful, responsible, and industrious, and so should we be.

(But that doesn’t mean you should just walk out and buy a vineyard off the Internet, Willie!)

♥ ♥ ♥

My Son, find a woman who has simple tastes; that may be the most practical advice I can give you on this topic. A wasteful woman, who spends excessive money on shoes and clothes and hair and nails and decorative items will not only put a strain on your finances, but she may struggle with some deeper heart issues. Caring about your appearance and keeping up with tidiness in the home is great — I don’t advise marrying a slob — but observe and consider her work ethic and her general attitude about spending. This will save you a lot of heartache later!

My Love, you know I wrote this post to myself! I’m still learning about wise and thrifty shopping, and it seems like every time I have my daily schedule figured out, that baby of ours gets more mobile and active and sends me back to the drawing board! But I want to be a blessing to you and to Bennett, so I am consistently looking for ways to use my time wisely and to pour into our family. I pray that I keep growing in this area!

My Lord, thank You so much for making me hate shopping! It makes some of this come easy to me. In other areas, I struggle more. Lord, I ask for wisdom and creativity in earning and planting. For the homemaker, it’s not always as straightforward or as grandiose as buying a field and planting a vineyard, but it could be those little moments invested with a little man that will yield a great return in years to come. Please give me perspective, patience, and passion for my calling!

♥ ♥ ♥

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(This post is part of a series on Proverbs 31. Click here to see all posts in this series.)

Cockadoodledoo!

She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household

And portions to her maidens.
~Proverbs 31:15

(or)

She is up with the chickens — she’s definitely not lazy —
And prioritizes the health and nutrition of her family
And makes a plan for the day, delegating tasks.
~A paraphrase by Angela. You’re welcome.

Did you notice that Jewel has servants? Well that’s a nice little tidbit that should have been mentioned earlier! If I had maidens flitting about that I could delegate chores to, I might be a little perfect wife myself! Ha! Oh, it’s easy to make excuses, isn’t it? Let’s get serious.

Even with maidens, Jewel sure does work a lot. She does things we don’t have to do these days, like spinning her own thread from wool and flax, and then making clothes, which we’ve already discussed. Like going all over town every day to get food because refrigerators haven’t been invented yet, which has also already been covered. A preview of verses to come shows that she is also a shrewd customer, works in a vineyard, exercises, is still working on making clothes late into the night, serves the poor, sells handmade goods to add a few coins to the family purse, teaches wisdom and kindness (I wonder if she homeschools?), manages her house, and doesn’t waste time. Although Jewel has servants, she still has enough work to do to keep her busy from before dawn until after dusk! She is NOT eating bon-bons and watching TV while other people are working for her.

I write this as my washing machine whirs, my dryer tumbles, my dishwasher patiently awaits a few more dirty dishes to make a full load, the baby’s carrots steam quietly, and tonight’s stir-fry sits in the freezer ready for just ten minutes in the skillet. Since none of these things require my immediate attention — 8 more minutes left on the dryer, which I will stretch to at least 15 before I actually go get the clothes out! — I am free to reflect on this verse from another era. Modern conveniences take the place of what ancient women probably spent hours doing. There is certainly still a lot to be done each day, but the fact that I can sit and write a few paragraphs in this post tells you that I have a few minutes, anyway!

So I don’t have servants; what I have is even better. Electricity! Running water! Appliances! Walmart! A car! And therefore, no excuses.

How do I stack up? Well, I don’t have any chickens, but I’m up with my own little turkey every morning. That’s only appropriate; I can’t really leave him screaming and sitting in his swollen diaper! This has nothing to do with my character or with any noble inclination to rise early and get to work — I just have to get up because my little man is up! I’m not sure that counts. Next: health and nutrition. Well. Before I got married, I ate fast food and frozen food and convenience food for just about every meal. Once I did get married, well, let’s just say that Hamburger Helper was my trusty sidekick. Seven years in, I’m still no pioneer wife, but I’m much better. Much healthier, but still a long way to go yet. And finally, I am the queen of plans. Do you know who somehow doesn’t recognize his royal blood? My son, the turkey. So, I’m still figuring out how to create realistic plans that can be executed even with a crawler in tow!

That’s it. If you thought I had amazing insights, sorry to disappoint! I’ve struggled with this post for nearly three weeks, hoping to receive some sort of divine wisdom to weave throughout my message, but this is all I’ve got. This is a convicting verse for me, period. I don’t really have any advice about this one at all. More like, “Well, I don’t know. What about you?”

So yeah, what about you?

 

♥ ♥ ♥

My Son, avoid lazy women. You’ll be super-annoyed if you fall in love with one and marry her, because her flaws will only be amplified when she’s yawning between suggestions about which pizza place to order from. Again.

My Love, I got nothin’, as previously stated! I can look back and honestly say that I’m better than I was, but I can also look around and honestly say that I’m not where I’d like to be. Still working on it! Thanks for being awesome to me, even through the Hamburger Helper days. (I mean heck, it tasted good, even if it wasn’t good for us!)

My Lord, I am so aware of my deficiencies, and increasingly aware of Your grace. Teach me! I don’t know how to become the kind of Jewel my family deserves. Trying to muscle my way into becoming a carbon copy of this ancient woman is impossible and probably not Your desire for me, but surely learning from her example could only benefit me and everyone around me. In these harder verses, I know I need more grace, and I need more help. Thank You for your faithfulness!

♥ ♥ ♥

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(This post is part of a series on Proverbs 31. Click here to see all posts in this series.)