(This was originally presented at the 2009 Treasures retreat.)
Let me see the hands of those who LOVE garage sales? Rummage sales? Tag sales? Junk stores? The Fulton County Scenic Drive flea markets? Perhaps there is nothing more wonderful than pulling a few dollars or a few coins out of your purse and bringing home some wonderful treasure.
I have found all sorts of amazing cheap things to feather my nest and have been collecting and enjoying my finds for longer than I have been married. But imagine my surprise when I discovered that someone could find the perfect man at a garage sale! You young single women, take note of this. Out there among the burpless Tupperware, the boxes of steamy romance novels, the faded Christmas ornaments from 1988, and Wal-Mart tubs full of discarded Happy Meal toys, you CAN find Mr. Perfect. Believe me, it is true because I brought him along with me today. Oh, sorry, it isn’t Clay. It really is Mr. Perfect!
Just look at this guy. He is so manly in his button down shirt. He always has a huge smile on his face, perfect wavy hair that is never out of place, (I just love the floop doop in the front.) He sort of has that rugged Hugh Jackman look, doesn’t he? And, Mr. Perfect ALWAYS has the perfect phrase just to make your day. Listen what he says to me when we hold hands…
SNOOKLEMS, I LEFT YOU WITH SOME EXTRA CASH TO GO SHOPPING WITH THE GIRLS.
HONEY, I LOVE DOING THE DISHES FOR YOU.
SWEETIE, YOU DON’T NEED MAKEUP, YOU’RE ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL.
I GOT AN IDEA, LET’S INVITE YOUR PARENTS OVER FOR DINNER
LET’S GO SEE THAT CHICK FLICK AGAIN.
HONEY, I HOPE WE CAN SPEND THE HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR FAMILY AGAIN THIS YEAR.
I’LL BE DRIVING YOUR CAR TO WORK TODAY BECAUSE I’M TAKING IT IN FOR SERVICE.
SWEETHEART, YOUR HOT BUBBLE BATH IS READY.
I’LL PAY FOR THAT HONEY DON’T YOU WORRY ABOUT IT.
NOOKLES, I LEFT YOU WITH SOME EXTRA CASH TO GO SHOPPING WITH THE GIRLS.
HONEY, I LOVE DOING THE DISHES FOR YOU.
Sorry to say, I do not have a Mr. Perfect doll for everyone to take home today, (I will let you hold mine afterwards if you want to) but during our last Bible study time this afternoon, as we look at the second part of Proverbs 31:26 “She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness,” I would like us to think about the phrases we use, both with our children and with our husbands and then at the attitudes that we have that are behind what happens when our buttons are pushed.
The word “kindness” that is found in this verse in Proverbs 31 literally means to show yourself merciful to someone else, to demonstrate grace toward others, to display gentleness toward those we are serving. Kindness, grace, gentleness, mercy, words that describe the way we want to be treated by others, words that define the way Jesus treats us. But are they words that define the way we speak to or the way we treat those we love the most? And what is behind our words? Do the words grace, gentleness, and mercy describe our attitudes toward husbands and children? Let me share with you four truths about kindness that I believe we must apply to our lives:
We, ourselves, have been the recipients of kindness.
We have received mercy, grace, and gentleness from God in the person of Jesus Christ. God has treated us with gentleness and patience, forbearing with us when we sin, restoring us when we repent. Remember the story of the Ninevites in the book of Jonah? The Bible describes them as wicked and so He sends Jonah to warn them that He was going to destroy them, which was his first act of mercy toward these people who were grossly sinning against him. Then, when they repented and He decided to preserve their lives, which was his second act of mercy toward them, Jonah described God as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.” God’s expresses his kindness to us in the same way, giving us the 10 commandments so that we will understand what sin actually is and then providing a means of redemption through the blood of Christ.
In Ephesians 2, as believers, we are promised that God’s mercy will continue, “in the ages to come He will show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” We have received God’s kindness to us in our salvation and we will continue to receive his kindness through our relationship with Him through Jesus!
God has given us the gift of kindness and expects us to extend it to others.
In fact, it is listed as one of the fruits of the spirit that becomes a part of our lives and our character through the power of the Holy Spirit. Those fruits are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
Years ago in our town, there was a very wealthy man who died and left a great deal of money to several organizations through annual endowments of $100,000.00 apiece and included in his gift were several churches who looked forward to that gift of money every year.
One day, I heard an interesting story by a woman who worked with a children’s ministry in one of these churches. Each year the church children would attend a week at camp and some of the youth sponsors thought it would be a great idea to make it possible for a group of poor children who attended the church to be able to go to camp through scholarships. This woman approached the church board and asked if they might allocate $500.00 to be used for the camp fund. The financial committee met and then explained to the woman that they would not be able to sponsor the poor children and this was their reason. Their bank balance showed that they were only a little over a thousand dollars away from having one million dollars in the bank. The board was so excited to see that balance and they had always wanted to have a million dollars in the bank. They decided that giving that $500.00 for poor children to attend camp would delay their attaining of that goal!
Isn’t it a funny thing about kindness? We are so glad to receive it, so happy to be the recipients of grace and mercy and gentleness and yet, we are so hesitant to give it to others for fear that it might take something away from us. We typically see ourselves as being giving and self-sacrificing, and, as moms, we are! But sometimes I believe we are so tempted to withhold grace from our husbands or our kids for fear of what we might lose….our reputations as perfect wives and homeschooling moms, our control over our children, our own desires and dreams for our marriage or our families.
I heard an interesting true story about kindness. There was a homeschooling dad who decided to take his 7 children out to breakfast one morning. When they arrived at the restaurant, he saw that they were offering a special: all you could eat pancakes or waffles for one price. When the waitress came, he said “We will have 8 pancake breakfasts and 8 glasses of water.” His little 6 year old son, who had just learned to read, read the sign and leaned over to his daddy and asked “Daddy since pancakes and waffles are the same price, may I please have waffles instead?” So when the waitress returned, the dad said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but that will be 8 glasses of water and 7 pancake breakfasts.” Then he turned to his son and said, “Son you must learn to take what I give you. You will have only water to learn this lesson.”
I ask you, what did that small child learn about kindness that morning as he drank his glass of water while the rest of the family ate breakfast? And what lesson was he taught regarding our Father God? Interestingly enough, that story was told by the father who was bragging about the lesson he had taught his son that morning.
Kindness demands that we see our husbands and children for whom God has called them to be, not who we want them to be.
When we began homeschooling in the early 1980’s, we homeschooled for a year before we joined a homeschooling group and began attending their conferences. One of the highlights, for me, of these week long meetings during the summer was the mass choir made up of several thousand smiling students dressed in navy blue dress pants or skirts, crisp white shirts and blouses with navy blue ties and neck bows. It was a sight to behold as they sang “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,” my heart responding to the intended message “Hang in there, moms. One day you will see Jesus and all those years of giving your life to raising children will be worth it.” But, if you had a trained eye, there was something interesting you could observe about these young men and women. In that sea of navy and white uniformity that I so dearly loved, there would be imaginative touches in the accessories…flashes of other colors in the ties, neck bows with flair or shoes that made a fashion statement, hair styles that were just under the radar of acceptable conformity but obviously “toned down” for the week.
For many years I “just knew” what was acceptable dress for homeschooled kids but my ideas were challenged as the artistic children among us grew older. Though each of our children are creative and artistic in their own ways, clearly three of them, 50% of my children, obviously march to the beat of a different drummer when it comes to personal style. My daughter was Anthropology nearly 10 years before there was Anthropology, which was often hard for me to understand in my personal, preppy, matchy-matchy life. I would hear myself saying to her: Do you really think that red velvet jacket goes with EVERYTHING? What do you mean your new hair color is called pomegranate? You’re covering your footstool with what? Faux fur? I just couldn’t get it. Then there is the youngest who thinks the 1930’s is the best fashion look and argyle rules the day. His peers may think his dress is odd but little old ladies love it because he looks like their high school beaus.
Well, it took the 4th born child to really show me what grace ought to look like as you stare it right in the face. The boy wanted a tattoo.
I had read all the admonitions about tattoos being the sign of slavery. Sermons and articles in homeschooling publications that addressed teen rebellion always threw in a tattoo reference or two for good measure along with drug use and riotous living. Certainly the prodigal son MUST have spent some of daddy’s inheritance on a tattoo.
So, to me, being a homeschooler with a tattoo did not compute. Clay told him that we, personally, didn’t really like the idea of a tattoo but that we wanted him to think about it for a while and to really consider the pros and cons before he got one and to do so in light of being a Christian. Visions of skulls and crossbones danced in my head.
And then this son came home for a Christmas break from school and on his forearm there it was…not just a tattoo but one he had designed himself. When he showed it to us, he gave us the whole story.
After our initial talk with him, he had gone to see his Old Testament professor to ask him about the teachings we had heard about tattoos. Together they examined all the Bible references and related verses. After considering the context of the passages and being sure that he would not be sinning by getting one, he drew his own design and went to a tattoo artist.
As he explained it to me I found myself quite moved and ashamed of how judgmental I had been toward him. The drawing was of a face with a cross forming the nose and eyes in the center and he explained that it represented the concept of imagio deo, being made in the image of Christ. He told us that it is a constant reminder in front of him of who he is in Christ and shared how he had been able to present the Gospel to several people who asked about its uniqueness.
In his wonderful book Grace-Based Parenting, author Tim Kimmel notes that the first characteristic of grace-filled homes is that they allow children the freedom to be different. He says “Grace can’t be some abstract concept that you talk about in your home. It has to be a real-time action that ultimately imprints itself in your children’s hearts. To talk about grace, sing about grace, and have our children memorize verses about grace – but not give them specific gifts of grace – is to undermine God’s words of grace in their hearts. Grace means that God not only loves them but that He loves them uniquely and specially. The primary way to give our children receive grace is to offer it in place of our selfish preferences.”
As I read these words, I realize how often I have been loath to extend grace to my children and have allowed my own tastes and opinions to be presented to them as a holy standard, when the truth is that God’s Word is the standard we ought to be pointing toward. How often I have even been tempted to put my own spin on Scripture in order to “prove” that my preference is the “right” one. And I have remembered the times when my first thought was “what would other people think about me, especially as a homeschooling mom, if my kid does x, y, or z.” It has caused me to repent of my own sin of loving myself more than I have loved God or my children. Pastor and author, Norm Wakefield, refers to this as “idolatry masquerading as love” and I believe he is correct.
And what about how we relate to our husbands? Do we have expectations on them that are unrealistic? What phrases would we make the “perfect man” say to us? Do we compare them to other husbands, to other fathers? Do we find some arbitrary list from some magazine article or book and seek ways to impose someone else’s preferences on our own husbands?
Did you ever hear the story of the 8 cow wife? On an island in the South Pacific, a young woman named Sarita lived with her father. In that village, it was customary for a young man to pay a bride price to the father of a girl he wished to marry. Typically 4 or 5 cows was considered top dollar for a pretty woman. Sarita was so homely that no one had even offered one cow for her.
One day it was rumored that a business man visiting from another island had decided to he wanted to marry Sarita and everyone began to whisper and speculate as to how much money this father could ask. Certainly Sarita was so homely that she might not bring more than 1 or possibly 2 cows. They were stunned, however, to learn that Sarita’s dad had received 8 cows for her. No one had ever paid 8 cows for a bride! The businessman and Sarita were married and moved away. Several years later, the business man returned and on his arm was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen. Immediately, the townspeople began to whisper again, “Certainly he had divorced Sarita and found another.” Poor, Sarita, they thought! They wondered what had become of her. But, squinting his eyes, the father, watching from afar, soon realized that this was his beloved, but once homely, daughter. Everyone began asking the business man what had happened and he explained. “When you pay 8 cows for a wife and she believes that you think she is an 8 cow wife, that is exactly what she will become!”
All of us either have 8 cow husbands or ones who are on their way to becoming 8 cow husbands if they know that is what we believe about them! I know dozens of homeschooling dads and they are at least 8 cow husbands! They work long, hard hours to provide everything their families need so that mom can be home and teach the children. They take their families to church and are usually the ones who are serving as Sunday school teachers, Awana commanders, Bible study coordinators, elders, deacons, trustees, and Evangelism Explosion leaders. They keep the car in good repair, mow the grass, unclog the toilets, paint and wallpaper the house, coach little league, grill the burgers, hang the storm doors, change diapers, give baths, tell bed time stories, sit through piano recitals, pray with their children, read their Bibles to their families, encourage their wives during labor and delivery, walk the dog, pay the bills, shovel the snow, drive their kids on their paper routes, and fall into bed at night, more than happy to get up the next morning and do it all over again. They are faithful stewards of what God gives to them, using their own particular gifts to serve their families. They are one way God demonstrates his kindness to us! I would encourage you moms to go home this evening and thank your husband for all he has done to make it possible for your family to enjoy the sweetness of homeschooling! And tell him that he is Mr. Perfect!
Kindness is being a wife and mom who is willing to change.
Earlier this year, a woman wrote to tell me of an interesting experience she had at a homeschooling support group meeting she was attending for the first time. As they all went around the circle introducing themselves, one after another of these mothers shared how their older sons and daughters had left their homes in less than positive ways. Some of them had denied the faith, others were in terrific rebellion. Some of the moms didn’t elaborate. But the woman who shared this story with me was amazed at how many homeschooling families represented in one room could have lost their children, some of them grieving the estrangement from more than one child.
Not long after that, Clay and I met two young women who had also left their homes in unpleasant situations. One of them was nearly 23 years of age and had never had a job, had no driver’s license, no high school diploma, and was expected to stay in her home until her dad had found a suitable husband for her. As we heard their stories, we were amazed at what they had experienced and we have grieved over the broken relationships.
In the past few months I have heard more sad stories about homeschooling families than at any time in the past than I can remember. Typically, these stories involve young men and women, most of them in their early twenties, who have been excommunicated from their families and even their churches for not going along with some sort of paradigm that has been established for them. They have been forced to move out of their homes, some of them not being allowed to take anything but the clothes on their backs. Most of them are also kept from seeing their younger siblings because the parents have determined that they are a bad influence. Moms are broken hearted because of lost relationships with children; years later, some have never met their grandchildren.
But here is the interesting part of the story. Every single young person who has talked to me personally, and there have been dozens, have not abandoned their faith. In fact, they are young adults who actually read their Bibles and are active in Bible-teaching churches, brothers and sisters in Christ who desire to not only walk faithfully with the Lord but to see restoration with their families.
What happened? Many of them found out for themselves that the standards their families had been imposing were not found anywhere whatsoever on the pages of Scripture but rather they were notions their parents had picked up somewhere. When they approached their parents with their own convictions and concerns, the parents chose a paradigm over a relationship with their children, expectations were not met, harsh words and accusations were spoken, ties were severed.
I believe these stories are becoming more common as parents look at the culture around us and want to protect their children, which we must do. But, in our zeal to do so, we cannot set up paradigms and miniature kingdoms of our own. We must recognize paradigms for what they are, a list of do’s and don’ts that someone, not God, has created. Instead of embracing a list, I have discovered that it is best for me to run all ideas, philosophies, and paradigms through my “one-anothering hopper.” I ask myself if the suggestions or ideas I am hearing will serve to build my relationships or will serve to tear them down; will they reflect the one-anothering commands of Scripture? I ask if they are a picture of Christ and His relationship with me as His needy daughter. If not, I am not interested, no matter how much appeal they might have for any number of reasons.
We must also realize that a sovereign God is working in the lives of each of our children individually and that He will accomplish his purposes. We must seek the Lord and ask Him what he would have for our own family. We must listen to our children and come together with them to determine their future plans. And before any of this happens, we must do all we can to build solid, godly relationships with them, placing them as individuals and as precious brothers and sisters in Christ above any imaginary standard or model we have built in our minds.
Do you remember this morning when I talked about the great conservationist John Muir, who had been raised in a Christian home? Muir had abandoned his faith and created his own religion that he called “redemption through nature.” As a child, Muir had memorized massive passages of Scripture. But, his parents had forced him to memorize it by beating him until he had learned it! In their zeal to get God’s word into him, they had hardened his heart and turned him away from the one true God.
We must become women who demonstrate kindness in our homes. Wisdom would tell us that it is necessary. In describing Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, Scripture says that God gave Solomon “wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore.” We may need to repent of past actions or attitudes toward our husbands and children, of times when our hearts were small. But here is the wonderful truth of applying kindness, mercy, gentleness, and grace in our lives: 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Praise God, “all” includes those times when we have failed to extend the same kindness to our precious families that the Lord has extended to us! May we face tomorrow with the assurance that repentance leads to restoration with both God and man, leading us to kindness and the sweet life of a homeschooling mom!