(The library where my girls study!)
Ah, to walk the ancient streets of Oxford for a week has inspired me. I had one free airline ticket and a half week of free hotels and meals, so I grabbed the opportunity to come see two of my favorite people! What a great week to meet moms here and have the chance to encourage them at the Kilns. (CS Lewis's home), and to meet with other friends.
I wondered if the pressure would be too much--20 2000 word papers in 3 1/2 months--approximately. So much of what we had done was idealistic mixed with chores, ear infections, fusses, and somehow I never felt like I was preparing my children enough.
Positive Peer Pressure
One of the thoughts that has struck a chord in my heart, through every meeting and lots of conversations with Sarah and Joy and their friends, is that they love being here because they are being stretched in such excellent ways.
When one is in the company of others who challenge them to become their best, there is a sense of honor and gratification that comes from straining towards the positive expectation that people have communicated they can live into. Because the teachers expect the papers to be turned in, the standard is clear writing and an ability to defend their ideas, both girls are working all the time, but instead of finding it a negative experience, they both love the environment. The conversations we shared assured me that their brains are fairly bursting with ideas, understanding and convictions.
I could actually, almost, see their brains growing. It made me wish that I had been so challenged in my own life and it created in me a new hunger to learn and grow in knowledge! The spirit of enthusiasm was almost contagious.
"Mama, it is doing a paper that seems impossible and getting positive feedback that makes me keep going--the integrity to do the work independently out of my own integrity and then seeing that I am capable of so much more than I thought. "
I could actually, almost, see their brains growing.
They actually like being stretched to the hilt and coming out sharpened by the company they are keeping. Most all of the people are here because they want to be excellent in their field and the stakes are high. It is a miraculous privilege that God worked out in an amazing way for them to be here. But the exposure to great thoughts and capable people challenges them to live into their own potential.
"He who walks with the wise will be wise."
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17
This has caused me to think about how this applies to our own lives as women. I will be writing about virtue, how to acquire it, how to practice it, envision it, in the weeks ahead, because I have seen that the life vision of a woman determines the growth and character of a women. I will also be hosting an e-conference next Monday night, about building a vision around Biblical, eternal goals that gives energy to life.
This whole aspect of becoming the person/woman God gave us the capacity to become, and to "grow into" is profound in its implications. If we surround ourselves with others more excellent, whose lives may challenge our own and instruct us beyond our current levels of maturity and capacity, we will always grow and become more excellent, even as my girls are straining towards more excellence by being in the company of those better than themselves in writing and education. It gives them a goal to reach toward.
"From almost the first few months of marriage, I knew that my life would be difficult. My husband didn't know how to love me and I was lonely most of my life. People supposed that we had a vibrant marriage, but he could never show affection, romance or kindness. But that was the place, this impossible place, where I knew God wanted me to flourish."
Leaves were swirling off the aspen trees as gentle winds caught their handles and purple clouds gathered outside the window. But inside, the crackling fire in the heart, candles lit and a pot of tea steaming, I felt safe, wrapped in a cloak of security and acceptance.
I had occasion to meet with an older missionary I had long admired and was so honored to share this hour together. But it wasn't just the atmosphere that comforted me deep within, it was her story. It is always easy to suppose that godliness is easier for some than it is for others, and I had supposed this about her.
My friend told me:
"I don't know why I am telling you this part of my story at this time, but somehow it may be useful to your own life. I was young and idealistic when I got married, and it did not take long to realize that my husband and I were very different. He has never been able to be romantic or affectionate or kind. His own background prohibited it. And so, others supposed that our missionary work was my greatest accomplishment--what they could observe on the outside. But my real story of spiritual work will be the faithfulness I chose to live out one day at a time when no one but God knew the work of faith that was going on in hidden places. Most of my days were unnoticed, tedious, the same as yesterday and the day before. The shaping of children's hearts without input, help or accountability often gave me a sense of insecurity, especially when I knew I had messed up with anger, impatience or despair."
"But it is what you practice, day after day, that builds your integrity, your character, your strength, your message--what you do when no one is looking. And so this is the place I became spiritually strong. God gave me a testing ground for my soul--this place of being faithful, generous, loving even if I received nothing in return. This place of difficulty became my greatest lifetime glory. Never underestimate the hidden, unseen acts of obedience."
My own life has been full of struggles of all sorts. Some I write about and some I keep private, to honor those personally involved in my life. Seems like many life issues were not naturally easy for me. And so understanding the deep struggles my friend endured, helped me to feel understood in my own life puzzle.
She had lived the mundane, the draining days, the fears that assail, the insecurities, just like I had in my life. The messages she spoke about were even more meaningful to me now.
Somehow, it is easy for us to think that if others are strong, or leaders in their field, that they naturally came by this godly courage. Yet, my friend's life reminded me that her excellence was built in a real, day by day life. Her messages came out of the experience of seeking God for wisdom amidst challenging, overwhelming circumstances. Her own excellence drove me, even at this stage of my life, to keep stretching and straining towards a more excellent life.
But what I have found over the years, that the strongest and greatest people I have come to know became godly because they mounted up over their challenges. But they were able to be strong because they had an understanding of basic Biblical virtues that held them fast, gave them a way forward, informed their decisions.
I know from my own life, it was those times I was tempted to give up, to run away, to be bitter, and yet chose to do the right thing, where the integrity of my own testimony and story was built. In my 60's, I constantly seek ways to grow, to excel, to love more and to live more intentionally for Jesus. My friend's story kept me wanting to move forward on that path. Seeing that she faced her tests head on and made a place of beauty out of her faith, her fortitude and her personal commitment within the limitation of her story, gave me comfort and the impetus to keep going faithfully through my own life puzzles. This is what deeply encouraged me.
Our circumstances were different. The challenges in our lives were not exactly the same. But to know she had faced her deepest fears, darknesses, confessed her sin to God, strengthened the weak places in her life, faced her selfishness head on and found God's grace to live a flourishing story, is what encouraged to continue to push through the puzzle of my own life.
Virtuous woman, Pinterest
A virtuous woman, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. Proverbs 31
My friend was speaking about personal integrity--the character that serves one through life to lead them to practice loving, working hard, being loyal to family and the demanding tasks that involves, choosing to believe in God's goodness in the dark times, serving generously--all of these traits are what come from a life of virtuous living.
Virtue was a concept that captivated the imagination of spiritual leaders in the Victorian Era. A simple definition is moral excellence. Another ancient source that I found suggests that the root of virtue is really "Man Power" or "man strength."
A Need for Virtue
What is Christian virtue? So many lists, books, articles I have been reading reveal different aspects of a Christians look at virtue. However, I believe that since God created us to be like Him, to reflect the character of Christ, Christian virtue is becoming like Christ in our character, moral excellence, faith and obedience.
Virtue arises from the heart. Whatever we cherish there, we will become. Envisioning moral excellence, the specific attributes of Jesus' life that showed us the depth of His love and wisdom, then we shall become more excellent. If we desire to live nobly, with integrity, to be excellent, to love generously, to worship Christ truly, then we will desire to live this out in the moments of our lives, and this will be the grid from which we live and breathe.
However, virtue is more than just a heart attitude. Virtue is all of these attributes lived out in an obedient, disciplined life. It is the doing of noble things we have cherished in our heart. We have spiritual capacity, even as we have muscular capacity. Yet, muscles only become strong with use. And so it is with our virtue. It is a capacity that grows stronger, more mature with practice, daily, yearly over a lifetime.
And so the doing of the noble things we can conceive in our hearts is a reflection of how to acquire a virtuous life.
Ignorance and lack of Biblical education destroys spiritual potential.
Hosea 4: 6, teaches us, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."
When the voices we listen to are relative to scripture, and compromising in nature, then we lose the vision of holiness- and become like the other compromising people surrounding us. Yet, seeking to find and surround ourselves with the strongest Christian women, seeking to practice holiness, wanting to grow in wisdom and knowledge is the knowledge that gives life instead of killing our soul. God is our instructor and wants to stretch us to the sacred life, one set aside for His purposes, a life consecrated that is fuller, better, more fulfilling, capturing eternal purposes.
And so, the same for our children. If we are merely living life with them as a chore to do, a duty to fulfill on a ho hum basis, then our lives will reflect our limited goals. But if we desire them to live into the potential God has placed in their lives, then we will have energy for the task and knowledge to understand how to stretch them in character and virtue which will also stretch ourselves.
In the Mentoring Mondays ahead, I will be looking at different aspects of virtue, how to understand it and how to cultivate in our lives and the lives of our children.
And I hope many of you will be able to join me next Monday night, where I will be speaking in an e-conference about what it looks like to acquire and develop a vision that will carry you through all the seasons of your life. This will be a conference that all women could enjoy and be challenged by--not just moms. I practiced some of these concepts on women here in the UK and they seemed quite encouraged by the principles.
People who accept discipline are on the pathway to life, but those who ignore correction will go astray. Proverbs 10:17
I pray my girls will continue walking the pathways of discipline that they may grow fully into their potential.
Register Here for the e-conference!