Though we only just met this fall, this next author-friend feels like an old friend. Judy has been a beautiful encourager to me in my writing and her own story, that you’ll get a taste of here, is full of time spent in the waiting room and the richness that comes from life’s delays. To kick-off Mother’s Day weekend, a weekend I spent many years dreading, Judy Lewis raises a banner of vision for all woman.
(For the month of May and a week into June, I will be pressing pause on my online writing and this space will become a series of testimonies of what He births in the midst of delay, perplexity and pain. Author friends from around the world, who love words on a page (and Him even more), will share, here, how they have seen Him make the bitter, sweet.)
As the years without a husband and children continued to beat by, I ached. At 35, I raged. Come 40, I just got sad. Tick, tock, tick, tock—the rhythm of timeescorted me further from a woman’s greatest calling. Wasn’t I created to be a husband’s helper? A child’s shelter? Who would I help and shelter alone in my apartment?
In church I noticed that the key efforts centered around moms with school-age children and married couples. Most sermons and Sunday school classes paid detailed attention to these partial demographics. I felt left out. And I felt confused.
In my span of girlfriends young and old, I began to wonder about a woman’s “helpfulness”. My mom friends, especially with young children, did not seem to be relishing their “greatest calling.” And my widow and older friends were no longer in the 24/7 helper role. What’s wrong with this picture? I asked.
Single without children left me standing ineligible to enter the essential zone. Wives and moms seem to respond in two ways: losing themselves in the day-today sacrifice of the duty. Or they simply hold on til they can get to the Starbucks drive thru or finally graduate their children from home. Widows and empty nesters were sidelined like me (no longer helping 24/7) and seemingly not mission critical.
(And I haven’t even touched on moms who work outside the home! Their posture toward the greatest calling must feel even more complex, their identity even more fractured if hearth helpfulness is the ultimate in God’s kingdom.)
How can the flimsy “helpmeet” encompass all a woman’s worth for all her life? We need a broader definition. But where can we go? As more women come to the table with men and look at language and story in the Scriptures, we are getting a fuller, more meaningful, more robust grasp of God’s Word.
And it couldn’t come at a better time. The sickly definitions have so narrowed a woman’s worth that unless you are between the boundary lines of “married with children in your home,” there really isn’t much for you to connect to. God help us. We’ve just disqualified grand numbers in His army. And no wonder women feel schizophrenic.
One truth that has made a home in my soul (big enough for the ache/rage/sadness) comes from scholarship on the biblical definition of “female.”
The work of Carolyn James has given me hope. Raised as a pastor’s daughter, she knew one calling: play piano and serve potluck for your pastor husband’s flock. Since marriage was not on the horizon after college, Carolyn became one of the first women to graduate seminary. She wrestled with singleness and purpose. She married a wonderful man, then excelled in the workforce while Frank pursued his multiple PhDs (No potlucks? No piano?). Then they wrestled with infertility. Surely, she groaned, I must have a calling big enough for me that does not include children. Then, they adopted.
Still, she knew that God’s plan for women must serve them from cradle to grave, little girl to aged beauty—not just in the church’s seemingly confined boundary lines. Carolyn unpacked the Hebrew word ezer from Genesis 2:18’s “helper” and learned that the best definition had been drastically undersold.
Ezer showed up 21 times in the Old Testament as a description for God helping Israel as a warrior, not a sidelined helpmeet. A warrior for all the things that are important to Him: truth, beauty, goodness, the marginalized, the poor in spirit, the poor, the guilty.
Finally, I had a calling that was bigger than me and one that would require more of me than I could ever imagine. One that would be worthy of my entire life: fighting for the good, the true and the beautiful, on earth as it is in heaven.
Seven months ago, at 43, I got married. I became a wife, a step-mom and a grandma in one day. And I work full-time. I know the temptation to lose myself in the daily sacrifices or sprint in exile to Starbucks (in the very same hour!). Imagine my identity confusion at this unexpected stage in life.
Only under the banner of joining God as warrior for His glory can I both frame my battle and find rest. Only under God’s commitment to fight for me can I find an identity that neither crushes nor abandons me. Let the newborn baby girl and the woman wizened with wisdom find this calling big enough to require an ezer God to fulfill.
Judy Lewis has been with Campus Crusade for 22 years, as a writer, editor and communications specialist. She lives in Atlanta as a newlywed!