Books to Brooms Part II

In 1987 when my obsessive-compulsive study habits had reached a peak, I was a member of Purchase Line Church of the Brethren.  PLCOB was then (and is now) one of those little, rural congregations where everyone knows everyone else.  We fell quite nicely into the category that Rick Warren (of purpose-driven fame) calls “the family reunion church.” Fellowship was important, covered-dish dinners were frequent, and family connections provided stability.

Because the church was small, and I was active in the ministry, I knew of many deep, serious problems in relationships.  In my intellectual arrogance, I thought I had the answer to all our woes: BIBLE STUDY.   I naively believed that if every Christian made Bible study a top priority, problems that had plagued the church for two millennia would just disappear like so much morning mist.

How blessed we are that the Lord is gracious to His children!  He does not condemn us for our ignorance.  He only requires that we keep our hearts open to receive Truth, and over the next few years He gently exposed the error in my thinking.

Through my job as Activity Director in the nursing home, I met the pastor of a local assembly (a term preferred over church) that fit perfectly into Rick Warren’s description of “the classroom church:”  they placed an emphasis on study, right doctrine, and understanding the original languages of the text.    Pastor Tim was a gifted scholar, and I joined his Tuesday and Thursday night exegetical Bible studies.   The Bible Speaks Assembly (as it was then known) was absolutely devoted to the study of God’s word.  I had found the church/fellowship/assembly of my dreams!  Although I never experienced the phenomenon personally, I certainly approved when I heard that even at baby showers they searched the scriptures together.

Looking back over the three or four years I faithfully attended Greater Grace (the assembly name was changed), I am fascinated by the way God revealed Himself to me both through His people and in the circumstances He allowed.

My first surprise came in the friendships He gave me.  At every Tuesday and Thursday evening Bible study I saw the same three single people: two women and a man.   I soon learned that on Wednesdays they traveled together  to a Bible study in Pittsburgh (an hour or so one way). Now those three were really my kind of people!  Or so I thought at the time. Now I can’t even remember their names.  Instead the Lord bound my heart first to Liz, then to Marianne and Joan, and eventually to Leslie and Susan: five mothers with small children.  They all loved the Lord and His word, but they had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to devote all their time to attending Bible studies.

The next unexpected thing God did was use my intimate communion with happily married women and their sweet children to teach me why the apostle Paul so enthusiastically endorsed the single state. (1 Corinthians 7:34, 35)  No longer did I simply accept my singleness as part of God’s plan for me, I rejoiced in the freedom it allowed me.

But the most surprising thing the Lord taught me in those days of intensive, corporate Bible study was that my simple solution to the problems in the church had missed the mark.  Greater Grace was just as vulnerable to the kind of trouble I saw at Purchase Line, the same kind of trouble that the enemy uses in every community of believers to divide those who desire to serve the Lord.

And so it was that in 1989 when I started spending less time with books and more time with brooms that I also started thinking deeply about the indispensable role that mothers, grandmothers, and all homemakers play in creating faithful disciples for Jesus Christ.

From Books to Brooms (Part 1)

I find the academic world very attractive.  My dream home would be a library with a little space set aside for unavoidable essentials like sleeping, eating, and bathing.  I have a sweet vision of a life where I am surrounded by books that fill shelves on four walls in every room and lay open on tables all around me.  I have a compulsive drive to find the answer to any question that comes into my head, and an irresistible impulse to check out the source of any unusual fact I encounter.  Google has made life so much easier!

I am thankful for the scholars and authors who have contributed to the treasury of wisdom stored both on my bookshelves and in my mind. Study is still my favorite way to learn wonderful things about God.  I know the thrill of discovery that comes when I have asked the Lord to help me prepare a Bible lesson.  I know the satisfaction that comes from having a vague concept clarified in the pages of scripture.  But, in what might be the greatest irony of my life, I have learned to hear God’s voice more distinctly while vacuuming the carpet, scouring the shower, and dusting the woodwork than while immersed in concordances, dictionaries, and interlinear Bibles.

In 1989 the work of homemaking was nothing more to me than a series of tasks that I had to accomplish so I could be free to do something important like solve a doctrinal dilemma or search out the root meaning of the words in an obscure phrase.  At that time I was working as an activities director in a nursing home, but I had a strong sense that the Lord was calling me onto a new path.   Unfortunately, I had no clear idea of where that path might be.  With encouragement from several people, I left the nursing home to develop my hobby of making personalized scripture plaques into a business.  But even with several successful craft shows, I realized it would be a long time before I could expect a steady income, so I took on a few housecleaning jobs in private homes.  Alas, my clients kept recommending me to other people until my rather vague business plan was completely swept away. (No pun intended!)  For the next twenty years, my primary income came from helping other women to be faithful homemakers.

From the beginning, I found much more pleasure cleaning in other people’s houses than in my own home.  I always had a sense of deep satisfaction when I walked out a door leaving everything in order.  Part of the satisfaction came because my work was greatly valued and appreciated by each of my many employers; part of it came because I never saw the order I created dissolve when the family came home.   But in His mysterious way, God made housecleaning far more than just satisfying. He transformed it into a deep and abiding labor of love, as every home I entered became a sanctuary where I could spend hours walking and talking with my Creator, Redeemer, and Lord.  He taught me that I needed His assistance with the dishes and the laundry just as much as I needed it to prepare a Bible lesson.   “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) is a literal truth.  He taught me that every independent effort will result in a mess of some kind.  It might be tangible, spiritual, relational, or some combination of all three, but it is a mess just the same.

The many women who invited me into their lives and gave me the freedom to worship in every room of their houses have greatly expanded my treasury of wisdom.  Their contributions are just as precious as those of scholars and authors, for it was in the midst of vacuuming, scouring, and dusting that the Lord began at last to reveal the path He wanted me to take.