How to love your enemies
As I was praying through this fruit of the Spirit in preparation for the session in our live Bible Study group, I sensed a whisper of the Holy Spirit saying 'it's time to fall in love with Love again'. I asked Him 'what does that mean, Lord?' thinking the reply would be something heart-warming and beautiful and then I was suddenly reminded of Revelation 2:4:
"But I have this complaint against you. You don't love me or each other as you did at first!".
These terrifying words are spoken over the Church and should make every Christian re-evaluate their levels of love towards other Christians, and Christ Himself... but also our enemies. This certainly made me sit up and pray afresh that my love would increase- not just to the people I love, because let's be honest - that is easy - but to the people who I struggle with, the people I can't fathom out, the people who don't like me. My enemies.
The Ultimate Definition Of Love
It's wonderful to hear this portion of 1 Corinthians read out at a wedding as bride and groom gaze lovingly into one anothers' eyes with huge hopes and expectations of the joy their happy union will bring them both.....
But could you gaze into the eyes of someone who hates you, persecutes you, and still be patient, kind, not easily angered, rejoicing with truth....
This is where our perception of what God's kind of 'love' is, really comes off the rails.
I remember when I fist became a Christian and I felt like I could take on the whole world with the love that was bursting out of my heart...... so much so that that even my enemies would surely be instantly turned to Jesus as I loved them as He does. As time goes by, we all get a bit too focused on loving those in our inner circle. We spend our time and effort wanting to grow relationships with people we like - and who like us. We're into inward, soft love that serves our own needs. We're not as quick to pursue the kind of outward, missional love that risks everything to see God's kind of love reach everyone.
Easy Love Is Easy - Hard Love Is Hard
There is easy love - and there is hard love. God Himself chose hard love. As we seek to grow in the fruit of the Spirit - becoming more like Jesus, this hard love is what we must pursue.
"For God so love the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever shall believe in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life (John 3:16)
Whosoever. That means everyone, anyone, who decides to believe that Christ dies for their sins and rose again will be with Him, and you, in Heaven. God's qualifying criteria contains no references to good works, niceness, kindness, church attendance, generosity or any of the other soft love actions that we tend to focus on as Christians. Isn't that mind-blowing? The criteria for God's redeeming love is faith in Him.
The love God expects of us, our mission, is clear: "And he said unto them, Go into all the world.. and as you go into all the world, proclaim the gospel to everyone." (Matthew 16:15)
Not those who are nice to you.
Not those who show good behavior,
Not those who can give you something in return.
No one deserves this kind of radical love - not you, not me, no one.
It was God's decision alone. It is His astounding Grace. This is the kind of hard love is what the Holy Spirit wants to cultivate in us. Challenged yet? I am. Again.
Easy love is the love you feel for the ones that are precious and lovely to you; your husband, your children, your family, your friends, your church.. but the truth is - anyone can love people who are good and loving to them. We don't need the Holy Spirit to help us with that kind of love.....
We need His Spirit to help us do hard love.
Jesus directly taught us: "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matthew 5:44
What Does God Require Of Me?
God's Agenda is fueled by love for all His creation - not just the nice bits. We are so fickle and find our hearts and minds screaming when we know we should turn the other cheek, forgive, reach out, show kindness, be Jesus to those who don't 'deserve' it. And you're right, they don't. That's not in dispute.
The problem is - you and I didn't deserve God's love either. So if we're serious about this grace we've been given.. if we truly want to grow in the fruit of the Spirit, then we are going to have to get good at hard love. God's kind of love.
Proverbs 25:21 says "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink."
You don't have to like them. You are not required to approve of, or even understand, their behavior or choices. You don't have to have any affectionate feelings towards them whatsoever; but you must love them like Jesus loves them. You must serve them, sacrificially even. You must not exclude them from our mission to love and bring good news.
This is hard love.
There is easy love - and there is hard love. God Himself chose hard love. Which will you pursue?
Of course we will never stop loving the people that are embedded in our hearts. And that's absolutely right. But the challenge in growing in the fruit of the Spirit is to grow in hard love.
Right now, I can think of at least 3 people who I find hard to really love - and I don't mean the warm squishy, affectionate kind of love - I mean the kind of love where I include them, and share with them, and offer them proverbial - or literally - food and water from my kitchen. These are people I don't understand and I'm not even sure how I can serve them - but I will try. Not because I love them, but because God loves them.
Pray and ask God to show you at least one person who you need to practice hard love with. Reach out to them, somehow, and include them, bless them, pray for them, serve them.
How To Love Your Enemies
We don't have to wait for any motivating 'feelings' to do this because the amazing things about hard love is that there is something the Bible calls 'compassion'. Compassion is often seen as a soft love - but it is in fact the foundation of enabling us to love hard.
Compassion is what moves us to stop and turn, out of our way, off the beaten track, to help someone who wasn't on our love list today. Compassion is a purposeful emotion that moves us to act against our instincts and reach out because of a deep yearning to bring God's love and justice to those who need it the most. To feel compassion is to look upon a soul that is lost, hurting, acting out - and desire God's redeeming love to rescue them - just as He rescued you.
No one puts it better than the great Charles Spurgeon:
"He was moved with compassion."—Matthew 9:36.
"This is said of Christ Jesus several times in the New Testament. The original word is a very remarkable one. It is not found in classic Greek. It is not found in the Septuagint. They did not find one in the whole Greek language that suited their purpose, and therefore they had to make one. It is expressive of the deepest emotion; a striving of the bowels—a yearning of the innermost nature with pity... when our Saviour looked upon certain sights, those who watched him closely perceived that his internal agitation was very great, his emotions were very deep, and then his face betrayed it, his eyes gushed like founts with tears, and you saw that his big heart was ready to burst with pity for the sorrow upon which his eyes were gazing. He was moved with compassion. His whole nature was agitated with commiseration for the sufferers before him."
So, as you pray to increase and abound in LOVE - pray for compassion. Compassion for the unlovely. Compassion for the excluded. Compassion for the people who have not yet met their Redeemer.
Open up your heart - big and wide - and let God fill you and stretch you and urge you into acts of hard love - seek to abound in compassion.
Let your hard love flow to 'whosoever' - because God first loved you.
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how to be more kind
In this Fruit Of The Spirit series of mini-blogs, I have been deeply moved by the simple truths in the Word of God. This proverb is jam-packed with insights and wisdom.
Kindness is not just about being 'nice' or being randomly courteous to strangers. It is a deep, pride-melting, barrier-shrinking warmth of attitude towards others that Jesus personified.
Holy Spirit kindness comes from wanting the very best for the other person. Holy Spirit kindness wants them to know their true value and worth. The Holy Spirit kind of kindness melts hard hearts, unfolds crossed arms and opens deaf ears.
Kindness will get you an audience with people you never dreamed you would influence.
Kindness will pave the way to a strengthening of your key relationships unlike anything else.
We need to grow so much more in kindness if we are going to be people full of the Spirit of God.
I love that this verse begins with 'WHEN she speaks'. You have a message to bring. You DO have something of value and significance that the world needs to hear. Don't ever let anyone quiet your voice down - just because it doesn't serve their agenda.
The 'when' also reminds us that kindness comes best when it is timed right. Knowing when to speak, and when to keep silent are all part of maturing (and even in my fourth decade I get this one wrong all the time!)
Timing is the difference between wisdom being gladly received like a long, cool drink to a parched marathon-runner who greedily grabs at whatever you have to offer....... and your words being tossed back in your face because the timing was all wrong. It takes discernment, and prayer, to know when wisdom is actually wise!
Instructions are coupled with kindness in this verse because, let's face it, very few people really enjoy being told what to do! Kindness softens any blow to the pride, especially when the instructions are correcting a wrong.
Have you ever heard the phrase 'they don't care what you know - until they knew that you care'?
It's a perfect paraphrase of this scripture.
If you want your words to be well-received, then speak up; at the right time, with the right wisdom for that moment, confidently - but with deep care and compassion for the listener.
They will feel your kindness long after your words leave the air.
They will detect your sincerity in their innermost being and the instructions, whatever they may be, will be received like seed into good soil.
Kindness isn't just a side-portion - it's the main meal.
Let's serve it up to one another by the bucket-load and watch the Holy Spirit do His work, melting hearts like workable clay in His hands.
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How to stay strong through tough times
Is there a 'field' in your life where you've been sowing and sowing but are still not seeing those green shoots? When a farmer goes out to sow seeds into the soil, what comes next is a wait of faith. Nothing can be seen by eye, but the farmer knows beyond doubt that something good is happening beneath the soil. How does she know? Because of her experience. Because of her knowledge. Because she understands the rhythms and the timing and chemistry of sowing and reaping. We need to understand the rhythms and timing and chemistry of sowing reaping in our faith too.
In due time, tiny green shoots start to poke through, reaching up to the light of day and a sigh of relief is breathed as the sower knows for sure...... 'it's coming'.....
Perhaps you've been sowing in an area of your life and you're not seeing the harvest yet. It feels overdue. You're frustrated and impatience. 'Why, God? Where is it? Where is the health I need? Where is the peace in my family? Where is the job opportunity I've been praying for? Where is the growth of my team, ministry or church? Where are the finances I've prayed for? Where is it God?!'
Galatians 6:9-10 is like a huge finger-from-the-sky reminder: "..do NOT become weary in doing good. For at the proper time you WILL reap a harvest IF you do not give up..." Let's break it down:
Do not become weary - make sure your prayers are prayers of stubborn faith, not weariness. Make sure you are still doing what God told you to do and not backing down or ducking out because it's taking time.
At the proper time - you're not in control of the timing - you're in control of the sowing. Be patient. God sees this from all angles, you only see your own point of view. It was 30 years before Jesus began His ministry...
You will reap a harvest - it's a promise. It's a certainty - but it is is conditional. There's a catch. You've got to do your side of the bargain here. There's a big, fat IF coming up.....
IF you do not give up - do not give up sowing. Do not give up praying over that seed with faith and expectation that God is able. Do not give up looking out that window, watching, waiting for signs of life. Do not start to grumble or complain. Do not let words of despair or hopelessness pass your lips. Go and scream into a pillow if you need to. Do not go out and dig up your seed in a huff. Do not wave your fist at God because it's taking longer than you wanted. DO NOT GIVE UP DOING GOOD.
So, you've not given up. You've stayed and prayed in faith. You've confessed that your harvest is on its way. So, where is it? Let's look at what might be the problem:
What are you fighting for right now? What harvest is promised to you? How do you keep yourself in faith when you can't see it yet? Share in the comments below and encourage our readers.
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How to be gentle when life plays rough
Gentleness is not weakness. Gentleness, especially in the face of intimidation or aggression, is in fact a sign of great personal strength, perfectly harnessed. Being gentle when the situation is calm and lovely is not a challenge. Being gentle when someone bangs into you with their cart at the store, cuts you up on the freeway or passes over you for promotion, is when the test begins.
Gentleness is a choice. It is a choice not to react even when you would be perfectly ‘within your rights’ to react with anger. But when you have received full forgiveness and freedom from all your mistakes and failings - the Holy Spirit in you urges you NOT to react as you could - but to react with love and purpose.
Proverbs 15:1 says that a gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. When anger gets 'stirred up', something bad is cooking. The evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life is that even where something bad is cooking, you can be the person to come in and calm the situation, right the wrongs and make peace break out!
Gentleness can be like a long, cool drink to a course, dry throat that has been shouting at you. Gentleness is a warm hug and encouraging words when your spouse has had a bad day and the house is a bombsite. Gentleness is listening intently when you would rather butt in with your own viewpoint.
Gentleness is a bit like a harness that constrains and re-directs your emotions when they’re trying to go haywire - and instead send them in the direction of love.
You might be naturally a gentle person - or you might be like a bull in a china shop (more my style!) but gentleness, as a fruit of walking in the Spirit of God, can be learned. You can remind yourself to stop - even mid-flow - and ask yourself 'Is what I'm about to say....'
If what you are about to let pass your lips is few, or none, of these things - then it is what the Bible calls 'slander'. Ephesians 4:15 exhorts you to 'speak the truth in love' because we have all known that sting of truth that was not spoken in love. it is also possible that you may believe that you're saying something out of love - but it's not really Godly love. So you also need to consider 'is what I'm about to say or do necessary? Is it kind or is it bitter? Will it inspire or will it deflate? Who will benefit from what I'm about to say?
For us women, who allegedly have around 30,000 words a day to share with the world, it can be tough to always speak with gentleness. But you can ask the Holy Spirit daily to help you be more deliberate and thoughtful as you communicate with those around you.
Gentleness is about surrendering your 'right' to lash right back out at your Problem and being empowered by His Spirit to choose another way. And how can you choose another way? Because you are secure and confident in God that He will see to it that you are not mistreated in the long run. He is your justice.
Being gentle is incredibly powerful for helping to build up and strengthen your best relationships - but it is also very attractive to people because they feel safe around a person who is able to overcome their urge to be harsh.
As you pray for the help of the Holy Spirit, not just day to day - but moment to moment - He can help you to redirect those hot emotions into something that shows that not only do you truly appreciate God's mercy towards you - but you willingly show it to others.
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how to stay faithful when you want to quit
'Great is Thy faithfulness' rings out in churches across the world as we acknowledge and celebrate one of the most fundamental, and reassuring of God's character traits.
He is faithful to His people.
His love language is faith.
Being faithful is esteemed as a true virtue in human behavior, from every walk of life. Faithfulness matters. Why?
Without faithfulness, there is no security. No stability. And very little ground to lay trust upon.
Faithfulness is the hot house for growing trust - and where there is trust, there is growth.
Faithfulness is your demonstration of your love.
We know that love is a choice and an action. When we are faithful, through the good times and the hard times, we proclaim that we are putting into action the power of our prior commitment.
Faithfulness is about digging in when we don't see the fruit yet.
Faithfulness is about refusing to give up on the vision in your heart.
Faithfulness is about sowing seed today and staying focused - expecting a harvest to bloom in time.
Faithfulness is full of power because sometimes you have to keep going, keep sowing, keep loving and keep believing - even when it feels futile. 1 Corinthians 15:58 is a rally call to keep on keeping on.
Love your husband or wife with all your heart, mind and soul - even when they are hard to love and you feel like it's a one-way street right now - that's being faithful.
Love your child relentlessly - even when they are unappreciative, dismissive and unkind to you - that's being faithful.
Show up and do your best work - even when the boss doesn't seem to acknowledge your sweat, let alone reward it - that's being faithful.
Keep serving with a cheerful heart in your church whilst you wait for a replacement to come and release you from your commitment - even when you are sure you are called to be doing something else - that's being faithful.
God's promise is that nothing you give will be wasted.
He sees it all. He counts it all. Know that if not in this season, or perhaps if not even in this life - your faithfulness to what He has entrusted to you WILL be rewarded.
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God's voice can come in a loud boom, but it usually doesn't. God's voice can come out of the sky, but it usually doesn't. God's voice is Spirit - and it resounds with your spirit, as deep calls out to deep. Your spirit is the part of you, high above everyday emotions, decisions, logic or reasoning. Your spirit is that part of you that makes you uniquely, undeniably you. This is the 'you' that God speaks to. This is where you can tune in and learn to know God's voice...
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Any time you take a step forward whether in your family life, your job, your business or your church ministry - it’s as if the Enemy hits a Red Alert siren sounding in the bowels of hell and unleashes every trick in the book to unravel, undermine and topple you over. Has this happened to you lately? It has to me, with bells on. And in these seasons do you know what you need to do....?
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Have you heard the song 'What A Beautiful Name It Is' by Hillsong yet? It is on loop in our home right now. And our car. And my iPhone. There's just something about it. It's so much deeper than the beautiful melody, masterful vocals and musicianship. There's just something in that song that digs right down in to your soul, grabs your spirit and gives it a right good shake about until you can't help but start stomping your foot and pumping your fists as you celebrate the powerhouse of our Lord's Name. It lifts you. It makes you believe afresh that all things truly are possible, with God.
Scientists tell us that women speak, on average, 13,000 words a day. 13,000 words. That's a LOT of opportunity to be critical, doubtful and destructive. Everything we say, we also hear - and down it goes - back into our hearts. So there's a cyclical effect - every time we speak out our thoughts. Learn how to use the power of your words to encourage yourself...
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by GUEST BLOGGER: KATHRYN MACNEILL
Kathryn runs her own training and coaching consultancy. She helps people to explore and develop their best potential. You can read more about her in our Member of the Month feature for February.
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Recent conversations with friends and colleagues, not to mention plenty of online commentaries, have highlighted the very bad reputation that 2016 has gained itself. It doesn’t matter if you look at it from an international, national, local or personal level, so many of us have acquired a list of reasons why we are ready to shake off one year, and embrace the new – as quickly as possible, thank you very much. Do you need a fresh start too? Read on...
I woke up one bright, warm morning in May suddenly aching from head to toe. I thought I might have flu as my husband had come home unwell from a conference. I didn't realise that that day would be the beginning of a battle with serious illness. Nearly 7 months later, the pain is still with me like an unwelcome travelling companion, trying to distract, dismantle and delay my journey. Read More...
What does it really mean to be 'wise'. Is it about stroking a long flowing beard whilst pontificating about the deeper meaning of life? Is it something that comes with age, like grey hairs and clicking knees? Perhaps wisdom is found in education, the infilling of our minds with knowledge and understanding so that we can teach the generation behind us how to avoid all the mistakes we are making (and secretly have no regrets over whatsoever). We know we need to BE wise. But how do we learn to acquire Godly wisdom..?
If we're really honest with one another, sometimes that beautiful leather-bound Bible starts to gather a little dust. Full of best intentions, from time to time, we will puff away the cloud of neglect and crack it open, hoping to get immediately hooked in and discover life-changing revelations...... but of course, developing an actual habit of spending time reading, studying and meditating on scripture sometimes takes a little bit of support. How do we cultivate a regular devotional life? Don't worry. You're in good company. We are in this together! Click 'Read More'
My kids and I love looking at pictures of the universe. We scrunch up our eyes and just try to comprehend just how big God is.... Nope. Can't do it! My brain just can't seem to stretch that far! How do we get our heads around just how huge and immeasurable God is....
I have sensed a pushback against the legalistic way in which the Proverbs 31 passage has sometimes been used to make Christian women feel inferior as they read about this ancient Superwoman. Who wouldn't feel inadequate next to a woman who doesn't seem to even sleep because she is so busy making everyone around her gleeful. Yet that wasn't the message I took from the chapter at all so I wanted to bring an empowering and deeply encouraging message to modern women, from all walks of life, based on the character traits I saw in this inspiring representation of Biblical womanhood......
Have you ever noticed the sheer volume of depressing, demoralising, discouraging stuff all over social media. What's a girl to do? Turn to the Proverbs 31 example of Christian womanhood and be completely overwhelmed by this off-the-chart crazily productive woman who would put us all to shame? No, a girl looking for inspiration, encouragement, support to navigate the tumultuous twists and bends of modern day Biblical womanhood needs a modern, savvy, sassy, Jesus-lovin', God-fearin', people-helpin' role model... so let's look afresh at what it means to be a Proverbs 31 woman...
Have you ever wanted to take a leap? A really, big, fat, scary leap into something new? Or, actually, perhaps not-so-new, but rather something that has been burning little scorch marks in your heart for a while now to the point where you just need to DO SOMETHING...! No? Just me then.
She31 was birthed in a coffee shop near Loch Lomond, Scotland, UK (not that you could see the Loch from where my friend & I were sitting). As we enjoyed our frothacinos we pontificated about the sheer volume of depressing, demoralising, discouraging stuff all over social media. What's a girl to do? A girl looking for inspiration, encouragement, support to navigate the tumultuous twists and bends of modern day Biblical womanhood ~ a modern, savvy, sassy, Jesus-lovin', God-fearin', people-helpin' girl, just looking for her tribe, that is.
It didn't exactly feel like an epiphany moment at the time, more like an excuse to ingest calorifically terrific cakes and vent our spleens about the perils of social media (not a bad topic for a Tuesday evening) but it set a fire in me to do something about it. For myself, for my beautiful friend there in front of me, for my own beloved daughter.. for all our friends and daughters who are growing up in a world of tweets, snaps, posts and non-erasable digital footprints.
So, I started in the only place I knew and bungled my way through 12-months of sharing thoughts, prayers, jokes and mini Bible studies in a Facebook Group which I called She31 ~ Women After God's Heart. It slowly but steadily grew as girls found a safe place, encouragement, some positive little rays of light beaming out of their newsfeeds here and there. Girls, young and less young, from every arc of the globe; from Africa, to Australia somehow found us and we connected. We really connected.
Why call it She31? And why on earth then build an entire website of the same name? I shall tell you why. Come in a bit closer. Okay, so we've all heard of that woman in the Bible, who suddenly charges in around about the 10th verse of the book of Proverbs, with all her business and investment know-how, early rising, bread-making, wise-beyond-her-years, clothes-stitching stuff and makes us feel a twinge of despair at this impossible job description. Who is this angelic creature we read of and why on earth is she in a Book that is meant to encourage us? Who is this uber-productive saint who makes children rise up and call her 'Blessed' when merely getting my kids to rise up out of bed in the morning gets me skittish?
And on another hand, we've all heard of David; the Shepherd-boy-turned-King who, despite being an adulterous murderer bagged himself the jaw-dropping eternal reputation of being 'a man after God's own heart'.. And this speaks to the extravagant, pigeon-hole-ripping, undeniable Grace of God which for me, and now for hundreds of others, the name She31 ~ Women After God's Heart rolls up in its own clumsy way to represent the seedlings of something powerful to come. She31 is the vision of a tribe, a community, a circle (close and far) of women who determine to excel in life, yet remain in the bosom of our Savior.
We want to soar as a women of the 21st Century, unfurling wings of wisdom, generosity and faithfulness - and yet whist emulating our foremoms in the Word of God; those mighty, courageous, icons ~ Hannah, Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Dorcas, Junia, Mary, Phoebe... That's right. That allegedly antiquated, anti-feminist library of holy scripture is chock full of dynamic, fearless, effective, loving women and from them ~ we have so, so much to learn. Even now. Even today. Whether at the kitchen sink or the office water cooler. We can deploy the wisdom of these spiritual mammas knowing that we too, have a unique story to tell those yet to come, about our very own God-blessed lives.