Years ago, I thought Solomon penned all the proverbs; then I learned that this wisdom book of the Old Testament is actually the collected works of several writers, Solomon included. Proverbs 31 is attributed to one King Lemuel.
Regarding my own misunderstanding, I especially resented the way the good king introduces this ode to ideal womanhood: He opens by asking the question: “Who can find a virtuous woman?” I was left wondering, Are women of worth and integrity so few and far between that almost no one can find one?
But the poem is actually constructed beautifully. From that introduction the writers forms the remainder of chapter so that each verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet, thus creating an acrostic that would serve as an aid to the memory of the pupil whose recall of each successive verse would be triggered by which letter it had to begin with. Thus, the topic, “The Virtuous Woman,” is covered from A to Z (or aleph to tau). Recently, I came to realize that the writer was demonstrating the completeness of the virtues, skills, and accomplishments of the idea woman.
I trust my candor with regard to my own misunderstandings about this chapter are not offensive. My goal is not to rehearse Proverbs 31 in order to make you feel less than adequate, as I once felt. Instead, I would like to answer that opening question by introducing you to a woman whom I view as a true reflection of the virtues King Lemuel extols.
When Fannie was only 16 years old, she crossed the state line into neighboring Texas and married James Bart Weaver Cross, a man nine years her senior. By now you have probably guessed that Fannie Mae McKee Cross was my mother.
When Fannie married the handsome Mr. Cross, she didn’t realize she not only would become the mother of 10 strong-willed children (and raise nine to adulthood), but she would also become a pastor’s wife and anointed minister in her own rite.
So, rather than trying to discuss the principles found in each verse of Proverbs 31, I wish to communicate to you some of things I picked up from this woman of worth. I learned some of these lessons by observation, some by default, some by word of mouth from my older siblings, and some simply by osmosis.
- You can cure almost any ailment with enough Vicks Vapo-rub and/or a hefty measure of castor oil. With regard to remedies, Mama believed that every kid needed a daily dose of cod liver oil. I can still taste … and smell … that horrible stuff today. If I happened to get a drop on my dress in the morning, I smelled like a dead fish all day long.
- You can make a satisfying and delicious meal out of practically nothing. It might consist solely of pinto beans and fried potatoes, but if Mama made it, it was larruping. She often had meager resources, but she worked magic with what she had.
- Cleanliness is next to godliness was more than a cliché with my mother. (You know, of course, that adage is not in the Bible.) She lived by that rule religiously. Regardless of where we lived, the place was clean, as were her children, even if she had to scrub them with homemade lye soap.
- Mother taught her daughters to have an eye for beauty. It seems my father often was called to pastor small congregations that struggled to support their shepherds. But, of course, nearly every family struggled during the Great Depression and War years. Yet in those difficult times, mother used different types of materials to add a touch of color and beauty to our simple home. I recall her making bright bouquets of crepe paper roses. Nothing was wasted: she made doilies for the dressers by crocheting string she recycled from packages. When yarn was available, she crocheted bedspreads and made lovely pillows and quilts from scraps of fabric. I remember her breaking colored glass with a hammer and gluing it to bottles to create vases that dazzled in the sunlight.
- Mother demonstrated the godly quality of unconditional love. This was tested at times, but she remained steadfast in her devotion to her family. Even when one of her sons strayed into deep sin, she loved him and held to the conviction that one day he would return to God. … and he did. (She had received a promise from God in a vision that all of her children would be saved.) A few weeks before he died suddenly of a heart attack, he visited his pastor brother in Texas and gave his heart to God.
- Prayer should always be the Christian’s first response and last defense in every situation. Family prayer was the bedrock of our family. Every evening before bedtime, everyone in the house knelt in the living room for prayer. During those times, I heard my parents call the name of each of their children, from the eldest to the youngest. They prayed for church members, the pastor, and missionaries in China and elsewhere in the world. On more than one occasion, I have found Mama face-down on the floor groaning in intercession for a need in the family or for the lost.
- Mother lived her life on “go.” She was ready and expecting to meet the Lord at a moment’s notice. She firmly believed that He might return at any time. One Monday morning as she and I were hanging the wash on the line, a strange light appeared in the eastern sky. I thought Mama was going to have a Holy Ghost runaway, until she realized it was something other than the Lord’s return. Mother spoke often of her anticipation of that day and prayed for us all that we would be ready to go.
- You don’t have to be perfect to be a saint. Please don’t misunderstand me; like the rest of us, Fannie Mae made mistakes, but her motivations were pure; she wanted only the best for everyone she knew. She fretted, knowing that worry accomplishes nothing and can actually reflect a lapse of faith, but her worrying was a reflection of how deeply she cared.
My godly mother modeled the qualities (from A to Z) King Lemuel recognized in a woman of virtue. And, in the end “her children [will] rise up and call her blessed,” he said. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I have been doing at this moment.
Proverbs 31: 10-12, 20, 22, 25-31:
10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.0
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Thank you for allowing me this privilege of honoring the memory of Fannie Mae McKee Cross. “Who can find a virtuous woman?” I did.
Fannie Mae McKee Cross passed from this life into the presence of her Savior in late March of 1976.
[Editor's comment: Shirley Spencer has become a Hugh's News Contributing Writer. As you will recall, Shirley served as the executive editor of The Advocate, Issachar Files, and IPHC Experience. She is a prolific writer. In her retirement she has become an ordained minister of the Gospel in the Heartland Conference, and now has been named the chaplain for the Senior Ministers for her conference. She has renamed this ministry and now it is called "Omega Ministries--the Heartland's Heart for Senior Ministers."]