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A Chaste Woman’s Hero: Jane Eyre


** spoiler alert ** If you haven’t read it and think you might, don’t read this review! This truly great book is filled with suspense and surprises.

I rarely read a book more than once, but Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte has captured my attention repeatedly since I first encountered it years ago.

The book jacket claims that “Charlotte Bronte poured her contempt for the stifling conventions society imposed upon a woman’s right to emotional and sexual fulfillment.”

On one hand, I can see how this “frank revelation of female character” may have been shocking or particularly well-developed for the time. The romantic male characters in Bronte novels are far from ideal or societally acceptable in the classic sense.

In actuality, this novel is far from a feminist treatise, unless one defines feminism as upholding Christian chastity in the spirit of Proverbs 31 and Matthew 5:30.

In this novel, Edward Rochester is the desire of Jane Eyre. He is an ugly, older man with a bombastic character and a whole lot of baggage. In fact, he has a psychotic wife locked up in his house, a secret he has kept from almost everyone, even Jane. Yet, they fall deeply in love; a love which is well-developed in the story and quite pleasant to read.

Finally, he asks her to marry him and, with their vows imminent, someone speaks up during the ceremony to oppose the match. The truth comes out about the wife and, in spite of her intense feelings of affection for him, Jane makes the decision to leave Edward completely. He is exceedingly repentant, and by the time you hear his story, you don’t feel nearly as bad for him as you want to. But she runs away and does not look back. The reader sees her deep love and her compassion for him and his situation but also sees that there is a finality about her actions; a refreshing sense of totality in her willingness to abandon her desires for the sake of her conscience and her knowledge of the Ten Commandments.

All seems lost, and I assumed Jane was going to end up with an austere, brilliant, and handsome missionary and minister who proposes to her and invites her to go to India with him.

She can’t leave, however, until she resolves once and for all to learn what has happened to her true love. Is this regret or remorse for turning away? The reader senses it is purely love. It turns out Edward’s house has been burned down by the disturbed wife who died in the fire. He has been blinded and left even uglier than before, and now that she is free to marry him, they marry and live a contented life together.

How this book can be touted as a feminist masterpiece in the modern-day, cultural sense of the word is beyond me. I found it to be an incredible spiritual treatise, and Jane and Edward’s spiritual journeys are palpable and poignant.

When Jane leaves Edward, refusing to give in to the temptation of living with a married man, she trusts God entirely to care for her. Where she ends up is ultimately prosperous, both materially and emotionally. She gets reconnected with family she didn’t know she had, and part of the very communication that led to her initial tragedy of the called-off wedding turns into the very thing that prospers her. When she does meet Edward again, she gives herself wholly to his service. She feels free to love him completely and serve him in his infirmities, which ultimately lessen as he regains some of his vision.

Edward, on the other hand, travels through the fire, getting terribly humbled. Only when he completely gives himself to God does he have a second chance to find happiness, and this time, on the terms of the Christian faith which is the foundation of the story. These characters face extreme trials while staying true to Christian ideals.

The underlying message of this book is that God’s rules are liberating and lead to a very unexpected joy. Not very feminist in the modern-day sense of the word!

If you haven’t read Jane Eyre yet, you should. You may find her, as I have, a strong and fitting companion for the Christian journey.


A Beautiful Woman Ink Slingers Misty Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman Series Spiritual Growth

Ode to Feminine Genius: Discovering Her Feminine Beauty

10628607_10152640958795540_2185798387826798527_nThis is the ninth installment in the series of Ode to Feminine Genius: Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman. Today’s topic will cover A Beautiful Woman.

A few months ago, my oldest daughter turned thirteen. Having my firstborn become our first teenager seemed almost anticlimactic; an especially precocious child, Honor has always seemed far older than she is. On paper, she’s in the 7th grade, but most of her homeschooling is from high school and college textbooks. Her height (5’5″), poise, and ability to hold conversations on complex social and political subjects tend to lead most who meet her to assume she’s in her late teens. They’re usually stunned to find out that she’s just starting that journey.

Eyebrow threading sounds less painful than waxing...but isn't.
Eyebrow threading sounds less painful than waxing…but isn’t.

But being so emotionally mature can have its drawbacks. Last year, our youth group leader was so impressed by Honor’s emotional maturity that she skipped her into the high school group. And while Honor could handle the discussions on gay marriage and contraception (we’d had them years ago, when she’d asked about them), she wasn’t as prepared for the social dynamics of being among teenage girls. She stopped being excited about youth group, and began finding reasons to avoid it. When I pressed her, she would complain vaguely about how she “didn’t like” a lot of the kids in the group.

Show of hands--how many of us wish we'd had someone teach us how to put on makeup?
Show of hands–how many of us wish we’d had someone teach us how to put on makeup??

I talked privately to the youth group leader, who immediately knew what the problem was. “This is an age when girls are starting to discover their own feminine beauty,” she said. “They’re going from jeans and T-shirts and ponytails to caring more about their appearance. They’re starting to use makeup, fix their hair, and wearing trendier clothes.” The leader said that when our daughter would walk into the youth group meetings, she’d watched her visibly shrink into herself; she clearly felt dowdy and downright provincial compared to her female peers.

Then she said something profound.  “Your daughter is smart and everyone knows that about her. But she needs to feel beautiful, too. Every pretty girl wants to be told she’s smart and every smart girl wants to be told she’s beautiful.” She advised me to take my daughter out and actively guide her into discovering her own feminine beauty. “Don’t let the culture teach her what’s beautiful; YOU show her how to feel confident and beautiful as a young lady.”

So that’s what I did.

About two months later, my daughter and I drove six hours to the “big city” of Anchorage. While there, we spent three hectic days transforming her from an athletic tomboy to a young lady. We had her eyebrows shaped. I hired a professional makeup artist to teach her how to apply cosmetics–complete with a lesson in the difference between classy and trashy makeup. We had her hair styled at a salon. We also updated her wardrobe at the mall with a few modest yet fashionable outfits. Our last stop was Nordstrom, where she picked out a lovely formal dress to wear to a Right to Life banquet with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar as keynote speakers.

The hairdresser made her promise never to change her auburn hair color.
The hairdresser made her promise never to change her auburn hair color.

The effect on my daughter was incredible. She kept staring at herself in the mirror after we had her eyebrows shaped. “Mom, it’s like my eyes have frames now!” She smiled continuously and kept telling me how happy she was that I had planned the trip for her. We had a great time at all her “treatments,” not to mention the banquet, where both of us were giddy about seeing the Duggars in person.

There were big changes at home, too. In the two weeks since the trip, she’s requested to go back to youth group again. She put on a new outfit and a little makeup and confidently walked into the group. When I picked her up, she’d had a great time talking about her love for Jesus and was looking forward to next time. She’s joined SeaScouts, too, a marine-based scouting group for teenagers. And it doesn’t bother her that she’s the only female among six teenage boys.

She’s smiling and laughing and holding her head up again when she’s around her peers. She’s always known she’s smart, but now she’s found her inner beauty, too. And that’s given her the ability to go into social situations with confidence. She confessed to an ironic outcome: now, she can better concentrate on the relationships and the discussions, because she’s NOT focusing on her anxiety about her appearance. She said: “Now, I don’t think about how I look at all, Mom.”

That trip was worth every penny.

En route to see the Duggars!
En route to see the Duggars!

My daughter knows that her physical beauty is meaningless if it’s not reflective of the goodness in her soul. She’s still mostly a sweats-and-T-shirt girl at home. But now she understands that God gave her more than just a vivacious mind; He gave her a genuine feminine loveliness that she can righteously adorn for righteous purposes. We would never fault a bride for wanting to feel beautiful on her wedding day–and aren’t we all the Bride of Christ every day of our lives?

The reality is that if we don’t guide our daughters through discovering and adorning their feminine beauty, the culture will teach them to profane it. What are YOUR ideas, dear sisters in Christ, for helping our precious daughters to recognize and foster their feminine beauty?

An Industrious Woman Domestic Church Ink Slingers Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman Rachel M Spiritual Growth

Ode to Feminine Genius: An Industrious Woman

This is the seventh installment in the series of Ode to Feminine Genius: Proverbs 31 Catholic WomanToday’s topic will cover An Industrious Woman.

Proverbs 31 industrious woman

Industrious woman, this theme speaks to me. I love being industrious; checking things off my lists, completing tasks, keeping up my home. Nothing brings me the same kind of joy as a freshly swept and mopped floor. Industrialism is perfect for my type A tendencies because it’s black and white, there’s no gray. You either are or you aren’t.

Except, I also have six children at home with me every hour of almost every day.

So, industrious woman easily becomes nagging crabbypants mom who doesn’t have time to read books when you ask her, because she’s only on number 3 of 74 things to do for the day.

Before we can be industrious women, we must first set our priorities for the day, or even the next fifteen minutes. There are two things I need to keep my sanity- a shower and a swept floor. Walking barefoot on crumbs might just be my purgatory. So therefore, after breakfast every morning, I sweep the floor. But, if I’m being true to my priorities, the cleaning ends there. I stop and move on to mommy things- doing hair, playing games, homeschooling, going outside. Every wife and mother has her things that must be done, a bare bones, and it’s important to figure out what that is for you.

Here’s the thing though, being industrious does not trump love. And, for me, that’s hard to remember.

taking care of familyWhat being an industrious woman means, at the heart of it, IS love. Because I love my husband and our family, I keep up with the chores, I cook meals, I am diligent with our housework. I attempt to be self-disciplined. And because I love God, I try to offer it all up to Him through Mary.

I believe there are two main tenets of industrialism in the home. Each is important, and it looks different in each person’s home of course, but without these two things it is difficult to employ this virtue.

1. Keep A Schedule and Plan for Rest – We all know that running our homes on a schedule is beneficial for everyone. The children are always better behaved when they know what to expect out of each day, more things are able to be accomplished by everyone, and at the end of the day, Dad doesn’t always come home to a frazzled wife. But, moreover, being industrious is using our time wisely. Having a schedule means nothing if you don’t follow it. If you are supposed to be folding laundry and instead decide to check facebook for just a few minutes first, things surely start to fall apart. The few minutes turns into 15 and then just as you pull the laundry out of the dryer, baby wakes up and now the whole schedule is pushed back. Of course we must be flexible, but flexibility is not the same thing as purposeful lethargy.

All moms have experience with putting off naps for just a little too long. We really need to finish grocery shopping, or get big brother to karate, or even something fun like a family trip to the zoo, but inevitably, the baby takes the brunt of it and eventually turns into a crying, cranky mess. Well, us moms are the same way. We all know when we’ve pushed too hard and our bodies and minds start pushing back. Part of using the gifts and grace God has given us is knowing when to rest as well. A mom’s schedule should include a reasonable bedtime, down time, and prayer time.

2. Minimalism and Waste –  Our job as wives is to build up our husbands as the leader of our family and our home. One important way that I believe is often overlooked is letting our husbands know that we both appreciate his income and feel that it is enough. Whatever the amount of money in the budget, the industrious woman puts it to work for her. She budgets effectively, spends only money that is there, and creates little waste. The industrious woman lives richly within her means.
Our tomatoes seemed to fruit really late this year after having a cool and very wet summer, so now that it’s officially fall, our plants are full of green tomatoes. My initial thought was to just compost the whole lot and be done with it, but I knew I couldn’t rightfully throw away food that could nourish my family. Instead I composted the plants for future use in the garden, and have picked all the tomatoes that will soon become canned mincemeat. It’s about using what we have to it’s fullest benefit.

Keeping the home neat, is much easier when you have fewer things. It’s that simple. If something is broken beyond repair, get rid of it. If there’s something you never use, donate it. If something you own is causing you stress or the inability to properly keep your home, give it away. Personal belongings are not important, not really, and when they cause you to lose sight of the bigger picture it can be a slippery slope towards sin.

“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” -Proverbs 31:27

What ways have you employed in your home to use your blessings to their fullest benefits?


A Hospitable Woman Allison Bible Ink Slingers Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman Sacred Scripture Series Spiritual Growth

Ode to Feminine Genius ~ A Hospitable Woman

This is the sixth installment in the series of Ode to Feminine Genius: Proverbs 31 Catholic WomanToday’s topic will cover A Hospitable Woman.

Hospitable Woman

martha2Hospitality really isn’t having folks over for dinner or inviting ladies to tea (although I love to do this); it isn’t making sure our homes are in decent enough order to welcome drop-ins (although this is a good idea). It is much more radical. Much more uncomfortable. Much more beautiful.

The ancient Hebrews were commanded thusly:

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:34).”

And our New Testament Greek word for hospitality is a combination of two:
Phileo ~ brotherly love
Xenos ~ stranger

So hospitality is actually loving strangers like family.

Even our English translation of hospitality (from whence our word hospital hails) is friendly, generous reception of guests, visitors, or strangers.


Look at these verses again, remembering strangers.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling (I Peter 4:9).

And having a reputation for good works … has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work (I Timothy 5:10).

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:12-14).

She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy (Proverbs 31:20).

Strangers like that new family or smelly man at church (Go ahead and invite them for coffee in the parish hall; maybe make a friend). Strangers like that rude cashier or snobby neighbor (Go ahead and smile; it might make them smile, too). Strangers like the ones mentioned for parish prayers (Go ahead and drop off a muffin and a note to the hospital room; it means so much).

martha1Of course we should be sharing generously with our friends, and let’s think of opening the warmth of our homes (or at least friendly faces) to strangers as well. Remember Martha? We think of her negatively because of Jesus’ fussing over her fussing (although I do not picture Him being rude to her, but like my husband smiling at me and saying, “Hey Hon, leave it alone; come sit with us!”). The Scriptures tell us that “Jesus entered a village and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house (Luke 10:38).” It starts with welcoming people.

Even strangers.

Hospitality is radical. Hospitality is uncomfortable. Hospitality is beautiful. Hospitality can change the world, one welcoming at a time.

Dear Martha, pray for us.



A Merciful Woman Marriage Proverbs 31 Catholic Woman Series Spiritual Growth Vocations

Ode to Feminine Genius: A Merciful Woman

This is the fifth installment in the series of Ode to Feminine Genius: Proverbs 31 Catholic WomanToday’s topic will cover a Merciful Woman.

memeFour years ago, my husband became someone else almost overnight.

We’d been married for more than a decade and I’d always known I’d gotten one of the good ones. My husband was naturally compassionate, attentive to me and our children, and easygoing about most things.

But then it was as if someone has flipped a switch. He became silent, withdrawn, and subject to terrifying bursts of rage about the most inconsequential things. Along with personality changes came an addiction to the computer and TV; if he hadn’t been sitting on the couch beside our kids with his laptop, I would have thought he was addicted to porn. But it was Facebook, news sites, humorous videos, and blogs, punctuated by an occasional television shows or movie.

The same man who had surprised me by doing eight loads of laundry (without being asked) or who didn’t hesitate to change a diaper or wrestle with our kids on the floor now contributed almost nothing to the household other than his paycheck. Once on fire for the faith, he stopped receiving Communion and sometimes just skipped Mass altogether. He sat silently among us, lost in his electronic world, most of his communication relegated to yelling at the kids for being too loud or bickering. He even lost interest in sex. In place of the man I had always thanked God for, a stranger now lay beside me at night.

At first I was baffled. He was nearly 40 and I thought he might be having a midlife crisis. I addressed it head on and talked to him about his time on the electronics and emotional withdrawal. He was contrite; he could see his behavior was negatively affecting our marriage and family.

But efforts to unplug were short-lived. We’d have a few days of him keeping busy with other activities, only to fall back into the pattern again within the week.

When “discussion” didn’t seem to help, I got angry. How dare he leave the house, the kids, the bills, the everything all to me, and ignore me to boot! For the first time, I understood the suffering of so many sisters in Christ who have profoundly selfish husbands. Suddenly, marriage really was the empty ball-and-chain our culture parodies it to be.

Or so I thought. My husband, you see, was clinically depressed. His descent into mental illness had been precipitated by several major life stresses the year before: we’d lost a child, severed contact with his abusive parents, and moved across the country for his new job. It was the perfect storm and we were both blindsided when it hit our family.

One day about six months into his depression, he shared with me that he constantly felt a great weight on his soul. “I’m always exhausted no matter how much sleep I get and it’s all I can do to go to work,” he confessed. He described feeling emotionally “flat-lined” and mentally foggy. “I think I’m depressed,” he said.

Then he said something that changed me forever: “I’ve been the strong one for the past 13 years. Now I need you hold me up for a change. I need you to just be patient while I figure out how to deal with this. I need you to show me some mercy.”

Knowing there was something clinically wrong with my husband did made it easier to cope emotionally. I no longer thought it was my fault he wasn’t interested in physical intimacy, for example. But in the practical, day-to-day living out of our marriage, not much changed—externally. Internally, everything did, as I had my first true trial in the practice of mercy.

Mercy is a word Christians use often in talking about God. We gratefully acknowledge that God mercifully forgives our sins and mercifully pursues us even when we’re mired in serious sin. But what is mercy and how often do we practice mercy ourselves?

Mercy is showing compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within your power to punish or harm. Early one, I wanted to punish my husband for what he was doing by heaping guilt and even shame on him; I was so lonely and I hurt so much from “losing” him that I wanted him to hurt, too. I wanted him to atone for the pain he’d caused us all. I wanted justice, but he needed mercy.

Scripture tells me I have a right to a husband who loves me “as Christ loved the Church.” I deserve a husband willing to sacrifice everything—what he wants and even what he needs—to serve me in love. At one time, I’d had that kind of man, but not anymore. I was angry and bitter, yet whenever I focused on what I had lost and what I deserved, those dark feelings only grew. Once I understood that my husband was depressed, I knew God was calling me to be merciful to him, despite his daily shirking of responsibilities and emotional abandonment. To do that, I had to stop focusing on myself. I wanted justice, but he needed mercy.

With God’s grace, I gave him that mercy. I stopped complaining that he wasn’t doing enough around the house, and reminded myself over and over that he wasn’t contributing because he was sick, not because he was selfish. I thanked him for what he was doing—getting up and going to work every day so we’d all have what we needed, despite his depression. I encouraged him to see a counselor, and didn’t chastise when it took him a while to make the initial call. I talked to God when I was lonely instead of asking him why he wasn’t interested in going on dates with me anymore. I picked up his cross for him, as Jesus does for us, and bore his malaise and withdrawal in loving silence.

Being merciful was agonizing. I learned the hard way that, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams” (Dostoevsky). Some nights I was on my knees, literally begging God for the grace to offer my husband compassion instead of condemnation, mercy instead of judgment.  I asked him to help me see my husband through new eyes, with a heart that no longer saw his illness in terms of what it was costing me, but according to what it was costing him to live with it. Through mercy, God taught me to love my husband as we all deserve to be loved—with a love devoid of self, thinking only of the good of the other person.

In time, my husband got help for his depression. And the loving, kind man that we all loved took his place back in the heart of our family. He knew he’d hurt us all deeply, even if it was unintentional, and he’s still working hard to make it up to us. So I got my justice after all.

But by the time it came, I no longer cared about justice. Mainly because all those desperate, frequent prayers to overcome my less-than-loving feelings had fostered a deeper intimacy with Jesus. At one point during the darkness, I realized that I was no longer lonely and hurting because I felt emotionally and spiritually fed by God. I was closer to the Lord than I had ever been before. Never to be outdone in generosity, God had blessed me a thousandfold when I offered meager human mercy to my suffering spouse.

Why is it so hard to be merciful? Usually because we must act against our own wounded feelings in showing compassion and forgiveness to others. Our Lord knows it’s hard, though, which is why he doesn’t condemn us for selfish or uncharitable feelings.

In The Divine Mercy Diary, St. Faustina describes seeing Jesus stretched out on the Cross. He said to her, “My pupil, have great love for those who cause you suffering. Do good to those who hate you.” The saint answered, “O my Master, You see very well that I feel no love for them, and that troubles me” Jesus said, “It is not always within your power to control your feelings. You will recognize that you have love if, after having experienced annoyance and contradiction, you do not lose your peace, but pray for those who have made you suffer and wish them well.”

Like forgiveness, mercy is an act of the will; it’s expressed in action and words toward another, regardless of our feelings. We call it practicing mercy for a reason, after all. Because it usually takes a long time for our bitterness to give way to true compassion for the person who hurt us. God’s grace makes mercy possible, not easy.

People will hurt you, sometimes intentionally. Be merciful anyway, so you may be blessed yourself. We want justice, but we need mercy—all of us.