The answer, as I have pondered the question, is: different women inspire me in different ways.
Growing up, my mother inspired me to be hospitable (‘it’s as easy to cook for 10 as it is for 6’ was her mantra); to have an open house; to put people before things.
In my twenties, as I got involved in short term mission, I was inspired by the example of a slightly older woman who had taken mission seriously and was working in Europe as a single woman in a large cosmopolitan city. She loved the people she worked amongst and had adopted their way of life, integrating as much as she could and loving her life there.
After we got married and were living and working in Switzerland, I was inspired by many of the women who came to and left from our international church – mainly women who were given the not-very-dignified title of ‘trailing spouses’, but some single women as well – and a few women whose husbands were the ‘trailing spouses’. They were models of courage and resilience – women who often had to make a new home every 2 or 3 years with all which that involved in terms of settling in to a new culture, settling their kids in, finding new friends, finding schools, churches, stores, doctors, dentists, hospitals etc. – only to pick up and do it all over again in yet another new country and culture. The most striking example of this was a woman (and her husband and 2 kids) who only came to us for a year but she was so optimistic, so cheerful, determined to embrace the new country and culture (and our church) with everything that she had. Her zest for living still inspires me today.
Back in N.Ireland, we worked with a church on the north coast for 4 years and one of the women there who inspired me the most was one of the oldest women in the congregation. The church attracted many visitors each summer so it would be packed each Sunday in July and August with people who were only there for one or two Sundays, had no commitment to the church, and were therefore simply recipients of whatever the church could offer them. Some church members got tired of this and many felt it was not ‘their church’ for those summer months. But this older lady revelled in it. She told me: ‘Isn’t this wonderful? This is why God has given us this wonderful facility!’
As I watch my daughters grow into young women, I am humbled by what I see – by the passion for justice in one and by the willingness to serve in the other. As I watch them, I am aware that they have surpassed anything that I ever was. They are an inspiration to me.
Now I am thinking more about how I would like to grow old, I am inspired by the example of older women I have known: in particular, a woman in the town we lived in when we were first married who was elderly even then but whose attitude was (and still is) so positive. I have never heard her complain about anything and I have never heard her say anything bad about anyone. She looks for things to thank God for in every situation.
Currently, I am inspired by a close friend who is battling cancer. She has maintained her sense of humour and courage as she faces the gruelling treatment, the nausea, the losing of her hair and all the rest of the life that has now become hers. She is holding on to God and trusting Him for whatever the outcome is going to be – not with blind faith, but with a faith which knows and understands her situation but also knows and understands that she can trust God with her whole life.
These are the women I have been thinking about today.