Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is still night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, but you excell them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31:10-31′ NKJV
For thousands of years, the work of women in their homes has been a cornerstone of community economy. Anyone who has ever been a stay at home mom, or known one well, knows that being a mother and home maker is a full time (and exhausting!) job all by itself, but many of us feel driven, by necessity or inclination, to reach beyond housekeeping and child rearing to enter the marketplace. We need to remember that this is a Biblical calling and can be a good and healthy thing for our families, our marriages and our communities, the problem I see is that out society has forgotten how to do this. Being in the marketplace these days generally means “getting a job,” which entails leaving the house to work for someone else on hours which are dictated by an employer who might or might not understand your family’s needs. When our family first left bush Alaska for the “big city” of Fairbanks, we considered the possibility of me going back to work in the “traditional” western market. We found that if we included the cost of child care, travel expense and related expenses, a job I would qualify for at that time would actually cost us $50 a month, and even if it paid more, I did not want to sacrifice time with my children for a couple hundred dollars a month. I loved staying home with my boys, but I was also restless. I began to see a need in the community and thought I could do something to fill it. I had looked at various home based consulting businesses, and tho I liked some of them, I did not find one I could wholeheartedly stand behind for the entire product line. I considered a field and a ministry, and with much prayer and with the trust and support of my husband I took our small family nest egg and a loan from my parents and bought it. A field of diapers!
I was blessed along the way by my dear friend and fellow worker of the field, Betsy. We thought we would spend a few hours a week doing diaper “shows” and support groups, but that soon became burdensome and we opened a physical store in the back of my parents’ house to help us reach our goals more effectively. We could interact with other adults who understood child rearing and weren’t put off by diaper talk or mamas breastfeeding in the shop, but who were also just as hungry as we sometimes became to discuss things on something other than a 2 year old level. We brought our children with us, nursed them and played with them in the shop and got to spend time with my parents as well.
We made a commitment to always put our families first over business considerations. It is a commitment we are still devoted to today, but the path has not always been easy. The business grew and we felt we were providing an important service to the community. We decided to hire employees in order to expand and better fill our niche. We pledged to only work a certain number of hours a week, but even with our amazing staff of fellow mamas working part time, running a business takes much time and care. It is all too easy to begin to invest more time in the business where one feels productive rather than in the endless tasks of housekeeping, where there will always be more dishes to wash as soon as they are clean. Having Betsy as both a business partner as well as an accountability partner has helped me reevaluate our practices and our priorities on a regular basis to make sure we are staying true to our goals and allegiances both at home and at the shop.
There have been times when I have resented the time I need to spend at the shop, and others when it has been my escape and I wish I didn’t have to go home. Both are a sign that something is out of balance. The proverbs 31 woman is praised for her diligence in working to provide well for her family, but the emphasis is always on the well being of her family, not on how well the business is doing for the sake of business. Betsy has now come to a point in her life where she needs to step back from this particular business, and again after much prayer and consideration, I have decided to continue, now with the help of my new business partner, my mother, Betsy. Yes, they share the same name, all the Betsys in my life are amazing women!
The proverbs 31 woman focuses on a woman who produces goods for the merchants, so why did we choose to become merchants instead of producing goods? Both Betsy and I were industrious and skillfull seamstresses and could easily have produced our own lines of products, so why didn’t we? Our current market place is simply not set up to support family production any more. Our products are mass produced in a way to make them as cheap as possible. As a society, we value cheap, disposable goods which look like what everyone else is using rather than unique, well crafted, durable items which actually add value to our lives in substantial ways. Our picture of caregivers, including mothers, is not a picture of a woman working industriously with her children at her side. Before work was removed from the home and placed in factories and offices, children in working class families were cared for but not necessarily catered to. A suitable activity for children was helping in their parents work or playing independently rather than being led through guided activities constantly. Parent were reminded to consciously rejoice in their families because the family was right there with them. It is a balancing act. I feel the lure of wanting my kids to be in all the right activities to get a good start in life and do all the other things society has told us are a necessary part of modern childhood, but more than that I want my children to learn how to manage a household as well learn skills in business and craft at my side. I don’t have it all figured out yet. I am still learning how to balance this appropriately.
The bottom line in why we chose to open a store instead of producing our own goods is simply that the removal of home based production meant there was no market place where we could take what we produced! We had to create that market. Part of our goal has been to provide for others what we could not find for ourselves: a market for hand crafted, home produced goods which help women meet the God given urge to be productive in the home while in the fellowship of their family. We love to have artisan items from the men in our community too, but a primary goal for is us to help women support their families, emotionally and financially, without having to sacrifice either family values or economic prosperity in their homes.
We have been told so many times along the way that our business model will not work, that there is no market for what we want to do, that our naive goals and standards will hold us back in the marketplace. Our local families have consistently proven those naysayers wrong. We are not making as much money as we could if we worked full time at our business, with or without employees. We’re not quite at the point of clothing our families in scarlet, and have in fact struggled quite a bit at times, but we are certainly clothed in strength and honor. We might get chilly now and then, but we do not fear for the winter. We have chosen to put our integrity and the desire to minister to our community ahead of purely financial considerations, and we have grown because of it rather than in spite of it. We are far from perfect, but I still strive to become the woman described in Proverbs 31.
As Betsy has moved on and everyone in our community is tightening purse strings, I do need to spend more time at the shop. It is time, yet again, to evaluate how I will balance my family with my trade and be a wise steward in both my home and the shop. We have always had our children at work with us for at least part of the time we are working, but the way the store is set up now is not necessarily conducive to caring for them in the way I would like. We are currently making some changes at the store to change that. We would like the store to become more like an extension of our own household. Some of that involves remodeling the store to create a living space. We are creating a lounge/play area in the center of the store as much for our own use as for the rest of the community. As we work on completing this space, I invite you to be our guest. Come into our living room and spend some time with us. So many of you have been a true help and support, not just of the business but of us, personally. Thank you. Tell us what you would like to do in our home away from home, because we want to share it with you. Become part of our community. And yes, bring in your linen garments and sashes for us, your local merchants. We want to see you prosper along with us.