Happy International Women’s Day, Women of Valor!

I think of Laxmi, a widow from Hyderabad, India, who rises before dawn each day to sweep floors and grill chapatis and kiss the bruises and bumps of more than twenty children who, like she, have been affected by HIV/AIDS. Eshet chayil—woman of valor!

I think of Elena, a mother of five from rural Bolivia, who in spite of her own poverty and her husband’s illness, opened her home to an abandoned little girl and officially adopted her. Eshet chayil—woman of valor!

Elena (Photo by Amy Conner, World Vision)

Elena (Photo by Amy Conner, World Vision)

I think of my mother, Robin, the best fourth grade teacher in the world, who manages to make every child feel extraordinary and who always seeks out the ones with the most to overcome and loves them like her own. Eshet chayil—woman of valor!

I think of Amanda, the little sister I look up to, who brings compassion and humor and joy to every space she occupies, and who embodies better than anyone I know what it means to love your neighbor, no matter who that neighbor may be. Eshet chayil—woman of valor!

Amanda 

Amanda 

I think of my friends Sara Barton and Jackie Roese, who have endured vicious insults and angry dissent for daring to stand behind a pulpit and declare the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. Eshet chayil—women of valor!

I think of all the young women who approach me after a lecture or sermon to say they are studying to be leaders in the church, that it’s hard sometimes, but that they’re not giving up.  Eshet chayil—women of valor!

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I think of my friend Monika, who knows how to take the broken fragments of an ugly world and, somehow, piece them together into art. Eshet chayil—woman of valor!

I think of Ahava, who all the way from Israel, taught me to make challah and sound a shofar and read Proverbs 31 like it was intended to be read. Eshet chayil—woman of valor!

Ahava

Ahava

I think of Elora and Mary and all the women who bravely tell their stories so that other women might heal. Eshet chayil—women of valor!

I think of Leymah Gbowee, who rallied her sisters to peacefully end a civil war. Eshet chayil—woman of valor!

I think of all the women struggling to survive, working to make ends meet, pursing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God, and bringing healing and beauty to the world one small act of faithfulness at a time.

And I celebrate them today.

Eshet chayil—women of valor.

**

So, what woman of valor do you want to celebrate today? (To learn more about eshet chayil, check out A Year of Biblical Womanhood.)

Update: Leave a comment, and I'll randomly select one reader to receive a free, signed copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, with a note of encouragement for you or for a woman of valor in your life. 

Contest will run through Saturday, March 9 at 11:59 p.m. If you want to enter, be sure to sign in to DISQUS so I can track down your email address and contact you if you win. Results will be chosen by random.org

You might also like our Women of Valor series.

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Sister Shirley – A Woman of Valor

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By Amanda Peterson

It was our usual Wednesday night gathering.

We gathered at Sister Shirley’s, filling her small living room with our presence. Our church life group.

The place was rich with the aromas of hot-off-the-stove soul food. The kind of soul food steeped in butter and rich in Southern hospitality—Southern hospitality in the middle of Portland, Oregon.

Like she did every day, Ms. Shirley woke at four in the morning, went to work, worked a gruelling shift and came home tired to her great granddaughter, all of four years old and full of spunk and sass.

Wednesdays made for especially long days, when coming home meant spunk and sass plus cooking and preparing her home to receive.

But Sister Shirley wouldn’t have it any other way.

She sometimes complained about our Wednesday night gathering, but she knew if she gave it up, if she told anyone she didn’t have the strength to host anymore, she would never come again.

Sunday mornings, her only day off of the week, needed Sabbath solitude. They needed quiet and rest.

They did not need the heart-pumping stomp of relentless praise that echoed through the neighbourhood and filled up our two-story house church. They did not need the throngs of children, screaming as they played on the front lawn. They did not need the orderly chaos of Sunday morning church.

They needed quiet and Sabbath.

But Wednesday, Wednesday needed fellowship. Wednesday needed Bible study. Wednesday needed prayer. Wednesday needed the push to get her through to Sunday.

Wednesdays Shirley sat on her worn sofa, the cushions so misshapen around her they barely looked like cushions anymore. She gently rocked back and forth when she spoke, unconsciously rubbing her hands across the scared track marks lining her arms. Her voice, scratched and deep, told how she needed prayer to be able to love her boss and continue at her job even when she wanted to quit, even when she knew God still wanted her there. She asked for prayers for Woman at the Well, a small nonprofit she was starting for women to do what others had done for her—take them off the streets, out of prostitution and drug use and teach them about Jesus’ great love for them. And she listened to Pastors Lanny and Steve—titles they never themselves used, but she always insisted upon—she listened and she learned and she allowed them to challenge her and to speak grace into her life.

Sister Shirley had, without me knowing it, taken me under her wing-- a freshly plucked college graduate in Portland. 

She taught me about relationship and valuing relationships. She taught me what it meant to be poor and love Jesus. She taught me what it meant to be in recovery and to give yourself wholeheartedly to the One who rescued your life from the depths of the pit. She taught me about grace and love and forgiveness. She taught me about faith in the impossible.

On one of my last Wednesday nights before leaving Portland and moving off to a new adventure, Sister Shirley looked at me and told me how she mistrusted me at first, how I was young and arrogant and how she thought “Lord, here comes another white person to tell the poor black folk how to live.” Then she told me how she had changed her mind about me and how she had seen my arrogance slowly humble. She told me she knew, no matter where I went, among the poor I would always find a place, I would always be accepted because of how I loved and how I accepted people like they are and didn’t expect change.

It was the best compliment I ever received and one I try to live up to.

Here was this woman of valor, a woman with a past yes, but nonetheless a woman of valor, giving her life away so that women like her could become even more like her in the pasts they leave behind and the futures they see ahead—here she was telling me I belonged and would continue belonging no matter where I was because of the way I loved. That way of love learned from watching her and others like her.

Sister Shirley passed away a few years ago.

I like to think of her now, up in heaven, enjoying a lifetime of Sunday Sabbaths and Wednesday gatherings. I like to think of her sitting on Jesus’ couch, telling her story and asking her questions. I like to think of running into her again one day, hugging her tight and laughing at the long years passed. And I hope then, I hope this woman of valor will say to me, “Amanda, just look how you belonged.”

***

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Amanda is a Jesus follower, future adoptive mom and a fledgling writer. She believes in living simply and loving radically and is passionate about adoption and orphan care. You can read more from Amanda atwww.AmandaErinPeterson.com, follow her on Twitter at @AmandaEPeterson, and find her on Facebook here.

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners we featured in August, I will select several more to feature as guest posts throughout the fall. 

We have honored a single mom, a feisty professor, a midwife, a foster parent, an abuse survivor, a brave grandmother, a master seamstress, a young Ugandan woman who reached out to a sister in need, and many more. 

Read the rest of the Women of Valor series here.

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Gramma – A Woman of Valor

By Nikki Weatherford

“Dear God don’t let her see me.”

I hunch over and pull my hood over my head, careful not to turn to either side. If I just look straight ahead she won’t recognize me. Then again, grandmothers do have special powers of observation. Soon I’m caught up in the game and the conversation with my friends, and I forget about the potential embarrassment lurking a few bleachers behind me. Crisis averted.

Or so I thought.

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Days later I’m sitting in her kitchen. I’ve forgotten about the game until she mentions having been there. My cousin just happens to be the team’s All Star, so I never miss a game. And neither does Gramma. Soon two and two are put together and she knows that I was there. One look at Gramma and I know she’s read between the lines. I avoided her. On purpose. With a slightly furrowed brow and understanding in her eyes she simply says, “hmm”.

So simple. To most that’s no more than an empty utterance, but from this woman it may as well be an epistle. No need for reproach or harsh words, she has put me in my place. Somehow, I think, a lecture would’ve be easier to swallow.

Fast forward six years.

Back in Gramma’s kitchen I sit and watch as she prepares dinner. It occurs to me that this has been the only constant in my life: this house, this scene, this woman. I feel like I’m four years old again, sitting and watching as she fixes lunch, and hanging on her every word. I bristle at the thought of the in between years. In my five-year-old eyes, this woman was perfection. In my twenty-one-year old eyes, she was everything I wanted to be. But somewhere in between my eyes grew dim, and I could no longer see her worth. I filed her away with a hundred other things that I knew would still be there whenever I got around to them.

How gracefully she maneuvers around chopping, mixing, baking, and sharing words of wisdom with me, a nervous bride-to-be. How she can do so many things at once always amazes me. It occurs to me that I really don’t know this woman, and my heart longs to dig deeper. Beyond the words of a grandmother to her granddaughter, I want to know who she was, who she is, and how the two collided. To even think of someday filling her shoes seems an impossible quest. I glance at the ring on my finger, and look up to see her eyes focused on mine.  And there it is, a slightly furrowed brow, and understanding in her eyes.

“Just be sweet, Nikki,” she says softly, then goes back to her chopping.

Fast forward six years.

A nightmare wakes me in the middle of the night. I dream I’m standing on a stage in the middle of a small church, delivering a eulogy. Gramma’s eulogy. Tears stream down my face and I feel for a moment that I am paralyzed. What would I do without this woman?

Days later I sit in her kitchen watching her do dishes. It’s late, the rest of the house is in bed. She begins to talk about days gone by. I have been haunted for days by my dream, and an overwhelming fear of her not being here. Suddenly I am on mission, to soak up every ounce of wisdom and truth and life I can from her.

The world fades away as I hone in on her tales. Some I’ve heard a hundred times, yet I still listen as if it were the first time I was hearing. As always she begins with the story of a mischievous little girl skipping school and lying to her Mama about it. I laugh, finding the story hard to envision. From there comes my favorite part, the love story. My heart always warms a little when she talks about bringing him home to meet her parents: “They loved him, too” she says, her eyes brimming with memories. Sixty years later and she’s still swept off her feet by the thought of him.

But there is more to this woman than a love story, and we soon get to that. Beyond the romance, there is loss. So much loss. My heart breaks as she recalls them one by one, occasionally pausing on a silent memory, one I know she doesn’t want to share.

Tears form in my eyes and I look down, “Dear God don’t let her see me."

When I look up she just smiles, furrowed brow and knowing eyes, and a simple, “hmm”. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be what she is. She has lived a life that has been so full of bumps. And yet she stands tall, strong, and so full of love. So full of peace. How? How did she continue to breathe after losing her young son to his own hands? How did she continue to wake up each morning after her Love closed his eyes so many years too soon? How did she keep moving when, so many times, her world seemed to stop?

But the answer is written all over her. Grace. She is covered in it. And without a single syllable she looks at me and says, “You are, too.”

***

 Nikki is a wife, a mother, and a wannabe do-it-yourselfer. Once a little girl who dreamed of the big city, she somehow ended up a housewife in the middle of the Bible Belt. And she loves every second of it.  She spends her days writing, painting, and playing dinosaurs with her kids. You can find her at christianbyassociation.com.

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners we featured in August, I will select several more to feature as guest posts throughout the fall. 

We have honored a single mom, a feisty professor, a midwife, a foster parent, an abuse survivor, a brave grandmother, a master seamstress, a young Ugandan woman who reached out to a sister in need, and many more. 

Read the rest of the Women of Valor series here.

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Kathleen France – A Woman of Valor

By Abby Norman

***

A wife of noble character who can find?

You will find her sitting at the end of the dining room table. It has been her seat since before I was born. My mother sits in this seat in the morning, watching the sun rise over our neighborhood, Bible open, tea to her left. Every morning before school, I would see the evidence of her morning time with God.

 I confess that as a child it was my father who was my spiritual hero. A criminal defense attorney with a heart of gold and huge red letters screaming JESUS in the store front window, my dad was an extreme Christian before Shane Claiborne wrote a book about it. It was my mother whose decisions allowed his ministry to survive. She modeled “missional living” before it was a term.

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My mother had dreamed of being a stay at home mom, maybe teaching a class or two at the local college. She put that dream aside when I, her youngest, entered the first grade. My mom believed in my dad and his ministry. She accepted a full time teaching position at the local community college, and became the primary breadwinner so my dad could continue to serve the people who could not provide my family bread.

This is not the only way my mother and father partnered in ministry. My dad brought home whoever wandered into his office, homeless men who smelled funny, women trying to break free of pimps, men fresh out of jail with face tattoos. My mother consistently treated these people with grace and dignity. She set an extra seat between her young daughters, smiled warmly and passed the potatoes first to our guest. It may have been my father who brought home these lost lambs, but it was my mother who restored them to the fold. She restored their humanity; affirmed their worth.

In her full time job my mom developed her own ministry. Community college students are often just bouncing back: single-moms, or former high school drop-outs (ink barely dry on the GED). We would often see her students out in the community. They  worked at the pharmacy and grocery store we frequented. “Mrs. France,” they would call, as I followed my mom up and down the aisles. Sometimes they would smile at me, tell me how lucky they were to know my mom, tell me how lucky I was to have her.

When the welfare act of the ‘90’s passed, I remember my mom telling me about her student caught in the middle. This woman had been promoted and her children no longer qualified for free healthcare. This woman had to quit her job because she was too good at it. It wasn’t just the “welfare queens” burned by that new law. It broke my mom’s heart and made her angry. It was one of the only times my mom had encountered a problem she could do nothing about.

My mom was almost never helpless in the face of a problem. When she thought our education was lacking in a certain area we would suddenly being doing the Girl Scout badge that filled that gap. (As the mother of three girls, she always led at least two troops.) It was from Mom I learned that the public library held the answer to any question you might have, the key to anything you wanted to unlock. If there is a book on it, my mother can learn it.

My mother taught me how to pour out my life before the Lord. A street lawyer and an instructor at the community college don’t make enough to live life lavishly, especially while clothing three teenage girls. My mother pinched pennies at the grocery store; some weeks we were so close we had to shop with a calculator. But she welcomed every friend we brought home. Even when there was just enough, there was still enough to share. The years there were only a few presents under the tree, we still selected a name from the tree at church, shopped and prayed for a girl who wished for a stuffed lion. I remember my mother making sure it was soft.

My mother’s example has made it easier for me to recognize the lies I’m told about womanhood. Sometimes the Lord calls a woman to work outside the home, to juggle girl-scout leading and child rearing with a career that doubles as a ministry. God designed some women to support their family financially, to be good at their jobs.

If you are looking for a woman of valor, you can find her at the dining room table of my youth. She will be there, every morning Bible open. To her I say “Eshet chayil.”

***
Abby works, loves and lives in the city of Atlanta. She has two hilarious children and a husband who doubles as her biggest fan. She teaches high school by day, mothers by night, and attempts to follow Jesus daily. In her copious amounts of free time, Abby blogs at accidentaldevotional.wordpress.com.

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners we featured in August, I will select several more to feature as guest posts throughout the fall. 

We have honored a single mom, a feisty professor, a midwife, a foster parent, an abuse survivor, a brave grandmother, a master seamstress, a young Ugandan woman who reached out to a sister in need, and many more. 

Read the rest of the Women of Valor series here.

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.