Sarah – A Woman of Valor
by Jenny Everett King
We met in Sunday school, in a moment that could have been the beginning of a coming-of-age friendship movie. In a smaller than small Vermont town, I was the shy new girl, the daughter of the visiting preacher; she was the bubbly, outgoing girl from the unchurched family. We connected over the fact that our birthdays were four days apart, and soon we would both turn 11.
When the church hired my father as the full-time pastor, she welcomed me with a 2-inch piece of coral wrapped in a handkerchief. Within months she became the best friend with whom I swapped clothes, experimented with make-up, played MASH with the names of the boys in youth group. She adopted my family as her own, took it upon herself to call my parents “Mom” and “Dad,” and kept a small piece of the parsonage's hideous kitchen floor when the church finally replaced it.
Like so many childhood friendships, job and family changes separated us in adolescence. She and her mother moved to South Carolina after her parents' divorce, while my family moved back to New Hampshire to plant another church. We kept in touch through phone calls, a few letters, and the rare visit. Eventually we were bridesmaids in each others' weddings, though each of us married a man the other had not met. Before my rehearsal dinner she gave me a card that said, “I have not met him, but I love him because you love him.” When she married six years later, I stood beside her with the same attitude. She loved him, and that was enough.
Until it wasn't enough.
Today, Sarah's life bears so little resemblance to the woman of Proverbs 31 that she would probably laugh at the thought of inviting a comparison. There are no fields to be bought, because there is no money left. There is no husband to sing her praises, because she left him after he smashed in the cabinet door inches from her head. Her three children may rise in the morning and sing her praises – or they may rise in the middle of the night, complaining of a tummy ache or a molar cutting through. Yet she will still be up before dawn, preparing for work at a job for which she is severely overqualified.
If I had been asked 10 years ago to describe a woman I admire, or a woman I deemed valorous, a single mother barely making ends meet would not have crossed my mind. Yet it is when I look at Sarah that the meaning of Proverbs 31 becomes most clear.
A woman of valor works diligently. A woman of valor manages her money well and does not waste a cent. She provides for her family with a heart of unconditional love and sacrifices herself without hesitation. She humbles herself. She lives for others. In truth, she models the best example of valor within the whole of Christian tradition, Jesus Christ. As Jesus scorned the shame of the cross, Sarah has scorned the shame of asking for help, of taking a position so clearly beneath her, in the name of giving herself up for those whom she loves.
Sarah may not purchase fields, or plant vineyards, or clothe her family in scarlet, but she can stretch a meager grocery budget like nobody else. Her lamp does not go out at night – because after work and dinner and baths and bedtime, she finds herself sorting through paperwork for the custody lawyer she can barely afford. More than once she has spent her day off from work at the police station, collecting forms and evidence for upcoming hearings. For two years, she has fought tirelessly for her childrens' safety and well-being, enduring the frustrations of the family court system.
Sarah has plenty of reasons to be angry with God. As a teen she grieved her parents' bitter divorce; as an adult she removed her children from an abusive home, only to face scorn from her church when she did so. When she told her pastor of her intent to leave her abuser, he shamed her for breaking the sacred bond of marriage. Yet her faith in a loving God does not waver. This is not merely a faith that she clings to, nor a life raft for when times are tough. Sarah's faith is joyous. In the midst of her pain, she is victorious. I suspect she worries about money, and I know she worries about her kids. Yet underneath her worry is a quiet strength, and an assurance that God will provide and God will protect.
Like the woman of Proverbs, she laughs at the days to come. Some days it may be through tears, but still, she laughs, and she believes.
Jenny Everett King is a freelance writer, police officer's wife, homeschooling mother, and youth ministry team member living in southern New Hampshire. With a background in women's health and wellness, she has a strong interest in the vital roles women play in ministry, the modern church, and social justice. She blogs at http://birthatthecrossroads.blogspot.com/.
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet 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 to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.
Jenny, and the other winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website TODAY! I enourage you to read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work.
I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)