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.
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 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 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.