Sarah – A Woman of Valor

Transient

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 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 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. 

photo by Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 

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.)

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Women of the Gospels: “Martha, Martha” by D.L. Mayfield

'[ B ] Pieter de Bloot - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1637)' photo (c) 2012, Playing Futures:  Applied Nomadology - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today we continue our Women of the Gospels series with a guest post from an incredibly talented writer I only recently discovered. D.L. Mayfield—who blogs here and contributes to Timothy McSweeney's Internet Tendency (read this one!) and Deeper Story—writes about her adventures in following Jesus with consistent wit, vulnerability, color, and grace. Along with her cute husband and cute baby, she is currently on an experiment of downward mobility, seeking the mercy of God and grace in the community. She is learning to be more gracious with her thanks, even when she is served goat liver. Follow her on Twitter here.

Today she takes on Mary’s sister Martha. Enjoy!

***

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
- Luke 10:38-42

Transient

When I was young, I was quiet, introverted, longing to be alone. I had two wild, fierce sisters who overshadowed me in every area: artistic abilities, physical strength, social graces. I found my identity in being quiet, unseen, deeply spiritual. I read books, immersed myself in worlds of fantasy, daydreamed. I prayed to Jesus, all the time.

In college, I came out of my shell in a burst, all the books and travels and thoughts I had spilling out  in paragraphs, full of more certainty and emotion than I was even aware of.

After college, my ideas turned into practice, and life marched on in a series of how to be the best possible Christian, with a social justice flair (eschew money, buy fair trade, advocate for social justice causes, create programs for the needy in my neighborhood). As I started to find my identity in these ways of living, I discovered a hidden truth: it feels awesome to live a righteous life on paper. Living in low-income housing, teaching free literacy classes to refugees, setting up basketball camps for bored inner-city kids: all of it had a few costs for me personally, sure, but the holy buzz of pats on the back from friends and church people, and the feeling that I was the only person really getting what Jesus was saying--this more than made up for doing without. 

This is sustaining, for a while. We can all be clanging gongs, marching around doing the work of the kingdom without grace, living for a very temporal affirming reaction. But eventually, the accolades go away, the people you were intending to save dismiss you, the volunteers you mobilized drop out, and you find yourself, alone, in the kitchen, cooking a meal for Jesus that tastes like ash in your mouth.

Oh Martha, I became you, when I thought I was being Mary all along. I imagine you, imagine myself, exerting our savior complexes on the one and only actual Christ. It would almost be laughable, if it weren’t all so tragic.

I know what happened Martha, because it happened to me too. I see your desire to single-handedly fix all the problems (feeding the disciples, cleaning the sheets, acquiring health permits, doing volunteer background checks), your deep-down desire to do good. How this desire, left on its own, morphed into a series of programs and activities that ultimately kept you from Jesus. I see how we got confused about it all, and took the easy route of fixing problems instead of becoming engaged with the lives of those around us. How we found our safety and security in doing, and eventually became brittle with the loneliness of trying to become the savior, instead of listening to him.

I do find comfort in this: Jesus doesn’t shame you. He calls you by name, twice (“Martha, Martha”, the first time cutting through your heart, the second time healing it). He gets to the root of all your existential angst, and he shows that there is no need for the amount of space you carve out for anxiety, worry, righteous indignation. 

Instead, paradoxically, it turns out we find Jesus when we sit down, when we fall at his feet and listen. This is, he says, the very best thing, and it can’t be taken away from us unless we do it ourselves. The busyness of the savior complex, our quick-response culture, even our desire to do good with the limited amount of time that we have--can take Jesus, his love and his grace,  away from us. But he wants us, Martha, and he likes us even when we aren’t saving anyone. We are just his children, the ones he knows by name, and he wants to be with us.

We also find him when we sit with others. When we stop being “missional” and “incarnational” and instead fully engage with those around us. This means less programs, Martha, and more time letting people cook for you every once in a while (and being gracious with your thanks). If you are anything like me, this will be very hard for you. Your life won’t look good on paper any more, you won’t have very many concrete jewels in your proverbial crown to grasp. But I can promise you this: when you stop trying to fix everything, and when you allow the words of Jesus to find you, affirm you, gently bring you back to him, you won’t be lonely anymore. 

You won’t ever be in your kitchen, alone and miserable, saving the whole world, ever again. You will choose the best way, and you shall be free.

***

Subscribe to D.L. Mayfield’s blog.

Check out the rest of our Women of the Gospels Series:

Elizabeth, A Curious Woman (by Enuma Okoro)
The Widow’s Mite (by Laura Turner)
The Whole, Bloody Truth (by Addie Zierman)
The Widow of Nain (by Julie Clawson) 
The Fab Four (by Carolyn Custis James)

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Celebrating Our Somersaults

'gymnastics_spsl_subdistricts_2009_cp-0112' photo (c) 2009, Chris Peterson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Running 16 miles per hour down the 76-foot runway toward the vault, Jordyn Weiber starts with a round-off onto the springboard, then jumps into a back handspring onto the vault, which sends her flying high through the air in a vertical lift topped off by two and a half twists, before landing with her feet on the ground.  

“Holy crap!” I shout at the TV and then at Dan. “Look! Look what that human being just did! UNBELIEVABLE!” 

“She’ll get a deduction for stepping out of bounds,” the TV announcer says back curtly.

 “Oh," I say.

Later I’m watching, mouth agape, as Jordyn dances and jumps and twirls across the balance beam, managing by some miracle to avoid falling on her face.

 “How on earth do they do it?” I ask aloud. 

“Hmmm, she had a few wobbles there,” the announcer says back.  

“MAYBE IT’S BECAUSE SHE’S DOING SOMERSAULTS ACROSS A FOUR-INCH DEATHTRAP!” I shout back. “I’D LIKE TO SEE YOU TRY IT, LADY!” Dan tells me to stop yelling at the TV because they can’t hear me from London and even if they could, this all happened something like eight hours ago, so there’s no use. 

Sure enough, by the end of the night, Jordyn Wieber missed the chance to compete for all-around gold by 0.233 points.  In gymnastics, it’s all about the deductions, the announcer explained. In gymnastics, the goal is perfection. 

It was the beginning of the Olympic Games, so I was still basking in the idealistic glow of the opening ceremonies, impressed by the commitment and talent of the most gifted competitors in the world, and awed by the staggering feats of athleticism that appeared on my TV screen each night. I was too impressed by the basic accomplishment of landing on one’s feet after completing a so-called “double-twisting, double back flip”—something 99.9% of humanity could never hope to do— to be worried about deductions based on form. 

But, of course, by the end of the final week of the games, I became the calloused Olympic viewer, watching with a bowl of ice cream on my lap as a Chinese diver jumped three stories into the water, rotating three and a half times on his way down, only to be critiqued by me—ice cream lap girl—for making too big of a splash. No longer impressed with the sheer feat of finishing that dive, I found myself, like the judges, requiring perfection. 

I do this in life too. 

When I step back, when I think of my life afresh, it’s pretty darn impressive how much I can get accomplished in a given day: writing an 800-word blog post, responding to dozens of emails, running three miles on the treadmill, making dinner, praying, checking in on friends, keeping the faith when it’s hard, working on my marriage, resting, finally unpacking our suitcases four days after we returned from our road trip, and FINISHING A FREAKING BOOK. But rather than celebrating these impressive everyday “somersaults,” I tend to focus on the “deductions”: I forgot someone’s birthday (that’s a fifth of a point), the dishes haven’t been done (another third of a point), my jeans still fit too tight (a half a point), I never got to that last email (a fourth of a point), I snapped at Dan (a full point deduction for that one). 

By the end of the day, I’m a regular McKayla Maroney, standing on the medal stand with a silver medal around my neck, giving the world my very best “not impressed” face.

In life, it’s all about the deductions, says the announcer in my head. In life, the goal is perfection. 

And I do it to other women too.  I look down my nose at women whose choices are different than mine, noting deductions when I ought to be in awe. Instead of shouting “Holy crap! Look at what this human being just did! She BROUGHT A FREAKING LIFE INTO THE WORLD...THROUGH HER VAGINA!” I critique her on her form: a homebirth, really? And cloth diapers? Can we get any crunchier? 

The Olympics reminded me that smetimes we just gotta step back for a minute, catch a glimpse of the big picture, and celebrate one another’s somersaults.

Pinterest...(or maybe it was Plato)... says we ought to be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle. I’d like to think that everyone we meet is in the middle of a double twisting, double back flip and we’ve just forgotten how to be impressed by it.

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Razia Jan – A true woman of valor

"They said, 'This is your last chance ... to change this school into a boys' school, 
because the backbone of Afghanistan is our boys,'" Jan recalled. 
"I just turned around and I told them, 'Excuse me. The women are the eyesight of Afghanistan
and unfortunately you all are blind. 
And I really want to give you some sight.” 

This story from CNN is both sobering and inspiring. Thank God there are women like Razia all around the world who wake up every single morning with the singular goal of empowering women and girls to change the world for the better. May we all become a little more like her today. Eshet chayil! 

You can donate to Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation here

By the way, I've made a Women of Valor board on Pinterest...cause when it comes to food and crafts, I've got nothing.

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Women of the Gospels Series: The Widow’s Mite by Laura Turner

We continue our series on the women of the Gospels (now on Saturdays) with a guest post from the delightful Laura Turner.   A graduate of Westmont College, Laura lives in LA with her husband Zack.  She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Seattle Pacific University, and is passionate about Church life.  Laura is a fantastic writer, with a background in publishing, so I recommend subscribing to her blog sooner rather than later. You can also follow her Twitter. Enjoy! 

 ***
 

"Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” 
- Mark 12:41-43

***

Transient

“Spend it all. Shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things will fill from behind, from beneath, like water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life 

Annie Dillard is writing about writing here—about the tendency writers have to hoard clever words for a rainy day when we might need them—but ever since I first read this bit, I cannot help but hear an echo of the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12. 

We enter the scene with Jesus and his disciples in the treasury, the place where religious people gathered from far and wide to make their donations to the temple. The treasury was in the inner part of the temple, and the coffers placed around the room were shaped like trumpets, each with a different purpose for contribution. According to tradition, some of the trumpets received sin-offerings of burnt pigeons and turtledoves, some for contributions for incense, and some for general, voluntary offerings.  (I kind of wish it was still encouraged to burn pigeons for sacrifice. Stupid animals.)

“Many rich people threw in large amounts.” But this story is not the story of many people. This is not the story of large amounts of money, or of someone doing something flashy and noticeable. This story is about one of the least noticeable things in the entire New Testament. There are no angels winging around the throne of God; no demons being cast out into a flock of pigs or man being lowered down from a roof to receive healing. There is this woman – this small, unnoticed, uncared-for woman who hardly counted as a person in her society. And there were two coins. 

‘Mite’ is not the actual name for what the coin was. It was a term in use when the King James Bible was being translated in the early 17th century, and it was the equivalent of a few minutes’ work. ‘Lepton’ would have been the word used for the smallest copper coin in Israel at the time; this is the story of the widow’s leptons. And this story was probably going unnoticed for years.

We don’t know how long the widow had been going to the treasury with her two coins, but we can assume that when her husband was alive, she would have had more. Not much more, necessarily, but she would have had resources to live on. Poor and without resources or power, she came to the temple and walked among the crowd who gave a lot of money mostly to increase their sense of stature in the community.  And she came with the most meager of amounts to drop in the trumpet, and she did not draw attention to herself as she gave, but her story lives on as one of the most powerful examples of generosity and radical trust that we know. 

Because Jesus saw the treasury then, and he sees it still today. Jesus knew this simple truth: How we behave in the treasury is a direct reflection of the internal reality of our heart. This woman was a hero of our faith. This act of giving was not foolish and was not undertaken lightheartedly. She gave all that she had because there was no other way for her to give, so convinced was she of God’s faithfulness to her and his character. There is a beauty and strength to his care for us that goes far beyond our comprehension, but still we can absorb it and be transformed by it.

Where am I giving from, and what am I holding back? Am I giving from abundance? And if so, why I am I holding on to so much when I know that everything I hold back from God is exactly what separates me from him? All of these people, these rich people giving large amounts of money, they were all holding something back in their abundance. The blessed life is the life of the widow, the life of she who gives, and she who trusts.  

Hold nothing back, and everything is yours.

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