I was recently asked at a ladies group “Who is the most courageous woman I know?” I couldn’t think of any one person. I know so many ladies who have expressed so much courage at various points in their lives. And I can’t help but think of an ancient Hebrew compliment – you’ll find it especially in the poem of praise found in Proverbs 31 (which, by the way, is not a checklist for women to live up to as we are often led to believe, but instead a poem of praise men and children once sang about the women in their lives – thanks for clearing that up, chapter 4 of Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood – and that whole Proverbs 31 topic is for another blog on another day, okay?). Anyway, the phrase is “eshet chayil” – or woman of valor. This Hebrew phrase was used to proclaim that a woman was to be praised… So, who are the women of valor, the courageous women that I know?
I think of my paternal grandmother. Married young, thought she would be happy, followed her husband where the Navy took him (away from her family). But instead of what every young girl dreams of as marriage, she lived with a man who beat her and her children. In the 50’s and 60’s, women had little opportunities outside the home for meaningful employment. She had no training past high school. So what could she do? I think some women now might look back and judge her for staying. But remember that today is so incredibly different for woman than 60 years ago (#feminism). So, she stuck through it, defending her children, suffering broken bones and a mental breakdown at one point. But, she did what she could. Knowing the man she was married to, I doubt he would have let her leave anyway. She was a woman mired in a horrible situation, but she loved her family; even in the chaos, she found ways to create happy moments for her children. Later, after they were grown, her husband abandoned her for a woman half his age. He only paid alimony because he didn’t want to go to jail, but even then it was barely enough to survive. Yet, survive she did. I remember her smiling, joyful, even. She was one of the most caring and giving of individuals. She had so little and what she did have, she shared with those even less fortunate than herself. She embodied the word love. She lived a courageous life, courageous even in her last fight against pancreatic cancer. She died over ten years ago surrounded by three generations of her family. She was truly courageous, a woman of valor! Eshet Chayil!
I think of one of my aunts who lived with an alcoholic husband for years. She lived with courage throughout that relationship. She suffered greatly at times. It must have been like being married to two men as he seemed so different sober versus drunk. And then with courage, she finally left the toxicity of that daily life. For a short time, she lived as a single mom of four. But happiness finally found her again. When I think of courageous women, she always comes to mind. I’ve seen her live out the example of her mother as she cares about others and loves her family deeply and with passion. Truly courageous, a woman of valor! Eshet Chayil!
I think of my “sister.” She’s survived the ups and downs of her marriage. She’s practically been a single mom for most of her time as a mother. She is so fiercely protective of her daughter and she sacrifices so much. Her life hasn’t been what she probably envisioned as we were young and growing up. Yet her tenacity, her daily sacrifices, her work ethic… it’s all so very courageous. Even now she’s taking very brave steps as she rebuilds a marriage. Her world isn’t conventional, but it’s definitely courageous. She is a woman of valor! Eshet Chayil!
I think of friends. The ones who survived childhood abuses, emotional, physical, and sexual. They’ve grown into amazing women of faith, devoted wives, and terrific mothers. I think of women I know whose husbands have left them, and they have to parent alone, desiring companionship. I think of my friends with special needs children. My average life is crazy, and I see the grace that exudes from them as they have 100 times the worries and concerns for their children than us moms of average children. They advocate for their children’s care and therapy and treatments against a system that is full of red-tape bureaucracies. Courageous women. Women of valor! Eshet Chayil!
I think of my friend who lost a mother to gun violence in a forgotten school shooting, and the courage she exhibits each time we hear of yet another tragedy of that type on the news. I think of the friends who are military wives. Always moving to new stations, putting down new roots in new towns. Making new friends. Then, they kiss their husbands goodbye for months at a time and they juggle home and life all on their own knowing their husbands are on the opposite side of the world. I think of my friends who have husbands who serve as first responders, firefighters, and police officers. These woman all know their husbands could face injury or death to protect us. They are courageous women. They are women of valor! Eshet Chayil!
The woman I know fighting breast cancer, making the choice of a double mastectomy. The woman I know recovering from the trauma and agony of a stillbirth who soldiers on in her mothering to her living children. The women I know serving on the mission field or readjusting to life back in the US after years in a foreign country. The women who are fighting depression and anxiety while trying to make a good home for their husbands and children. These everyday acts of bravery… of courage. Women of valor! Eshet Chayil!