I finished reading Rachel Held Evan's A Year of Biblical Womanhood today. As expected, I laughed heartily and wept mightily. A full review is forthcoming, but today I want to talk about the chapter that touched me the most, where I am today.
Proverbs 31 has been millstone around many a Christian woman's neck. A young, idealistic lass might read these verses and imagine that with enough prayer and scripture reading and elbow grease she might rise up and possibly achieve a status worthy of the wife of noble character, but as time marches on most woman view it less as a goal and more as a list of all their shortcomings, in the form of scripture. It still retains high status though, with books and conferences working to show women the way, and men are encouraged to seek out mates exhibiting these qualities. I actually knew a guy who proposed to a girl by tying a diamond ring to the ribbon bookmark in her Bible and strategically placed it on the last page of Proverbs. I've often wondered if those people are still married. (Just Facebook stalked and it looks like they might be. I love technology. Is snooping a valorous trait? Probably not)
What Evans discovers by talking to a Jewish woman is that instead of a laundry list, Proverbs 31 is meant as a blessing. Jewish husbands sing it to their wives on the Sabbath, not to admonish them, but to praise them. And instead of a list of accomplishments a woman must complete in order to attain status as a woman of valor, it's meant to function as a fictional portrait, culling from a variety of positive attributes to create a collage representing not Superwoman, but Superwomen. We are meant to look on her face and see what parts of her look like us.
This gives me peace of mind.
So often I feel like a puzzle with many pieces missing. Sometimes, I rush to find those pieces and when I return, I find the other pieces have wandered off and I wonder, will I ever be the complete picture? Somehow, now I don't have to be glued to cardboard and framed...it's enough that I am working to complete myself. Piecing the puzzle is more fun that finishing it. (Wow, that was a weird analogy!)
Another portion of the chapter on Valor that gives me peace and makes me smile is the phrase "Eshet Chayil," which means Woman Of Valor. It's not a title bestowed on worthy women who have completed their checklist. As Evans says, it's like an ancient version of "You Go Girl!" Anytime you do anything "of valor" you are exhibiting the principal of Eshet Chayil! Clip a coupon and save 50 cents on bagels? Eshet Chayil! Go to your kid's soccer game? Eshet Chayil! Give your best friend a low rent therapy session on the phone? Eshet Chayil! Acts of valor big and small are encouraged by this verbal fist-pump.
When I read this, I got excited. Because I've been called Supermom whenever I do things like make an apple pie or wash the walls of my house. I've never taken it seriously though, because for every batch of cookies I have made there has been a basket of laundry that goes unfolded, and every floor I've swept is equal to a sink that has gone unwiped. My house frequently looks like a house featured in Hoarders (well, maybe it's third cousin.) I'm overwhelmed and understaffed and just plain tired. So just knowing that every time I take a chisel and chip away at the mountain of mess it's worth an Eshet Chayil! fills me with joy. Or even every time I neglect my house for creative or personal pursuit! If it's praise-worthy, it's worth doing.
So, just for fun, I've decided to re-write Proverbs 31 and personalize it. Because I, Kate McKinney, am a Women of Valor. And I don't want to forget that.
A gal like Kate McKinney, who can find?
She is worth far more
than the vintage diamond ring
her husband bought her at a pawn shop
that is loss somewhere in this messy house
Her husband loves her anyway
because she makes him laugh
and treats him with respect and kindness
Once she made some sock monkeys
for her nieces for Christmas
and they were awesome.
She clips coupons and shops sales
to provide food for her family.
She gets up while it is still dark
to walk three miles with her neighbor, Amber
because fitness matters.
This year she planted three heirloom tomatoes
and two of the plants fruited .
Sometimes she drinks a bunch of coffee
and cleans vigorously
while listening to podcasts to keep her mind occupied.
She takes her kid's outgrown clothes
to the consignment store
and stays up late writing her blog.
Once, she knit half of a bib.
She gave a dollar to a man
with a "Will Work For Food Sign"
and gave her husband's old jacket
and coffee mug full of cocoa
to a man who lied about his daughter
needing a heart transplant
but it was the thought that counted.
When her son lost his coat
she went to the consignment store
and got him a new one
It had a zip out liner
and with the coupon she had
plus the money she earned from previous consigning
it cost a whopping six dollars.
She uses Bed Bath and Beyond Coupons
to buy 400 thread count deep pocket Egyptian Cotton sheets.
All of her clothes are from Goodwill
but you'd never know it, for she is stylin'.
People know her husband is the nicest, funniest guy ever
because she won't stop talking about how great he is.
She buys vintage clothing at thrift stores
and gives them to her friend at The Robot Parade Vintage
to sell on eBay, Etsy, and at Heirloom Records.
Her sense of humor preserves her in the face of adversity.
Her facebook friends pepper her with questions
about raising children, breastfeeding, and cooking
and she does her best to give them fair, educated answers.
She works from home to stay available
to her two year old son and school age children
and manages to keep people her family fed and clothed.
Her kids beg to snuggle her at bedtime
and her husband tells her
she is beautiful, funny and smart.
Many woman are great ladies
and you can include Kate in that group, for sure.
Her charisma distracts
from her double digit jean size
She loves God, and serves him the best way she can
Give this woman a bubble bath,
some chocolate, and a Kindle!
And maybe she'll be on the best seller list someday.
I want to encourage all of you to read Proverbs 31 with new eyes, and find ways that you are Eshet Chayil! And if you'd feel so compelled to write your own version, and share it here, that would delight me.
A full review of the A Year of Biblical Womanhood is forthcoming. I'd love to say it will be up tomorrow, but this Woman of Valor does have quite a bit of grocery shopping to do.
I realized today that Eshet Chayil reminds me of the word ENJOLI!, which was a perfume in the 80s for the "24 Hour Woman." The commercial basically demonstrated the ideal 1980s Woman of Valor. I'm thinking it might be fun to shout "ENJOLI!" whenever you see a woman kicking butt at being a lady.
Post Post Script:
I just realized I said the word "coupon" about 400 times. This is probably because being a woman of valor is tied up, for me, with being like my mother, a consumate couponer. As a low-income SAHM in the 80s, she considered bargain hunting to be her full-time job. We referred to her hard-sided index card file as The Football, after Ronald Reagan's secret nuclear briefcase because yes, it was THAT important. And to this day, my grandmother presents me with an envelope stuffed with coupons, like a little love note.