Rachel Held Evans recently invited her readers to write about “women of valor.” I love the word “valor.” To me it calls forth images of courage and self-sacrificial love. With my love for Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels, the image that most readily comes to mind has to do with battling ferocious and terrifying beings for the sake of saving a friend, a town, or even (as such stories tend to go) the whole world. But when I pause to think more deeply, valor most often looks little like slaying dragons and more like everyday tasks. Being a person of valor, for most people, requires more in the realms of patience, work ethic, and steady determination than anything as flashy as in-the-face-of-death courage. This “elbow-grease” type of valor is what we read about in Proverbs 31. Though this scripture has been used to imply a woman can only find valor in homemaking and mothering, I think what it is really about is finding valor in every day life.
A few weeks ago my family and I said our final goodbyes to a woman of valor in my life: my mom. As I look back over her life, there is not much in the way of drama. She endured some grief, she had her struggles but most of her life was spent being a daughter, being a sister, being a wife and being a mom. There were fiery moments in her life like the angry letters she wrote to politicians or the media, calling them to mend their ways. Yet her life was made mostly of quieter moments: making wonderful nourishing food for her family, getting her children from one event to the next, tending the household chores.
My mom made the best pies and she passed on that skill to her children. We learned by watching her mix and roll the dough as she made pies for countless family gatherings and potlucks. We learned as she gradually allowed us to help. She would let us mix the filling while she did the crust or have us piece together the teeny-tiny pie she always made out of the leftover pie crust. I don’t recall her ever setting out to teach us to make pies. Yet, after I left home when I attempted to make my first pie all by myself, I found I knew what I needed to know. I had absorbed it over the years..... For the most part, there might also have been a phone call or two to Mom just to make sure.
I think children learn the majority of lessons from their parents this way. By observing, by sharing, by absorbing. Sometimes the teaching was more direct. Certainly as we tackled 4-H projects of cooking or sewing, she taught us step by step. And there were other times when she spoke directly to things she thought we needed to know. She told us, “You don’t want to be with somebody who doesn’t want to be with you,” to teach us not to chase after men. She told us, "Don't even consider marrying someone unless you love him so much you can not imagine living without him." She told us a woman doesn’t need a man and she can do anything a man can do.
Still, mostly she taught us by being herself and being our mom and just doing the things she did. It is hard not to absorb an egalitarian worldview when your mom sometimes drives a tractor or stacks haybales. We learned things about justice and logic while listening to her yell at the television when the news was on (and at least one of us picked up that habit as well, much to the annoyance of my family). We learned cleaning the house had to be done...but wasn’t nearly as important as many other things. We learned it is more important for children to be outside learning and doing than for them to be dirt-free.
Ultimately, Mom is a woman of valor because she lived a life of self-sacrificing love. She sacrificed time and energy, gray hairs and frayed patience for the sake of her family. She listened, she worried, she fed us, and endured being fed-up with us. When her grandchildren came along I got a glimpse of the depth of her love as she held her grandchildren like they were the most precious things in the world and as her love for me was echoed in my love for them.
A woman can be a woman of valor in countless ways and certainly in most any way a man can have valor. My mom would want to make sure that is abundantly clear. To me, as her entirely unbiased daughter, my mom's valor came primarily from what she did for her family. We are very blessed to have had her in our lives.
I miss you, Mom.