My dad took my eldest daughter out on a date last night. She is six (and a half, thankyouverymuch) and this was, by far, one of the most exciting nights of her life. He bought tickets to a Princess Ball at a local church. It’s an evening of fun little girls, all dancing in their finest frocks and eating cupcakes because their dads or uncles or grandfathers take them out for the evening. My mother took Anne shopping for her new frock: a retro bright red dress covered in white polka dots. Number one dress criteria was met: it twirled beautifully while Anne spun in circles. So I helped her get dressed, and I curled and braided her hair carefully, it was so much fun. Her Papa arrived in his finest suit, we snapped a few pictures, and away they went. She called me on the way home at 8:30 to report she had experienced her first sundae (“Mum! Have you ever had one of these before? They’re fabulous!”) She came home, exhausted and delighted.. My dad said she pretty much took off her patent leather shoes as soon as they arrived and danced all night long with a gaggle of other little girls. Next year, Brian will also take Evelynn and my brother-in-law will take his two daughters. (I will take Joseph out that night, just us two. He prefers that, the little introvert.) We’re thinking a family tradition was born.
When I was little, my father’s hair was bright orange; it’s nearly white now. But don’t let that fool you, he’s got more energy and life than most twenty-year-olds. One thing hasn’t changed over the years though: my dad is, always has been, my rock.
(I don’t write about my parents too much online. It’s for the same reason why I’ve stopped telling intimate stories of the tinies’ lives for the most part. They are their own people, and I don’t want to appropriate their lives for blog material, if that makes sense. I respect them. Even when I write about Brian, he usually reads it first because I’m not writing in a vacuum, you know? But while I was writing Jesus Feminist, I found I couldn’t write my story without telling about my parents and their story. We talked it all over, and so now you’ll get to know them a bit better when the book releases this fall as so much of my own story has its roots in their lives and choices.)
After I published that essay a few weeks ago about feeling like damaged goods, he called me to tell me how proud he was of my guts. Nothing I wrote there was a surprise to anyone in my real life, let alone my husband or my parents. All those years ago, my parents were the ones who lead me to Jesus, and I was not won over to The Way by anger and rage or Bible-verses-as-weaponry, no, my dad and my mum loved me and they were Jesus with skin on for me. After it was published, friends of his called and asked him if he was embarrassed and he scorched them with his righteousness: never, he’s proud of his girl, and he stands with me, always.
Jesus saved me, set me free, healed me, made me whole, too: what do we have to be embarrassed about? She is whole in Christ! Loved! he thundered.
(That is part of why I wrote the article: I feel like every woman needs to hear the words of Christ, the way that I have heard them from my father’s lips all these years. Words matter.)
Some people must spend their entire lives wiping the face of the own real-life father off of the face of God. But I know what a good father looks like because of my dad. I have been my dad’s girl for my entire life – not in a weird ownership way but in the sweetness of belonging, and he has loved me unconditionally. My path to God was a bit smoother, a bit wider, because he walked the hard places ahead of me, first, beside my mother, and I can quickly, easily, understand why Jesus always said God the Father is really an Abba, a Daddy. I married a man cut from the same Jesus-shape as my father, even though they are very (oh, Lord, so very) different in personality, temperament, and giftings. Their spirits are the same though: mighty men of God, both of them.
After the pushback against that article turned vitriolic, ugly, personal, and vicious, my father called me early one morning just to tell me again that he was proud of me, and he believed in me again. He got all Isaiah on me: prayed, quoted Scripture (he has memorized vast amounts of Scripture, and they are his mother tongue now) forwards and back. He preached for both of us, man, and every time he said he loved me, every time he said I did the right thing, every time he said he was proud of me, it was like a fracture in my soul after all the abuse heaped on me through that experience were healed up all over again. He talked about the calling on my life, he told me to walk in the anointing and lightness of grace for my work, he made me laugh as he hollered about how :the devil just wants to keep people from experiencing true freedom, peace and wholeness and this is spiritual warfare, Sar!” It felt like he reached through the phone to lay his hand on my head.
I’ve always thought he had a bit of an Old Testament prophet in his bones. My dad challenges me, riles me up, makes me laugh, pushes me with his strength and his courage, his faith and his integrity, and he also takes six-year-old girls in polka dot dresses out dancing with the greatest of ease and joy.
As I was waving good-bye while he pulled away with my own little girl, I wanted to say, somehow, after this past month and that night especially: “Man of valour! Mighty man of valour!”
As Rachel Held Evans wrote and discovered during her “Year of Biblical Womanhood“:
“A woman of valor who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.”
– Proverbs 31:10
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: women who are changing the world through daily acts of faithfulness, both in my life and around the world.
Ever since Rachel wrote about the true meaning of “woman of valour” of Proverbs 31, I’ve used that phrase in all corners of my life.
I call out women of valour on a daily basis, and I feel like it’s powerful. I have a lot of women I love and admire. I keep them in a growing corner of my heart, these women that inspire me to be fearless and strong, alive and holy. My sister, my mother, my mother-in-law, my auntie, my daughters, my friends: all singing freedom and guts to me down through the ages, from the pages of Scripture as apostles and leaders to the church mothers to my humble friends of these days and even online or in books. So I say and I write the phrase “eshet chayil!” almost daily, and words matter.
But I’m also surrounded by men of valour. And I want to celebrate the men also changing the world through daily acts of faithfulness and godliness.
I’ve been told by a couple of Hebrew-knowledable people that the equivalent phrase is “Ish gibor chayil! Mighty man of valour!”
Ish Gibor chayil! Mighty man of valour!
To the men of our world, to our fathers and brothers and husbands: Ish gibor chayil! Men of valour!
Men of valour! for standing up for, and with, us. We see you loving the women in your life well, we see you honouring us–your wives, your sisters, your mothers, your grandmothers, your daughters, your friends–we see you serving with abandon, we see you hungering for justice, we see your dedication to true purity, to wisdom, to knowledge, to honour, to respect, to beauty, to mercy.
We see you working and loving and fighting and dreaming. We see your heart, your mind, your strength.
Ish gibor chayil! for studying and researching, for writing books, for blogging and speaking, for teaching and pastoring and leading your brothers by example, in word and deed, for releasing fearful and shaming rhetoric and embracing conversation.
Man of valour! for sticking around, for being a real dad, day in and day out, thank you for all the ways that you love us, seen and unseen.
Ish gibor chayil! for choosing to grow up, to leave behind the childish and destructive appetites for pure goodness, for living true manhood, true fatherhood, in a spirit of faithfulness and humility.
Men of valour! for your tenderness, your gentleness, your peace-making heart.
Ish gibor chayil! for engaging joyfully in mutually submissive marriages, for loving your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, for raising your daughters alongside your sons to ask themselves “What has God called you to do with your one wild and precious life, my darling?”
Men of valour! for honouring work as holy and shared co-creation, for pausing in your talking to listen to us, too, for making space for our voice, for inviting us. Thank you for living a better truth.
Ish gibor chayil! for building this beautiful picture of life in the Kingdom, all of us working alongside each other, as a seeking, a vision, a motley collection of prophets, a foretaste, a sign, all of us with different stories, different reasons, different voices, crying out and praying and working and welcoming, for freedom and wholeness, for restoration and redemption.
To my dad, and my husband, and my son, to the men in my own life, Ish gibor chayil! Man of valour!
The original version of this post incorrectly used the phrase “gibor chayil.” (Cue me: red-faced and embarrassed.) Several kind Hebrew scholars pointed out that the “ish” needs to be added to the phrase so I have corrected the post. And as far as pronounciation, this is what Rosanna kindly sent our way: “Gibor means mighty or strong, and ish means man. …As for pronunciation, the trickiest part is the ch, which is a guttural sound with no english equivalent. It is closer to h than to an english ch. You put the back of your tongue up to the roof of your mouth while making a h sound. The vowels are a little mixed up. The i’s are pronounced ee, and the a is a like a long i. The o is long, and the e’s are short. Here is my best pronunciation guide: eesh gee-bore hi-yeel (hi like the greeting). And esh-ett (both short e’s) hi-yeel.”