In which I call Rachel Held Evans a woman of valour

Nearly two years ago, I happened to hear about a book called Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.

Humph, rather weird title, I thought. I clicked over to the author’s blog. Well, hello there, Rachel Held Evans, nice to meet you.

Little did I know how that one small click would enrich my life, challenge my faith and intellect, spur my own writing career, introduce me to new thinkers and believers, and  bring the gift of a true professional-and-personal friend.

I started off as a commenter and reader, and every comment I left was some variation of “Oh, gracious, you, too? ME, TOO!” Somehow, Rachel found my little corner here on the Internet, we began to correspond, develop a relationship, and now, I consider her a friend and an ally. On the outside, our current daily lives and histories are very different, and yet we had a soul-connection and theological sisterhood. (And a shared snarky sense of humour. And views on marriage.)

I owe much of my current work and its odd season of success to Rachel’s generosity and influence. Few would dispute that Rachel is a kingmaker among progressive evangelicals: she was even named one of Christianity Today’s 50 Women You Should Know. When she began to share my work and her platform with me (and many others), I freely benefitted from The RHE Bump. When a publishing house asked me about a book proposal out of the blue, I turned to her advice, even signed with her agent, and trusted Rachel’s advice for many of the decisions I had to make during the proposal writing and contract signing phases. As my blog traffic grew over the years, she has helped me navigate the increased attention and its attendant criticisms, supported my endeavours, counselled me in my decisions and boundaries. I’m very thankful for the DM feature on Twitter, because we keep it busy, us girls.

Rachel has always genuinely cheered me on with a generous heart. Anyone who likes to harp on the intrinsic jealousy of women needs to meet my friend, Rachel. She’s unselfish and truly believes that her influence comes with responsibility; she makes room for other voices, other experiences, and celebrates freely. She makes me work harder at my craft. She believed I had a voice that was worth hearing, and then she gave me a bit of space on her platform. She makes me think. She makes me laugh. She makes me feel less alone, and less crazy. She points me to Jesus. She’s witty, wise, loyal, and fearless.

I am so blessed by her friendship – professionally and personally.

Today, Rachel releases her second book, A Year of Living Biblically: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”.

For a year, she took all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible. But the book isn’t simply about biblical womanhood or complementarianism vs. egalitarianism. It’s an insightful, wise, and disarming book about how we read and interpret the Bible, how we wrestle with our theology, how we try to live out what we think and believe we know about God.

The book is a game-changer, a turning point, and it’s a damn good read. Fascinating, funny, erudite, wise, complex, I couldn’t put it down.

One of my favourite sections of the book is the chapter about the Proverbs 31 Woman. Rachel writes about the need to “take back” Proverbs 31 to its original intent – a celebration of women of valour!

“Eshet chayil is at its core a blessing – one that was never meant to be earned, but to be given, unconditionally….We abandoned the meaning of the poem by focusing on the specifics, and it became just another impossible standard by which to measure our failures. We turned an anthem into an assignment, a poem into a job description.”

Ever since I read this, I’ve adopted the phrase “Eshet Chayil, woman of valour!” Yes, I’ve reclaimed it. My daughter reached out to a lonely kid at school? Eshet chayil! My friend decided to try intentional Christian community again? Eshet chayil! My sister went back to work to help support her family? Eshet chayil! My mother in law graduated university at the same time as her daughter? Eshet chayil! My friend, Mary, boldly advocates for child sexual abuse victims? Eshet chayil! Another woman graduates from Mercy Ministries of Canada? Eshet chayil! A thousand times! I see women of valour everywhere around me; it’s a beautiful and brave sisterhood, and it’s worth celebrating.

Eshet chayil, Rachel! We are so proud of you!

We honour your intellect, your guts, your bravery, your wisdom, your wide open heart, your leadership, your thirst for knowledge, your life-giving marriage, your humility, and your generosity. We honour you for your heart after God, your faith, your fearlessness. You do us all proud.

Well done, sister.

Eshet chayil! Woman of valour!

This post is part of an online celebration for Rachel Held Evans. Her friends wanted to throw a book launch party for her, but since we’re scattered all over the world, we are throwing a virtual party. So my glass is raised, I’m looking south to Dayton, Tennessee today, and I’m smiling big and crying just a bit, too, we’re just so proud of you, Rachel. You can read other “toasts” to Rachel at JR Goudeau’s blog.

*affiliate links used. and yes, I read good books over homemade apple crisp. it’s what biblical ladies do, don’t you know?

  • lmmckay

    Amen, Rachel. I love and respect your writing, but perhaps just as much the grace, wisdom, and thoughtfulness with which you’re navigating all the attention that’s coming at you. Eshet chayil.

    • Mary DeMuth

      How fun to see you here. God keeps putting us together. :) Do you know Sarah?

      • lmmckay

        Only in the sense that anyone who faithfully reads her blog “knows” Sarah. I must confess I was a bit jealous of the two of you and the rest of the Haiti team getting to spend such rich time together recently.

        • Mary DeMuth

          OK next time you need to come! Right Sarah Bessey?

          • lmmckay

            Or, there’s always Laos. We have two guest bedrooms :). Hope you both (Mary and Sarah) have a great rest of the week. Mary, saying prayers for Julia. And you guys.

          • Sarah Bessey

            Don’t tempt me….

          • Sarah Bessey


        • Sarah Bessey

          That counts as knowing! :-)

    • Sarah Bessey


  • Ed_Cyzewski

    Lovely post. I could write many of the same things about Matthew Paul Turner. I’m grateful that Rachel is one of the people who speaks for me.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes and amen. Loving your wise and measured comments around the blogosphere I’ve seen. I haven’t engaged but I’m thankful that you always do with such grace.

      • Ed_Cyzewski

        Thanks! The replies at TGC really wore me out. I just started deleting the updates disqus emailed to me. I’m taking a day off to recenter a bit. However, even if there were some judgmental replies, I think some folks did vote my comment up, so I view that as kind of a win for Christian dialogue.

        • pastordt

          May I add my thanks, too, Ed? Everything about TGC wears me out so I was deeply grateful to find your voice of reason and your invitation to dialogue out there. Thank you for it.

  • Jessica Williams

    Great Post! My hubby and I went to school with Rachel and lived in Dayton for awhile and are so pleased to see her success! We love the questions she is getting to address, and her heart to prevent the bullying that so frequently goes undressed in Christianity. She is truly everything you have said!

    • Sarah Bessey

      How fun is that, jessica? Small world!

  • Colleen

    Thank you for doing this! I have been a reader of RHE’s blog for a while now and have appreciated her voice, grace, strength and perseverance in the face of some nastiness that would have had me curled up in the fetal position for days. I’m soooo thankful you and others are taking the time to encourage her. She is so deserving!

    • Sarah Bessey

      She is, indeed. She speaks for a lot of us.

  • Jenn

    So looking forward to reading it. You were the one who “introduced” me to Rachel so thank you for sharing your space here with her as well. I love that the beauty of community can shine even in the far reaches of the internet. :)

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes – your post about it was great too, Jenn!

  • Lindsay Privette

    I am so glad you mentioned that “intrinsic jealousy” bit. It’s such an awful stereotype, and one that my friends and I try daily to defy. It’s nice to see the way all of you ladies (and gentlemen) interact in this virtual community that I’ve found across the web. Y’all are such a blessing to me to watch you building each other up and encouraging each other and your readers. I’m still stunned to have found all of these similarly-minded believers and searchers out here, welcoming us all to the journey and encouraging us on our way. (Also, yes, cheers to Rachel! She rocks.)

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes! I’ve been so blessed to discover that there are more people, quietly living out the Kingdom, without a lot of fanfare in these ways. It’s a blessing!

  • SarahBeth Roberts

    This is a lovely idea. Many congratulations and thanks to Rachel from a woman on the fringes of this whole discussion. ALL of you ladies (and men) give me courage I do not possess on my own. Today, I am grateful that you speak up and love well.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Same here, SarahBeth.

  • hopejem

    Thank you for sharing your friends with me. You will never know how much richer my life is becoming because of them.

  • Jessica

    Eshet chayil!

  • theblahblahblahger

    I’ve got to get her books STAT!

    • Sarah Bessey

      You would love it, if for nothing else than because it’s often really really funny.

  • lindseyfoj

    I love that bonding of women that defies the pettiness that our sex. Your words of your camraderie inspire me to be MORE giving, loving, and unselfish with my own encouragement!
    Eshet chayil, indeed!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes! We’re much more than our stereotypes of jealous and petty.

  • pastordt

    Beautiful, beautiful, Sarah! Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this wonderful celebration of a brave, thoughtful, intelligent, kind woman. Kind of like someone else I know, dear Canadian friend.

  • Mary DeMuth

    How sweet to be mentioned here. You rock! And you, too, are that valor-girl.

  • Anna White

    Taking back Proverbs 31…I love this. I do generally hate that chapter, but I’m all about valor. Esther chayil!

    • Sarah Bessey

      It’s a great chapter, really lovely.

  • Tiffany Norris

    Love this post! (And the virtual book launch party idea.) :)

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  • Annie |

    Grateful for you, and for Rachel. Eshet chayil, both you of you.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Right backatcha, luv.

  • Brooke

    Very well said, and every part well-deserved! On my second read of YOBW now and savoring it some more!

  • Ramona

    Awesome! I’ve been following Rachel’s tweets and downloaded the book this evening. I have to finish another book first, but I can’t wait to start. You know me… I may or may not agree with every single word (won’t know till I actually read it), but doggone it I’m a bit more complex than Amish porn!

    • Sarah Bessey

      That is the best sentence I’ve read in a logn time, Ramona. bwahahahaha

  • mizmelly

    Raising a glass with you in Wicklow, Ireland!

  • Melissa


  • Pete A.

    !Even as a guy, I’m curious to read a copy of Rachel’s book. Especially to see what she thinks about some of the “controversial” issues on women. For instance, the verse that says women should keep silence in the church. A pastor told me long ago that there was a reason we might not suspect for that. In those days, all the men sat on one side of the church and the women on the other. And it didn’t work too well for a woman to shout across the church to her husband, “What did he mean by that?) (Or anything.) I don’t even know if my pastor had it right – but am curious to see what she says.

    Then there’s the tantalizing juxtaposition of Genesis and Hosea. In Genesis (3:16), because Eve had persuaded Adam to sin, she could no longer call him her “husband” but her “master.” Have you ever read Hosea 2:16? There, God says that when Israel turns back to him, she will no longer call him “my master” but “my husband?” Might that apply to Christian marriages too? I don’t know the answer, but find it quite fascinating to wonder.

    And then there are all the NT passages that tell guys that the person who is greatest is the one who serves. I wonder (no, I firmly think) we should apply that to husbands and wives as well!

    And more.

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  • Jessica Buckwalter Clemmer

    I had to laugh at your “Me too!” part…as I feel like those are my sentiments every time I read here! (At least I feel a little less weird about commenting that way now…so, thanks for that…) I’m also a fan of Rachel Held Evans…and both of your writings have been central to many a conversation over coffee with one of my dearest friends and partners in ministry… Maybe one day (if not in ‘this age’, then ‘in the age to come’) the four of us can sit together over a nice cup of coffee and discuss the finer points of women’s roles and the Kingdom of God and all kinds of gloriously, beautifully controversial matters… :)

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