Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Woman of Valor

Note: My aunt Gina Schippers died this Tuesday, following a brave battle with cancer, at the age of 44.  My whole family is devastated, naturally. I could write an entire post about how much we will all miss her, and about what a terrible shame it is to lose her so soon (because it absolutely is!).  But to me that just wouldn't do her justice; if she had lived to be 84 she'd still have been gone too soon and  would be sorely missed because she was truly amazing. And that's the point. To me, the important thing here is Gina's life lived well, and how it affected all of us.  With that preface, here goes...

Gina (left), with daughter Kayli and sister Johna
I recently finished a book by Rachel Held Evans called "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," and one chapter of her book was a discussion of the woman described in Proverbs 31. Most of our English Bibles refer to this women as "the virtuous woman" or "the excellent wife," depending on the translation. But what I learned through Held's book and my own study is that these are not very precise translations of the original phrase.  In Hebrew (and also in modern Jewish translations of the text), the phrase "Eshet Chayil!" (pronounced eh-shet high-eel) is not a descriptor at all, but a proclamation meaning "Woman of Valor!" 

The idea of "Eshet Chayil!" is a woman who lives life with that extra something that comes from loving God and loving people.  I think that is why we often refer to it simply as having "heart." In the Jewish tradition, men and women alike proclaimed "Eshet Chayil!" to praise and express gratitude to women living their lives in this way. In fact, many of the Jewish faith do so even today.

What I love about "Eshet Chayil!" is how it finds its way into scripture not through grand heroics, but through the description of a woman doing everyday things in an exceptional way.  She is a good wife ("the heart of her husband trusts in her...and he praises her saying: 'many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all'") and a loving mother ("her children rise up and call her blessed").  She is generous ("she opens her hand to the poor and reaches her hand out to the needy"), and makes a warm home ("she looks well to the ways of her household"). She cares for other people ("she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue"), and has character ("strength and dignity are her clothing").  

As I was making the long drive to West Texas to see my aunt on Monday, my mind kept returning to the Woman of Valor. When we prayed with her before she passed away, my first thought was, again, the Woman of Valor. And as I sat yesterday listening to my family and some of her friends tell stories about Gina's life...well, you can guess what I was thinking. Eshet Chayil! was certainly befitting of this lovely soul.

In everything she did, Gina had gusto. Whatever facet of her life you found her in--home, work, church, out and about--you found a warm welcome and a caring smile. She was always put together, but never took herself too seriously. Gina loved to make people happy, and worked hard to make sure they were cared for. Especially her family, but even people she barely knew were met with kindness. 

Gina was beloved by her friends and church family because of her sweet and gracious spirit, her willingness to listen without judgment, and her readiness to help someone in need.  

Gina was beloved by her kids' friends, because her home was always open, and everyone was always welcome.  Her friend and minister, Allan, said it best yesterday: she always made sure the people around her felt like they were part of a family, even (and especially) if they didn't actually have one. 

Gina was beloved in her workplace both by the people who supervised her, and the people she supervised, because she cared about everyone, and her priority was making the team succeed together.  

Through these simple daily acts of valor--which honestly seemed almost second nature to her--Gina weaved together an intricate tapestry of family for herself that is absolutely beautiful to behold.  I'm not sure she even knew just how far that tapestry stretched, how many lives she knitted together, how many people are grateful for this amazing woman. But I know she loved the life she made. I know she loved all of the people in it. 

And, at the center of it all, above all the rest, I know she loved her family.  She loved her husband Joe and the life they had together. She loved, loved being a mother--through the ups and the downs.  She adored her children. She loved being there for them, and being awed by them. She was proud of them, and protective of them. There are no perfect mothers, but there are mothers that show perfect love and Gina was one of them.

Gina (far right) with Bradley, Joe, and Kayli
But you know, I think the thing I love most about "Eshet Chayil!" might be the thing I loved most about Gina too: she was both praiseworthy and praise-giving.  The Woman of Valor doesn't keep valor to herself; instead, she identifies it and fosters it in others. Where you find the Woman of Valor, you find valor all around her. She lifts people up, and they in turn lift up others.  That was Gina.  She was always quick to notice the things others were doing, and to let them know that they were appreciated.  Gina was a consummate encourager, and I'm convinced we have her to thank for inspiring many of the people around her to be the best possible version of themselves. 

I started by saying this is a post not about loss, but about life.  Really, there's no separating the two; the amazing way that Gina lived her life is a big part of why she will be so sorely missed.  I know that the heartache I'm feeling is shared throughout Gina's tapestry of loved ones.  

But this amazing lady had much to teach us. And for my part, here's what I will take with me: whenever I think about "Eshet Chayil!" I will think of Gina, who showed me that valor can be as simple as going about the everyday things of life with a heart for God and for the people around me. And, of equal importance, I will remember to call out the women of valor in my life (although perhaps not by actually calling out 'Eshet Chayil!"), and the men as well, and let them know that their excellence is seen and appreciated.

I love you, Gina, Eshet Chayil! I'm so grateful for your influence on my life.

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