There was a time in the mid-1990s when, more days than not, my outfit consisted of a thinning thrift-store shirt, sage green corduroy pants, and an oversized, navy blue sweatshirt. Needless to say, my style was not quite up to par with the other girls at my orange county high school. At the time, my favorite Bible verse was Proverbs 31:30 which says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Looking back, I was probably drawn to that verse for the refuge it offered me against standards of beauty that I had no real interest in trying to meet. I took comfort in knowing that my value was defined by God’s love and not by men’s (or high school boys’) opinions of me.
In my college years, I began noticing that portrayals of the “Proverbs 31 Woman” were prolific in Christian culture. There were Proverbs 31 books, devotionals, seminars, and conferences all designed to help Christian women develop the character of a “noble wife” based on the principles of Proverbs 31:10-30. Although this passage describes many traits that are admirable, I felt like they were unattainable for someone like me. In my mind, the Proverbs 31 Woman was meek, demurrer, maternal, and perfectly put together – like a sort of Sunday school teacher meets Stepford wife. I felt like my feisty, outspoken personality, proclivity for passionate debate, and tendency towards frumpy attire disqualified me from ever being a Proverbs 31 Woman.
Gradually, Proverbs 31 went from being a source of comfort to a source of shame, confusion, and resentment. I started viewing the standards therein as antiquated and unrealistic. Outwardly, I would scoff and roll my eyes whenever I encountered any mention of the Proverbs 31 Woman. Inside, I felt inadequate and even worse, I believed that there was simply no place in the church for a woman like me.
My fear that I could never be a proper, godly woman continued throughout law school. As I grew more adept at advocacy and argumentation, I doubted whether I was capable of developing the traits that were supposed to characterize a noble woman. After a period of extended singleness, I felt even more disjointed from the image I had in my head about what a woman of God was supposed to be like. Without a husband or children, how could I be a Proverbs 31 Woman?
Over a number of years, I rejected anything that evoked my fear that I could not conform to the Proverbs 31 standard – a standard that many other women seemed to achieve effortlessly. I attended Christian women’s retreats only with great trepidation. I seemed to fit better in uncouth secular circles than among church ladies’ groups where the conversations seemed delicate and genteel.
One day, a few years after law school, I was praying about my identity and calling or sense of purpose. I pleaded with God to guide me on an adventurous path where my personality and gifts could be used effectively. As I was thumbing through Scripture, I stumbled upon a passage that said, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
When I came across those words, I was filled with exhilaration. These verses resonated with me on a deep level. At the time, I had just taken a job representing low-income people on death row in their post-conviction proceedings. At its core, the job involves acting as an advocate or voice for those behind bars who cannot easily access the courts and challenging the justice and fairness of their convictions and sentences.
I was overjoyed at God’s kind confirmation that I was on the right path. And I was so thankful that he provided me with a job that is intellectually challenging and that provides many opportunities for passionate legal argumentation.
The day after finding that treasure of a passage, I went on Facebook to add it to my list of favorite quotes and noticed that several friends had “liked” a new non-profit started by another Christian lawyer. The organization was called “Speak Up for the Poor.” I did not think this was coincidental, so I immediately sent a message to the founder to introduce myself and see how I could get involved.
Around that time, the organization was working with refugees from Nepal who were living in Thailand. The founder encouraged me to sponsor a couple that had faced serious human rights abuses in Nepal and allowed me the honor of meeting them in Thailand. More recently, the organization started a girl’s education program in Bangladesh. Young girls in impoverished villages are being empowered to speak up for themselves and decrease the risk of being forced into illegal child marriages. Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit two of the villages and speak to the girls about the value of pursuing education and the importance of not limiting career goals because of gender. The girls are being are being equipped to ensure that they get justice.
About six months after adopting the speak-up verse as my “life verse,” I realized that I had not paid attention to the book in the Bible from which it came. I did a quick search and nearly went into shock when I realized it was from Proverbs 31! In fact, it is Proverbs 31:8-9, the verses immediately preceding the synopsis of the noble wife. I sensed in that moment the Lord’s assurance that I AM a Proverbs 31 woman – exactly as He made me. He created me to live in this place, at this time, with the resources and personality to “speak up for the poor” in my job and in the volunteer opportunities He places in my path. He purposefully positioned me to seek justice for and brings dignity to often-forgotten prisoners.
I have come to understand that being a Proverbs 31 Woman is not about marital status or dressing a certain way, but about character. It is about treating others with honor, stewarding the gifts God provides, working hard, and being generous to those less fortunate. It is about living in the strength that comes with knowing that our true worth stems from being a woman created in the image of God.
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