Ruby: A Woman of Valor

Ruby has lived up to her name. She is a precious gem of a woman: not model-beautiful by the world’s standards but an inspiration to all who know her and a second mom for me in a difficult period of my life. A year or two ago, when I heard she was seriously ill with pneumonia, I said, “Oh she’ll pull through. She’s a fighter.” I’m happy to say that she did pull through and she remains an admirable and involved woman of faith I want to write about.

She was a very short, busy, go-getter kind of woman who didn’t take much nonsense.

Proverbs 31 was written for her—or her parents chose well in naming her Ruby, surely with this text in mind: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil” (verses 10-11). I like the twist Rachel Held Evans adds to the idea of the Proverbs 31 woman in her book A Year of Biblical Womahood (Thomas Nelson, 2012) where she writes that the original meaning and language meant more like “a woman of valor.” Ruby is all that and more.

A native of Shipshewana, Indiana, Ruby Eberly with her husband John and four children moved to north Florida a few years before my family made the same kind of move for my senior year of high school. North Florida is not like Miami or Sarasota or Orlando: it is more like what you think of when you see movies of rural Georgia and Alabama in the late 60s: Deep South. Lest you think my parents mean for pulling me out of a beloved Christian high school and close circle of friends, I was all for the move. My parents even offered to let me board with relatives and finish high school “up north.” But I was excited about being the new girl in school.

That excitement lasted about three days, after the newness rubbed off, I knew I was in for one of the most homesick, lonely years of my life.

But this is not about me, it’s about Ruby, but you need some context for why Ruby was so important to me over the next few years.

Our church was small—40–50 members, and Ruby was “the pastor’s wife.” Her husband, John, and my dad were also involved in a business venture together, as the church couldn’t begin to support a pastor. So some of my first memories of Ruby were her inviting us (frequently) to Sunday dinner at their house. She cooked good Mennonite meals like we enjoyed up north—meat, potatoes or other starch, vegetable, salad, dessert. But, she slowly began adding, like we did, the best of Southern delicacies to her repertoire, such as Southern iced tea: fresh brewed and sweet. So it was a balm to my homesick soul to go to her house and feel like I was “back home in Indiana,” and wired for the afternoon with some good strong, sweet Southern tea. She was a very short, busy, go-getter kind of woman who didn’t take much nonsense. If you told her not to fuss, she would say, “Oh, I didn’t.” She was hospitable and a very real biblical “help meet” for Pastor John’s work, keeping a neat house and teaching her kids how to work.

I remember when our small church collected a “love offering” for Ruby and John when their car gave up the ghost. We collected gifts and handed it to John and Ruby after worship one Sunday morning. John handed Ruby the envelope: it contained probably close to $1,500 in cash. Ruby took one look at the contents and nearly swooned: “Somebody must have robbed a bank,” she quipped. As she steadied herself, we all dabbed tears. The Eberlys could barely stammer out their thank yous.

But why I admire her goes far deeper. One summer when I needed employment as a college kid home for the summer, she hired me to paint their house. I got an even better inside view of the family dynamics and how hard she worked to give one son the at-home therapy he needed to overcome his physical disabilities. Theirs was not a perfect family but she rose to each challenge, including the difficulty of caring for her husband after he was also severely disabled by a stroke in the prime of his life. The hardest part to bear—at least from a distance—was knowing how John had completely changed, mentally. Yet she hung in there and did what she had to do. Proverbs 31:17 could have been her motto: “She girded her loins with strength.”

I got to visit her again four years ago with some of my family and it was a precious time to reconnect in a new home she and John had built, and to catch up a bit with family news. I know she continues to be a rock for her family, helping out each one in their particular needs.

She will be embarrassed when she reads this. But I share it to encourage the many thousands of other women (and men) who do what they do just out of call and necessity, never stopping to think how admirable they are. Their numbers are legion. Their strength is inspiring. The trials Ruby has lived through are amazing. God bless and grow on!

Who would you nominate as a “woman of valor”? What ordinary woman do you admire? I’d love to hear more and share their story if given permission. Send stories to or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.

Posted 6/19/2014 7:00:00 AM

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