affair recovery · spiritual growth

Elle est Forte: Proverbs 31 and the Adulteress

I am a Pastor’s wife who was caught in adultery. After my affair was announced publicly I made a deal with my Bible:

I would read diligently, study regularly, and memorize its passages consistently. I would ponder on the wanderings of the children of Israel and the mishaps of the multiple Kings. I would take special notice of the failure of King David and the purpose of Queen Esther. I would sit at the feet of Jesus, witness the resurrection, and follow Paul into the prisons. The only thing I asked in return from my bulky, leather bound friend was to guard and shield me from ever again having to read about the Proverbs 31 Woman.

Prior to my public moral failure, I found no offense in reading of her ways. I wasn’t crazy about the busyness of her days, but I understood the list of her attributes to be a call for women strive for a life of valor.  In the summer of 2012 when I read the blog post, Women of Valor by Rachel Held Evens, I shouted–“eshet chayil”! I hoped that somewhere in the 21 verse poem there was room for me.

Then I allowed my sinful desires to take control of my life and lead me down the path of destruction.

Proverbs 31 speaks of a wife who is honorable. It speaks of a husband who is blessed by her. Her husband has full confidence in her, because she brings good into his life. She is not burdened with self-inflicted shame, has no fears for her future, and has the ability to provide wisdom to others: 

“A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.

…She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

This is only a partial segment of a likeness that was now and forevermore out of my reach. Reading it was downright frightening. I found it easier to relate to the woman described in John 8:

At dawn he { Jesus } appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him,and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

I don’t know what clothing the woman in John 8 was wearing when she was brought before the church leaders. I’ve tried to imagine her. I believe she is clothed in shame. I see her messy hair and her bare feet.  Even though her ragged clothing covers her body–she pulls at the neckline of her dress in an attempt to cover her self-perceived nakedness. She looks down at her guilty hands and wonders if these are to be her last moments on earth. She is not laughing at the days to come.

There is a vast difference between a woman who is worth far more than rubies and a woman people would like to stone.

I understood the difference, so I made the deal with my Bible. I would glean all that I could from any of the other Bible passages, and I would let the women who had earned the right to be clothed in strength and dignity wear those clothes.

 

And time passed…

It was a warm summer evening when I gathered with some ladies for a farewell party. The hostess had purposed a craft for us to work on together while we sipped pink cocktails and nibbled on caloric finger-foods. We were making truth-cards. These were small works of art we would be able to refer back to when future days were long and daunting.

It was on this evening my daughter honored me by presenting me with a truth-card constructed with the words, “elle est forte”. She translated the words, “she is strong” and went on to say how much strength she saw in me. On the back she wrote words of love and grace. I was honored deeply.

FullSizeRender(3)The moment moved me to tears. This was my adult, married daughter to whom I had lied. The young woman whose father I had betrayed. My example of how to be a godly woman and wife had been trashed before her very eyes in a public venue. My greatest failure was announced to my church coworkers–who happened to be her closest friends. My worst nightmares of how I might one day disappoint my daughter did not compare with what had actually happened. There was no other woman in the world that I would have wanted to honor me publicly.

 

And more time passed…

Months later, of all the truth-cards that were given to me that evening, the one from my daughter stood out.

The giver. The message. The poetic nature.

I decided to commission a jewelry designer to fashion the phrase into a necklace. I wanted to own this message and make a declaration. I had been weak when I was dragged away and enticed by my own evil desires, but I am strong when I am humbled in a heap at the feet of the Lord. To be strong in Christ is our greatest strength, and to own it fiercely is a passageway to life abundant.

I ordered my custom necklace from Be Well Threads. The online shop’s owner isn’t merely a crafting entrepreneur, she is a woman of Ministry. She is living a life of valor. She knows my story, was among those to whom I lied, and still chose to respond with grace and mercy.

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It was a short time later, I first saw my necklace online. My jewelry designer posted a picture of the new creation on Facebook and Instagram. She tagged me in each post, and my anticipation for it’s arrival increased. I couldn’t wait to wear and declare my strength!

FullSizeRender(2)The day the necklace arrived was the day a woman caught in adultery came face to face with the Proverbs 31 woman. You see, included in the packaging was a note of encouragement from the designer, and on the inside of the card she had inscribed the words found in Proverbs 31:25.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    and laughs without fear of the future.”

I was dumbfounded. Why on earth would this woman, who clearly knew my failings, use this verse?  My inquisitive nature kicked in and I referred to Google. What was the root of this, “Elle est Forte”?

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Click this picture to connect to Etsy where you can order Elle est Forte clothing from “She is Clothing”

What I didn’t realize when I ordered the necklace was our culture’s current connection of the French term, “Elle est forte” to Proverbs 31:25.  Several designers have been fashioning graphics using the term in direct correlation to the Bible verse. I was completely shocked. Had I known prior to ordering that the term “Elle est forte” was associated with the one book I was attempting to avoid, I would have never requested the necklace be made.

I called my daughter and asked her if she was aware of the connection of term “Elle est forte” to the Proverbs 31 Woman.

Now, if you have had the blessing of raising a daughter through the teen years and into adulthood, you will relate when I say I could hear my daughter’s “eye-rolling”. With a soft, “yes, Mom” she confirmed that she was fully aware of the connection between the two.

My daughter had known she was referring to Proverbs 31 when she had publicly called me “Elle est forte”. My jewelry designer had known she was declaring Proverbs 31 when she tagged me in a posted picture of the necklace on Facebook.  However, if it hadn’t been for the inscription on the card that came with my necklace, I still may not have connected the dots.

The whole incident left me very confused.

  • How was it that my daughter was not seeing that I could no longer be called a Proverbs 31 Woman?
  • Didn’t she see the hypocrisy in my claiming label to anything associated with Proverbs 31?
  • If I lay claim to anything associated with a wife of noble character, will God consider it a mockery?

The deal I had made with my Bible was broken.  It was time for the two of us to spend some time dealing with this new development. I was going to have to pour into Proverbs 31:10-31 and unpack its meaning.

I believed there were secrets hidden in this ancient poem. Secrets the Lord planted there so that His word would draw all of mankind toward him. Even those who hadn’t earned that right.

Silently, I prayed for God to show me how I could hear His word with the knowledge of my depraved behavior.

As I prayed, I felt God ask me, “Jackie, how would you have me share this verse with the Woman from John 8? How would you have me give these words to her? I am God, and I inspired these words long before that day in the Temple Courts. Do you not think I thought of her when these words were penned?

I heard the Lord clearly. If I didn’t have a belief in these words for myself, perhaps I could discover truth in God’s words for her sake.  If I were standing in the Temple Courts on the day she was nearly stoned for her sin, and I saw her brokenness, how would I relate these words to her in a way that she might feel closer to God–and not further away from Him?

When it came to the history of the Woman from John 8 there seemed to be very little recorded. It was almost as if the Lord intended her to be anonymous enough that she could be any of us.  I spent the afternoon reading and researching, but nothing I came up with was giving me a clue as to how these verses could help her in an attempt to lead a life claiming, “eshet chayil”! It made me wonder if her history had little to do with her future. Perhaps the day she was caught in adultery was to be the biggest blessing in her life–her ticket to a life lived with valor.

I opened my journal and wrote a letter to this woman who had avoided the stones:

My sister,

On your own, you will never be a wife of noble character, have a worth exceeding rubies, garnish your husband’s full confidence, wear strength or dignity, laugh at what is coming, or speak wisdom and instruction. No, you alone, will never be those things. They cannot exist in you alone.

These verses aren’t for one woman to achieve in herself. God gave these words to draw out the most perfect attributes of His church. God gave these verses to encourage and instruct His people in their quest to be His noble wife. We are not called as individuals to become a Proverbs 31 Woman, we are called as a body to become the Bride of Christ. These are the words we achieve for one another as a body.

The day you sat in the dirt waiting for the first stone to come at you, you were far from being a noble wife. In your eyes. But in the eyes of Christ, there was a nobility coming that would be bought through His suffering. He knew this, so he made a call for grace.

His blood would soon make you noble.

In that moment the men dropped their stones against you, and as they did this they were not only clothing themselves with strength and dignity, they were on the path to clothing you with strength and dignity.

Stones dropped to the ground were clothing you with strength.

When you left the Temple Courts dirty and ashamed, your future looked bleak. The days ahead held uncertainty. It was in those days that other believers surrounded you, loved on you, and laughed at the days ahead for you.

When you couldn’t believe and find laughter, others believed for you.

A life of valor comes to us when we envision a life of valor for someone who cannot see it in themselves, and I believe in all these things for you, Woman of John 8.

Proverbs 31 is a call for the church to be honorable. It speaks of a God who is blessed by her. God has full confidence in her, because she brings good into the life of His children. He does not want her to be burdened with self-inflicted shame. 

To be strong in Christ for another is our greatest strength, and to own it fiercely for someone who is struggling is a passageway to life abundant.

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…She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

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19 thoughts on “Elle est Forte: Proverbs 31 and the Adulteress

  1. Wow! I often feel as though your words are inspired but today as I read I felt as though I could see God sitting by your side typing on the keys of your computer. I feel like we can all relate to your words. Some days we feel good and strong and feel like we represent the proverbs 31 woman well… and then there are those days were we feel much more like the woman in John 8. Thank you for your beautiful insight and for reminding us that Christ’s blood makes us noble and it is our job to continue to strive to be more and more like him each day.

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    1. Chris, thank you so much for your encouragement. You are such an important person in my life. Thank you for the time you spend texting with me. I am not sure what life would look like with you being a part of it. God bless you, my friend.

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  2. Oh sweet friend, as one totally redeemed adulteress to another you have spoken with love and courage and empathy and truth…and oh someday this mess of humanity will make our Jesus Groom the most stunning bride…but I beg to differ on one small point…a point that I am little by little living out here in my own life… You have never been disqualified from being the Proverbs 31 woman uniquely designed for your family, and yes, for your husband. I heard Him practically shout it that night as your woman-girl, your child rose “and blessed you.” Redemption is more powerful than our past, our broken, even willful mistakes. Proverbs 31 is not a stone for us to throw at our selves, oh no! It is a prayer for Him to make us the fullness of the creative unique woman He designed us to be.,.to be freely and fully with abandon our truest selves! It is not something we can copy from another wise woman, not compare, because each will be markedly different…but defy those mirrors…because what I see is a woman redeemed and as you keep that deal with that leather book….NEVER disqualified from anything He says you will be!

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    1. Thank you for your zeal in reminding me of the things I would easily grasp for someone else. I am honored that you took the time to read my work and stopped to comment. You have encouraged me in a way that will stay with me for a long time. Healing is coming, and I believe God loves me. I am trusting that the way I see myself today will not always be how I see myself. Again, thank you for speaking love in my life.

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  3. Jackie, my sweet sister, I see our Father Creator Redeemer doing awesome things in, and through you. Even through this testimony that you would rather not have! While I know that God never tempts us to sin, and always provides a way out, I also think He some times uses our stumbles as testimonies of His grace to reach hearts that could never be touched by one who didn’t know what it was to stumble!

    I am walking such a hard path right now. My husband of 35 years has succumbed to (at least) emotional adultery and has decided that he wants a divorce. No point in talking about it. His mind is made up! I have been broken, beyond broken, shattered, laying in a very dark place in a million sharp shards of destroyed “pottery.” I have done battle with depression, anxiety, and suicidal urges. I have screamed, yelled, sworn like a sailor, and cried more tears than I would have believed possible! I thought, that along with everything else, I had lost my testimony. How can I write about being a godly wife and mother when my daughter went to jail on drug charges and my husband left me. And yet …

    My story is different theses days! Not one I wanted or would have volunteered for! But the testimony that He lovingly purposes for me! Maybe He knew we would be strong enough (“forte”) to wear these scars, share these stories, and be witnesses of His amazing grace that covers the most appalling failures!

    I love you!

    Beth

    P.S. I think He has done a work in your writing too! Maybe it goes deeper. More honest and heartfelt. I gave up blogging about a year ago when my world was spinning out of control. I let fear steal it from me. Maybe it’s time to exercise my voice again too! ❤

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    1. Beth, Thank you for sharing your story with me. I am so very sorry about the decisions your husband is making. I cannot imagine how difficult that must be for you. I want to encourage you with the first thing that came to my mind when you said how long you had been married. Do not for one moment fall into a trap of believing that your marriage failed. Failure and a marriage ending are two different things. My mother watched her parents divorce after 30+ years of marriage. She told me one time that it made her sad when people said her parents marriage failed because for her whole life that was her family. She did not consider her life in their home as a failed time. That time was valid for her–important to her. You are brave and God sees what you can endure.

      I believe you should write. There are people who told my husband to tell me to wait. They felt like I should have waited to tell my story after the healing had taken place. For me…this is where the healing is happening. There have been days that I wished God would take this writer burden from me. It seems that the time I feel closest to the Lord is when He speaks to me while I am writing. My husband reads every single post before I hit publish. We have grown closer through my blogging. It seems to me that for each of us, God puts in us what He knows we will need to survive the world and to survive ourselves. God bless you. Start writing again.

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  4. Hoping that my comment didn’t disappear! Too tired to try again right now. I love you, my friend! I hope that someday you will be able to see you as He sees you … Beautiful! forgiven! Loved!

    By the way … Long ago I read a series by Brock & Bodie Thoene that was set in Israel from shortly before Jesus birth to His death … Perhaps beyond. The character that made the biggest impact on me, in this work of fiction, was perhaps this woman caught in adultery. It would be worth looking for these books if you are a reader. I can’t recall the titles but they were numbered … Like First Light, Second Dawn, Third Day, etc. 🙂

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    1. Dee, Thank you for reading. It is such an encouragement to have someone I admire taking the time to read and comment on what I have written. I am so blessed. Have a great holiday season. God bless!

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  5. Oh WOW! oh WOW! The best of Jackie Sill. You are like an onion, the more He peals back the better it gets, you are raw in your feelings and fresh in spirit, and strong, and with such flavorful accounts some people like it some won’t, some just can’t get enough. I love this blog!
    So glad you have picked up those tools, that make you who you are! Where our Lord and God can speak to you so deeply! Love you my friend!

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    1. Karen, You are such a faithful friend. Thank you for always responding to my text messages for prayer. I am so blessed by that day we finally sat next to each other and met. I really hope we can spend some time together soon. I want to hear about your family. I miss hearing you talk. Even if it means we have to sew another quilt–we need to hang out!! God bless you.

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  6. Nowhere in Proverbs 31 does it say that she is perfect. Yes she has some pretty amazing qualities that I can only hope to ever strive for but she is not perfect. What stands out most to me is that she fears the Lord and that is why she is to be praised. Jackie, you are one of the strongest women I know. I can’t even fathom this journey you have been on but I know that I am blessed by your humility and grace and your willingness to open yourself up so that others who may be going through the same thing can see Jesus. That’s what I see in your message… The fact that we serve a God who loves us at our very worst and redeems us through his son who died for our sins. I am honored to call you my friend!

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    1. Beth, thank you. I know she isn’t perfect. It’s just she has all these amazing qualities and sometimes it feels like we women throw those qualities at each other like stones. I am very aware of my lack. I am just trying to let Jesus be the one who fills the gap rather than anything else. It’s been a life time of trying to fill the gap on my own. Thank you so very much for the message recently with the Psalm 19:14 passage. It was INCREDIBLY timely. I had an incident happen shortly after I received the passage from you where I had to pull the index card out of my purse and read it over and over. God bless you, Beth.

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  7. I needed this! I stumbled across your blog by accident, or by Gods awesomeness 🙂 yea that’s more likely.
    I’m reading this again, later today and tomorrow….and as often as I need it to sink in and find the direction I need.
    Thank you for sharing

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  8. This was such a beautiful post and anyone can grow from this. We all struggle with our inner demons and sometimes we fail. We are so blessed to have Christ’s unconditional love. Thank you for sharing your story, it will bless many lives. ❤

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and for your transparency. Being someone in the midst of her struggles and sin, your words have brought a comfort to me that one day I too might overcome and be beautiful and worthy again in His sight, and the sight of my husband.

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