I once knew a little girl who wholeheartedly believed she could do absolutely anything. She was certain she could lead the country as the president of the United States. She was confident she could fearlessly explore the furthest reaches of outer space, and she was sure she could take on any man playing in the NBA. Good thing for Michael Jordan, she decided while all those things sounded pretty awesome, they weren’t her true calling in life. Far more than any of these other opportunities, she longed to tell people about Jesus Christ. She thought, “What could possibly be more exciting than that?” The stories of the Bible had captured her heart, and she would retell them to anyone who would listen to her. She would even put them into songs (which all inevitably ended up to the tune of the ABC’s), and she would sing them unashamedly at the top of her lungs (more than a little off key). She was bold and brave, because she longed for everyone to experience the same love, grace, and acceptance she had found in God.
However, it didn’t take long for her to figure out she needed temper her dream and reduce who God had made her to be. Implicitly, she began to notice she didn’t see women like her leading in the church. She had Sunday school teachers who were female, but she quickly observed her pastors and deacons never were. Explicitly, she would eventually learn why. Her tradition taught her that according to the Bible, it was wrong for her as a woman to teach or be in “authority” over men. She didn’t really get that or know what it meant. She had no desire for power, position, or prestige over anyone. She just wanted to faithfully be who she was and obediently do what it seemed God had so clearly called her to do: to pastor and preach. Nevertheless, she came to accept that for her to pursue this sense of call would be rebellious and bad. Maybe she couldn’t do anything after all.
This was the first significant crack in her once rock solid confidence that God had a purpose for her little life, but it was most definitely not the last. The older she grew, the more she would experience other forces that would tell her who she was supposed to be. The affirmations of her authority figures taught her being compliant and polite was far more important than her being assertive and direct. There were names for women like that after all. The examples in her community conditioned her to believe that keeping the peace at all costs was far more important than making waves to bring about change. She always needed to remember her place. Furthermore, the messages of her media emphasized the way she looked was far more important than her using her brain. A woman’s hair and outfit choices would undoubtedly be noticed above and beyond any of her accomplishments. Without her even realizing what was happening, these forces shaped and molded her to the point that the little girl who believed she could do anything—she disappeared.
That little girl was me. It has only been in the past few years that I have truly realized and mourned her loss. Slowly the giant chasm between who I was and who I had become began to come into focus for me, and I was left with the haunting question, “How did I get here from there?” How did a bold and brave little girl become so silent and small that she felt like her thoughts were an annoyance, her passions were a problem, and her gifts were a liability in the world? How did she come to believe that in order to be accepted and applauded in society that she needed to deny and diminish who God made her to be?
These questions set me off on a journey of discovery. Along the way I became painfully aware of some of the forces which had powerfully shaped me, as well as my own tendency to want to remain hidden in the safety of my silent and small reality. However, along this journey I also became joyfully aware of some of the forces God was using to re-shape me into the bold and brave person He has called me to be. Perhaps the two most powerful forces were these:
EXAMPLES OF WOMEN WHO WERE DARING TO LIVE OUT THEIR CALLINGS
God began placing in front of me woman after woman who was defying the picture of womanhood to which I had conformed. These women weren’t hesitant to let their thoughts be known; they weren’t afraid to put their passions on full display; and they weren’t apologetic for the gifts they had to employ. As I watched them, they weren’t being defiant, pushy, or “too much” like I had always been warned. Rather, they seemed “just right”—authentic, courageous, and vulnerable. Eventually it became abundantly clear to me they had distinct voices, beautiful visions, and unique contributions that our world desperately needs. Their daring gave me hope to believe my life could look differently.
PEOPLE WHO SAW ME
God also surrounded me with a community of people—women and men alike—who saw and affirmed the real me. Despite my best attempts to hide myself away, on occasion “I” would make a brief appearance. Before I could censor myself and stop it from happening, my actual thoughts would spill out, my deep excitement would bubble up, or my innate abilities would shine in some way. I would brace myself in those moments, remembering with dread the way such behavior had been received in the past. However, this group of people said with their words and actions, “That was awesome! We want to see more of that! We love, appreciate, and value who God made you to be.” In the warmth of their acceptance and encouragement, I began letting myself be me.
I am still learning to live a life that unashamedly offers back to the world the thoughts, passions, and gifts God has given me. It is awkward and amazing, frightening and freeing, raw and rich all at the same time. I must make a daily and sometimes minute by minute choice not to revert to the silent, small shell I hid in for so long. Step by step, however, I am becoming more comfortable and confident in the woman God made me to be.
I do not assume every woman shares this same struggle and journey. However, I suspect there are a significant number of women who do—who in big ways and small have learned to reduce themselves; who have tempered their dreams in fear of being too much; and who have stayed hidden out of terror of not being enough. If that is you, then sister, this blog is for you. I want to come around you in the same two ways God has used others to come around me. First, through this blog, I will hold up examples of women who are being used by God in extraordinary ways. I will tell you their stories, and together we will learn from their courage and strength. Then, I will remind you again and again that I see you; that you are fearfully and wonderfully made by God; and that you being your true self is the greatest gift you can give to this world.
I’m so excited to open up this space in which women can encourage and empower other women to live out their callings with boldness and bravery!