When I was little I had a book that would document my growing up. Kind of like a baby book, but for when your child gets older. It was divided by school grade and each year would ask questions like: Height? Activities? Favorite foods? But my favorite question was: What do you want to be when you grow up? For years, I would faithfully fill in the blanks with current interests. When I was in Kindergarten, it was a long list, including astronaut (hey, that was really cool in the mid 80’s), actress, singer, first female president (make what inferences you must based on these grandiose professions). I don’t think I wanted to necessarily be all of these professions at the same time, but I did think they were all nifty. As the years went by, I continued to cling to actress and singer. Even to this day I can be a bit theatrical. Another profession that was added as I grew up was writer. I loved to read and my favorite heroine’s tended to be either writers or just very forward thinking for their time. Writers seemed to break barriers and live an unusual life. I liked that. I entered college wanting to be a screenwriter and film director. Now I am a retreat coordinator, spiritual director, and writer.
Lately I’ve thought back to my vocational explorations and how my parents responded to them. Not once did my parents ever say: you can’t do that – you’re a girl. Isn’t that great? They allowed my imagination to project widely. Nothing was ever off the table because I was female. I realize now what a gift that was.
I remember one of the first times I was told no based on my gender. I went to a small church in college. It had great Bible teaching, which I really needed at that stage of life. I learned a lot, but I also noticed the limited roles of women in this congregation. I never heard it directly spoken of, but I could see with my own eyes every week as women were limited to children’s ministry and the worship team. I felt confined as the worship team only used the same two women and I wasn’t great with kids. I had other gifts, but I knew they weren’t welcomed in this church. At the same time, I was involved with a campus ministry and was allowed to flourish there. Over time the accumulation of being told no sunk deeply into my heart. I eventually moved churches to be part of a community where I could really be known and participate more fully in the life of the church.
In my first year at this new church the young adults had a weekend camp out. On the last night, quite unexpectedly, the issue of gender came up. As we sat around the campfire we bared our souls, revealing the ways we had been mistreated, both men and women, based on our gender. The men apologized. The women apologized. We all cried. It was in that night I saw the damage done to my heart by all the no’s I heard at my previous church. I felt free. Free to be myself. Free to be female. Free to be gifted.
This was not an isolated event. A few months later, our young adult pastor approached me. He asked me what God was putting on my heart. I shared a few things, unsure of what his response would be. He looked at me and said yes. Yes, do the things God has put on your heart. I will support you as your pastor. It was shocking. My gender was not a detractor. That experience has also remained deep in my heart.
As I continue to walk through life in the church, I know I will continue to have both hurtful and healing experiences connected to my gender. Yet, I cannot ignore the calls I hear from God. The calls to tend to the broken hearted and invite them into deeper places with the Lord. To step into my calling will mean to continue to engage with the gender issue. Trembling, I choose to continue stepping forward.
March is Women’s History Month. I want to dedicate my blog next month to the stories of women. Would you consider sharing your story? It can be positive. It can be negative. It can be about being a mom. It can be about being single. It can be about work. It can be about church. It just has to be a story that connects to your experience of being a woman. We all have such differing stories. What a gift it is to share them with others. Message me if interested in contributing. Note: I will not be able to accept every story submitted.