The Woman I Am

“You can’t turn out a light, shining on the inside.”

Steffany Gretzinger (Blackout)

In this video, Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenburg talks about how she hates the phrase “women are their own worst enemies” and she puts to task anyone who uses it. Why?

Narrative creates expectation.

What we say, do, experience and believe today determines what we expect tomorrow.

Those three words have stayed with me for many, many months long after I first watched the video. I’ve been thinking about all the ways it applies to life but specifically to womanhood and our expectations of woman as women.

Who is the woman I want to be?

Who is the woman I want other women to be?

If you think about it, half the time we don’t even know we have specific expectations of our womanhood (or that of others) and the other half we find out what they are when they’re not met.

Who is the woman I expect to be?

My expectation of myself as a woman is intrinsically defined by what I’ve encountered as a woman – what I’ve seen, heard and experienced in my world about who a woman is/should be.

For instance, if I come from a family of female engineers, the idea of women in science will be a norm for me. A non-issue I don’t even think much about. Until I interact with people from a different background, I may not even know that there are people who hold contrary views to mine on women in science.

As we grow and get older, our circle of female friends and peers also shapes and forms our identity as women. So do the men in our lives and on its fringes. The way we are treated as women in our schools, workplaces and public spaces and even how we see other women handled in the same arenas. Not to mention the world around us is very vocal of its idea of women. Particularly through subtle and overt nuances found in how women are portrayed in the media.

Depending on what kind of experiences we have, we find ourselves either running towards becoming a particular kind of woman, running from her, or even both at the same time.

Yet before we or the world around us defined who we are as women, God already had our blueprint in place. Woman is not a concept that originates from us as women, from men, or from the world around us. Woman was and continues to be God’s idea and so the ideal we’re looking to attain to as women is that of God.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered being a woman in the world and in the church is how we get clustered into one specific mould that we’re all supposed to align ourselves into. There is no one single woman who we can all be. Because God didn’t wire us that way.

It pains me to see how many of us as women are completely blind to the incredible beauty within us just waiting to be unveiled because we’re so convinced that we’re supposed to be woman X instead. So much so that we actively deny ourselves opportunities to flourish in who we are.

God didn’t make any mistakes with you as a woman. Everything He made you to be and everything He didn’t make you to be is an intentional, conscious, loving choice on His part.

Your diversity as a woman matters. All your strengths, all your supposed flaws, all your quirks. Take the crown He’s holding out in His hand for you and place it on your head where it belongs.

Who is the woman I expect other women to be?

The reality is that all of us enter our church families with preconceived notions about who a Christian woman is – what the Christian women around us will be and should be to us.

Unfortunately, those notions are typically not filtered through God’s lens of truth because we don’t even know we have them. But they very much influence how we relate with one another as Christian women – both positively and negatively.

The inadvertent assumption made is that we continue to be the same women we were before salvation, only now we have the Christian tag on everything we are. I’m not just talking about obvious things like our dressing and language. More importantly, there’s what we think and feel about womanhood…Christian womanhood…and how that affects our relationships with one another.

This assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth because as Christian women, salvation is a beginning not an end. We are to be continually renewed in our revelation of woman. Wherever God finds us in our expectations and understanding of what it means to be a woman, we have to journey with Him to the next level of truth.

As women, when God plants us in church families, one of the things He does is expand our understanding of who a woman is from His perspective through our relationships with women in our church communities.

Yes, the most obvious way God will deal with you is as an individual. There are the lies He will tear down and truths He will reveal directly to you. But we belong in a Body for a reason. There is an understanding of who a woman is in the eyes of God that you will never get outside of relationship with other Godly women. Because each one of us is carrying a piece to the puzzle and it’s when we come together that we get to see the whole picture.

I know that the church experience for many women is less than ideal for various reasons. Believe me, I know. When you bring a bunch of broken people together and try to figure out how to do life together, it’s messy and hard and sometimes just feels downright impossible. But God wasn’t out of His mind creating the Body either. We can’t afford to just throw our hands in the air and give up.

We have to fight for the ideal God wants for us as His daughters.

We have to partner with Him to do the hard work within to overcome our negative biases about other women; to pursue healing for the places broken by women. To reach out for forgiveness for the breaking in others we’ve been responsible for.

We have to want our peace and wholeness more than we want our anger, bitterness, hurt and disappointment.

We have to partner with Him to do the hard work without to build healthy relationships with the women around us. Women who are on journeys that are very similar to ours. Women who’ve experienced pain and heartache just like we have. Women, to whom we need to extend grace because they need it just as badly as we do.

We need to learn how to forgive. Ourselves. Each other. For as we each grapple to find and embrace the woman we are, we will make mistakes. We will say the wrong thing. We will do something hurtful.

We need to say no to the fear and self-preservation that builds prison walls around us the moment something goes wrong. Because it will. There’s no such thing as a perfect human relationship. No one comes pre-packaged with the ability to perfectly relate with everyone. We live and learn. And the thing about prison walls is that they don’t just keep people out, they keep you in too.

We need to trust God with our womanhood. As individuals. As sisters. To go where we can’t. To do what we can’t. To reach what is beyond us and unveil the treasures hidden deep within us. For even our best ideal of what woman can be pales in comparison with His vision for woman.

Our diversity as women matters. As He pours out His healing oil to seal back together our broken pieces as individuals, it will overflow and bridge the divides that have kept us apart for far too long.

The women we are, collectively, matters. The woman I am matters. The woman you are matters. She is worth fighting for with all we’ve got.

Fight for her.

Embrace her.

Love her.

P.S.: There’s the fundamental role that men play in this whole conversation. But that’s a post for another day.


A Conversation On Beauty

There are a million trains of thought on beauty out there. Some of them have run peacefully together in parallel to each other; some gracefully wait for each other to pass by before taking their turn; some have been near misses of accidents; some have been the epitome of train wrecks.

I’ve been thinking about how many of these conversations that many of us are exposed to have cascaded down to personal level, and actually been something we’ve considered – seriously – when we look into the mirror.

Over the past few years of unlearning, learning and relearning many things about my identity, I’ve been struck by how much I took in that was never actually said out loud to me.

Case in point, I’ve had natural hair my entire life so I didn’t get half the fuss that came with the “natural hair movement”. Passionate would be too strong a word to describe how I feel about my hair. I appreciate it but I’m hardly going to spend an entire day solely on it. Yet even within the realms of natural hair exist varying dimensions. When it comes to opinion, all natural hair is not equal. It hit me that growing up beautiful was attached to straightened (blow-dried) hair not the curly kinks African hair naturally comes in. I can’t remember a single conversation I ever had with anyone or even overheard that categorically stated one was better than the other. But because of what was smiled at and frowned upon, I subconsciously made inferences about what was beautiful and what was not. It took years for me to even become aware of my thoughts and start questioning – how can the way my hair naturally grows out of my head be a problem that needs fixing?

This can be cascaded to pretty much every area of beauty and the standards we find ourselves inheriting from the world around us. We’re taking in more than we realize, especially in our younger years. With all these competing voices telling us what is beautiful and what is not, where do we find our truth?

Is it in how we feel in the present moment? Which makes beauty a fleeting affair that blows whichever way the winds of our emotions go. So if I feel beautiful, then I am, and if I don’t feel beautiful, then I’m not.

Is it in how the world responds to us? Which makes beauty subject to approval and validation from others. if I don’t get as many likes as I expected then there goes my self-worth. If someone thinks I’d look better in an outfit if I lost a few kilos, then I need to get on a diet ASAP. If they say I’m beautiful, and they mean a great deal to me, then my beauty stars shoot up. But if they change their mind and say the opposite in a moment of angst, my beauty turns into ashes.

Is it in what God says to us? Fearfully and wonderfully made. Each one of us. Which makes our beauty an immovable constant. Because anything from God takes on His nature. It is not subject to internal or external circumstances – if anything, it commands them and bends them to His will. Whether or not I woke up feeling beautiful today, I am beautiful. Whether or not someone called me beautiful or complimented some aspect of me, I am beautiful. I can look in the mirror and see beauty even as I scoff at the pimple that is trying to make a home on my face.

In one of my conversations with God about beauty, I remember telling Him – I want to be beautiful from the inside out, I want to radiate from within. I didn’t fully comprehend the depths to which I was going then. But hindsight makes me so thankful for those moments.

Beauty bestowed by fellow humans – even if the human is self – is fleeting. Because anything that is human is fleeting. It can only soar as high as our strengths go before it is brought back tumbling down by our limitations.

Beauty bestowed by God is as limitless as its Source. It varies in expression but never wavers in its worth. There’s always more of it waiting to be discovered in every time and season. I don’t have to struggle to freeze time and sustain it in a specific way because I understand that I am the steward not the source. All I need to do is follow how He tells me to take care of what He has bestowed on me. This beauty is a place of rest.

The error we make as believers is to assume that the devil wouldn’t use something as “fickle” as our beliefs about beauty to define our thoughts on identity and worth. It’s considered by some a “worldly” topic that doesn’t need to be had by serious believers who need to be busy casting out devils and healing the sick.

I beg to differ. Not only are we capable of having a conversation about raising the dead in the same breath as make up and fashion, I believe we need to. When we start to create boundaries in life matters concerning what is important to God and what is not, then we inadvertently surrender our freedom and inheritance to the enemy. God wants to restore life to that which is dead in us as much as He wants to awaken the beauty within us. He’s not choosing between the two so why are we forcing a choice where none needs to be made and all can be had?

I don’t know what you have believed about yourself and beauty and how those beliefs came to be. But here’s my challenge to you. Invite God to come in and tell you His truth about you and your beauty. Let that be the anchor that grounds you when the waves of opinion and doubt come crashing into your life.

Choose to be beautiful. Yes, choose because it’s a choice to believe that you are beautiful and a choice to live as one who is beautiful. For all the things the world may have to say about beauty, they can’t make that choice for you. Neither can they take it away from you when you dare to believe that you are everything God has called you to be.

Everything. Even beautiful.