Today the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage begins. I don’t know what to anticipate as I board an all women bus to learn and process women’s empowerment. I am looking forward to learning about women who have embodied the courage needed to shape cultures. Yet, in all honesty I am nervous and a little fearful for a few reasons.
First, women-only environments are unfamiliar to me. Second, running from my gender identity is my specialty. And third, I don’t know how NOT to be honest as I write and that could be problematic.
In school, I was the girl who thrived in math and physics; that automatically put me in classrooms and spaces dominated by men, often as the only female. I loved it because the challenge was humbling, leveling the playing field and making gender irrelevant. I was valued for my intellect and ability to solve problems. I was a good problem-solver and earned respect. I tried to stay in that safe, gender-neutral space.
Embracing my womanhood has always been a bit harder. It has been challenging because the playing field was not level nor was it safe because I am an evangelical. The message that women are less than men in the Evangelical Church is not some quiet undertone that you may pick up on the right day or in the right lighting. It is verbally laid right out there for all to see and conform. Women may occupy seats in seminary, but they know that if they desire something outside of women or children’s ministry, theirs is an uphill climb to nowhere.
It is for this reason that I did not desire to work as an upfront leader in the evangelical church.
Sure I’d support my husband in his role as a pastor. I’d try to play the highly acceptable role of “arm candy,” working to not sound too smart, in order that I might ensure my stronger opinions be limited to our private conversations. I knew how to stay “in the culturally acceptable lines.” As I see it, women in evangelical settings are like caged animals, invited to play nicely inside with women and children but not to come out the door. And it was while I was working so hard to play it safe that the Holy Spirit began to beckon me out and invite me into upfront leadership. While I have had a little success breaking out, you have to understand, I have ever been cautious because caged animals, even when the door is open, wonder if the outside world is really for them.
Leaning into this culturally forbidden place, I have had to practice foreign behaviors of strength externally, all the while, inside I have been fighting a nagging guilt. My leadership journey has been a series of faith leaps, pushing against fear. With practice, I’ve become more liberated, even publically declaring at times that as an evangelical I am not sorry I am a woman nor that I have a seat at the table. I am also not sorry when I am sometimes smarter than the boys.
The reality is my feelings wobble somewhere between bold and cautious.
As I begin this pilgrimage and process my feelings publically in this blog I wonder if I get too opinionated or share too much, will I lose my seat at the table? Will my opportunities be taken from me? If I am honest, will I be thrown back into my cage, keys hidden forever and told no more? So, while I feel concerned, I’m also willing. I am willing to explore, learn a little more, and risk what I have to be vulnerable in new ways, all the while hoping a stronger sense of empowerment is waiting for me.