This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

saltimages

The title of this post is a bit misleading – it actually should read more along the lines of “This is why we cannot have meaningful relationships and conversations.”

Earlier this week, singer Kim Burrell in a video, predicted that homosexuality and those “who play with it in God’s house will die in 2017.” She also spoke about “the perverted homosexual spirit” in her sermon. (She has since stated that her comments were taken out of the context of her message, and that she holds no hatred for gays or lesbians.) The comments made in her original video came to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who cancelled Kim Burrell’s upcoming scheduled appearance on her show.

And I don’t blame her (DeGeneres) for taking that step.

Once again, someone who is a follower of Christ was found to take homosexuality out of the greater context of Scripture and twist it into a something unrecognizable. Predicting the death of anyone in this or any other year is beyond the pay grade of any disciple of Jesus.

I believe that there are several reasons behind this type of thinking:

  1. Bad teaching.
  2. Resentment
  3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

Let’s take a closer look at these…

1. Bad Teaching

At this point in the history of the church, there really is no excuse for this. There are more resources available than there have ever been. (You can find a list of some of them under the “Resources” tab of this blog.) For Kim Burrell to have said these things, it seems that she has spent little time in understanding how homosexuality is addressed in Scripture, and how God works in the lives of those who have experienced same-sex attractions, or any other sin for that matter.

Singer and songwriter Keith Green once said, “This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!” We have a responsibility to learn about the issues our culture is concerned with today in order to reach the souls of those around us with the Gospel.

2. Resentment

Sometimes it seems as though Christians speak out recklessly in regards to homosexuality in particular because of a resentment of the wider cultural acceptance of those who identify as gay or lesbian. It is as if lashing out with words you would never hear applied to any other sin is done in a terribly misguided effort to take back ground in some way.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’m thankful that people are able to be more open about their same-sex attractions in our culture – I don’t want to go back to where we were. It is good for people to be able to walk down the street without being afraid of getting beat up. It’s good for people to be able to go about their days at work or running errands on eating meals with friends without harassment. It was not a good thing to treat homosexuality as a cultural taboo.

Christians always walk in two worlds – we live here on earth as citizens of another Kingdom. It makes no sense to waste time railing against our status as expatriates. This world is not our home, and we have the privilege of showing those around us what it is like to live a life of freedom and love in Christ. When others see His love in us, they will want to join in the call to know and glorify God.

3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6

Kim Burrell lost her opportunity to meet Ellen DeGeneres, to appear on her show, and to have any kind of conversation or build any kind of relationship with her because she chose to pick out homosexuality as a sin deserving some kind of special punishment from God. Her theology was wrong, and it will take some time and effort to ever have that kind of opportunity come her way again (if ever.)

Without discussions about sexuality – whether about homosexuality or heterosexuality – within the church, room is created for bad teaching and resentment to build, instead of wisdom and contentment in Christ. Too often people are afraid to bring up the subject in a Sunday School class or Bible study, and their conversations end up being seasoned with flamethrowers instead of salt.

Salt is known to be one of the basic human tastes. (The others are sweet, bitter, sour and savory.) According to Wikipedia:

“As taste senses both harmful and beneficial things, all basic tastes are classified as either aversive or appetitive, depending upon the effect the things they sense have on our bodies. Sweetness helps to identify energy-rich foods, while bitterness serves as a warning sign of poisons.

According to Lindemann, both salt and sour taste mechanisms detect, in different ways, the presence of sodium chloride (salt) in the mouth, however, acids are also detected and perceived as sour.

The detection of salt is important to many organisms, but specifically mammals, as it serves a critical role in ion and water homeostasis in the body. Because of this, salt elicits a pleasant taste in most humans.

Sour and salt tastes can be pleasant in small quantities, but in larger quantities become more and more unpleasant to taste.”*

I’ve made the mistake of adding too much salt in recipes, and the results were inedible. When we fail to use wisdom and discernment in our conversations, we make relationships with people who don’t know Jesus unpalatable. (Now, of course, we know that some people may find the message of the Gospel hard to digest – but that is not what is happening in this example with Kim Burrell.) We need to spend time learning within our fellowship groups how to address questions surrounding sexuality in a Biblically sound and compassionate way. I believe that Kim’s words would have been different if she had spoken to other mature Christians first.

Here are some suggestions:

Invest some time in learning more about what the Lord has to say about our sexuality in general, as well as about homosexuality. (Again some excellent resources are listed on the Resources tab of this blog.)

Spend some time listening to those who have experienced same-sex attractions. Ask questions just to gain insight into the perspective of other people.

Find other Christians who are interested in learning more about how to reach out to people around them who are involved in the LGBT community, and talk about your concerns and questions. Invite someone to come speak to your small group on the topic, and ask your church staff for more teaching to be made available so you can ask your questions within the Body of Christ.

There are ways to speak about sexuality without alienating people – and those conversations are best when they are earned. We need to be involved in serving everyone around us, and being ready to give thoughtful (not bland), graceful answers when opportunities do arise. Here is one example that I thought was very good – you may recall that there was an article raising a controversy about Chip and Joanna Gaines late last year, where it was noted that they attend a church in which the pastor has addressed homosexuality as a sin. Just this week, Chip has posted the following response on his blog…it is well worth taking your time to read:

https://magnoliamarket.com/chips-new-years-revelation/

Instead of decrying the state of being attacked and misunderstood, Chip Gaines has asked us all to raise the level of the conversation. He asks us to be considerate of one another and give one another breathing room. It is possible to lovingly disagree and work alongside each other in a community. Let us look for opportunities to do that in this new year.

 

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste#Basic_tastes

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Another Perspective on Gender Identity

I really appreciated reading Jean Lloyd’s perspective on gender identity.

 http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/02/14388/

She shares her own experience in the ’80’s and compares it to what teens typically experience today.

Approachability

Same Outfit, Different Appearance

Earlier in this series on Gender Identity, I wrote: “For quite some time, people couldn’t tell if I was a boy or a girl, and now, even on days when I’m wearing the exact same clothes that I was then, no one questions that I’m a woman. How did I get here from there?”* I would like to explore that phenomenon a bit in this post. Why is it that I can wear the exact same clothes I that I had worn years ago, and yet there are no longer any questions about my gender?

Of course there are some easy cues – my hair is longer, and I wear earrings. However, from some angles you can’t tell what the length of my hair is, as I’m often wearing a hat with a ponytail. And usually my earrings are small and not noticeable. Even from a distance, people can consistently tell that I’m a woman although I might be wearing hiking clothes or some other tomboyish outfit. I suspect that this is due to a factor that is hard to describe in one word. I think it’s because I carry a different air or atmosphere – an attitude or mindset – about me that goes deeper than perfume.

pine

Approachability

The way that I used to carry myself – my posture, eye contact (or the lack thereof), mannerisms, conversation (tone of voice along with my choice of words), was not welcoming to men. I was guarded, wary, and easily triggered. Often, I was a living image of the Heisman Trophy – one arm extended, the other carefully cradling the football. At the same time, I would wonder why men were not asking me out, or taking the time to get to know me better. Well, who would want to crawl over and through all that barbed wire, landmines, moats and traps? It takes courage to ask someone out, and I had put up many layers that were getting in the way.

I thought I was brave, yet in reality I was fearful. I didn’t want to take risks, I wanted guarantees. I assumed that the “right guy” would be the one to prove he could see through my defenses and find the real me. It took a long time for me to see that my defenses were over-the-top, and that I could trust the Lord to be my Shield, my Shepard – He would have my back. When I leaned more on Jesus and became more open, (which took years), it made a great difference.

Approachability is not the same as attractiveness. One can be approachable, yet not attractive. And one can be quite attractive, yet not approachable.

Karl Bonhoeffer, the father of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once described first meeting Paula von Hase at at meeting at the house of physicist Oscar Meyer:

“There I met a young, fair, blue-eyed girl whose bearing was so free and natural, and whose expression was so open and confident, that as soon as she entered the room she took me captive. This moment when I first laid eyes upon my future wife remains in my memory with an almost mystical force.”

~ Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In reading this, there is very little description of Paula von Hase’s appearance – we read that she was “fair” with “blue eyes.” I’m pretty sure that would accurately describe a good number of women across Germany. Yet we do get a good impression of how approachable Paula von Hase was to Karl Bonhoeffer – her “bearing” and “expression” were captivating. She was “free and natural…open and confident.” Much different than the closed and cautious air I was exhibiting for many years.

[As an aside: Karl Bonhoeffer’s reaction also reminds me of what Alice Von Hildebrand said about what the response of a man to a woman and vice verse is:

“…the proper response of a man to a woman is enchantment, and that of a woman, ‘when seeing a man worthy of being called a man’ is admiration.”

(See the last post on this blog: https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/inside-the-outside/) His first impression lasted through many trials. Their marriage by all accounts was happy and lasted through WWII and the loss of several children and other family members who fought against the Nazi regime.]

On the flip side, someone can be quite attractive and yet be intimidating or carry a cold shoulder. Google, “intimidating” and choose images. You’ll see a good variety of examples – I found it telling that what came up in this search were mostly faces rather than animals or objects.

I think that approachableness is a combination of several things – I’d like to focus on two that I’ve not already covered in other posts on this blog: Actions and Mindset.

Actions

Sometimes subtle, sometimes not – I liked the definition of the term, “bearing” that Karl Bonhoeffer used in the quote above. This is from the Apple dictionary:

bearing |ˈbe(ə)riNG|

noun

1 [ in sing. ] a person’s way of standing or moving: a man of precise military bearing.

• the way one behaves or conducts oneself: she has the bearing of a First Lady.

For me, it was easy to read my posture as a huge “back away” billboard, as I used how I moved and rested to physically create space for myself and to put men in particular off. Again, some of this was comical, as during this time I was close to 100 lbs. and under 5 and a half feet tall. At one single’s group, I would carry a book bag with my Bible and note pad in it. I choose a folding chair early and grabbed the one next to it to set in front of me, using it as a desk for my Bible. My feet would rest on the legs of the chair in front, and I was “dug in” to listen and learn. Very attentive, but not very inviting for anyone else to sit next to me and start a conversation.

Think about how you might set yourself up with a book and/or headphones or a pillow and blanket on a plane for a long flight when you hoped to get some quiet rest. That was me in almost any social situation. Looking back now, I realize that I would accessorize for disassociation, distance, and defense. At the time I wasn’t conscious about it.

After starting to put the pieces together, one day I prayed that one of the men in the singles group would sit down next to me. I used a tote bag instead of the backpack, and didn’t spin a seat around to use as a desk. I took time to chat with people in the group, and then simply sat down. I remember feeling rather vulnerable, as silly as that may seem. Within a minute, though, one of the guys in the group – actually the tallest and one of the nicest fellows there – strode across the room and said out loud for all to hear, “Well, I’m going to sit down here next to Dee!” He said it in a tone that implied that everyone else was giving him the cold shoulder, and he felt that the only welcoming place in the room was there next to me.

It was as though the Lord was going out of His way to make sure that I understood that He had heard and was answering my prayer. (And that cracked me up.) My billboard that had read “go way” had turned completely around into, “Howdy! Why not stop and sit a spell?” That was a turn for the better!

Mindset

Even with an attractive appearance and welcoming posture, one can easily exhibit a closed off mindset. My conversation usually revealed a tendency to shut down around men, while being open towards women. I would use harsh, cutting jokes to insult men, and used sarcasm as an offensive and defensive weapon. Again, I was frustrated for years that none of the men around me were making an effort to take the time to get to know the real me. I now see that I had set up terrible obstacles for them to maneuver before they could have a chance to be my friend. It was not fair, and unrealistic to expect of any man.

During a counseling session on this topic, I was challenged to look for opportunities to compliment the men around me. Any man – not just the fellows I was hoping to get to know better in my singles group. I had become so tuned out to men that it was hard! I had never thought of this before, and I’m sorry to say that my mind drew a blank at first. It was a huge blind spot in my life, and obviously needed quite a bit of work.

Fortunately I worked in a field with plenty of opportunities to encourage people. In my sessions with male clients, instead of going for a sarcastic one-liner, I would look for ways to sincerely compliment whatever aspect of the fellow’s character that stood out as they worked to meet their goals. I still kept my ironic sense of humor, which many men would warm up to, but I made an effort to look at the men differently, and to think deeper about what it was that I admired in them. Some were concerned about being able to provide for their families, or how to spend quality time playing with their kids who were too young to understand their injuries. Some showed tremendous resiliency after being in accidents that completely turned the course of their lives around. Some were standing up for injustices in the community around them, others cared for their wives with a deep, sacrificial love that I didn’t know could exist outside of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And the Lord gently and lavishly encouraged me along the way.

Be more attractive!

Well-meaning women often gave me shallow advice, at times in an attempt to make themselves more comfortable by associating with people who looked and acted just like them. I would hear things like: “Make an effort – try some makeup – put on a dress – wear some perfume” etc. But those suggestions were like telling someone with anorexia to eat more – not hitting the mark by a long shot.

Over the years I learned more about the deeper changes that truly make one more attractive – how to create an open and welcoming space around myself, and how to drop the chip on my shoulder and instead carry an air that a new acquaintance described as “imaginative” and “fun-loving.” Life is better this way – the energy that used to go into keeping my guard up can now be channeled into listening and learning more about other people.

One day on my way into work after getting my hair cut and styled, I complained to the Lord that I was tired of women always noticing and complimenting a new hairdo, and never hearing a compliment from a guy. So, I asked Him to have a guy notice and say something nice about my hair for a change.

Later that afternoon while working with a fellow, in the middle of his exercise routine he said, “I like your new haircut. My wife wears her hair that way.” Another direct answer to prayer. And not only was he complimenting me, he also complimented his wife, and set what he said in the right context of respecting his relationship with her. It was humbling to see God working so directly.

Years later, the same client came in. He had a surgical procedure done that had caused him to temporarily lose his voice, and came in with his wife, who was a pleasure to meet. They had come through a scary medical situation, and I was very glad to see he was on the mend. As he was working on an exercise machine that I was using to test his endurance, he waved me over. “I like your hair,” he mouthed, and shot me a grin, with his wife smiling beside him. I thanked him and had to turn away quickly as tears came to my eyes. It was such a joy to see how they had been sustained through this tough time, and how the Lord also was reminding me of His sustaining love and care for me. He is the God who hears and answers prayer.

 

In this series I hope that I’ve been able to shed a bit of light on some of the complex underlying issues that were a part of my own experiences with and expressions of gender identity, and some of the multiple things that came together that made a difference. If you’ve been reading these articles through I hope that you will think about getting to know a person beyond whatever their appearance may be, and then you might have the opportunity to find out what their appearance means to them. Jesus always looks at us from the inside out – getting closer to Him helps me to see people the way He does. Getting closer to Him means spending time with Him in prayer, in worship, in reading His word, and serving others. When we invest in our relationship with Christ, we’ll be much better equipped to invest in living alongside and loving others.

* https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/gender-identity-iii/

Inside the Outside

“I write to discover what I know.”

~ Flannery O’Conner

 

Body Image

We were warming up before practice, and I was in the layup line…”Catch the ball, dribble with two steps and shoot….Good!” I swung around under the basket to catch my teammate’s shot and tossed it back over to the next girl in line.

“Hey! Come over here!”

“Sure coach.”

“Your form is good…your aim is fine…but…why are you taking off for your layup at the top of the key?”

“Uh, um, uh…”

“Yeah – try dribbling a bit closer to the basket next time – take off at one of the last hashmarks. Got it?”

“Yeah – sure coach.”

I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that the reason why I was taking off at the top of the key was because I thought I was Dr. J….I thought I could fly.

Body image – it is the way that one thinks about / sees one’s own body. For many years, mine was a bit off. I didn’t look a lick like Dr. J., but I just went off into pilot mode on the basketball court, and, as my coach noticed, it looked rather comical. Earlier in life, it was my dream to be the first female pitcher in the majors…and then I stopped growing. Obviously, my body image was quite tied up with my love of sports. When someone mistook me for a boy, I would think it was so cool because I took it as a compliment to my fine soccer skills. The fact that I was simply standing still at an airport or restaurant with no reference to my participation in any athletic activity somehow escaped my pre-teen mind.

I also liked to wear clothing that was large – I would wear things in a size 8 or 10, when in reality, I was a petite size 4. Many women would kill to be in a petite size 4. It never even dawned on me to try shopping in the petite section until about five years after I’d finished graduate school – I’d always thought that those clothes were for girls far smaller than I was.

Envy / Admiration

“Well the other side of the world

Is not so far away as I thought that it was

As I thought that it was so far away”

~ Rich Mullins, The Other Side of the World

Along with this inaccurate image of my own body came matters of personal style and taste. Basically, I loved men’s clothes, and couldn’t stand women’s…I had a very hard time finding things to suit my preference in the girl’s department. No frills, lace or glittery fabric, no pink, no low collars, sleeves had to be wide enough to cover a bra strap, and I couldn’t bear wearing dresses, hose or shoes with heels. It drove my mother up the wall, and as she was the one buying my clothes, I had to search to find things that passed her own style and taste tests. Shopping for clothes was always a hassle.

I would find myself longingly going over the latest L.L. Bean offerings – wishing I could get into the flannels, chamois, heather sweaters and vests the men were wearing by beautiful mountains and rivers, and flipping past the weak pink-checked patterns in the women’s section of their catalogs.

Earlier this year, I came across this quote by Jeanette Howard on her blog:

In order to address my Gender Dysphoria I had to, irrespective of how I felt, create a framework based on what God says such as God chose me to be female and He says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139). By creating a framework of truth and choosing to remain in that structure I could address my false beliefs and broken responses. This painful process has taken years and even now I can find myself envying a fit male body rather than appreciating it or being attracted to it.

~ Jeanette Howard http://bethanylifeministries.org.uk/50-shades-gender-identity-part-2/

That last sentence jumped out at me – “…envying a fit male body rather than appreciating it or being attracted to it.” That was my mindset for many, many years. About a month ago I was watching a video of Alice Von Hildebrand* being interviewed by Eric Metaxas, as she was talking about men and women. At one point she said that the proper response of a man to a woman is enchantment, and that of a woman, “when seeing a man worthy of being called a man” is admiration. (Video link is at the end of this post.**)

When I heard that, the thought struck me – how there is such a subtle difference between envy of men and that potentially God-driven, femininely instinctive admiration of them. That is a much more subtle line to be crossed than the large gap which I used to feel existed between my reactions to men and the reactions of ever-straight / gender-identity conforming women around me to the men they knew. I was envious of the strength and freedom that I thought masculinity had cornered the market on.

I had not as yet discovered the strength that exists in mercy (see this described in my post on this blog entitled “Gender Identity III”***). I was taking a narrow-minded view of what it meant to be a woman – that girlishness was weakness – and applied that to who I saw in the mirror, and that carried over into my choice of clothing.

Clothes

Tirian suddenly felt awkward about coming among these people with the blood and dust and sweat of battle still on him. Next moment he realized that he was not in that state at all. He was fresh and cool and clean, and dressed in such clothes as he would have worn for a great feast at Cir Paravel. (But in Narnia your good clothes were never your uncomfortable ones. They knew how to make things that felt beautiful as well as looking good in Narnia: and there was no such thing as starch or flannel or elastic to be found from one end of the country to the other.)

~ C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Reading this paragraph reminds me of how well Lewis remembered his youth, and was able to take those memories and deftly weave them into his series of children’s books. It also seems like a bit of heaven – to have your “good clothes” feel as beautiful as they look. (I’ve found that to be a great measure of quality now when I’m trying something on – if I’m tugging, scratching, or compromising my posture in order to feel comfortable in it in a dressing room, it goes back on the rack.)

I started this post with a quote by Flannery O’Conner: “I write to discover what I know.” And that is certainly true in this attempt to look back on why and how I changed my personal dress code. It’s been hard to piece together exactly what I was thinking when – I’m mostly sorting through impressions, with a few specific memories. Again, I’d like to emphasize that these posts are more reflective than any type of attempt to be instructive. There was a lot of internal work that the Lord was subtly doing in my life which no one could see, and some of which I can only trace by looking back over the years.

Returning to clothing – I had been thinking through all the musings that were mentioned in the first three posts in this series on Gender Identity, and at some point things came together and started making sense. I remember one day getting ready for church – I knew the sermon was going to be on Ephesians 5:21-33, and I was preparing for what I thought was going to be a condescending teaching towards women. I put on a blazer (with huge shoulder pads), and also consciously recognized the attitude of defensiveness that I put on with it. I shrugged off the sense that something was askew, and carried my tough-girl mindset all the way to the service.

But the sermon that day wasn’t in any way condescending. It was the best treatment of the passage I’d ever heard. Our pastor truly had a servant’s heart, and loved his wife dearly. I learned more about how a man who is enchanted by the woman he cares about thinks and acts. As I remembered my mindset when I’d put on my blazer that morning, I realized it was totally unnecessary – there was nothing here to fight or defend myself against. The real, true love that the Lord has for me was breaking through, and I found it was a good and solid place to stand.

So I started paying attention to the attitude I was carrying when I wore certain clothes – and started phasing them out of my wardrobe, because I didn’t need them anymore.

Eventually I started to see (I can’t remember exactly how) that I was a petite young lady, and the clothes in smaller sizes actually fit me. This led me to look around at my friends who were the same size and make comparisons – in a good way.

I was actually in the REI store in Atlanta one day and saw a cute skirt and vest on display. I thought, “Hey, that outfit would look great on my friend, E.” And I breezed on past to the camping gear. About 20 steps later it hit me – and I turned back to the display to check out my new hypothesis – “You know, E. is about the same height and weight that I am, and that outfit might actually look OK on me.”

I tried it on, and I thought it looked right smart. I walked out of there with several hundred dollars worth of new clothes – mostly items I would never had dreamed of even trying on before that day. (For those who don’t know, REI stands for “Recreational Equipment Inc.” – it’s very much like L.L. Bean. Outdoor retailers had finally caught up with the fact that women enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing and such, and most brands had a good selection of women’s clothing at that point. It was an accessible place for me to shop!)

So having the right image of my actual shape and size, and some friends around me who dressed in a sporty-feminine way, made a big difference. I couldn’t find any famous fashion icons whom I could follow, so I created my own style – I called it “Semi-Fru” – not “Fru-Fru,” nor “Un-Fru,” but somewhere in between. I tried new things – usually a few years behind whatever had been trendy, but it took time for me to get my courage up, and to see myself in a new way. I looked for classic pieces that I could mix and match with other things – suddenly, shopping became more fun. I still did not go for frills, lace, glitter, or pink, and to this day won’t wear anything higher than a kitten heel. But it was an adventure finding things that fit my new mindset.

Colors

One other thing that made a difference for me in choosing clothing was learning about what colors worked for my skin tone. I didn’t learn about this until after I had spent that huge amount on clothes at the REI, that were actually not in the best shades for me. (Argh!)

For some time it was hard for me to get what people were talking about. “ having your colors done” was all the buzz for a while, and I didn’t know what they meant. At some point I stumbled across this web site, and it really helped me make sense of it all:

http://www.truth-is-beauty.com/

I remembered getting compliments while wearing clothes with “jewel tones” – a royal blue shirt, or emerald green sweater – regardless of the style, it was a “that color looks good on you” scenario. Looking at the photos of various familiar famous faces on this web site and comparing the written notes to the colors of their skin tones was a great help. (They also have a great FAQ page: http://www.truth-is-beauty.com/faq.html.)

Now, when I’m looking through catalogs I gravitate towards the women’s clothing, thinking through what colors would work best on me, and what looks most comfortable and what fabrics are easiest to care for. I don’t always stick by the “jewel tones” rule, if there is something that looks fun and feels great when I put it on, I’ll get it, even if it’s not the best shade. I’m no longer a petite 4, by any means, but I don’t wear things several sizes too large any more. It’s also been very helpful to have some friends who are twin sisters in the same size I am share their hand-me-downs! They have different styles – one I would say is more sporty and the other more urban. It’s given me a chance to experiment with some great things (i.e. – a beautiful short-sleeved angora sweater and a kickin’ pair of patterned capris) for free.

A few years ago I was in a women’s bicycling club that would get together once or twice a year for a “clothing swap.” It was a fantastic idea – we were all into a variety of sports, and had pieces of performance wear or just plain shirts or jeans that we wanted to rotate out of our closets. So we gathered at someone’s home and laid everything out for the rest of the group to sort through and try on. It was a blast! Everyone was looking out for one another – someone would pick up a shirt and catch the attention of another girl across the room, “Hey, J. – this looks like it would be perfect on you!” I snagged a couple of things for friends who I knew were smaller than me who would get a lot of use out of them. One girl in particular, R., for some reason was able to fit into every pair of jeans she tried on – and they looked great. By the time the night was over she took home 12 pairs. We all hated her. (Just kidding! It was really funny that she hit the “jeans jackpot.”)

It was another fun way to have a clothing adventure. And such a healthy atmosphere for women who wanted to see someone else enjoying what they were wearing. Some of my favorite pieces that I have now came from those swaps.

I hope that some of these reflections and thoughts will spur you on to pray and think through your own clothing adventures!

IMG_7791

*http://www.socratesinthecity.com/speakers/alice-von-hildebrand

**https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKFvvufS8lo&feature=em-subs_digest

*** https://sswh.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/gender-identity-iii/

Gender Identity III

Me: “Mr. S, can I see how your leg looks today? Are you ready to try to walk with me?”

Mr. S [in a thick Eastern European accent]: “Are you…

are you…aboyoragirl?”

 

This man was in pain – he had a very painful skin condition on his leg, and I didn’t know how to help him. I was a student on my second internship, and it was a pass-or-fail scenario for me. It was part of my job to ask Mr. S to get up and walk, and although every step for him was excruciating, he always did the best he could. (I think partly because he didn’t want me to get into trouble, although I had not consciously done anything to leave that impression.)

One day when we were about to get up to walk again, he asked me if I was a boy or a girl. We had been working together for at least two weeks, and all that time he couldn’t tell my gender. I let him know that I was a girl, and he said, “OK,” and we were on our way to another painful attempt at putting one foot in front of the other.

The next time I saw him, before I could ask a single question, he pulled up his pant leg, his foot resting on the wheelchair footrest, and asked in a flirtatious tone, “So – do you want to see my leg?” I was taken aback for a minute – until I saw the mischievous grin on his face and the sparkle in his eye. It hit me that he had wanted to know if I was a boy or a girl in order to joke with me like this. It was his way of trying to cheer me up about having to ask him to do things that were so painful.

He didn’t descend into “dirty old man” territory, he was always respectful and fun, even across the cultural and language barriers, and despite therapy equating to physical torture. There was no threat to him. He was a gentleman, and a saint.

Afterwards I wondered about my gender presentation – what if I was missing out on other things like this due to how people were confused by my appearance?

For quite some time, people couldn’t tell if I was a boy or a girl, and now, even on days when I’m wearing the exact same clothes that I was then, no one questions that I’m a woman. How did I get here from there?

In the last post, we looked at what some of what the Lord tells us in His Word about what it means to be female, or feminine. In this post, I’d like to look at some of what it doesn’t mean to be feminine, and some of the changes that took place in my life over the years.

For various reasons, in my mind as I was growing up, “girl” was a four-letter word. To me it meant the following:

Wimp

Frail

Feeble

Inadequate

Airhead

Pushed aside

Underappreciated

Chained to a stove, a sink, washer/dryer, etc.

 girl with sword

To this day, I don’t drink coffee. I never started drinking it because I did not want to learn how to make it, to prevent some guy from shuffling me out of a room, and a conversation, in order to go fix coffee for him or a group of people.

In the church, I didn’t see many examples to combat that low impression of what it meant to be a woman. Passivity was encouraged as if it was a Godly female trait. On the other hand, in the culture the women’s lib movement was in full swing, with men’s chauvinistic backlash in response to glass the sound of glass ceiling’s being broken across the country getting plenty of press.

I searched to find role models, and realized that I would have to create my own. Somewhere along the way, I started keeping a collection of impressions – articles, quotes, pictures – whenever something struck me as relevant to seeing womanhood in Godly ways, and touched my heart and mind, I would copy it or cut it out and put it into a folder. I called it “Feeding the Ewe” – a pun on nourishing the female sheep I’d been created to be.

Before pressing on, please note that these are rather personal reflections, and are not to be confused with instructions. Each person is unique, and after having people try to stuff me into their mold, I certainly am not interested in doing that to anyone else. But, if you find something I’m writing about that you can relate to and find encouraging, that’s wonderful!

Slowly, I started to find stories of women in Scripture who didn’t fit the negative images in my mind of what it meant to be a girl:

  • Deborah
  • Abigail
  • Mary and Martha

Deborah

My namesake – a prophet, poet, and the fourth Judge of Israel, before they had a king, she was also married. She went with Barak who led Israel to fight their enemies under her direction, and they were victorious, as she prophesied, due to the courage of another woman named Jael. (Judges 4 and 5).

Abigail

How I wished that I had read about this woman earlier in my life. Her story is found in 1 Samuel 25. She is noted for being “intelligent and beautiful,” and saved her household from destruction due to the foolishness of her husband. David remembered her, and after hearing that her husband had died, proposed and swept her away to be his wife.

Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus, whom Martha had invited into her home. This is a short story, so I’ll just quote it here:

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Footnote: Luke 10:42 Some manuscripts but only one thing is needed

From the stories of these women I saw courage, intelligence, leadership, quick action and a longing to learn and be near Jesus are part of what it means to be a woman in God’s eyes. Quite the contrast to the concepts that had been swimming around in my mind.

There were other Scriptures that made it into my folder, including this from the second chapter of the Song of Solomon:

10 My lover said to me,

“Rise up, my darling!

Come away with me, my fair one!

11 Look, the winter is past,

and the rains are over and gone.

12 The flowers are springing up,

the season of singing birds[c] has come,

and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.

13 The fig trees are forming young fruit,

and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.

Rise up, my darling!

Come away with me, my fair one!”

Young Man

14 My dove is hiding behind the rocks,

behind an outcrop on the cliff.

Let me see your face;

let me hear your voice.

For your voice is pleasant,

and your face is lovely.

This was paired with a photo of a woman by the sea, among grey rocks under a cliff that I’d seen in an ad. It struck me that it could be me. Many of these things hit me in that way. It was almost as though I was allowing myself or giving myself permission to imagine myself in a different light – to bring these concepts out of abstraction and internally own them. It was meditative, in a sense, and I also felt quite vulnerable, so I kept the folder hidden away. It’s very intimidating to write as much as I am now about it at all.

Some of the other things in the folder were poems by Emily Dickenson and Rupert Brooke. And this one – a classic that broke the broken notion I’d had about weakness vs. strength:

The Sword

Yes, Mark was posted to the Tenth that year.

The day we got there priests contrived to bring

This ‘god’ to death, and mobs that made me cling

To Mark surged round us, all one mocking jeer.

 

No omen warned me when Mark led me near

The yelling street that I should be implored

By God to wear my girlhood like a sword

So edged with mercy men would freeze in fear.

 

Mark’s armour made the crowd draw back a space

Just there beneath his cross the god limped by.

I saw his eyes and rushed into the street

Through sudden stillness and I wiped his face.

‘My child,’ he said and staggered on to die.

– My girlhood lay in fragments at my feet.

~ Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

“…to wear my girlhood like a sword…so edged with mercy men would freeze in fear.”

I’d seen it before, but never read it put into words – how there was such a strength in mercy, in running to show compassion. I’d often thought of myself as “edgy” – and wanted to dress “sharp” – so no one would mess with me, or so that I would attain what I thought at the time was the right impression. And in this poem that idea was thrown on it’s ear – girlhood could be like a sword, and that sword could be edged with mercy. And isn’t that just like Jesus – interrupting funerals by raising the dead, healing the lame man who was literally dropped in on Him on a litter, stopping a stoning, hanging out with swindlers…His life was edged with mercy.

Other entries in the folder were passages from books, such as Katherine Hepburn’s (I know) description of John Wayne, which caught me by surprise – she delights in him from tip to toe. And Tom Bombadil’s description of Goldberry, the River’s daughter, in The Fellowship of the Ring:

Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! My darling!

Light goes the weather-wind and the feathered starling,

Down along under Hill, shining in the sunlight,

Waiting on the doorstep for the cold starlight,

There my pretty lady is, River-woman’s daughter,

Slender as the willow-wand, clearer than the water.

Old Tom Bombadil water-lilies bringing

Comes hopping home again. Can you hear him singing?

Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! and merry-o,

Goldberry, Goldberry, merry yellow berry-o!

Poor old Willow-man, you tuck your roots away!

Tom’s in a hurry now. Evening will follow day.

Tom’s going home again water-lilies bringing.

Hey! Come derry dol! Can you hear me singing?

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Even reading this now a tune comes to mind that I’d thought of when I first read it in my old paperback edition of the trilogy. Of course there are other passages in Tolkien – the story of Eowyn and Faramir among them – that made it into my anthology. I would bring it out and read through these things through the months and years. It had taken time for me to internalize the negative impressions I’d had of femininity, and as I wasn’t getting good input from the Christian sub-culture or the culture at large, prayerfully looking over these things was excellent food for thought.

When he was teaching me to drive, my dad taught me to “aim for the spaces.” He said, and I’ve found it to be true, that whatever you’re looking at or focusing on is what you’re going to hit. So if you look at the lines on the side of the road, or the cones you’re trying to avoid, you’ll actually be drawn to hit them. It’s important to aim for the space you want to be in. When I fill my mind with images of women being wimpy, frail, or helpless – those negative concepts I’d connected with what it meant to be female – it has an impact on my attitude, and sometimes even on how I carry myself. When I am for the space I want to be in, I find much smoother sailing.

So I try to remember to screen what I watch, and think about how I’m feeling and why after seeing a movie or show. And when I can’t find the kind of good food for thought that I long for, I will go back over what I’ve found nourishing before. This is true for many areas in life – not just gender identity or sexuality. Our culture tends to breed discontentment – contented people don’t buy stuff they don’t need. Much of what passes for relaxation and entertainment contains a bombardment of images – even just driving down the road we are passing advertisements and signs to aimed at getting us to “come and buy.”

In a way, I’m thankful that I wasn’t able to just take my gender identity for granted, and that I had the opportunity to seek and think and pray and grow. I’m still learning and growing, of course, but I’m also aware that I’ve not bought into someone else’s ideals of what it means to reflect God’s character as His woman. It’s made me grateful and again I hope that these words will encourage others.

Gender Identity, II

I’ve been working on this series of posts for months, but I’ve also been very hesitant to write about this topic. Primarily because, as I mentioned in the last post, it is so easy to look at a person and think that addressing things that can be seen on the outside will lead to changes on the inside. In reality, that is rarely the case. I don’t want to leave the impression that becoming more feminine would lead to experiencing changes in one’s sexual orientation. And I seriously do not wish my own explorations in gender identity to be misinterpreted as some type of definitive standard.

But earlier this week I read this, and it reinforced how important it is for me to at least try to write about this subject, even if I’m not able to be perfectly articulate about it:

http://www.wset.com/story/25061872/little-girl-taken-out-of-christian-school-after-told-shes-too-much-like-a-boy#.UzFYnqKZ3wI.facebook

This poor kid – this could easily be me. (Especially as she’s wearing a Steeler’s shirt – my favorite team!) She’s only eight years old, and doesn’t think of herself as being a boy, according to the interview recorded along with this article. I really can’t see a reason to make a fuss. And it comes across, once again, as though all Christians take a knee-jerk approach to these issues.

In my case, it wasn’t a Christian school that tried to change my appearance, it was my mom. She did not understand my tomboyishness and couldn’t identify with it at all. When she was growing up, she loved dresses and high-gloss shoes with buckles and wore lace gloves to church on Sunday mornings with enjoyment. Those things felt terrible on me. But any kind of boyishness in my appearance was a terrible embarrassment to my mother. I remember when she was introducing my brother and I to someone and said, “This is my son, R___, and my feminine daughter, Debra.” While saying this she stood behind me and had her hands on my shoulders, rather close to my neck, and shook me a bit for emphasis. I got the message.

I would much prefer to speak to people in person about gender identity, as I don’t want anyone else to feel that kind of pressure and discomfort and lack of acceptance that I grew up with. As you are reading, please don’t look for the key(s) to unlock every door that blocks the way for every person who identifies as gay/lesbian/ etc., or who is expressing their gender identity in non-conventional ways. Although I went through changes in my gender identity, I don’t see myself as someone who has achieved some kind of “feminine ideal.” I don’t think that there is one. And frankly, some of what passes for idealistically feminine in our culture today just isn’t healthy.

Instead, as you read I hope that you will be encouraged that this same God who showed His faithful love to me in specific ways through the years also knows and loves each of you and those you know very deeply and intimately. I pray that you will seek Jesus on your own and spend time with Him. He will help you to grow into the wonderful, unique aspect of Christ-likeness that you have been created to reflect.

What is Gender Identity?

Our gender identity is so very subjective. It is culturally dependent – differing due to what country / tribe you are a part of at the time. And it’s time-dependent – different ages hold different styles and ideals in vogue. What was considered really hot back in the day tends to look rather ridiculous now.

It took a long time for me to sort through the complex threads of my identity as a female. I didn’t want to conform to a cultural ideal – either of the secular world or the Christian sub-culture – just for the sake of blending in. I wanted to learn if the Lord wanted me to make any changes at all, or if He would be happy with me just as I was. And if there was a prodding to make changes, I wanted them to come from the inside out – to still feel like “me,” and not feel fake, as though I was dressing up in a costume.

And, as with my sexual orientation, sometimes the church and fellow believers were very helpful, other times not at all. And sometimes I just sabotaged the heck out of myself along the way. But I came to a place of contentment, (where I happen to still be quite tomboyish), with the sure foundation of what it meant to be “God’s woman.” Not forcing myself into current cultural or Christian sub-cultural trends, but an authentic expression of what it means to be a woman in God’s eyes.

For the follower of Christ, the bigger question is, “What does the Lord tell us about what it means to be a woman in His Word?” Let’s spend some time thinking about that…

Your Hair is Like a Flock of Goats

How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.

Song of Solomon 4 :1-2

Oh, how I love these verses! It seems as though this was a compliment, back in the day…which absolutely cracks me up. Several things in the Song of Solomon do translate well through the gaps of culture and time, but this isn’t one of them. I love animals, but the beauty of a flock of goats descending a mountain does not work as a flattering remark when I’m heading out for fun day.

So this passage reminds me to not shoot for the nanny goat look when styling my hair in the morning as some kind of benchmark of how the Lord wishes me to appear to the world at large. We need to remember to read the Scriptures as literature – taking the metaphors metaphorically, the literal parts literally, etc.

Holy Femininity

Seriously, then, what does the Lord have to say about what it means to be feminine in His eyes? (Which are the ones that count.)

This is not a comprehensive synopsis, but I found these truths to be very helpful when I was looking at what it meant to be feminine from the Lord’s perspective:

  1. Taking a Spiritual / Kingdom View of People
  2. We are Created Either Male or Female
  3. We are Known
  4. Beauty’s Source

Kingdom / Spiritual View

I do this all the time – look at myself and others as though we’re just people, when really we’re not. We are eternal souls walking around in temporary housing. What we can see is not all there is to life. Three points come to mind about this when we look at the Scriptures:

  1. The eternal overrides the temporary.

Consequently, from now on we estimate and regard no one from a [purely] human point of view [in terms of natural standards of value]. [No] even though we once did estimate Christ from a human viewpoint and as a man, yet now [we have such knowledge of Him that] we know Him no longer [in terms of the flesh]. Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!

II Cor. 5:16-17, Amplified Bible

As believers in Christ – this is such great news! We don’t have to get caught up in the “purely human / natural standards point of view.” There is more to us than what we can see, and we are called to look at everyone past when is visible on the surface. It’s also sobering news, as C.S. Lewis expands upon this train of thought in the closing paragraph of his amazing essay, “The Weight of Glory:”

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

~ C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” (British spelling)

  1. We will all get new bodies anyway.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.[a] While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

II Cor. 5:1-5, Amplified Bible

More good news – you’re not satisfied with the body you’ve got now – when you have put your faith in Christ, you’ll get a new one! According to II Cor. 5:4, our discomfort with our bodies isn’t completely about falling short of the celebrities and models and bodybuilders we see celebrated in our culture. There is a spiritual restlessness that is there because what we’re living in now is just a makeshift stand-in for the eternal bodies we will one day have.

On the flip side – finding complete contentment with ourselves and our surroundings here on earth isn’t necessarily the goal – finding contentment in Christ regardless of where we are is.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. II Cor. 5:6-10, New Living Translation

There is such a thing as a holy tension – confidently living here, although we’d rather be home with Jesus face to face. But whether we are here or in heaven, our goal is to live out the calling to holiness that God has given each one of us.

  1. No one will be married or get married in heaven.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.

Matthew 22:23-33

This might be taken as either good news or bad news. Marriage is not the be-all or end-all of life. When we take our marriage vows, we often commit to one another, “…till death do us part.” Well, according to Jesus, death will part us. Marriage is an earthly institution, but not a heavenly one, when it comes to us as couples. (There is another sense in which the Church is called the “Bride of Christ….” Rev. 19:7-10, but that is another kind of marriage than what we’re talking about here.)

So if you had dreams of being united with your spouse throughout all eternity – that’s not what Jesus says is going to happen. I realize that this is getting a bit off the track of gender identity – however, it was important to me to think this through as the church can tend to worship marriage as though it was an eternal institution. I was single for a long, long time, and that wore thin on me as I was trying to find my footing in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity. I think it’s important for us as believers to keep an eternal perspective.

Created – Male and Female

We were made different from the get-go, with only two options – we exist as a binary species. I understand that there are movements of people promoting a third or a number of other genders, but I find those are man-made constructs, and create confusion more than bringing clarity.

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:19-25

 

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.

When God created mankind, He made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them.

Genesis 5:1

And of course we’re familiar with the Scriptures that repeat that male and female are united in marriage, without other options being given:

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Genesis 2:24

“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,’”

Mark 10:7

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5:31

When I read these passages I found them to be pretty basic – there isn’t any instruction on how one can be more masculine or feminine within them. But I knew that I wasn’t a eunuch,* and I had been created female.

We Are Known

I found more comfort in knowing that exactly where I was right then, and each day until now, I was known – even beyond my own ability to comprehend myself.

  For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Psalm 139:13-15

In this passage we read that none of us just appear by happenstance. Each of us has been put together in a “fearful and wonderful” way. And as a health care professional, I’ve gotten a bit more of a glimpse into that great truth than the average person. The way our joints are put together, how our heart muscle works constantly throughout our lives without rest – and the mysteries we don’t understand – how cartilage is nourished, how the nervous system could be repaired after it’s severed, etc. It’s all fascinating – we still have so much to learn about digestion, our brains, ageing….on and on.

“So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:26-31

Then, just as I’m about to get dizzy with the details of our biology, I come across this passage that really blows me away. The God who put me together in such a fantastic way, cares about me. He takes that intimate knowledge and watches out for me – even counting the number of hairs on my head. And they come and go, and I don’t even feel it! (We lose about 100 hairs each day, on average.)

 

Beauty’s Source

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

There was a great sense of relief when I read the words in this passage. For there I found what I’d suspected was true all along – when it comes to beauty, God cares more about the inside than the outside. It brought echoes of the words Jesus had about “whitewashed tombs” with the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Matthew 23:27-28

The Lord isn’t impressed by those who look sharp outwardly, yet on the inside are steeped in evil inwardly. Neither of these passages state that we shouldn’t make an effort to look good on the outside, but rather that we shouldn’t lean on outward appearances to carry the day. The work that goes into the “inward self” the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit…” is what is God treasures. Now, let’s check what how that verse (4) reads in the Amplified version of the Bible:

But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which [is not anxious or wrought up, but] is very precious in the sight of God.

“Quiet” then means “peaceful” rather than silent. And there is something appealing about women who are peaceful – who aren’t caught up in anxiety – that is relaxingly beautiful in nature.

So this was my summary – no recommended hairdos, clothing, or perfumes – no makeup instructions or guides to the best hat style to wear at this year’s Easter service. When women speak and teach confidently that this is the fashion or that look should be avoided – they aren’t getting it from Scripture.

Instead,  I tried to take to heart these truths from God’s Word. Looking at myself and others from a spiritual perspective, remembering that I’ve been created as a woman, in an amazing way, by a God who knows me better than I know myself. And the beauty that is important to God is about my character, not my outward appearance. Keeping these things in mind and in practice helped me to sort through everything I was seeing and hearing from the well-meaning voices around me about what it means to be feminine. And also acted as a filter to protect me from the controlling or selfish marketing voices eager to get me to try whatever they were pushing or selling. It’s still quite helpful today.

 

 

*What about eunuchs? They are mentioned throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, but as this particular situation did not pertain to me, and as I’m not aiming at writing a comprehensive summary of everyone’s situation, I’m not going into that subject here. This series of posts is about my own journey regarding gender identity.