Tag: Identity

Woman, Thou Art More Than Curves

Woman, Thou Art More Than Curves

What we do with our bodies is more relevant and impactful for God’s kingdom than what our bodies look like.

Written by: Tega Swann

Until I was thirty-three and conceived my child, my body was slender and straight—no curves (a relative once jokingly called me “figure eleven,” which was her way of saying that I had no curves).For twenty-six of those thirty-three years, I lived in Nigeria, where thin meant “sickly” or “emaciated.” My mother was always frustrated with my figure, because she feared that people might think she didn’t take care of me! For years, one of my naturally thin sisters tried to “fatten” herself. She would often pad her clothing so that she looked like she had a fat stomach, hips, and butt!My people would joke that a Nigerian man could date a slender/thin girl, but he would marry a plump or “fat” one. They were more comfortable with and wanted women with curves, and lots of them!

This is the country where one tribe, the Calabars, actually sends its brides to the “fattening” room before the wedding!Then I moved to the US, which has been my home for the last seventeen years, and encountered a very different cultural ideal for women’s bodies. In the US, curvy/plump women are treated the way slender/thin women are treated in Nigeria—with denigration. Here, the perfect woman has little or no curves or any form of fat on her body. This standard is much like the kind of woman I was until I conceived and had my child. No wonder my American ex-husband was crazy about (my body) me!It’s been over twelve years since I had my daughter and my “curves” have developed and steadily increased! I have undulating curves everywhere—belly, hips, arms. As my body changed over the years, a part of me was delighted. I could now gleefully tell mom, “I’m fat!!” Then, I’d remember that I could only share that joy with Nigerians. Here in the US, my curves are not considered a success story.American culture made me miss my former self—until I started questioning why my looks should dictate my value in either context. I began to ask what my curves (or lack of them) had to do with fulfilling God’s purpose for my life.”What we do with our bodies is more relevant and impactful for God’s kingdom than what our bodies look like.”I started paying attention to what women did with their bodies. Soon, I realized that what we do with our bodies is more relevant and impactful for God’s kingdom than what our bodies look like.In American culture, describing a woman as a person of integrity, character, or in possession of any other non-physical virtue is often another way of saying she is unattractive. (Think about the cultural subtext of phrases like: “She has a great personality”). In other words, she is probably “fat,” and not appealing to the American male eye.Yet, it is those non-physical virtues that God delights to see in us!Samuel the prophet also judged people according to the world’s standard before God changed his perspective. When Samuel went looking for the next king of Israel among Jesse’s sons, Eliab caught his eye, because he was handsome and tall. But God wasn’t impressed with Eliab’s appearance. He cared far more for what was in his heart:Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:6-7 (NIV).God found and chose a man who would not have been considered attractive in that culture. But, he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).

Men are rarely judged by their looks, but rather by their personalities, characters, achievements, and qualifications.When God looks at humans, both male and female, he is more concerned with our ways than with our looks. So why do we make war on women’s bodies?Judging people by their appearances is often a gender-prejudiced practice. Men are rarely judged by their looks, but rather by their personalities, characters, achievements, and qualifications. So much so that, in our culture, it is common to see a woman who fits the beauty ideal married to a man who would be judged unacceptable if he were female.Yet, a woman is so much more than her curves (or lack of them)! So why don’t we affirm the same qualities in women that we validate in men? I am a fat/curvaceous woman. I also know many curvy women who I greatly admire and respect, because of who they are and what they do with their hands, with their time, with their abilities, talents, and resources. These women faithfully raise children and partner their husbands, and somehow, they still find time to serve in church ministry.I also know delightful, curvaceous, unmarried women who love the Lord and love others. Curves or no curves, these women love deeply, give generously, and serve faithfully.The women who are considered unworthy because of their bodies are often the ones who volunteer to do the hardest work in the church. These are the women who, rejected by society’s standards, still cheerfully give both their money and time.With that in mind, I asked myself, “What do I have to be ashamed of in this body?”I honor and take care of my body as the temple of the living God. No harmful substance has ever found its way into my system. Sin is not allowed to live in my body. No, my curvy body is kept ready for the daily presence of the Holy Spirit.

The women who are considered unworthy because of their bodies are often the ones who volunteer to do the hardest work in the church. These are the women who, rejected by society’s standards, still cheerfully give both their money and time.My hands, although short and ungroomed, are the hands with which I’ve cooked and cleaned for the members of God’s household for years, served as custodian for church property, managed my own property, and single-handedly raised a wonderful twelve year-old. So, my hands don’t look “sexy,” but they sure have been ministering through the years.My curvaceous body is the same body with which I serve God’s people and my child, in sickness and in health. The physical labor I’ve put into serving the Lord led to a bad back that sometimes requires me to be in a brace for months at a time. I don’t have a thin waist that fits the American standard, and maybe it’s too crooked from years of Christian service to meet the African ideal, but God loves my curvaceous waist.My eyes are not hued with “sexy” shades of makeup, but they are the eyes that I’ve intentionally shielded from anything unwholesome.Many women, including myself, have little or no personal time to spend on meeting this cultural beauty standard. We work from dawn to dusk each day, fulfilling our quota to our families, the church, and the marketplace. Our efforts hold home, workplace, church, and community together, but when people see us, they don’t think about what we do or how we contribute to the world. Rather, they think about how much or how little we fit the worldly standard of attractive female.This is not to say that life is always better for the woman who meets the beauty standard, because she is still subjected to the male gaze. And often, under the gaze of the “overly-spiritual,” she is penalized for having an attractive form. These attractive women may be subjected to the same denigration that the “unattractive” women suffer under the intense cultural pressure to be thin.The serpent in the garden told the woman, “You’re not enough until you eat (do) this.” And today, the serpent’s voice has found its way into our world. The devil constantly tells women that they are “never enough.”

Our efforts hold home, workplace, church, and community together, but when people see us, they don’t think about what we do or how we contribute to the world. Rather, they think about how much or how little we fit the worldly standard of attractive female.These voices keep the focus on women’s physical selves rather than on their personhood and humanity. Satan is determined to reroute women from their God-ordained path. Instead of thinking about God’s will, women are often distracted by the pursuit of that elusive standard by which they will finally be found “enough.”Satan is sending women off on a wild goose chase. Make no mistake, if women allow him to do so, they will find themselves ruled by the ever-changing demands of men’s desires rather than by the clear and stable directives of God.The Apostle Peter counseled godly women to resist the emphasis on “outward” value and focus on their real value, their “inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pet.3:3-4).This is not an assignment for women who are not considered “beautiful.” Rather, it is a universal assignment for all women who want to please God!God said it to Samuel, Peter seconded it. Women are more than their bodies or outward appearances. A woman is significant in ways that mere physical appearance can never capture.From my rising to my laying down, the desire of my heart is not to be physically stunning. Truly, I only want to please my God. And somehow, I don’t think that includes how curvaceous or how thin he wants me to look on any given day. Rather, he is concerned with how kind, generous, selfless, prayerful, and Christ-centered I can be each day.Being fat or thin has nothing to do with human worth. Had Jesus been in our culture today, people might have asked him “Which is better for a woman to be? Fat or thin?”And I’m certain Jesus would give a response similar to Matthew 15:11 and Mark 7:15, making it clear that body fat or lack of it has nothing to do with our desirability before God.There are many valid arguments for certain body sizes, but the negative attention focused on women’s sizes is ridiculous. Many factors contribute to the shapes and sizes of women’s bodies: ethnicity, genetics, reproduction, nutrition, hormones, age, illness, etc.

Satan is sending women off on a wild goose chase. Make no mistake, if women allow him to do so, they will find themselves ruled by the ever-changing demands of men’s desires rather than by the clear and stable directives of God.The abandonment of what is in the body—a living soul created in God’s image—for the body itself indicates that we have misplaced our priorities. We must take care of our bodies, certainly, but our bodies are not to be shrines at which we direct our praise.My ex-husband loved my then “thin” body, but I would have preferred that he’d noticed my mind, my love for those around me, my love for God, my selflessness, commitment, and devotion.And even outside of intimate relationships, I am certain that many women are crying out to be affirmed for who they are rather than what they look like.Despite our fascination with the physical, we must remember that the human body is a temporal state. It is subject to limitations and decay. The unstoppable nature of aging and physical degeneration makes it unrealistic and unloving to judge women exclusively by their looks.Therefore, we would do well to focus on what matters by remembering Apostle Paul’s words,“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16).Just as women must fix their gazes on the souls of men rather than on their bodies, men must learn to fix their gazes on the souls of women. Seek to see that which is not readily visible to the naked eye, that which can only be seen when we look with our hearts rather than with our tainted, carnal vision.We must affirm women of all sizes and shapes as we do for men, because we recognize that there’s a person, a soul, in each body. A wonderful, beautiful person who is deeply loved and valued by God.So the next time you see a woman, remember that her value should not be decided by her body.

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I Didn’t Choose to Become an Egalitarian

I Didn’t Choose to Become an Egalitarian

What makes you an egalitarian, and when do you become one?

Written by: Carrie Fernandez

I’m a southern girl, the middle child, one of three daughters in my family of five.

My daddy gloried in raising up three, strong-willed women. He taught us early on to assert ourselves, with frequent reminders to never let anyone walk all over us, to stand up for ourselves because we mattered. He believed we could do anything we set our minds to, challenging us and giving his all as he raced us around the go-cart track, pushing us to play our best during family basketball games, never taking it easy because we were girls. I admired my dad and longed for his approval, and there was never a moment from my childhood, adolescence, or adulthood when I didn’t receive it. When meeting others, he introduced my sisters and me with the pride of an Olympian, placing his arm around our shoulders and smiling down on us, his three gold medals.

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did my dad’s ability to see beyond my gender to my soul shape my views on my place in the world? Did I subconsciously apply the complete, direct access I enjoyed to my dad’s love as his daughter to my Father God’s love, as well? (Ephesians 2:18)

Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, I was surrounded daily by the beauty of God’s creation. Long hikes up steep trails to the top of Grandfather Mountain left me panting and sweating, breathless from the exertion of the climb. Standing triumphant at the peak, I tried to catch my breath again as the bigness of God’s creation left me in state of speechless awe.

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did observing the beauty of God’s creation remind me of my own beauty? Did standing among the peaks of towering mountains help me realize my prominence in the eyes of God? (Matthew 10:31)

As a literature major in college, I read about strong, heroic, female protagonists. Through Jane Eyre’s self-assertion and independence during the Victorian era in Jane Eyre and Scout Finch’s rebellion against gender stereotypes of the 1930’s in To Kill a Mockingbird, I found myself relating on a deep level to each character’s trials and frustrations. I identified with their desires to simply be who they were born to be during time periods when societal expectations limited women and stifled their natural desires to participate fully in a patriarchal world.

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did the ever-present struggle for equality which permeates many classical and modern works of literature help me better understand my own internal desire to assert myself in every arena of my life? Did the tenacious spirits of Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women remind me so much of myself that I began to feel less alone and marginalized in my desires for liberty?

After a failed marriage, I recommitted my life to a man who loves and accepts me for me. Standing together on a scorching day in July, I vowed to love him, to cherish him, and to remain faithful and true forever; I did not, however, vow to obey him. He didn’t want me to make a promise of obedience any more than I did. From the beginning of our relationship, we have assumed equal roles as partners, never bartering out expectations on things like submission or assigning man-made roles and titles like spiritual leader and headship. My husband doesn’t expect me to shrink smaller, quiet my voice, or climb down a few notches on a patriarchal spiritual ladder to prove to others we are engaging in a Biblical marriage. We have naturally partnered in every facet of our parenting and marriage, each of us submitting to Christ’s will, losing ourselves, not for each other, but for Christ only and always. Our marriage reflects the true beauty of partnership in that we recognize the value of sometimes allowing the other person to lead. It’s an ebb and flow; it’s fluid, organic, and free. When I’m down, I relinquish the reigns for a while, trusting in where my husband will lead. I fall back for a bit and take refuge in his shadow; when I’m well and my strength has returned, I step out of his shelter and back into the void by his side. When life becomes too much and he needs a respite from the demands of his life roles, he knows he can do the same. After those breaks, those rests, we resume our walk together, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, partners until the end.

Was it then I became an Egalitarian?

Did falling in love with someone who values and respects the very character traits which fuel others’ perceptions of me as a failed example of Biblical womanhood reaffirm my equal value as a daughter of God? Did marrying a man who fosters my freedom within our marriage further verify my complete freedom in Christ? (2 Corinthians 3:17)

In April of 2007, I had my son. I never knew love like the love I felt when I held his squirming, slippery body against my own, his tiny wails piercing my heart, causing an ache so deep I thought it might explode. During the three years when my son was the only child, I learned a lot about love, particularly the love of a parent. Parental love is fierce, incessant, and all-consuming. Having my daughter taught me it’s also without bias and without hierarchy. When I stared through my tears at my daughter’s blurry, beautiful face in March of 2010, the love I experienced was equal to that of her brother. An identical space opened in my heart where my love for her grows with the same fervour as my love for my son; it’s just as fierce, just as incessant, just as consuming. I have a son and a daughter, but like my dad, I see past their genders to their souls. I see each as a part of my husband and me, a creation purposed from the same union of love. Each is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Each is gifted with talents capable of changing the world (1 Corinthians 12: 4-6). Each is a child of God, created in the same image and with the same love (Genesis 5: 1-2).

Is this how I became an Egalitarian?

Does my inability to imagine and expect less of my daughter further my understanding of a fair and just God? Does observing the equality of my own love for my son and daughter affirm the equitable love of our Creator for all of His children? Galatians 3:28

I’m an egalitarian.

Looking back, I can’t pinpoint the specific moment in time when I assumed the title. Perhaps that moment doesn’t even exist. I think for me, the evolution of my spiritual journey has resulted in a faith which denotes all aspects of egalitarianism. For as long as I can remember, that still small voice has spoken softly affirmations of my worth. Through the unconditional, unbiased love of my dad, the Holy Spirit whispered, “You are loved” (John 3:16). Standing breathless at the top of Grandfather Mountain, the Holy Spirit murmured, “I have purposed you in my heart” (Isaiah 64:8). Partnering with my husband as a spiritual leader in our home, God assures, “Bring me my son and my daughter. The fruit of your labour is good” (Isaiah 43:6). Seeing each of my children as God’s image-bearers, equally powerful and important and free, I hear the sigh of the Holy Spirit, “Yes, yes, this is right. This is truth. Carry on, child of mine, carry on” (Matthew 28: 18-20).

So I do. So I will.
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In God’s Image

In God’s Image

Written by: Wilma Luimes

In the name of fighting injustice we often forget to fight the issue and start fighting a perceived enemy. The battle is not against a person, it is a fight against the perception of superiority and the subsequent imbalance of power it creates; an internalised ‘perception of truth and entitlement’ that justifies human rights violations. The battle for gender equality is not a fight that is intended to create a face-off between women and men. It is a struggle against the imbalance of power that the ideology of patriarchy has created. An active dispute against the assumptions that form the foundation of sexism and an affirmation of women’s value not a defamation of men’s worth.The imbalance of value has caused both men and women to lose their humanity. To perpetuate violence is to root oneself in the ideology of hatred. And once hatred is entrenched, it tarnishes all that is good and valuable in one’s life.‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’ Matthew 5:8. The ideology of sexism (or any ‘ism) blocks one’s ability to see God clearly. For God created male and female in his image, Genesis 1:27 and failing to see the image of God in another person is an inability to see God.

My father was instrumental in teaching me that women are valuable. He never spoke about women with disrespect. That was not ok at our house. That is the foundation that informs my perspective on gender equity. Women are valuable and deserve to be respected. That was also the basis for my divorce and the reason that I would not allow my daughter’s father to teach her otherwise; for she too is worthy of respect.So I do not advocate for gender equity as a fight of women against men. I have a healthy appreciation for men. Men who value women that is, those who mirror the character of God in their relationships and honour the most high God in their lives. So while respect is given because we recognise the image of God in people, trust is earned.

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Women, You are Called

Women, You are Called

Written by: Wilma Luimes

I love the bible story of Deborah. For starters, it’s all about women’s leadership, for she was both a prophetess and the leader of Israel as a Judge, which historically in the Jewish tradition was a military leader, (Deborah 4:4) for more than forty years. Incidentally, she was also the wife of Lappidoth. I cannot help but note that God’s mandate to go to war did not come via Lappidoth, dare I question it; the “head of the home”? Just sayin’…(☺)!

Clearly God’s divine gifting is individually allocated and different between husband and wife; gifting that is aligned with our individual callings and God-given purposes for which we will account to our Creator, not to our spouses. That said, Lappidoth interests me. Clearly he was a man whose understanding of divine calling was rather different than the average man, for his culture embraced and endorsed a wide gender divide. By virtue of his wife’s role in the country, he was a man who understood the benefits of allowing his wife to operate in her God-given giftings which were:

  • Peace both in his home and in his country; literally… she led an army out to war and when the battle was won “the land had peace for forty years” (Judges 5:31).
  • Access to godly wisdom as God spoke directly to his wife and she was humble enough to listen and be used by Him.
  • An awareness that the calling over his wife’s life would never be detrimental to him as her partner, but would be a rich source of blessing.
  • The benefits of a partnership that used the strengths of both parties to better everyone’s lives, including their own.

This story reminds us that God’s victory is given not to those who have been commissioned to go but to those who respond to the sender and step out in faith. And in this case, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the men who had been sent would not be given the victory; the victory would belong to the women who responded to His call. She [Deborah] sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.” Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go. “Certainly, I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honour will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.(Deborah 4:6-10 NIV)

The lack of women’s leadership within the church and society is a two-fold problem.

There is a culture that has been created to stifle women’s growth within the church and elsewhere called patriarchy. That is a given. But there is also a culture among many women of complacency and contentment with that lot. Notice that both of the scenarios are not God’s intention for gender relations between men and women. Again we all need to be reminded ‘God’s victories belong to those who respond to the call’.
Women, being a wife and a mother are not your calling because that would make your divine purpose subject to human approval.

That’s a role you play in your families. A calling or purpose is a visible ‘heart for a need’ with an impact measured in lives changed. God’s success is measured in the number of souls saved and only you can stop or delay your purpose. God’s plans for your life cannot be subject to the approval of another human being. Your calling is much bigger than that and between you and your Creator, not you and your husband; albeit your calling may be a co-calling with your spouse. What worries me is the number of divine callings that remain unfulfilled in the name of ‘godly marriage’. So to all the women out there…

  • Are you humble enough to be used by Him?
  • Courageous enough to act on the vision you have been given?
  • Attuned enough to recognise Him as the source and intention of His purpose in this world?
  • Wise enough to understand your role as the vehicle through which God establishes His will in this world?

Ladies, really; it’s about time! God’s been calling.

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