This blog post first appeared on Melissa’s blog
Re-published with permission.

I think everyone has their awkward years growing up — that particular phase of angst, searching for personal identity, not feeling you like fit in or belong, making questionable fashion choices — just a stage of life where we are glad when it is over and we don’t ever want to repeat. For some it’s the growing pains and acne of middle school, for others the life-changing decisions of school and career and relationships in our 20s….for me, it’s the isolating and extremely fragile space of motherhood and adulthood. And I don’t believe I am the only woman who feels this way.

As I have entered adulthood and looked to my Church for female mentorship and community, I find myself asking if this is truly all there is; if I am the only one who feels that my more complex self is truly welcome. My life has had a variety of interesting twists and turns, and I sometimes feel a slight tug at the collar; that feeling of uncomfortable awkwardness; asking, do I really belong here? Though I have not spent the majority of my life on the margins, I have felt its sting, and find myself increasingly aware of those who feel the same.

Is my more-complex-self truly welcome here? Click To Tweet

Though I have served in a leadership capacity within many ministries for women or alongside women, it is often in this context that I feel I am least likely to trust and share my authentic self. That to be accepted and belong, there is a certain feminine ideal that is modeled or taught, an ideal from which I have always fallen short; that I am somehow an impostor. I know that part of this is my own insecurities and assumptions, from always feeling just a bit on the margins, but my recent life experiences have sensitized me to the fact that there is a missing space for women in today’s Church; and I don’t believe I am the only woman who feels this way.

Now let me just stop here — I don’t for one second want to diminish the incredible good work I know is happening in women’s ministries across our global church. But these are fragile spaces, spaces where women of all backgrounds, beliefs and expressions are coming to find community, and I long for a more complete expression of what it means to be a woman, in today’s age. That we would not present the sanitized, Instagram-worthy version of our faith, limiting those who feel they can belong; to find a way to see all, to welcome all, and know that Jesus is still good.

When I got married and transitioned out of our church’s college & career ministry, the idea of joining a women’s bible study or group was slightly daunting. The adult women at my church were somehow on another level than I was; they somehow seemed more put together, more saintly, more respectable in the way they dressed, spoke, and carried themselves. It didn’t seem to me to be a group that I necessarily would find commonality and welcome. There seemed to be a feminine ideal they all had in common; a mold that never seemed to fit my frame. I wondered if I would be able to find my place.

You see, growing up, I never liked wearing dresses or pantyhose, I didn’t play with Barbies (fun fact — their hair also doesn’t go well with hot curling irons), and I detested the colour pink. I preferred Doc Martens and baggy jeans, Lego and building forts in the woods, and my friend groups were always a mixture of boys and girls. I was always the tallest in my class, and I was never part of the cool girls’ club. They just didn’t seem to want to do things I was interested in — playing for marbles, building forts in the woods, Star Wars movies, listening to old country music, and my killer blue Doc Martens. Again, for the sake of 80s feminine stereotypes, not your typical girl. Add to that fact that I was a taller than average (I’m now 6′ 2″) girl with zero athletic ability, and I really stood out — at a time when most kids just want to blend in and belong.

I finally broke down and attended my first women’s retreat when I was about 27. I had been married for 2 years and figured, this is what older, married women do right? (Back then I used to think 27 was old). I was a woman, I really loved camping & being at the lake, so a women’s retreat at the lake sounded like a good fit. Plus, I was hungry for spiritual companionship — I was hungry for deep connections with other women of the faith who understood me and could speak into my reality — and I was getting a little long in the tooth to be attending our college & career group.

Upon arrival, I started to wonder if I’d made a horrible mistake. No one greeted me at the door and asked if I was there with friends (I wasn’t), everyone there was either married, or much older than I was, and it was very, very quiet. Pleasant, even. This was pretty much the tone of the entire weekend, and I couldn’t turn around and leave; they’d seen me.    

Continued next week with Part 2.