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

This blog post is part 2, read part 1 of Melissa’s story.

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.

Yes, the weekend was filled with laughter and good food and very kind women, but I found myself starting to read between the lines as to what kind of woman seemed most at home here:  the gracious woman, the gentle woman, the serious-minded, clean-talking, daily-Bible-study kind of woman. I saw the goodness in those things, and aspired to be like them, in ways, but I also wondered….where were the others?

The ones not this way?
The ones who didn’t show up with a well-worn Bible in its personalized, custom case?
The ones who weren’t married?
The ones whose life was in the midst of a raw divorce?
The ones who didn’t want kids, or couldn’t have them?
The ones with tattoos?
The ones who didn’t always use nice words when life didn’t go their way?
The ones who preferred chopping wood and fishing to scrapbooking and sharing recipes? 

Were those women welcome here? Did they feel safe? Accepted?

Or did the songs, programs and speakers let them know — this is the kind of life that makes us holy. This is the goal, however limiting it might feel, to what it means to be a woman.

At the time, I am ashamed to admit that I never asked those questions — I didn’t consider others when I went — I thought only of myself and my needs. I looked for others like me, stayed with them, and played it safe. I fit the mold, mostly — I was married, open to kids, and didn’t really rock the boat with salty talk or provocative views. My interests, friend groups and views were pretty vanilla, and as I would soon find out — pretty narrow and naive. If my not-so-feminine self felt a bit out of place before, I was in for a rude awakening. And that rude awakening was the impetus to ask myself: was I part of perpetuating the ideal?

Did I turn a blind eye to women who felt “other?”
Did I even have any friends who didn’t look or act like me, that maybe their faith had something to teach me?

Do we realize how our programming, bible study topics, makeup of our leadership teams, speakers we invite — need to reflect a more diverse idea of what it means to be a woman fully loved by God? A woman called to her own unique purpose? If someone walked into your church, your women’s group, your retreat, would they see:

Single women?
Younger women?
Elder women?
Tattooed women?
Gay women?
CEO’s and business women?

Do all of the women on our leadership teams and committees look and act and speak the same?

Or are they diverse in their experiences, backgrounds, and passions?
Do the programs, studies, articles and speakers allow for all to speak and share?
Is there an atmosphere of safety and call to love for all?
Can women of all kinds show up, be heard, and ask those tough questions?
Bare their soul and air their grievances and find a listening ear?
If we do not teach how to listen to each other, lead by example in honesty and openness, will others feel comfortable to do the same?
Or do we desire those who attend to see someone who has it all together? Women who are “figuring it out,” women who fit within the current ideal for what femininity means?
Do we know how to even have those conversations about what is different, what being a woman means, and love each other while doing it?

The next few years of my life brought me through some earth-shattering life changes that profoundly impacted my own self-image, my relationship with God, and my lens through which I see the women in the Church. I realized that I had unknowingly perpetuated this sanitized version of Christianity; this lack of awareness to those “other,” those not like me, and how my presentation of a Jesus-follower might look to them? Now having lived through a horrific divorce, custody battle, identity crisis, and faith struggle, I saw things differently. My heart and compassion and eyes were opened to those who haven’t always had it go their way, those who don’t fit the mold, those who wonder if they ever will, and how we all need Jesus.

I started to notice that every women’s breakfast, retreat or ministry I checked out, had speakers, courses and sessions along these lines — marriage & kids. I realized that the programs and sessions planned, the prayer times, the women represented in leadership, the speakers welcomed to share with us their vision for Christian women — they were a bit…..homogeneous. Very nice, and non-threatening, but just very different from me. And I believe that though it was never anyone’s intention to leave others out, it seems that still, in 2017, women’s ministry is based on certain assumptions:

We all want kids.
We all want to stay home with the kids.
We all want to be June Cleaver.
We all want to be married (or remarried).
We are all comfortable in our femininity.
We are all confident in our heterosexuality.
We are all comfortable in viewing/calling God our “Father.”
We all believe the same things about submission, service, leadership, sexuality, parenting, etc.
We all fit in the same parameters for what it means to be a woman in the Church.

All that being said, it’s been a difficult journey — discovering where I fit in the world that is Christian women’s ministry. Still, I know that the potential and power women hold to transform, not only their own lives, and other women’s lives, but the church at large — this is excitingly immense.

I believe this holy space can hold room for women of all backgrounds and expressions, to be a community of raw and authentic faith that does not limit us, but sets women free.

That Jesus is the way for all women to be seen, welcomed and know that He is love, and in that, they all are loved.

And I don’t believe I am the only woman who feels this way.

A community of raw and authentic faith does not limit us, but sets us free. Click To Tweet