A good friend of mine dropped me a note shortly after I preached last month, and one of the things he said was, "I think it was the first time people got to see you onstage. You seemed very comfortable with yourself and your message." It struck me as a little funny... I mean, who was I the last time I preached?! But I know what he meant. I've changed a lot over the past year and a half - and I was more confident and more vulnerable onstage than I've ever been.
It's been a crazy journey, this thawing of my inner ice princess to becoming what my pastor refers to as "Sunshine Happy." It's required a fair bit of courage and vulnerability and relational risk - but every minute of it, no matter how difficult, has been worth it.
I came across an article a few weeks ago about Cinderella and her glass slippers. The author contrasts the glass slippers - a gift from her fairy godmother - with Cinderella's character - just as Cinderella remained sweet and kind and caring in the midst of trying circumstances, so the glass slippers remained intact through an evening of dancing, and even being dropped on the ground as she ran from the palace. The prince, the author said, surely saw Cinderella's beauty, but he did not go looking for the beautiful girl with whom he had danced. No, he scoured the kingdom for the girl who could wear glass slippers without breaking them.
We were all of us - men and women - given a gift from God when we were created: the privilege of being image-bearers of God in the world, showing the world what God is like. And as we grow up, we encounter a variety of messages from our families, our friends, our teachers, our churches, our cultures, etc. about how to do that, about how to be who we are. Some of "the rules" seem innocent enough.
Boys like blue. Girls like pink. Boys like to get dirty and run around. Girls like to have tea parties and wear pretty dresses. We are taught to observe and adopt a myriad of social and gender constructs - without being taught to question them.
But what if I like playing in the mud and am more comfortable in blue jeans than in a skirt? What if I can't decorate a cake, but I love to climb trees or go mountain biking? We have a word for that: "tomboy" (which has an interesting etymology). So... I'm acting like a boy. And the implication is that this is bad, because I'm a girl and I'm supposed to act like one.
Over time, whether we are conscious of it or not, we end up with a list of (sometimes conflicting) rules about what men and women are and are not like that we use as a measuring stick.
The problem is that sometimes our measuring sticks are anything but accurate.
Jonalyn Fincher, in the introduction to her book, Ruby Slippers, likens the problem for women to trying to wear corsets we were never meant to wear. We allow "the rules" and expectations to shape us, focused on achieving an image we think we want, hoping, as Jonalyn says, that "the hooks don't bust open and reveal who we really are." (p.15)
But it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)
One of the reasons I was able to truly be myself onstage a few weeks ago is that I've spent a lot of time over the past few years loosening corset strings, finding better measuring sticks, and becoming more comfortable with who God created me to be. I am so grateful to the women in my life who have shared so openly and honestly their struggles with trying to be what my friend Erin calls "the better Christian woman" - this paragon of a person we've created in our heads that no one could possibly be anyway. Their stories have helped me look more closely at my own story and begin to find some of the freedom God wants for me. Freedom to simply be myself without so much fear of what other people might think of me. Freedom to explore what it means to be a woman of God in this day and age and culture. Freedom to extend grace to those who would seek to shame me back into the limiting corsets of rules not found in Scripture. Freedom to live with bolder boundaries in my friendships.
And the freedom to embrace my femininity as a part of why God is calling me to write and speak and lead, because it is at the core of who He created me to be. It is the glass slipper that fits. And in the arms of the King who gave me these glass slippers to begin with, I can be confident that I am at least becoming the kind of girl who can wear them without breaking them.