I once thought in order to be a strong leader I had to be a man.
Perhaps, it wasn’t that crystal clear in my head as a teenage girl aspiring to be a preacher. After all, I still had some kind of gumption that kept me growing in leadership. But time and time again I was told that I would never be a pastor or leader because women were too: ________ (you fill in the blank.)
And yet, somehow…out the same mouths that told me I couldn’t I was still allowed to lead. I was applauded because I wasn’t like the “other women.” And you know what? For a time I loved it. I loved that I was different and told that I was capable. Who cared if I had to set my vagina aside. Who cared if I had to stuff my emotions down? Who cared if I had to learn to talk sports analogies and wear plaid shirts? Did anyone care?
My mentors (who have almost all happened to be men) have shared these kinds of sentiments along my journey:
“You’re one of us- a bro.”
“You’re basically a man.”
“Wow, you are really rare for a woman.”
“Dude, you can really preach.”
I’m unsure if these sentiments were rooted in seeing leadership and giftedness as something inherently masculine or if they were shared to create a “buffer” so I knew my (married) mentors didn’t think about me sexually. Because, you know, we are all walking around ready to rip each other’s clothes off.
All I know is that as a young woman in leadership I was bent on leading more like a “man.” If I could prove to be strong enough, and pack my emotions and vulnerability down tight of enough I would succeed. My entire worldview around leadership was shaped primarily by white men authors, speakers, pastors, and leaders. This isn’t to say I didn’t learn amazing leadership from them. But, it certainly didn’t encompass my identity.
Somewhere along the way, I found my soul really tired.
Worn out from of half-hearted living trying to cram myself into a leadership pipeline that was never formed for me — the full version of me where my womanhood, body, emotions, intellect, boldness, and gifts are all brought fully to the table. When I packed away my heart I also packed away my doubts, fears, and questions that made me human. I longed for what it would look like to lead out of the fullness of who God created me to be. I am still longing and on that journey.
To 17-year-old me who was often jokingly called “the woman in the blue dress”* when you were leading alongside another male leader. Do not be shamed.
To the 22-year-old me who at times thought, “if I only had a penis maybe they would listen.” You are training the ears of youth to hear God’s womanly voice.
To 27-year-old me who has taken my first deep breath in awhile after years spent forging, fighting and claiming. You are stepping off a well-worn path for something a bit different. Something just as good and holy.
You are a strong woman.
To be a strong woman means understanding a trail is never blazed alone. Never. It’s grabbing your people who deeply love you for you and listening to them when they say stop and rest for a while.
To be a strong woman means running to the feet of Jesus and following his steps. Not the steps of another book or conference that don’t understand your journey.
To be a strong woman is to know when to pull up a seat to the table and when to walk away.
To be a strong woman is to bring the fullness of who God has intended woman-you to be in every space you occupy.
To be a strong woman is to do your work and share your pain so that you might lead from a place for wholeness and surrender.
Because to be a strong woman, is to be fully you.
*Monica Lewinsky’s blue Gap dress that still bore the semen stain that resulted from her administering oral sex to President Clinton in February of that year.