Looking for Women in the Bible

I’ve always been really fond of Anna. And Jehoshabeath. And Jephthah’s daughter. Women who are barely mentioned in the Bible but who made for themselves full, devoted lives and incredible strength.

Some of these women are remembered in various traditions. One has a festival in her honor, and a bestselling novel and miniseries has been based on another’s experiences. But I didn’t know about any of this when I was growing up. I’d read and read the Bible, and come across a few lines or maybe a chapter or two featuring a woman I’d never heard of: Tamar, Dinah, Deborah, another Tamar, Philip’s daughters, Shallum’s daughters, Abigail, Lydia. For many of these women, they are only recorded at the worst moments of their lives, like when some man raped or murdered her, when a husband’s foolishness threatened to get everyone killed, when they struggled for the opportunity to use the skills their society and family ignored. There are plenty of women who made bad choices, too—Jezebel and Delilah come to mind—but there are far more women who responded well to their difficult, dangerous circumstances. And remember, so many men in the Bible made bad choices, too.

So as I grew up, I read and I studied, and what did I learn? That the best I can hope for is a footnote in history. Because I am female, if I am remembered at all, it will be for what happened in the worst moments of my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll live and get married. If I’m unlucky, I’ll die or be vilified for the rest of the ages. Which is crap. Crap options, crap ideas of both the best and worst case scenarios, crap societal views on women that led me to believe this. But I did believe it, even though my mother and many others, I’m sure, never wanted me to.

At some point, I got fed up with this idea that I can never accomplish enough to build a legacy that my child self would have craved to read. I wasn’t convinced that no women deserve or have earned significant places in history, but I was convinced that women wouldn’t be remembered in the same depth or breadth. So I started really searching.

I would come home from church and read a dozen or more chapters, often in the the Old Testament, in a day. And I read throughout the week, too. The more I read, the more interesting women I found. Outside the books of Esther and Ruth, very few accounts were comparable in depth or length to the accounts of men located nearby. But I found so, so many women. They all had lives as full as mine, and they had not been completely forgotten. Their stories, fears, hopes, loved ones are seldom and sparsely recorded, but of the details we have, these women sound so interesting. And they had roles to play: saving kings, hiding spies, guiding prophets, being prophets, bargaining with God, rebuilding walls. We don’t even have all their names, but they made lasting marks during a culture and time when women’s contributions were little-noted.

I found these women in the Bible, so surely history holds many more. I began with the women dismissed as beautiful (Nefertiti, Helen of Troy, Sisi of Austria, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette) to examine what their lives might really have been like and what they may have valued. Then I looked for women who barely or never show up in lessons, like Hatshepsut, Jahanara, Empress Myeongseong, Elizabeth Marsh, Noor Inayat Khan, Ida B. Wells, Anne Bradstreet, Genghis Khan’s daughters, Keumalahayati, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Fatima Al-Fihri. As a preteen, my mother bought me literally every book in the Royal Diaries series (like the more popular My America series, both of which consisted of fictionalized diaries of women living throughout history). Today, I follow the #BygoneBadassBroads hashtag. And every day I fight to make my life more than a footnote, and where I can’t (which is most places), I try to elevate other women out of the footnotes.

Honestly, the vast majority of people, both women and men, are known only to their families and friends before they pass away. They are only remembered so long as those who knew them live. But it is incredibly more like that men’s work and contributions will be remembered and celebrated than women’s. It is infinitely more so for white people than…literally anyone else. That’s part of my concern in helping to elevate other women. There are some stages on which I just don’t need to stand because I’m white and we white folk are pretty crappy human beings by and large. I don’t want to add to that and I don’t want to take up space that would otherwise go to a person of color, particularly a woman of color. People of color have been central players in history and their stories should be remembered and honored in far more than footnotes. As do women’s stories. Thank you to all those who listen and search and elevate.

P.S. I’m always on the lookout for more interesting women in history and the Bible!

Perfect Timing

I don’t want to be dramatic, but the other night I was standing in my boyfriend’s kitchen when he asked me, “If you were to write a blog post about the past two months and send it back in time to yourself, would you have believed it?”

So, you know, he started it.

“But, Katie,” you begin, “What are you talking about? Who’s this boyfriend?”

Well, his name is Tyler. And even though I’ve known him for 9.5 years and counting, I don’t know that a detailed blog post from myself to myself could have prepared me for how much of my life has changed in such a relatively short amount of time. We’ve often said to each other, “Two weeks ago/A month ago/Two months ago, I could never have imagined I’d be here with you.” We say this while watching a movie or taking cinnamon rolls out of the oven, while holding hands at the park or spearing roast duck from the other one’s plate.

Here’s the short of it: I went to work, went home, co-lead a Bible study, hung out with my roommate, went on walks or to dinner with friends, wrote a bit, read a lot, and watched a lot of movies. Now I go to work, go home, co-lead a Bible study, set aside time to hang out with my roommate, pick one or two friends to see this week, write a little bit, read when I can, and almost everything I watch is with Tyler. Almost all my dinners are with Tyler, too. I see him almost every day, but we definitely text every day. I seem to spend more time at his apartment than my home, except for when I’m sleeping. And I’m incredibly happy. And as much time as I spend with him, I want to see him more.

I’m still working on the balance: not neglecting my roommate and friends; writing more, reading more, sleeping more (I don’t know what I’d do less). I’m more regularly having a quiet time, but the content is more Bible-reading and less praying than it used to be. The dust bunnies are forming an army and I haven’t seen the bottom of the laundry hamper since New Year’s.

So what if I’d known? Six months back, two years back, five years back, what if I’d gotten a letter from myself? As starry-eyed as I might be right now (although I don’t think I am, I know it’s probably true), I’m not pining at all the time we “wasted” not being together. That wasn’t wasted time. Not at all. I needed these years to become this person, right now, who’s finally ready to devote myself in a relationship. This person who can trust, who isn’t so racked with fear and insecurity that she can’t stand to be special to a man. He needed that time to grow, too. And if I’d gotten that letter, I wouldn’t have waited.

If I’d told myself who, even if I’d told myself the exact day we began and how it happened and everything since then, I would have been too nervous to look at him for ages and then too wound up and impatient to wait for the natural course. It would have been Sarah and Hagar and Abraham all over again (but without the slavery and stuff). I would have wanted to fast-track all my present happiness and shove it in the midst of all the life I was busy living four years ago, three years ago, eight months ago. And I would have been astounded, devastated when it didn’t work.

I’m not like David. If I’d been anointed the future monarch as a child or young teen, I would not have waited those 20-40 years God spent preparing Israel and David for the throne. At the very least, tempted by so many opportunities to kill Saul, I would have had some serious “Really, God?” prayer sessions. (Which is not to say that David didn’t; the psalms are full of his honest laments, complaints, confessions, and praises.) But I also would have thrown in my towel and quietly plotted to take the capitol, take the throne, take the kingdom. I’d been anointed, after all. King Saul was no longer good for the country, after all. Surely Saul wandering into this cave is a divine opportunity.

I would have been a terrible David, a terrible king, a terrible follower of God. No, I am far more like Sarah, prone to frustration and calculation and impatience and second guessing. What if God’s promise isn’t going to come the way we thought? Did we really hear all that right? Are we remembering it right? This is so hard; I don’t think God meant this. How can I nudge things along? God does help those who help themselves!

A week after a friend became a Christian, we were leaving the church building and chatting and generally being pokey about it all. From the circle of a conversation in the parking lot, I watched my friend walk up to the pair of glass doors at the entrance and deliberately pushed the right handle. Locked. Then he pulled it. Again, locked. He pulled the left handle. Locked. With a nod to himself, he stepped in front of the left door and pushed it open.

A few minutes later, he explained to us that he had visited the church two years before. He’d gotten there a little late. The doors were closed, the greeters had taken their seats, and no one else was coming in. He’d pushed and pulled the doors three different ways. Then, believing the church completely locked to him, turned and went away. He remembered it so well that he knew exactly what he’d done to each door, in what order, and he knew that all he’d missed was pushing on the left handle. If he’d exhausted that fourth and final option—if he’d noticed that he hadn’t—he would have come into that church two years earlier. Disheartened, we fumbled over our regrets and apologies, but he shook his head, smiling: “God’s timing is perfect.”

These past two months with Tyler, I have often thought of that friend, of his confession of faith on the sidewalk that afternoon: God’s timing is perfect.

Praise be to God!

The Land Basketball Forgot

I suppose no one made a big deal of March Madness in college because Georgia Southern didn’t have a standout men’s or women’s basketball team. It must have felt disloyal for students and faculty who carefully follow March Madness every year to tout their Duke-dominated brackets.

Or maybe I just didn’t notice. Spring was always so full: azaleas, breezy dresses, carpenter bees, voluntary walks, reopened pools, spring break, spring classes, and The Great Duckling Count. I usually went with friends to one or two basketball games a season, but that was long over by March.

No, the first time March Madness settled itself on my radar was the first year I started at the publishing company where I presently work. A coworker came around with finger guns, asking everyone if they wanted to compare brackets.

“Brackets?” I asked him.

The beat which followed told me I really ought to know this. But I’m still in my first 6 months! I thought, I don’t know this tradition yet.

Except it wasn’t a company tradition, it is a national one. I returned home one day a few weeks later to find my roommate, who I could hardly convince to watch a single college football game with me, in rapt study of a Tennessee women’s game.

Eventually, I figured it out. March Madness is a national phenomenon. And I’m from the land basketball forgot.

Not intentionally, of course. But we don’t have professional teams in SC. We live and breathe the Clemson-Carolina rivalry because that’s basically all we have. If we must choose loyalty in baseball, the Braves are the closest. If we must choose in the NFL, the closest team is either the Falcons or the Panthers. (I know, the Carolina Panthers. But they play in NC and all the revenue goes to NC. Plus, when I was growing up, the Panthers sucked.)

I suppose I should specify that other areas of SC may well feel kinship for a team based on proximity to a border shared with GA or NC, but not so on my island. The state sort of looks like a piece of pie, the crust partially broken off to the north, and I’m from the gooey tip. I would have to travel to and through the crust to reach the Panthers. Atlanta, too, is about 6 hours away. So we residents of this land basketball forgot lean back with our water sports and our Clemson or Carolina coozies, never knowing that basketball carries raucously on without us each spring.

But, the internet. Travel. ESPN! Yes, you’d think a late 80s child who grew up in the 90s wouldn’t have been so insulated to the ways of that pimpled orange ball thwacking polished wooden floors all over the country. We certainly learned to play basketball in gym class—my brother even played basketball in high school—but we didn’t learn that basketball matters any more in March than at any other time.

Imagine my shock a year after I discovered March Madness when Macon’s own Mercer University not only made it to the playoffs, but beat Duke. The city shut down for the afternoon games. We took long lunch breaks to watch, coworkers clustered around computers to watch together.

Imagine my further shock a few days ago when, asking a group of coworkers what I should know about March Madness this year, I was told that South Carolina’s men’s team is doing really well. And it’s not a Mercer-esque underdog shot, either. Still, I was assured they wouldn’t beat Duke.

Except they did.

So maybe the land basketball forgot is just the county where I grew up. Or maybe it’s just the little spot where I’m standing.

Update: South Carolina is now in the final four! And that’s a big deal, apparently! A friend texted when they won to (a) inform me, and (b) ask if I’d caught the March Madness yet. But at this point, I think my lack of engagement is a winning strategy.

Complaining to Eve

I recently spoke to a woman who asked me if, when I went through a mild bout of depression last fall, I ever felt angry at God. I considered the question seriously, analyzing that time in my memory, what I wrote, how I prayer, how I spoke, and how I viewed God then versus now. I remembered that sense I often get of leaning against a sturdy tower with arms. [God is the tower, and sometimes I feel the arms reach around me in comfort. But the tower will never turn me away. (John 6:37; Psalm 32:7)] I didn’t think of that image much which I was depressed, but my fundamental understanding of God still matches it.

“No,” I told her. “I don’t think I was.”

We talked about ways we do place blame, and she mentioned that several people she knows want to have it out with Eve in heaven, and that she expects there will be a line.

Now, I personally hope that the heaven-bound will have let go of their complaints, no longer seeking restitution for the wrongs committed against them. However, I’ve been imagining that scene a lot.

Eve and Adam are standing beneath trees in the “New Eden” neighborhood of heaven, a line of people stretching out past the horizon, all waiting to air their complaints with the first people about their sufferings on Earth. By far, the longer line is Eve’s. People want to vent at her, blame her, and Eve takes it with gentle patience. Eve, who had no understanding of the depth and breadth of the consequences of her sin, explains again and again, apologizes again and again. We, at least, know what sin and death are. We rarely accurately predict the consequences of our own sins, but we have a much better idea than Eve did. And Eve didn’t act alone. Adam was with her, in charge of communicating God’s single rule to his wife, and is not recorded as saying anything to her as she sinned. And, when she handed him some of the fruit, he sinned it, too. And I’ll bet most people in his line just want to shake his hand.

One could argue that no sinner ever suffered as much as Eve. First, she experienced perfection without care or worry, then was driven from her home to a life marked (though not dominated by) pain, danger, and regret. Furthermore, she is the one blamed for everything from murders to lust to idolatry to menstrual cramps to natural disasters to cancer. And yes, she did introduce sin to the world, but her husband is not innocent.

If there is a literal Eve and a literal Adam who I might could visit and speak with in heaven, I would join the line. But once I arrived at the front, I think I would just hug her. And if Adam’s line wasn’t too long, I’d get into it for the sake of fairness. Hopefully I won’t be tempted to tell him off—but if people are telling Eve off then Adam should get his fair share, too. But I hope I’d just hug him. He suffered, too. They lost their relationship with God, their home, their innocence, their child Able, and ultimately their lives. And they are my family. In so many ways, even if the first humans look more like Lucy than me, I am just like them. I am a sinner. I do the wrong things. Knowingly, intentionally, I hurt others, hurt myself, try to hurt God. And, like the first humans, I will one day die.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which is the 40-day period leading to Easter. During Lent, we consider Jesus’ journey to the the cross, the instrument of his torture and death even though he had literally never done a single thing wrong. (Mary, his mother, would likely have disagreed. Especially that time Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem and didn’t tell anyone.) We also consider our own mortality and sinfulness. The ashes themselves symbolize both death and repentance.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Dust and ash (sin and death) are the final equalizers. The only difference that will remain is what we did with our sin. Did we look at the wrongs of our lives—the systematic ignoring of our Creator, the pretending we are in control, our imagined versions of fairness—and ask God for forgiveness? Did we ask for changed hearts that beat a new rhythm that brings peace and healing to all the world? Did we sit down and say, “I don’t know it all and I’m not in control and I’m okay with God being in control instead”?

Remember: we are dust. And to dust we will return.