To Women Who Lead

This is to the women who lead. This is you, collectively, who faithfully followed in the Father’s leading to serve. This is to the women who wonder if it’s all worth it, if this struggle is really making a difference…

We met in the third grade. It was my first time going to “real school,” and with it all of the sights, sounds, and experiences of a new place. There were kids I didn’t know, systems I didn’t understand, and rules I hadn’t learned. It was exciting on some level, sure.

But more than anything I was scared. I’d always been a shy, quiet one. I was your typical unassuming wallflower that to tried to hide in the back row, hoping that if no one noticed me it would all be over soon.

And it would have been easy for you to just let me by. I could handle the academics, and if you had just seen me as one more face in the crowd of kids you’d certainly have fulfilled your duty as a teacher.

But you weren’t going to settle for that. Instead, you saw beneath my meek exterior. You saw a small boy that wanted to be included, that wanted to make friends, that wanted to enjoy the community of the classroom but just didn’t know how to start. And so you gently prodded and pushed, always looking out for me to make sure I was a part of everything.

You led me to see the power of compassion. And I was changed.

Many years later, we met again. I had grown up, standing on the edge of adolescence and manhood. Within just a few months I would be heading off to college and embarking on the rest of my life.

I was a rough mix of confident and cowardly in that stage, showing an outward bravado to hide my deeper insecurities. I knew that my life would change, and soon, but knew little about where it all would go. In that time of transition, I was often baffled about who I was supposed to be, confused about how to take these sprouts of talent and make a life out of it.

But where I saw confusion, you saw potential. You found one thing that I was good at and taught me how hard work could take that seed and grow it into impact. You had that special gift of believing in me before I believed in myself.

You led me to see the power of encouragement. And I was changed.

We met again on the other side of the world. I was in a new job in a new place. I also had new responsibilities that – let’s be honest – I wasn’t totally ready for. And you were my boss.

You were going to call me that afternoon to talk about the situation. I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I had screwed up, and my negligence in handling something very simple was going to be costly – to a team, to a school, to an organization.

I was dreading that call because I thought I knew what was coming. I was expecting to be chewed out, to be reprimanded, to have my face rubbed into my fault in the hopes that I would see my error and never do it again.

Instead, you listened. And you heard. You didn’t address my stupidity, but forgave and offered me another chance. You knew that I’d already beaten myself up enough to know that I didn’t need any more judgment, and in your wisdom used it as a teachable moment to build me into a better man.

You led me to see the power of grace. And I was changed.

And if I could see you today, the women who’ve led me, I would tell you to keep on. Keep on doing what you can do. Keep on leading how you can lead.

I can’t know how hard it is to feel constrained and restrained by the same tired, old ideas. I can’t imagine how discouraging it is to see your giftings, your passions, and your ambitions stifled in the name of tradition. I can’t begin to understand what’s it like to feel trapped because of the gender God gave you.

But what I do know is that we need you. We need who you are. We need what you can uniquely bring. We need you to endure, persevere, and lead in the ways that only you can.

Because you change us. Because whether or not we remember it or recognize it, we each have been shaped and molded by women who lead, who have the courage to take hold of the mantles before them.

So please, for the sake of all good things, keep leading.

17 Comments

  1. Johnna February 17, 2016

    Thanks for this! It brings up so many emotions. My husband and I have similar training, but I have an “official” credential that he doesn’t have. So, technically, there are many times people could choose to use a title when addressing me, but not as much with him. However…. It rarely, if ever, happens that way. People give him titles and call me by my first name. People ask him often to do things I was trained (technically “more” trained) for too. I feel invisible at times. Well meaning people ask me if I’m leading youth even though I work with adults. I was a youth minister for 10 years so this is not an insult! But the insult is in the assumption that because I am a woman, I MUST be working with youth and children. The thought that I might be teaching seminars, preaching to and leading adults never crosses their minds. I often just push down all the complex emotions that go with leading and not being recognized in the same ways as men… I love what I do and on my good days, am not doing it for status or recognition. I certainly didn’t get a degree or go through official processes for people to give me a title. It’s just painful to experience the inequalities, the assumptions, the well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) comments of people who perhaps have never met a woman with my calling/gifts/passions. Thank you for the male voices this week. We need you, too! Oh, Lord, heal our (both women and men) pain and give us a fuller taste of your kingdom and ways.

    1. Aaron Wheeler February 17, 2016

      Johnna, that sounds incredibly frustrating. It would be easy to say that we just need to suck it up and serve, but we’re not robots. What hurts, hurts.

      What you’ve described reminds me of an article I read just this morning, where a person of color said that she rarely faces the blatant, ugly racism that we most often fear. Instead, she daily endures unintended slights and off-hand comments that wear her down like a slowly dripping faucet that eventually floods the floor. I hope for better things. For all of us.

      May  you experience a fuller Kingdom. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Cecily February 24, 2016

        We each have things that might seek to elevate us above others–gender, race, wealth, education, etc.–and, at the same time, we can find ourselves at the bottom rung of the ladder, getting stepped on at the least, or crushed beyond recognition.  How I want to see things as Jesus did and live in His humility–making myself nothing and finding my place to serve.  Admittedly, I’m not there yet.

  2. Elizabeth February 17, 2016

    Fantastic! I could go on and on about equality and women in leadership, but I won’t, I’ll just stick with “fantastic.”

  3. Kathy Vaughan February 18, 2016

    I am not sure exactly why this post brought me to tears, but it did.  Probably partly because it helped me recognize that through God’s overflowing grace I have sometimes brought encouragement, blessing, and grace to someone’s life, and partly because I know that sometimes I have not. Something for me to talk with my Father about, for sure.  But I just wanted to say Thanks, Aaron.

    And Go, Broncos!

  4. Joanna May February 18, 2016

    Wow! Thank you so much Aaron. There is a great book out there called ‘The Black Swan Effect: A Response to Gender Hierarchy in the Church’ by Felicity Dale. If this post touched you, I highly recommend reading this book.

    1. Aaron Wheeler February 18, 2016

      Thanks for the recommendation, Joanna. I’ll have to check that out.

  5. Kimberly Todd February 18, 2016

    Thank you, Aaron. This message is so important, and I get tired and self-conscious holding it up as a better way. It starts to feel heavy and self-serving. It’s bolstering to hear it from you, knowing that you share the belief that it’s not just for women’s sakes, but for us all. See you soon. =)

    1. Aaron Wheeler February 19, 2016

      It is for us all. I think that’s the message that gets lost all too often.

      And yes, look forward to having all of you here.

  6. Tim Austin February 18, 2016

    Aaron, you’ve expressed something us men need to verbalized more often- the incredible worth of the women in our homes and on our teams. Couldn’t agree with you more Aaron! Johnna, my wife is educated and a credential holder, and has experienced many of those same frustrations. Thanks for highlighting something that is very real in many of our circles. Be strengthened and encouraged!

    1. Aaron Wheeler February 19, 2016

      Thanks, Tim. Look forward to reading your work today.

  7. Ellie February 19, 2016

    Thanks for this Aaron, and the comments. Johnna I hear you… It’s so hard sometimes to know what is pride/genuine justified frustration when we meet with obstacles to using our gifts.

    1. Aaron Wheeler February 19, 2016

      Thank you, Ellie.

      I wonder if we can ever really know the difference. Our work matters. And so “pride” is often the result of caring about how we are able to use the gifts God has blessed us to use.

  8. Cecily February 24, 2016

    Thanks, Aaron!  I already made a comment above, but I wanted to say thanks for the reminder that the little, seemingly invisible life that I live can have a great impact in the lives of other little, seemingly invisible people.  I was reading the Sermon on the Mount today, and Jesus spoke a lot about doing things in secret because the Father wants the delight of rewarding us.

  9. Johnna February 24, 2016

    Thanks everyone! The Black Swan Effect sounds really good.

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