There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time, but unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person. - May 2, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort & Joy (Sarah Ban Breathmach)
There are many biblical charges that I enjoy that are related to me being a woman, well because I think that I am good at those things. Being hospitable, sharing my faith, having the opportunity to be a mom...

When a sister in the church, about to be married for the second time, shared this sermon (Part One & Part Two) by John Macarthur about wives, it spread like wildfire - well, sort of. It got shared to a handful of us and then, it's growing discussion was stunted because of how convicting it is. If you are able to listen to the entire two part series without your heart quickening or some mumbling under your breath then you are in a far better place than I was when I heard it. John had me talking to him, myself and to other wives. 

Though, that is the real issue, right? Do we believe the words that the scriptures say about being wives? Do we believe that God will allow us to live up under the patterns and charges that we don't really like?

We got together for a "listening party" (see!) to discuss what everyone had already listened to. The links for the sermons were sent out via email a few weeks ago, each woman was encouraged to listen to both parts on her own and then bring a dish to pass for dinner, dessert and drinks. 

Even though we'd already listened to and attempted to digest it on our own, we paused at different spots throughout the first section and shared our thoughts, concerns and need for support in the context of the sermon. There were questions, challenges to ourselves and to one another and it was good. We all admitted to having a long way to go, but I certainly have plenty of struggles to have made this a listening party for one.

Some of my biggest roadblocks in being the kind of wife that God calls me to be is that I focus too much on what my husband is and is not doing. This is my second marriage and though not rosy or perfect by any means, I am sure that I am to be learning a lot from God about keeping my heart and head turned to Him (God), not him (my husband). I mean, my husband is just another sinner, just like me and I get lost and depressed and just plain disappointed when I focus too much of my time and energy on him - even when he's giving his best, it's not what I should be wholly reliant upon. 

Another roadblock is that I feel cursed by Eve in how "driven" I feel to lead, change the world and make a difference. One sister shared that this is how she feels too but she is concerned about her motivation for doing so many of the things that she likes to do. It goes back to our desire to be in control and the fear and lack of trust that comes from that. Since I don't feel valued like I'd like in the closest relationship that I should have on earth (darn romantic comedies) I find myself constantly battling this desire within to do it ALL and do it well and so that you, and you and you and you all the way over there can see little ole me having her act together. Really, when broken down, I feel the need to be in control because I care too much about what "you" think of me and not enough of what He thinks of me.

And this last roadblock; I tend to expect that people will hurt me, because we all will hurt others and be hurt by those that are close to us, but I have realized within myself that I think this is what I deserve. That the hurt is intentional because I must be punished, that I have sinned so much and made too many mistakes to be viewed as anything less than needing to be hurt and put in my "place" (still fleshing that out). That I have done too many things that are unforgivable or am just what some have to settle with and therefore, the pain that comes couldn't be accidental but necessary and the only way for me to be learn and grow...through suffering. It is very, VERY difficult for me to hear good things about myself (even from God Himself) and believe kind things or receive gifts from other people and just accept and enjoy it. 

I am getting help on this last challenge, shifting my thinking back to what God says about being a daughter of His, His perfect love for me and fighting to keep my focus outward and on others so that I don't implode from all of the things I don't understand and are simply too much for me. I have wonderful friends; a tight circle of two or three in the city and six around the country, that I can text, call, email and visit in order to help me see what God wants me to see.

The goal at this point is for me to be still. 

"He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." -Psalm 46:10 

My mom has told me to be still. My boss has told me to go back to yoga and practice "being still in thought", my friends have prayed with me in the quiet hours of the morning, God has called me to plan a time away with just Him in order to practice sitting and being still and quiet and listening to and hearing Him. Having recently finished the "Marriage Sabbatical" (click over to the BOOKWORM page for this post), I see this opportunity as necessary for all women to practice putting Him first so that we can do the hard work of being a godly wife and doing so with a heart of joy and disposition of peace. 

God's pattern for wives is not for the faint of heart. Battling our insecurities, what society and the media tells us about our physical selves and how much significance is placed on it, as well as our own pasts and convoluted ideas about how we think things ought to be (come on ladies, let go) it can be incredibly challenging to live as we are called to by God. However, if you are married and know that God is your everything, then you have been called.

Surround yourself with two or three other women to help you on this road. Before leaving the listening party on Friday night, each woman picked the name of someone that they would actively challenge and encourage in the area(s) that had been shared with the group. We are to reach out and encourage the one you picked and be open with the one that picked you. God will bless our efforts and prayerfully, God will allow us to "...submit (y)ourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." - 1 Peter 3: 1 & 2

So, I wrote this entire post about realness and freedom and then went and had one conversation with one really real sister in Christ and recognized my problem. (Well, one of my problems - there are more than one, many more than one.) I have not been completely real and therefore I am not "free".

I have had some time off from work this past week and it has been quiet. Really quiet. Me, alone with my thoughts, my prayers and my realness. Not always pretty or comfortable, I was driving between errands with the radio off (something I like to do a lot) and realized that I had all of this  pressure on my chest (anxiety?) because I did not/do not feel that I am really free.

A very recent and big decision in our family - mainly my decision - provided me with all of this extra "free" time to think and pray. I was anticipating plenty of time to evaluate and re-prioritize things but with that time to process, pray, listen and consider, why in the world was I still feeling so much pain in my heart.

My friend, bless her heart, came to stay the night and our conversation from the night before carried over into a deep, real conversation the next morning where I came to the clear realization of why I am trapped. I am feeling trapped because I am not speaking the truth in love. 

I thought that I was comfortable doing this but lately have realized how much more of a peacekeeper I am than I've wanted to be. I've been less honest and less real and less loving with people because of my fear that they will abandon the relationship when they hear what I have to say. 

The scriptures call us to speak the truth in love and to be peacemakers not not peacekeepers. In an effort to do the right thing and keep my friendships and relationships in tact, I've muted myself on some pretty important biblical issues and fed a growing pool of pride in my heart by stuffing 'the truth in love' and in attempting to keep the peace, to keep people happy and essentially to be liked. 

Dang. Really? Man, shoo...

I thought that I had conquered this after having been widowed in 2005. I had to stand up to and up against many opinions and make some unpopular decisions and was or at least felt that I was very unpopular with many. I did what I had to do and moved forward but have now come to see that I have not really outgrown this weakness in my character and faith which means I have much, much work to do.

The first step? I will be in prayer. On my knees this morning, I confessed this sin to God and asked Him to forgive me of my prideful heart and to help me have the courage to seize the opportunities that He has placed in my life to better and more righteously practice humility, to open my mouth and heart in a loving way and act according to His will.

"Perfect love drives out fear" though right? Today, I am fearful and insecure.  Insecure about challenging just about anything and as a result, being alone and then lonely. As I push and challenge myself and other women to be real and to be followers that are obedient to the Word of God, I know that I will grow in my trust of God and His perfect plans for me.

Pray for me as I take the steps toward living free in Christ.
wom•an (ˈwʊm ən) 

n., pl. wom•en (ˈwɪm ɪn) 
adj. n.1. an adult female person, as distinguished from a girl or a man.
2. a wife.
3. a female lover or sweetheart.
4. a female servant or attendant.
5. women collectively; womankind.
6. the nature, characteristics, or feelings often attributed to women; womanliness.
adj.7. female: a woman plumber.

[before 900; Middle English womman, wimman, Old English wīfman=wīf female + man human being; see wifeman]

Sure, this is the definition from the dictionary as to what women are. Who we are. What we are about. When I got the opportunity to blog about 'real women' I was sure that I had an idea of what I would say and then realized I had too much to say and then doubted whether I ought to be saying anything at all. I think that I am real and know that I am a woman so I decided to try and write about real women.

Quickly, I determined that I would need to divide my clarification of real women into two categories. The way the world defines us and the way that the Word defines.

Unsure of the strength of my 'real woman radar', I googled images of "Real Women" and after two pages, I stopped looking. It was discouraging because I didn't see myself or my friends there. Real women apparently drink beer (not light beer, don't get it twisted), they must show their pride by standing boldly in their underwear, certainly not claiming any shame in their half naked game. I tried to have some more gumption about seeing what was out there, so I  went back and took another gander and found out that we are relegated to such simple seeming characteristics. Real women work. Real women have curves. Real women do math. Real women watch/love football or hockey (tough, aggressive sports). Real women drink liquor and/or beer - there isn't one t-shirt, so you'd have to buy two. Real women lift weights and run. Real women scrap (book, I think). Real women drive stick shifts.

Some of these are true of me - well hardly any curves, though I'd like to claim them,  running is out and math only when I need to make sure that there is money to spend, okay, okay, most of these do not describe me. I'm not suffering from a full on identity crisis, but does that mean that I not a real woman? I mean, if these are the messages and images that I am to look to clarify my realness, then I do not qualify. And then I'm out of the real woman's club. Even though  this list is not exclusive and does no justice for the complexities of womanhood, I temporarily found myself considering justifying why I don't meet so many of these descriptions or explaining myself and then decided to search  the internet a little more.

These 10 characteristics of real women caught my attention and then I had to check and of course see how a real black woman is described. I kept thinking that I really must be from another planet. These are characteristics of a good person and really not horrible things but they are missing an element of what being a REAL woman is to me. Here is even a list of 50 things real women don't do. Cheeky, but there are many that I agree with.  (#50 is my favorite!)

Realness takes a lot of courage. We must be real. Really real. And it takes strength and honesty to be our real selves without allowing all of the world and our pasts and our inner selves to take us over and pull us away.

Here, read about this woman as described to a young son considering his choice for a wife (advice from his mother).

"A good woman is hard to find,
    and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband trusts her without reserve,
    and never has reason to regret it.
Never spiteful, she treats him generously
    all her life long.
She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,
    and enjoys knitting and sewing.
She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places
    and brings back exotic surprises.
She’s up before dawn, preparing breakfast
    for her family and organizing her day.
She looks over a field and buys it,
    then, with money she’s put aside, plants a garden.
First thing in the morning, she dresses for work,
    rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started.
She senses the worth of her work,
    is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.
She’s skilled in the crafts of home and hearth,
    diligent in homemaking.
She’s quick to assist anyone in need,
    reaches out to help the poor.
She doesn’t worry about her family when it snows;
    their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear.
She makes her own clothing,
    and dresses in colorful linens and silks.
Her husband is greatly respected
    when he deliberates with the city fathers.
She designs gowns and sells them,
    brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops.
Her clothes are well-made and elegant,
    and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.
When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say,
    and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,
    and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her;
    her husband joins in with words of praise:
“Many women have done wonderful things,
    but you’ve outclassed them all!”
Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades.
    The woman to be admired and praised
    is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.
Give her everything she deserves!
    Festoon her life with praises!"
-Proverbs 31: 10 - 31, The Message

Read it again if you need to. Though it does not say so explicitly, it is my belief that this type of woman would struggle with being real but finds success in it by having relationships, knowing the needs of others and living in her priorities with a godly motivation even when things did not go as she planned. You doubt? I believe she is a great model of realness because she had a husband, a child, employees/a business and was known about the town. She was around people and people don't always do as you plan or hope - maybe that's just me, but when those altercations to her plans arose, I'll bet she tackled them with faith and being her real self before God and others to bring about an example all women should be honored (and challenged) to imitate.

Busy, hardworking, balanced, focused, charming, respected and loving among other things. She is not worried about what she looks like to anyone but her God, her husband and her family. She is modestly dressed, not idle and is willing to fight to keep her eyes on the prize. 

I try to image the challenges to her staying focused on this lifestyle, her choices and then the society/world of the times and how it tried to pull her away from being this type of woman. I mean, even though we are in different times, I believe the struggles are similar at their core. Competition between women for status, men, acceptance. Body images, homes, how many servants and are the right servants, money, reputation...the things that pull us so far away from our belief and what God sees in us. Not what we think, like, are good at or even what we do, but who we are to be.

I think she is a formidable example, one that I may be able to emulate in pieces and parts, but want to imitate wholly. She is willing, faithful and eager to serve God. The Proverbs 31 woman has a heart to please those she loves and does not spend much time getting caught up in the latest trends, city gossip or "shoulds" that people attempt to place on her. Am I a real woman

The confusion comes when I allow my expectations, the trends in magazines and on commercials, what I see other women wearing/having or honestly, my insecurities. I confuse me. Things that I allow to confuse me? Coach. Gap. Dining out. TV.Books/Movies with happy, cheeky misunderstandings that always get resolved in the end, with everyone being happy. Spas. Girls Weekends. Trips. Dreams. Goals. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with these things but they do not make me a real woman. 

Look. I enjoy reading, a glass of red wine (Juan Gil, Spanish red is my newest favorite), spending time in small groups or one on one, blogging, singing, being silly sometimes, seeing the fruits of my hard work and learning new things. I like being able to challenge the status quo, asking difficult questions of myself and of other women as we study the Bible with them. I appreciate quiet and organized and somewhat predictable. I am grateful for times when I see me in my kids and it is good, godly. I think that I want what most women want from my husband and believe those desires and wishes to be reasonable and way inside of outlandish - don't know if I could've written that five years ago. Writing these things, they are real for me and a part of me. What makes me real though?

Real women are crazed. Not crazy. Crazed. Told we can or should try to have it all. I've watched the movie "I Don't Know How She Does It" many times trying to find myself in it or even validate myself in thinking that this is the best standard to measure myself up to. Real women make mistakes from the things that they say and the clothes that they wear to how they manage money or who they date or share their opinions with. Real women are in real relationships with real men with real problems. Real women also talk about their real lives. Real women cry and get hurt and cause hurt and get lost and every woman has a heart.  Real women wonder if they are noticed. Want to feel special. Want to be recognized in one way or another. Real women want to know that when you look at them, you see them and love them anyway. Real women are complex and capable. When I read all of that (and you know I haven't even covered half of it) I can see why we scare men. 

There is comfort for real women. God sees us in our real skin. We do not need to drink beer or do math or drive stick shift or dress a certain way or work a certain job to be considered a woman of worth. He values us, He loves us and because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we are His.

The Bible talks about life being real and challenging. Look at 1 Peter 1:3-10, emphasis on verse 6, tough times are a coming and they will be up close and in your face and really real. Be willing to talk about it. Not with every single person that wants to be in the know and not every single detail of every single instance - use discretion ladies, but be real. Real with God, He already knows what is going on and wants you to come to Him with it. He wants you to surrender it to Him in prayer and live for Him. When we buy and believe all of the worldly fodder around us it drowns out His voice and Satan triumphs in knocking us off course. Encouraging us to pick up and hold onto things that are not real or lasting in exchange for a relationship with our Father. 

Listen to and read the lyrics to this song by Mandisa, Grammy nominated artist. What if we were really real? 
We must be real, it is how we will be free.

So, I've been wrestling with starting an entirely new blog, considering eliminating my quest for blackness and then thought, why not 'add to' rather than 'take away'. There are so many things that affect how I view my blackness and I kept coming back to my being a woman and felt compelled to share my thoughts on the topic.

Ultimately, I'm fascinated with the role of woman as it is portrayed in the media and society today and its stark contrast in the Bible. The Bible has so much to say about womanhood and I have to admit that I sometimes feel that my head and heart are more clearly directed by the things of this world rather than the things of the Father. I am hoping that the two topics (blackness and womanhood) do not come into conflict with one another and don't think they will, but I do want to explore this more.

I finally added the page with the inspiration of a girlfriend. She came over to relax my hair and I took the time to look at a couple of magazines that had been piling up. I started flipping through the magazines and we were inundated with words like "sexy", photos of stars apparently showing their independence by removing their tank top and almost baring their chest and articles about women being vulnerable but refusing to really talk about what exactly went wrong.

We sucked our teeth and shook our heads and just couldn't leave the topic alone. A barrage of images of perfect women put before us in a woman's magazine. Where are the real photos? The pictures of women that look like us, sitting around a kitchen table chomping on pork rines, sipping red wine with ones hair up in a towel waiting for it to dry. Tired, wrinkled, laughing while in the midst of some great challenges. Listening to their boys drink root beer in a contest until one of them vomits - to which they then give the vomiter a medal to encourage his participation and failure. Talking about real things, messy things, unclear things while still attempting to dream big things with and for God. Where is that magazine? 

Of course, this friend is one who thinks we can pull off a magazine - she's an go getter like that - but I decided that we would begin with posts first. Find the audience of women who want to look through magazines about real women, women with missing hair or grey hairs that won't stay down, with messy rooms in their house and unbalanced schedules and areas of their lives that are just baffling no matter how hard they try. Women who are not feeling well but still (without a nanny or entourage) still gets the kids and their friends  to the practice and ensure their homework is complete and at least next to their bookbag. Women who are friends with other women who are in the battle with experiences that are similar or extremely different and who talk about more than make-up, hair, outfits & nails - though they take the time to comment - and more than husbands and more than life. 

Women who will challenge what they see and think using the Word of God and our perfect Father's standards and not our own or the ones that society tells us that we should have. Women who can see the lies that Satan tries to convince us to make truths and talk openly with one another about them. Women who though life repeatedly tries to beat them down with health issues, financial stresses, parenting or family concerns, work struggles and just plain drama, keep on fighting to be pleasing to God and to honor Him in this world while not being a product of it.

I am not an expert at this. In fact, if this were a certification, I would say I'm only enrolled in the class that is the pre-class before the introductory class.

Maybe its turning 40, maybe its the challenges in my personal life right now, maybe its that I've taken more time to reflect on what the Word says about women and wives in particular that I'm seeing the discrepancies between me and the woman that God calls me to be. I won't be ridiculously hard on myself, I have given up some things to detach me a bit more from the world.  Things that I really did enjoy - real (to me) sacrifices. No more purchasing People magazines, no more 'Real Housewives" of any city, romantic comedies are few and far between and having the television on just to have it on really are no longer things that drive my spare time. I am even abstaining from Facebook until there is a huge change in my life (I miss Facebook).  I am seriously seeking my womanhood. The womanhood God calls me to.

There will of course be some overlap between the two themes of this blog but the thing I hope is most recognized throughout is my authentic self; black, woman and all...