By Paula Stone Williams
Our family didn’t come together until the days after Christmas, which is pretty typical for a ministry family. Cathy and I were alone for a relaxing Christmas Day. During the afternoon I began reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior, and finished it a little after midnight.
Glennon wrote about having been taught the word for woman in Genesis was a word meaning “helper.” She was surprised to learn the word actually meant strong and benevolent. It profoundly shifted her perspective. The most striking paragraph in the book appears shortly thereafter:
While those around them fall away, the women hold the sick and nurse the weak, put food on the table, carry their families’ sadness and anger and love and hope. They keep showing up for their lives and their people with the odds stacked against them and the weight of the world on their shoulders. They never stop singing songs of truth, love, and redemption in the face of hopelessness. They are inexhaustible, ferocious, relentless co-creators with God, and they make beautiful worlds out of nothing.”
The passage made me think of several of my friends and family, though not of my self. There are aspects of womanhood not assignable to me. I have not spent decades as a female, taking in all of the subtle and not so subtle signals about acceptable behavior. I have not given birth, nor have I been the primary caretaker of children. However, now that more of my time is spent with mothers, I am beginning to understand the overwhelming truth of her paragraph.
As I have said many times, there is no way an educated white American male can know how much the culture is tilted in his favor. He cannot know because it is all he has known. I got a job as a radio station disc jockey at 16. I thought everyone had those kinds of opportunities. It did not occur to me that none of the girls in my school were offered similar jobs. I was offered a university scholarship in broadcasting. No female classmates were offered a broadcasting scholarship. I had done precious little to earn my privilege other than having been born a white male, into a family of relative privilege.
Recently I watched the movie Hidden Figures, about three brilliant African-American women who worked for NASA in the 1960s. The three were critical to the success of America’s earliest manned space flights. In this powerful film you catch a tiny glimpse of how difficult life was for women in the 1960s, especially women of color. I thought about how much things have changed, but lamented how much they remain the same.
After we watched the movie, my daughter-in-law, who is Indian, talked about how often she must fight for her rights as a woman of color. Until a few years ago I would have had no frame of reference to understand her struggle. Even today I can only understand in small measure what she has experienced on a daily basis. The same is true of Jael, the daughter Cathy and I adopted from India when she was two months of age. I am only beginning to understand how difficult her life was in the very white world we inhabited.
I cried when the protagonist in the movie is helped by a white man of power. If it had not been for the kindness of one straight white male, Mark Tidd, I question if I ever would have preached again. I understand the difference an ally can make, especially when that ally comes from the world of the empowered.
Limited as it is, I am grateful for my newfound understanding. I am grateful I can now see a little bit of what women have gone through for millennia. I can better appreciate the description of mothers provided by Glennon Doyle Melton.
As someone no longer in a position of cultural power, I do not know how much I can do to elevate the status and influence of women in our culture, but I will try. These are perilous times for women and minorities. We were so close to placing a mother in the most powerful position on earth – so close. But as that goal fades from our immediate view, we must work as never before to challenge the grip of misogyny that still holds America, and replace it with the kind of understanding so beautifully worded in the pages of Love Warrior.
For 35 years I worked with the Orchard Group, a church planting ministry in New York. For most of that time I was Chairman and CEO. For 12 years I served as a weekly columnist and Editor-At-Large for Christian Standard, a leadership magazine. I was also a teaching pastor for two megachurches. Those responsibilities ended when I transitioned to live as Paula.
I currently serve as a pastoral counselor, church and non-profit consultant, writer and speaker.
I am a runner, hiker, and avid mountain biker. The first two are relatively safe. The third, not so much. Still, I pedal. Cathy and I have been together for 42 years. She is a retired public school teacher and a practicing psychotherapist. We have three children and five grandchildren.
You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.