By Jill Riley
I was a reader; a bookworm, a bit of a loner, a voracious story sponge. Much of my childhood was spent nestled in the eaved windows of our old city library which was housed in a stately old mansion. The carpet was worn, the windows were paned and leaded. A deep wood polished staircase paved the way to the upstairs teen/children’s section. The children’s department was not the big industrial fluorescent lit room of my children’s library. It was a series of small rooms jammed packed with books, window seats and comfort. I sat for hours in those little rooms that smelled of old books and Elmer’s glue. I sat for hours soaking in great stories of fictional and historical women.
These authors and characters molded my world. Louisa May Alcott told me stories of women of grace who despite traditional roles and places in society, managed to have spirit and grace upon grace for the world around them. Laura Ingalls Wilder taught me that women could be spunky survivors even in the face of death, loss and poverty. Nancy Drew showed me bravery. Jonathan Gruell showed me a magical, creative world through the color, life and innocence of the little doll, Raggedy Anne. Amelia Bedelia illustrated that even mistakes can turn a bad day good. The red braids of Pippi Longstocking beckoned me to follow her independent adventurous steps. I went down the rabbit hole with Alice and wandered the Island of the Blue Dolphins with the fervor of a cast-away trying to survive.
Perhaps it is my love of story that allowed me to see some of the women of the Bible as mentors, heroes and tangible examples of faith. Hannah was a mystery to me as to how she could give up the very thing she had longed for. Leah calls to me as I wonder what it feels like to not be first place. Miriam inspires me to lead and serve simultaneously. Hagar and Tamar break my heart. Bathsheba intrigues me and helps me see my own vulnerabilities Gomer just pisses me off. I see in these women both their faithfulness and faithlessness. And while I no longer have literal window seat to sit in, I sit with my Bible, a window in its own right, wondering at the strength, character, weakness and vulnerabilities of each of my mentors.
I was 14 I knew God was calling me to a pastoral vocation but I had never seen a woman pastor. It was men who prayed with me in high school and encouraged me to pursue my call. In college the male professors were the ones who opened the doors for me to serve and begin to lead the church. Thank God for them, but where were the women? Even now I find no female mentors that are specific to my role as female church planter.
When I was in the 6th grade my mother bought blue jeans that I wanted so badly. Because I was so slim she had to take in the sides. Her quick seam-stressing made an unsightly bulge in the front of my pants, leading my classmates to point it out and say I looked like a boy. I never wore them again. The irony is that for years I wanted to be a boy so I could do what God had called me to do, with fewer obstacles and less opposition than I had as a female.
But now, through imaginary, literary and biblical mentors, and by the grace of God I am finally comfortable in my own genes. I did not found great female heroes to follow until my adult life but God provided me with others. However I sure as hell would like to be that for the next generation.