Preaching In Stilettos

This is dedicated to all the women doing God’s work, whether you’re doing it in stilettos, flats, mules, boots, wedges, slippers, or even barefoot…

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m focusing my March blog post, videos, and devotions on women doing God’s work. Now, I define God’s work as anything we contribute to the world that leads to love, hope, and healing. Therefore, God’s work extends beyond religious lines or traditional ways of thinking about sacred activities. I’m also focusing on elevating the unique and inspiring ways in which women bring our authentic selves to what we do, embracing our varied expressions of femininity and releasing feminine power and energy beyond ourselves to uplift others. Within my own journey, there are several stories and experiences of obstacles triumphs, heartbreak and healing that played an incredible part in owning my full, feminine power.

One Sunday after church, I remember walking down the small gravel hill toward my mother’s car. That day, I had been a junior usher, so I donned a white blouse, a fitted, ankle-length black pencil skirt, and a pair of black heels. Per usual, I had to show up to God’s house in my “Sunday’s best:” a full face of makeup, my shoulder-length hair straightened at the root and curled at the ends. However, while I knew how to dress up on the outside, I was still very much a broken teenage girl on the inside.  Walking down that hill with my eyes on the ground, a woman pulled up next to me in her car. She stopped, rolled down her window, looked at me with a smile, and said, “Girl, you have got IT!” A bit stupefied, I responded, “Got what?” She chuckled with a sly grin and replied, “One day, you’ll know.” With that, she rolled up her window and drove off into the proverbial sunset. I had to be about 15 or 16 then. And although I’m 40 years old now, that experience and those words have stuck with me.

Girl, you have got IT!

Over the years, I regularly reflected on that day and found myself still asking, “Got what?” You see, while I have often looked up to strong, beautiful (inside and out), and wise women, I had a very hard time seeing those qualities in myself.  I was taught early how to display a certain femininity when the time called for it in the public eye, but I didn’t really feel that power and freedom in my budding “womanness.” I valued and longed for that feminine power and confidence. I didn’t know I already had it. In many ways, I was indirectly taught that it wasn’t okay for me to have it.

Here is what I have since come to learn: anytime one embraces her light, the voltage is turned up. And this causes one of two reactions from those around her. They will either celebrate her light for the warmth and clarity it provides, or they will despise her light because, in its presence, they cannot deny their shadows. The latter of the two possible responses usually results in attempts – consciously or unconsciously, maliciously or innocently enough – to dim, if not eliminate, her light.  My perception of many experiences in my earlier years is that there were many attempts to dim me. They were attempts to keep me from seeing, embracing, and sharing the fullness of my light. They were attempts to keep me in a box, to control me, even in the façade of loving and protecting me. But on that Sunday, a seed was planted within me. Or perhaps the seed already within me (because I came to this earth with it) was watered by the affirming words of that woman, even if it would take decades for me to get what she meant when she pointed out what I’ve got!

Fast-forward to 2005, about seven years after that encounter, I officially accepted my call to the ministry. I always knew that I would be in ministry somehow. I love God and people too much not to. It is my love for God and people that I forged ahead in accepting my calling despite any and every attempt to dim my light. I’ve had my share of church experiences where women were told what to wear and not to wear, how to act, and what to say. I’d been in ministries that actually taught that a woman should not enter the pulpit while menstruating, and I certainly sat in places that taught that women were not to “usurp” the authority of a man. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that, as a woman, I need a man’s “covering.” I’ve also been told it is not God’s will for women to preach or pastor, and so I’ve been both privately and openly rebuked. But around the time of accepting my calling, I began to see glimpses of what I’ve got. I began to understand gradually that my particular flavor of femininity and “womanness” were not to be blamed, shamed, or degraded. By then, I started to openly defy the sexist, misogynistic, and patriarchal ideologies that seek to keep women subjugated. I refused to perpetuate the idea that a woman is lesser than a man, including in sacred, spiritual matters. And so, when I finally accepted and pursued my calling in 2006, I told God I would only do it under one condition: I would only say yes if I could preach (and teach and anything else I had to do) in stilettos! My request wasn’t so much about the shoes themselves as it was about God’s (and my own) permission to embrace my essence as a woman and not shrink before men…literally.

Ever since then, I have preached in stilettos. It isn’t just a fashion statement. It is a symbol and declaration that God can, will, and does minister through women. No, not every woman wears heels. But the stiletto is itself a symbol of confidence, class, and the ability to “flex” in any environment. You can wear a stiletto on the red carpet with the most expensive gown, and you can wear a stiletto with a pair of jeans. In either case, the way the stiletto is built makes it virtually impossible to stand up any other way than straight. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been told to speak less. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve endured sexual harassment in the pulpit (yes, that has happened multiple times). It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been openly rebuked by people attempting to shame me for my God-given essence, strength, and femininity. It doesn’t matter how many times or how many ways people try to convince me that, because I’m a woman, there are God-blessed places I am not allowed. These are all lies. A long time ago, God told me on a Sunday, after church, through another woman in a car that “[I] have got IT!” Therefore:

I will always stand in my calling with my hair, makeup, well-fitted clothing, and stilettos, an unapologetic woman of God! – Sabrina Nichole

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