As I write this, my sister is in labor, giving birth to a daughter. This child, whom none of her expectant family have yet laid eyes upon, has already showered us with an abundance of joy—not least because my sister had nearly given up hope of conceiving a child.
When I see lived before me what the promise of a little girl can offer to a family, I shudder to remember the countless baby daughters who have been sacrificed because of their gender, left in the rubbish heaps of previous centuries to die of exposure in exchange for the “greater blessing” a brother would offer. I (unsuccessfully) try not to stand in judgment, because I cannot understand the grinding poverty and insurmountable social structures that drove past (and, dreadfully, still drives some present) parents to accept this way of life and death. I thank God for his promise to someday right all injustices in holy judgment! And as I grow older, I am increasingly grateful for the multitude of remarkable women over the centuries who survived their cultures’ high cost of womanhood and who looked to Christ, instead of patriarchs, for their true identities and authority.
Many gifted daughters of God have found their strength and value in the one in whom “we live and move and have our being.” With gratitude for his mercy, these women devoted themselves to every realm of kingdom service: some in constant prayer, some in care for the sick and destitute, some in the teaching of his Word, some in the oversight of monastic communities. Every era of Christian history has been shepherded by faithful women laboring alone or alongside their believing brothers.
Take Macrina (324-379), for example. Following the deaths of her father and her fiancé (the latter of whom died when she was 12), she took on the leadership of a religious community at her family estate in Cappadocia. By instruction and example, she had such a profound influence on her younger brothers Basil and Gregory—future leading bishops of the Eastern Church who respectfully referred to her as “the Teacher”—that the three of them became known to history as the “Great Cappadocians.”
Or Clare of Assisi (1194-1253). A devout Italian teenager, she refused to accept an arranged marriage to a wealthy noble and instead took vows of poverty and chastity, choosing to spend her days in prayer, manual labor, and the spiritual guidance of the many women who subsequently joined her—eventually including her own sister and mother.
Or Fidelia Fiske (1816-1864). Her family thought her unmarried status and recent battle with typhoid rendered her unfit for the mission field. But seminary-trained and persuaded of her call, she left New England for what is now Iran. There she convinced fathers who had decided they could only afford to feed their sons to give her their daughters instead of forcing them into prostitution. She became mother, nurse, and teacher, training dozens of girls to minister in the name of Christ to other outcasts of their society.
Or Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922). Raised in India by a Brahmin father who lost his job for educating his wife and daughter, after her conversion to Christianity she became a Bible translator and social reformer. She wrote against the devastating traditional practices of child marriage, polygamy, and sati (in which a widow, considered part of her husband’s body, is burned to death with his corpse), and founded a still-existing mission to provide refuge for young widows.
Today, in the spirit of these foremothers, Baby Jovie begins her own journey. What a legacy of wise female leadership our Christian tradition offers my newborn niece! My prayer is that she will receive this gift with joy and humility, and leave her mark on all the baby girls (and boys)—of infinite value to Jesus—who follow her in the worship and service of our Holy God.