I see her standing there, silent and calm, in the larger Swiss airport where chocolate lines shelves in the shops and little outfits hang to remind people of Heidi running the snow covered Alps.
Quebec was elegant with its French language and wine, but Switzerland is charming and peaceful. Even in the airports, one can pick out certain cultural qualities and appreciate them. But always, I notice the women.
Some are confident, marching along in slacks and brief cases for business. Others wear the exhausted look of a traveling mother. Some are clearly retired, with an older but carefree expressions on relaxed countenances. For them, life was well lived, and now enjoyed without work or pressure.
In Quebec, I had headed to the wine bar for a glass of Chardonnay, but in Switzerland, I head to a well-covered nun to see how I might relate to her in some way.
She’s shy and immediately tries to cover her mouth with her hands as she speaks. I look past her fingers to yellow teeth and wide open gaps. She’s a dear, quiet soul who somehow has given her life to service—and I wonder, who will love her?
Our plane lands in Tanzania where women live in poverty and cultural manners are distinctly different from America. The airline worker bumps into me on numerous occasions—and she, too, wears the deadpan look of a woman whose deepest longings have long been lost.
The cook at the shack where we stop to purchase breakfast of soup and chapati is a prostitute. At night she sells her body, and in the day she sells soup out of a smelly little shop looking more like a barn. Men with no integrity line her tables, and we choose a side spot to avoid stares.
I’m thinking back to the beautiful, smartly dressed woman in America who waited behind me in line at security. Confidence oozed from her persona, beauty emanated from her being. She’s loved, admired, beautiful, and comfortable, but what about the nun with silent longings and wide gaps between her teeth, who never feels beautiful and lives a hidden life of service to others? Is she less of a woman?
Or does God speak something of value that reaches every woman?
Opportunity varies just as much as culture. Culture varies from one continent to the next, and we can’t choose our country any more than we can choose our parents. We are born where we are, and life begins, there.
How is it possible, then, to place greater dignity and value on one woman than another?
I’m wondering if Jesus weeps a little (or a lot) when he loves his daughter so passionately that he designs her in the womb with thought and detail, but she enters the world and never receives the slightest resemblance of love from those surrounding her.
The little African girl seated at my sister’s table with her own five kids eats quietly, gratefully. Just a few years back, she roamed her village while her mama ran off to live another life and her little brother and young uncle cared for her. She slept with them in a small mud shack and basically survived.
Today, because someone chose to love her, her eyes hold a little more light, but there is still the old-soul suffering in her young countenance as she silently chows down as much food as she’s allowed. If she wasn’t guided to stop, she’d get a tummy ache.
Do we know that this little girl, sleeping in a mud hut with her little brother is worth as much as the little girl dancing in the studios back home, face alight with happiness and body clothed in princess attire? Do we know that the color of her skin makes no difference to her worth, and her limited opportunity does not equate limited value?
And you, sister, who’s been rejected and left behind—do you know that in Christ, you are sought after and claimed? Just as opportunity and culture cannot determine a child’s value, so your circumstance cannot determine yours.
What a culture says to you, or what a man gives (or doesn’t give) to you can in no way define your worth. Many of the women here walk about with life-less eyes. They are used by men rather than loved by one man and they ask my sister, “Your man wants only you, only one? You are so lucky!”
If I knew Swahili, I’d make it my mission in the next two weeks to assure every single woman that her worth isn’t measured by a man, her circumstances, her house, food, clothing, or opportunities.
It’s unbelievably cool that in the eyes of God, the lady chanting loudly to sell her wares outside the compound is worth every bit as much as the lady standing behind me in the airport dressed in smart business attire. One may despise the other, but God loves both equally.
I chat quietly with the nun, wishing there was more to bridge the gap between us. I wave to the lady balancing a log atop her head while she swings her youngster onto her hips—without losing balance. I smile at people behind me in long, weary lines.
Because the people of God are called to live out the heart of God, called to love each person equally, called to value, honor, and cherish each individual life whose worth began when God decided to create that life.
The nun with crooked teeth may know, just as well as the girl dancing in the studio, that she is loved with deeper love than she could ever imagine–a love not based on humanity but on a God from whom all existence flows.
Because we owe our existence to his handiwork, we may as well go one step further and derive our value from his heart!
—Contributed by Sara Daigle