God told me to go camping with 1800 women and get naked.
I hate camping. And even though I am a woman who works at a church—I am not fan of women’s ministry. So I am perhaps one of the most unlikely women ever to become a leader of a large-group primitive camping experience called Woman Camp, designed to connect women to God.
As a woman working in a predominantly male field I have always been comfortable being the only woman in a room full of men. In fact, I rarely notice it. Put me in a room full of women and it was a different story. I often felt guarded, out of place, and on edge. I never understood this feeling because women are awesome and throughout my life I have been blessed with amazing female friendships and inspiring women role models. But I did not enjoy the culture surrounding women in large group social or professional settings.
The idea of going to a women’s conference made me uncomfortable. Mom’s group? No thank you. Women’s bible study? Nope. Women-in-leadership networking lunches? Pass. And honestly the programs created for women by and large just seemed sub-par. While I had total confidence in women as leaders, I had no vision to be a part of or lead a ministry aimed only at women. I liked having a seat at the (mostly male) head table, wrestling with the big life questions relevant to all, but I did not want to be sent to the all-girls table where we were supposed to talk about sisterhood and women’s issues.
Sometimes being a woman can feel like an impossible balancing act that mandates failure on a daily basis.
We are told every day in a myriad of ways who we are and who we are supposed to be. We receive these messages from culture, from the media, from the roles we fill, from other women, from fashion magazines, from men. The voices are loud and often full of lies. And we listen.
We are told to be all things, all at once. We should be strong and independent but also soft and nurturing. We can now run companies and lead men but we must also be feminine, funny, light-hearted, and non-threatening while we do it. We can accomplish amazing achievements professionally but being attractive physically is still a major contender in the defining factors for success. Because of these endless hoops we must jump through, women measure ourselves all the time—our bodies, our marriages, our children, our homes, our successes. So being around groups of other women can feel like a painful comparison game.
Several years ago it became clear to the leadership at our church that women were being underserved in our community. We needed to create something specifically for them. We had a very successful and impactful camp experience for men called Man Camp, so Woman Camp seemed the next logical step. Just not for me. Not only did I have baggage around the idea of women’s ministry, I was no great lover of camping. Once my family camped as we drove across the country and I was the girl who insisted on wearing my fancy white high heeled pumps around the KOA campgrounds to keep things classy. I was clearly not the woman for the job.
While I knew that I didn’t want to be a part of a typical experience designed for women, the question that kept me up at night was, “What did God want for women?” I was sure He had more for us.
I started talking to a few trusted female friends who also dreamed of more for women, and together we started asking “what if” questions.
What if there was a way for women to leave our measuring sticks at home? Better yet if we actually smashed and broke and burned anything that even looked like a way to measure or compare ourselves?
What if we gave up on trying act more spiritual, jump through any hoops or pass any tests?
What if we were “off-duty” from trying to look perfect and keep it all together? If we were brave enough to be real? If we stopped trying to say the right thing or behave ourselves so that other people would like us or approve of us?
What if we let it all hang out—no makeup and no armor? If we let our guards down so that we could speak bravely about our lives to strangers so that they could become trusted friends? We might ugly cry, and it might be embarrassing to reveal ourselves and our messy lives but what if nothing about our real, naked selves shocked or horrified anyone, because no matter what we look like on the outside the truth is that we all have all have messy insides?
What if we let ourselves have fun? If we laughed and cried in equal measure and freely because both are powerful and honest and bring us closer to God and to each other?
Suddenly the idea of being with thousands of other women, all saying NO to the lies we’ve carried and YES to who God says we are, got exciting. Thrilling even. That was a group of women I wanted to be a part of.
Still I balked. “Surely not me” was my mantra. And God brought woman after woman to speak courage into my heart and challenge me that even I, the most unlikely, could be used by God to share his love with women. He began to stir a dream in me of a world where the first thing someone said when describing a woman was not what she looked like or what her achievements were—but that God was big in her. And that every time she looked in the mirror she would not see her flaws, but a reflection of Jesus, because she recognized that she was “imago dei.” An image bearer of God, created and called to reflect his glory.
What if the identity of worthy replaced gorgeous?
Real replaced fake.
She has purpose replaced she is worthless.
Redeemed replaced perfect.
Chosen, not rejected.
Wise replaced bossy.
Beloved replaced fat or skinny or sexy.
Connected and known replaced isolated.
A world where women believed that they are chosen and have a place at the table.
When I imagined women breaking the chains of false identity and walking in freedom—I realized that I would do anything—even camp and pee in the woods if I had to, to share that freedom with them. I wanted the kind of freedom described in a book of the Bible called 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18 that says:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Being unveiled means we are delivered from the false identities that have defined us, trapped us, sometimes crushed us. But also maybe protected us—like armor from true vulnerability with God and with others. Being unveiled means we stand naked before God just as he created us—with no defenses, no arguments, no complaints. It means we look in the mirror of His truth, and we finally see ourselves as he sees us—reflections of his love and glory.
To be an image bearer of God means to be transformed into his likeness, to look like Jesus. How would our lives change if the defining characteristics of Jesus were what defined us? Can you imagine the freedom, the healing, the power of that? It’s His gift to us—our birthright when we accept Jesus as our savior and are adopted into his family. Why would we settle for anything less? Friendship, success, motherhood, marriage, any human love or accomplishment—it all pales in comparison.
So instead of running from rooms full of women, I linked arms with them and ran head first into God’s heart for us. I am not sure I could ever accurately describe what it feels like to be a part of thousands of women running after God with such staggering courage and vulnerability. To watch Him heal broken hearts and set his daughters free to be who he always created them to be is the closest to heaven I’ve ever experienced on earth. My “no way” is now a resounding “yes” full of gratitude to a Father who loves his daughters so recklessly he would leave the 99 to go after the one.
I was that one, and so are you.
Here is a question for you to consider—from the most unlikely women’s ministry leader who now leads Woman Camp—what is the unlikely calling in your life? It seems to me that God is in the business of using the most unexpected to do his work. You know who else was an unlikely leader? Almost every single person in the Bible that God called to lead his people. Maybe that’s so that there is no misunderstanding that it was His power working through them all the time.
So what if you rooted around in your heart until you found the “nope” and the “no way” and started talking to the God who created you with intention and purpose about who he says you are and what his plans might be for your life? You might just be surprised. You might even go camping.