I still remember years ago when I discovered I had readers in Africa. I gasped at the idea that our worlds could converge so easily and felt humbled that my fellow believers on a faraway continent would connect with little ol’ me.
It wasn’t long before I discovered how much I could learn from my wise African brothers and sisters. One in particular caught my eye — a young wife named Ngina Otiende who started a blog titled Intentional Today. I love her authenticity, her wisdom, and her heart for marriage.
So I was thrilled when she agreed to participate in my Feel Beautiful series with her unique perspective. As someone who has not felt like a girly girl most of her life, I love what Ngina has to say.
We also had a funny little email chat about the benefits and struggles of straight hair versus kinky hair. I think we’d each be willing to trade for a day to see how the other half lives! (Ah, luscious curls! What would that be like…?)
And now to hear from the lovely Ngina herself!
As a young girl and into my early teens, I was fascinated with the opposite sex. Not in the way you might think. I wanted to be it . . . I wanted to be a boy. I liked the power the male gender seemed to wield easily in my conservative African society. I looked at the women who did all the work at home and wondered, “Why haven’t you all rebelled and fought for a higher place?”
I still remember the day it hit me that much as I harbored hot ideas of taking over the world, playing rough, it could be confusing to others.
I was around ten or eleven years. My friends and I had been invited to the yearly Maasai (a tribe in Kenya) circumcision ceremony down in the valley. We trekked through rocky cliffs, thick bushes and down a winding valley, a couple of miles on foot. Finally arriving at our destination — a scattering of traditional huts and homes, we stumbled on a group of old men roasting meat in the bushes.
Culturally men and women do not mix during such circumcision festivals. Already some in our rag tag group were anxious because we women saw the old men. We hurried past, with the young men in our group branching out to join the old group of men.
But a voice stopped us in our tracks: “Where is that young man going?”
We all stopped. And it took a while before I figured out who they were talking about. Short scruffy hair, dirty jeans shorts, long scrawny limbs, dirty feet, very flat chest, and no hips. Me.
I was mad that they laughed. Even more upset when my friends laughed and pointed their fingers.
My mum did not think my tomboyish-ness was a laughing matter. At least at a certain age, she expected me to snap out of it. But dad was an ally. He indulged me, laughed when new friends shooed their boys in my direction with “go play with that quiet boy.” This was Africa, it was all harmless, something I would eventually snap out of, especially after meeting the Lord in my teenage years.
Now living in America, my heart breaks when I read about gender confusion and how it spirals out of control. My fascination turned out to be “harmless,” but here I am reminded about the consequences of not understanding (and therefore not appreciating) our identity and beauty as women. And these few things stand out:
We need to guard what we hear.
I can’t ever recall my mum wearing pants. She was a traditional African mama. As I entered my teenage years, she began to slap (my very uncovered) thighs and told me to sit like a girl. She put me in dresses and noised about being a girl. I hated it then, but now I understand what she was doing. Mothers set the tone for their daughters. It was not about the shorts, but the thinking behind the shorts.
I don’t know why, but society seems to think that parents should allow their kids to discover who they are and go with whatever they find. But Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
It matters what you hear, what you expose yourself to. Read one too many fashion magazines, scroll one too many perfect Instagram photos, and not enough time hearing and believing God, and you’ll spiral out of control.
You cannot tell others who they are if you don’t know who you are.
You can’t give what you don’t have. You can try, but little people (and big people) are smart and will follow your heart, not your words.
The fight to see yourself as God sees you — beautiful, whole, unique — is not just for you. It’s for others too, because we are our sisters’ keepers.
Thats why it’s a fight because the enemy of your soul sees what your little confusion and dissatisfaction will lead to. He sees your daughters, your friends, the people you influence. He has plans for your awkwardness and self-cutting words. There’s nothing more freeing than taking on God’s perspective of “we” instead “me.” Perspective can spur us to work on feeling beautiful, to accept ourselves, for the right reasons.
It’s okay to be different.
I am not a girly girl. At least that’s not my default. I still like my pants and jeans and prefer certain cuts. Yet sometimes when I see women who are well put together, who can dress pretty in under five minutes with perfect make-up and matching jewelry, my heart skips. “I wish I could have such effortless beauty.” My mirror reflects a face with imperfect skin, a mole, kinky African hair, not a lot make-up or jewelry, an accent and often, two left feet when it comes to style or fashion. At that moment I forget that beauty does not have a distinct look, or face or color or shade. Simply the most beautiful person is the one who understands and accepts who they are in God’s eyes.Simply the most beautiful person is the one who understands & accepts who they are in God's eyes. Click To Tweet
David said in Psalm 139:14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Sometimes we offer broken praise . . . but it’s praise nonetheless. When you wake up and don’t like all the person you see in the mirror, when what you see cannot be fixed by healthier eating or exercise. When what you need is a heart makeover, every single day of your life. You can still offer praise. Still say, “I believe who you say I am God even if I don’t feel it now.”
I love that God will never give up, will never cease to remind us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are His daughters. His faithfulness is what keeps us singing, keeps us believing. May we, may I, never forget that His faithful is what counts. Always.
Ngina Otiende is a wife and writer who blogs at IntentionalToday.com, a site dedicated to helping early-wed wives create grace bathed intentional happily-ever-afters. She’s the author of Blues to Bliss: Creating Your Happily Ever After In The Early Years, and in the book she shares lessons from her early years, how God transformed her marriage, and how wives can change the dynamics of their marriage. Ngina and her husband are originally from Kenya but now live in the USA. You can pick a free chapter of her book + a free eBook when you sign up at her website.