Women today receive mixed messages about what their roles in life should be — we’ve all heard about the “mommy wars,” debates over work vs. home issues, and other gender based issues that top many of today’s headlines. With her book Reclaiming Your Christian Self in a Secular World: A Woman’s Worth (Pleasant Word, October 2005, paperback, 172 pages), Catholic author Cheryl Dickow helps women to find their own template for living a life of authentic Christian femininity in today’s secular world.
Part Bible study and part interactive self help book, Dickow’s work was recently awarded by the Catholic Press Association in the Gender Issues category. Written in a gentle yet inspirational tone, Reclaiming Your Christian Self in a Secular World introduces fourteen biblical role models and their life stories. Women are encouraged to look at the traits and values of each of these heroines and to emulate the qualities of each in today’s society.
I know from many conversations with my own mother that some of the biggest challenges I face as a wife and mother today are universal and timeless as history repeats itself again and again. I found it heartening to discover, through Cheryl Dickow’s book, that even biblical women struggled with and survived some of the trials I face today in my own life. Of particular interest to me was the chapter featuring Noah’s wife (and her daughters-in-law) focusing on the value of serving others. How many of us, holders of college degrees and corporate experience, have felt exasperated by the prospect of yet another sink full of dirty dishes or a twelfth dirty diaper to be changed? Dickow underscores the value of serving, even when it seems mundane. “It is vital for us to remember that our contribution is now less valuable because of our anonymity,” encourages Dickow. Surely Noah’s wife, as she cleaned animal stalls and fed a small army, did not anticipate that she would one day serve as a role model for 21st Century mothers.
Whether read in its entirety or studied on a weekly basis, Cheryl Dickow’s Reclaiming Your Christian Self in a Secular World: A Woman’s Worth is indeed a worthy and uplifting examination of spirit for today’s busy woman. I am pleased to share the following conversation with Cheryl Dickow and strongly recommend her wonderful book.
Q: Please introduce yourself and your family to our readers.
A: My name is Cheryl Dickow and, like all women, I have a variety of roles that God has allowed me to fill. First and last, and as an umbrella to all else, I am a Catholic woman. I have been married for twenty years and have three teenage sons. My husband is an amazing man of diligence and perseverance while my sons are, well, teenagers! They are intelligent, healthy, and continue to show me my complete and utter dependence on the Lord. They have also given me a small glimpse into how our heavenly Father must feel about us and why He would sacrifice His Son for our salvation.
As well as being a wife and mother, I have also been a teacher for the past 20 years. I spent the first decade of my career teaching computer software classes at the corporate level and then moved into my current position as a teacher in a Catholic middle school. I love being a teacher for so many reasons. First, I feel it is an opportunity for me to influence students in a way that I pray my own children’s teachers are influencing them. I see it very much as a “reap what you sow” situation. Second, my students enrich my life in a multitude of ways. Each one, so very different, reminds me how much love God has in His heart for His people. Finally, I feel so blessed to teach subjects (religion and English) that I know will benefit my students in untold ways. I see the rewards of English in tangible, earthly benefits while the rewards of religion will be in eternal benefits!
The last role that I fill is one of author and speaker. I have found, in the past three years, my life taking on a new dimension. It began with my first book, Raising Christian Children in a Secular World which was a simple attempt to combine my experiences as a teacher and mother under a faith umbrella. My message was simple, “Turn to God’s Word in raising children.” From that book, and a few requests for workshops and speaking engagements, came my second book, Reclaiming Your Christian Self in a Secular World: A Woman’s Worth. And, with that came more interesting opportunities such as radio interviews and book signings. Through it all, I begin and end every day with the belief that God will never forsake or abandon me and that His hand is guiding all things.
Q: Please briefly describe your book to someone who may not have had the opportunity to read it.
A: My book is about some of the women in our faith’s history that God uses to speak to us. It focuses on these women and extrapolates messages that are as relevant today as they were hundreds and even thousands of years ago. It reminds us that God’s Word is living and real and vibrant and that the women of today have role models in the women of Scripture. These women are so much like us that they really force us to embrace ourselves in a way that shows our recognition of God’s hand and interest in our lives. Like us, they experienced envy, sadness, joy, sorrow, pain, triumph, fear, and anger. Through it all, they give us an insight into how God works in all circumstances for His good and the good of His people.
Q: Please give us a description of your own faith journey and faith formation.
A: Like so many people, it is easy for me to look back and see God’s hand in the formation of my faith and my life’s journey thus far. However, in the midst of it all, it did not necessarily feel as if His guidance or presence were there. Born and baptized as a Catholic, my parents were divorced when I was just months old. Although they were both of Catholic families, their divorce was cause for separation from the Church. As such, my upbringing involved very little of the Church itself or of Mass attendance. I was, however, confirmed and did receive First Holy Communion. Nonetheless, I consider my teenage years as a wonderful journey as I grew up in a predominately Jewish city and participated in many Sabbath celebrations, Passover dinners, and Yom Kippur services. I was also blessed with teenage friendships that reflected the breadth and depth of the Catholic faith. My eyes and heart were able to take in all that faith, itself, was about: serving God, loving God, honoring God.
From those formative years I grew into a young adult starving for a relationship with that mighty and awesome God I was exposed to as a teenager. Without being fully aware, I was seeking this relationship through His Son and in union with the Holy Spirit. Since then, I am able to reflect back on the ways in which He was calling me, never forsaking me, and allowing me to stumble but never fall. I now know that without those experiences I would never be able to serve Him today. I would not have an understanding of His love and compassion nor His omniscience and authority. It is through those experiences that I am able to embrace the salvation that I have through His most beloved Son. I am now able to do all that I saw as a teenager: serve God, love God, and honor God.
Q: What are your goals for your book and what is the primary message you hope to share through it?
A: I recently received an email from a young woman who read my book. It was filled with her sincere thanks at introducing her to some wonderful women in Scripture, many of whom she did not previously know. She was also quite grateful for the inspiration she received to revisit her relationship with Christ. The email brought me to tears because I knew, in that instant, that we are called to witness to one another and to support one another on our own individual journeys. It had nothing to do with me, or my book, but was all about what God allowed me to do with His graces. It is what he allows you, Lisa, to do through your website and your columns; it is what he allows our friends and co-workers to do with their words and their actions. We are all called to witness and it is my prayer that my book provides witness to His glory and His call upon our lives.
Of course there are times where I would love to see my book on the New York Times Bestsellers List, but mostly I am so humbled by emails such as the one I mentioned that my heart aches for more ways to serve God. There is always, as most everyone would agree, an interesting juxtaposition between setting our sights on our personal goals while never losing track of God’s will. Nonetheless, I do hope that women all over will feel the book is valuable, interesting, and worth recommending with their friends and family.
The primary message of the book is to reveal to today’s woman how her counterpart, her hero, her role model can be found in Scripture. Regardless of her position, she has a woman in Scripture whose story is able to bind her more fully to the Lord. We see that we share many traits with the women of the Old and New Testament and also see how we can use these traits to give glory to His kingdom. For instance, Sarah reveals the side of us that often succumbs to jealousy or envy but also shows how God will still remain faithful to His promises. Eve reminds us of the power of our free will and that in using it wisely, we pledge our lives most completely to Christ. Rachel emboldens us to work effectively for what we know is right and just. Lot’s wife teaches us to let go of the past. All these women, and more, reveal an aspect of ourselves that the Lord can use. My book, then, shares these women’s stories in ways that are meant to provide epiphanies, and comfort, to us in our daily living.
Q: How would you recommend that women read and utilize “Reclaiming Your Christian Self in a Secular World?”
A: When I wrote the book I felt quite led to make the sections easy enough to be read in a half hour or so on a Sunday afternoon. Each of these sections are followed by simple prayers and activities meant to bring the essence of the section into the day-to-day lives of the reader. For instance, the section on Eve is followed by an activity that asks the reader to simply become more aware of how she is using her free will at any given time. The section on Lot’s wife is followed by an activity that asks the reader to create a list of feelings, attitudes, or beliefs that she needs to “let go” and then give the list over to the Lord. So, each Sunday the reader would enjoy a new section on a specific woman found in Scripture and then would go into the week with a particular focus. While that is my recommended way to approach the book, I have found that many women simply read it at their own pace and enjoy the activities and prayers in their own way. Ultimately, spending time in God’s word (which is excerpted throughout the entire book) should always impact the way we live, and that is my prayer for the utilization of the book; that it is read in a way to more clearly mark our lives as Christian women.
Q: Why is it valuable for women in today’s world to take some time contemplating their own spirituality?
A: Our spirituality is a gift from God. With it, we become His handmaidens. We are able to glorify His kingdom and follow His will. Without it, we become lost and desolate souls. It is much too easy for us to fill, with the things of this world, that area within ourselves that the Lord created for His indwelling. Time spent contemplating our spirituality, our connection to our Creator, ensures that the created space within our hearts meant for God is filled with God and not things of this world. When we spend time nurturing our relationship with the Lord, we are able to become all He wants and needs us to be. We are not, then, easily manipulated by outside forces, but rather are moved from within by His Spirit.
Q: Who are some of your favorite women of Scripture shared in the book and why do their stories touch you?
A: Without a doubt, as the mother of three teenage sons, my favorite woman is Noah’s wife. As I clean bathrooms, cook meals, and take care of my family I often think of how her steadfastness on the ark allowed for God’s plan to unfold. I firmly believe that she teaches us that there is beauty and grace in our everyday living. She is the epitome of the message that each and every one of us has a role to fill. She reminds me that fame and fortune are things the world values but not our Lord. Along with Noah’s wife, I am also inspired by Shiphrah and Puah. These women literally put their lives on the line to respond to God’s natural law put upon their hearts. They, too, remind me that God’s ways are not my ways and that He still expects me to respond to His call upon my life, even when it is contrary to the messages of the world.
While these are very special and dear women to me, I have certainly come to see that all the women in Scripture speak to me during different times in my life, as I believe they do to all women today. God has made sure that, wherever we are in our journey, there is someone whose life, when contemplated on, allows us to find a richer, deeper meaning in ours than we would have otherwise. So, whether we are in a powerful position like Queen Esther or are in a redemptive capacity like Ruth, we are never without a revelation from God.
Q: What research and spiritual guidance went into your writing of this book? What did you take away from the process of living with these women of Scripture in your faith life and of writing this book?
A: This book started out as a personal exploration of my own worth in God’s eyes. I often found myself in quiet despair over so many of the mixed messages that were being given to me, and to women in general, and really wanted to return to the true source of wisdom: Scripture. Additionally, I witnessed, year after year, the angst that so many of my young female students experienced. I knew that their lives, and women’s lives, were not intended to be confusing or unsettling, but rather challenging and yet joyful. And so I read through Scripture with a voracious appetite to understand God’s will and plan for me.
As I read I found myself experiencing epiphanies over and over again. As I contemplated Noah’s wife cleaning stalls, cooking food, and no doubt being sea-sick from the torrential rains and smell of animals I realized that, on a smaller but yet just as significant scale, that was me! I saw how it also represented many of my friends who were at a time in their lives where caring for their families, friends, and neighbors seemed menial but must certainly be magnificent in God’s plans.
In those months when I couldn’t put Scripture down, I clearly saw the reality of these women and found great peace in their stories. I loved that Sarah could be jealous of Hagar; it made me feel more accepting of my own flaws as I worked to overcome them. I relished the fact that Zipporah’s marriage was anything other than what she probably imagined. I especially embraced the realization that if she had not supported Moses in his calling, God’s plan could not have unfolded. God counted on Zipporah as much as He did on Moses. The impact of meditating upon Deborah as a prophetess, judge, and warrior was astounding. The power of Queen Esther was exhilarating. I found new meaning in how I supported and helped others because I knew, without a doubt, that I made a difference in His kingdom. God’s plan for women became incredibly exciting and not at all suffocating, as so many secular messages seemed to say. It was obvious that there would be a gaping hole in God’s plan if women abandoned how He was calling them and followed false messages. I wanted to shout from the rooftops that a woman’s worth, in God’s eyes, was so immense that nothing should cloud that realization for us. And so I began the book: Reclaiming Your Christian Self in a Secular World: A Woman’s Worth.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?
[Originally published 2006]
(© 2011 Lisa Hendey)