Ruth T. is a Queen of Hearts

Ruth is a 71-year-old retired nurse technician from western Michigan. She wants to use her God-given voice to make a difference, and chose her title — Queen of Hearts — because she felt it signified compassion.

Prologue: I believe the stories we tell one another have the power to change the world. Especially the stories we tell one another about ourselves.

As a society, we focus so much of our attention on the bold-faced “success stories” of CEOs and best-selling authors, the famous and infamous. We get accustomed to glossy, polished anecdotes that are fun to read but hard to relate to. Too often — especially during these times of isolation and separation — we miss the remarkable stories that live all around us.

The neighbor across the street.
The woman behind the cash register.
The co-worker we see every day.

Captivating, inspiring, powerful stories live inside each of us. This series celebrates those stories with 15 interviews of women whose voices you likely haven’t heard before. (Since March is Women’s History Month, it seems like the perfect time for it.) I asked each of these women to share some of their personal story, and talk about how they have found — or are still finding — their own voice.

Today, we hear from Ruth.

In her own words…

I grew up in western Michigan — number four of eight siblings — four boys and four girls. I had devoutly conservative Christian parents: homebodies who raised us as well as they could with the knowledge and experience they had. But they didn’t seem to recognize us as individuals; rather, they more or less expected us all to fit into the same cookie-cutter mold.

My parents had few, if any, close friends. They didn’t mingle well with others, especially those of different denominations, faiths, races, or political opinions; thus they tended to keep us from doing so as well.

Their only outside-the-home activities were church-related. Both lived their faith, but didn’t convey it to us — or to others — with words; it was more a withdrawal from the world’s influence than a fulfilling of the biblical mandate to “Be salt and light” to those around us.

My parents were people of integrity — faithful to each other and to the God they believed in — both humble people. They were stereotypical, my father actively involved in caring for the “outside of the house,” while my mother took care of the inside.

My dad willingly and cheerfully helped my mother with parenting and household duties, as well. He was a blue-collar worker (at a True Value Hardware store); my mother was a stay-at-home mom who worked hard to keep us clothed and fed on limited finances. Neither had schooling beyond the 8th grade.

All of us kids had jobs outside the home at early ages, including early-morning paper routes, helping neighbors with outdoor chores (snow-shoveling and leaf-raking), etc. Our summers consisted of collecting newspapers and magazines from around the neighborhood — the money garnered was used for our private school tuition. We had little free time, no TV, weren’t allowed to have friends over, didn’t interact much with relatives. I escaped into other worlds by devouring books.

They didn’t talk to us of personal things, nor about current or political issues; it seems we were expected to learn what we needed to know about life from school (we all went to a Christian school, K-12th grade) or from church. However, in those places too, I found little interaction or instruction about either personal or spiritual life; thus I was woefully unprepared for either (including dating and relationships in general).

Though bonded by blood, we were more or less individuals living together in the same house but with little else in common. I realize now how emotionally detached we all were — from each other and other people, but also from our own selves.

Ruth (in blue) and her three sisters

How did the culture you were raised in inform your ideas about what a woman was supposed to be — how she should look, act, and speak?
I understood that I was expected to dress modestly, be neat and tidy, humble, get married and have children, and possess a (very!!!) good work ethic. I was also expected to accept my parents’ religious faith for my own; to accept without question the teachings of the church and authority figures; to be — and vote — Republican; to be quiet rather than questioning; to not “rock the boat” by raising topics that would cause embarrassment or “hurt;” to supress emotions.

Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
The given definition of feminism is the belief that men and women are created equally and thus should be treated uniformly in areas such as career opportunities, economics, socially, politically, etc. With that, I fully concur.

Our nation’s society has far too long demonstrated a bias which caters to the opposite ideology, prioritizing males and thus discriminating against women in multiple ways, disregarding women’s personhood and relegating them to positions of inferiority. Male rights are elevated, whereas women are oft seen as second-class citizens of less worth, or merely as sex objects to fulfill men’s desires and needs.

In this sense, I must and do identify as a feminist. Though the sexes have different roles in society and relationships, God pronounced us equal, giving the foundation for equal honor and respect.

What are three things about yourself that you did not choose?
1. My birth family (and thus genetics), birthplace, and birth-time in the history of the world.

2. My personality and temperament, my physical characteristics (think Twiggy but with frizzy hair), and my propensities.

3. The varied aspects and influences of my childhood, and the perceptions I experienced as a result.

What are three things about yourself that you did choose?
1. I wasn’t taught to think or to ask questions. I now do much of both (the latter, at times, to the dismay of others). By nature, I am shy. New situations are hard for me, but I’ve come to see and appreciate them as opportunities for personal growth. I’ve gained a bit of self-confidence as I’ve come to realize it’s OK to be me, and I’ve accepted myself and no longer fear what others may think or say about me. This has relieved me of much internal angst, bringing heightened enjoyment and fulfillment to life as I live (more often, anyway) unbound by the expectations or opinions of others.

2. To go outside of my comfort zone — beyond my parents’ small sphere of life; to pursue learning and seek knowledge about worlds unknown to me; to read “the other side” of things so as to gain a broader understanding of issues, politics included; to delve deeper into my faith, which in doing so caused me to realize it was a life-transforming relationship with God, not religion (filled with legalism’s multiple and rigid dos and don’ts), that satisfied the longings of my soul; to acknowledge and get in tune with my emotions.

3. To not be a one-issue or one-party voter, but rather to inform myself about a candidate’s character and their views on issues, and vote accordingly.

Hiking in Death Valley, CA

What gets you out of bed in the morning on the worst of days?
The knowledge of God’s sovereignty, which means He wisely — and lovingly — plans, purposes, and controls each detail of my life, ultimately for my own good. (This does not include decisions I make; I alone bear responsibility for those).

I am known intimately — yet accepted unconditionally — by Him. Every trial and heartache, each tear and sorrow — nothing escapes His knowledge, nothing is wasted, all will be redeemed, whether in this life or in the someday of heaven.

His character never changes. His presence never leaves me. Because of His hand in life, I have a part in the tapestry He is creating. Though I now see only the backside of it, the tangled mess of randomly criss-crossed threads (complete with knots and unraveling embroidery floss); one day I will see the exquisite beauty of the other side, and the part I played in constructing it.

Also, I daily have the realization of the gift of a healthy body and mind, and find myself wanting to live wisely, in gratitude, for that.

What is something you do that brings you deep joy?
Helping others — especially the hurting; connecting in a deep way with others; writing about how I glimpse life-lessons in daily occurrences — how I see the sacred in the mundane, so to speak.

What is one habit you’ve developed that you’re grateful for?
Discerning the power of choice and my responsibility in decision-making, and thus choosing contentment, forgiveness, and acceptance of circumstances I have no control over; also cutting others slack — giving grace — as I realize life is hard, we’re all broken, and we each have our own story.

What fears hold you back, or have in the past?
The fear of what others would think or say about me. The fear of appearing “dumb”— of being seen as uneducated and ill-informed, of not having answers for questions others would ask about certain subjects, of not being quick-thinking. This fear has caused me to evade such situations.

When was a time you were afraid to speak up for yourself (or someone else) but did it anyway?
I’ve spoken up in situations with persons who seemingly sought to control or manipulate through male dominance and critical comments as they viewed/spoke about male-female roles through stereo-typical eyes. I’ve also spoken up when conversations about race arose, and views were spoken with thinly-veiled prejudice and self-righteous pride behind their words.

What gave you the strength and courage to speak up?
The bold assurance that I have both the right and the responsibility to speak truth, and to confront others about false statements and biased viewpoints.

What are the situations that are hardest for you to speak up in?
There are two. First, when I feel the other person involved is much more knowledgeable about, and skilled in discussing the topic being addressed. Second, when I know the other person to be unreceptive to views and insights differing from theirs.

Who is another woman whose voice you admire or appreciate?
No one in particular; but rather in general, I admire any woman who boldly confronts and exposes wrongs and wrong-doers, holding the latter accountable and taking action to change the former. Silence implies complicity, and I don’t want to be guilty of that.

How do you support other people’s voices?
In cases of the marginalized, abused, neglected, by speaking about the violations involved, and sharing my own convictions about what is said or written regarding exposing and combating the offenses.

Are there any books you’ve read recently that you picked up either because of the questions you’ve been asking, or because you wanted to hear a voice that was different from your own?
There are two, both regarding my own spiritual journey.

The first is Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez. It recounts the past 70 years of white evangelicalism and the multiple sins of its leaders, which precipitated the disillusionment and then the departing from faith of many.

The second is Faith Unraveled: How a Girl who Knew all the Right Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans. It is a must-read for anyone on the journey of doubt, deconstruction, and ultimately faith reborn. In questioning some of her long-held beliefs, the author explains how her faith had to change and adapt in order to survive, and how she learned to trust in a God big enough to handle her tough questions.

How do you want to use your voice in the future?
Above all, I seek to portray Jesus through words and actions to a world in which people have oft been manipulated, deceived, and abused by those using His name.

I tend to be a behind-the-scenes figure, but I do lead a church ministry which connects lay persons with those navigating significant life transitions. The bonds formed have created some life-enhancing relationships, carrying lonely people through some crises and very difficult situations, including end-of-life journeys. I have also helped care for several persons with dementia.

My passion is to make a difference in people’s daily lives, bringing blessing and healing to hurting hearts; comforting and encouraging the disheartened.

Headline History

The titles for the VOICES Series come from Exercise #2 in the Permission to Speak Workbook. The exercise, “You have more power than you know,” encourages participants to choose a title from a list that is offered, or — if none of those titles feels right — to make up one of their own.

“Each of us is our own harshest critic, most of the time,” the workbook says. “We don’t always see ourselves as we are. We instinctively try to hide many things about ourselves — our failures, our mistakes, our weaknesses, our obsessions. …But the things that make you you also give you power.”

Each woman interviewed for the VOICES Series either chose a title for herself from this list, or gave herself a title of her own making.

Reader. Writer. Hangnail biter. @wordsbyladonna