As women, the challenge began with a serpent’s seemingly innocent question: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
Translation: “Eve, if God really loved you, why would he withhold something good from you? Do you have any real value to God?”
While secular culture has doubled down on its message of human freedom and self-determination, ironically, at no point in human history have women been under more pressure to fit into a box. The list of categories you see in online profiles exemplify this: Single. Married. Divorced. Widowed. Mother. Other boxes ask us to define by race. Ethnicity. Sexuality. Profession. And on and on. The labels are endless and place increasing pressures on women to fit in – to “check the right boxes.” Under this onslaught, it’s easy to seek validation and self-worth everywhere except where we should be looking – to Jesus.
Today is International Women’s Day, and as we celebrate the accomplishments of women across the world, it’s important to remember that our value doesn’t come from others’ opinions or valuations of us. Our primary identity as women is found in the love of Jesus Christ, which is so great, Paul prayed we’d have the power to understand it in Ephesians 3:17-18:
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Eve may have had her doubts in the Garden, but Jesus’s death on the cross answered the question once and for all. We are loved beyond the scope of human knowledge.
“Once you believe you are fully and completely loved, you don’t have to numb yourself or look for quick fixes in order to drive the pain away. You can stay fully alive to your desires and longings,” said Ruthie Delk, in the popular Becoming devotional.
The extraordinary women behind many of Cross Catholic Outreach’s projects live out this belief every day in their outreaches to girls and women facing unthinkable circumstances. In the slums of Gonaives, Haiti, Sister Renee Quadros and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition are bringing Christ’s love through their Mother and Child Nutrition Center. Monday through Friday, 75 single mothers and their children receive meals, literally saving them from hunger and the debilitating impact of malnutrition.
“We receive them with Christian love and try to see the face of Jesus in all of the women who come to us,” said Sr. Quadros, the center’s director.
Many of the mothers are themselves very sickly and suffer from ailments ranging from skin problems to HIV/AIDS. Free medical consultations and medicine, plus health education, help reverse the negative effects of chronic hunger and poverty and prepare the families for long-term positive lifestyle change.
Sedona arrived at the center shortly after the birth of her son, Markensley. When she was eight months pregnant, her husband died suddenly, leaving her with no income or food. She lives in a makeshift, tarp-covered shanty with her four older children and attends the center every day without fail, she says.
“The food and help I get here is very important for me. It is a means of survival. When my son was born, I could not look him well. He did not have any nourishment. He has become healthy now and I am very grateful for the center. It is my only hope. Without this center, we will die.”
That the center even exists is a testament to God’s restorative plan for the women of Gonaives. The sisters have suffered alongside the women they serve as various calamities have brought unimaginable destruction to this blighted community. In 2004, they endured torrential floods from Hurricane Jeanne, which swallowed much of the city and left the sisters with nothing but their lives. Tragedy repeated in 2008, as a wall of mud and water from tropical storms bore down on the hovels of the poor. Once again, the sisters rebuilt from scratch, unaware of more hardships soon to come: the 2010 earthquake that sent thousands of survivors fleeing to Gonaives for emergency aid and shelter, and later that year the cholera epidemic.
Today, the women’s needs are still great but Sr. Quadros is resolutely hopeful in the face of the difficulties of working in such an impoverished area.
“We do see a change in the mothers. They come cleaner-dressed to the center. They have learned to keep it clean. They are able to express their problems and difficulties. They have their own way of singing, worshipping and praying. We sing hymns together and thus slowly we see the mothers changing their mentality. They make friends with all, they learn to share, work with each other.”