In November 2017 a book called Walking with the Women of the Old Testament was published by Cedar Fort, an independent small press publisher in Utah. Almost immediately the book was sold out—something that seemed surprising considering the topic and time frame of the book, a collection of profiles of Old Testament women such as Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, and Ruth. But for the author, Heather Farrell, the interest in her book isn’t surprising at all. “Women’s stories are important. Both women who are our neighbors and friends, as well as women who are our ancestors and role models. Telling women’s stories is an important way of reclaiming a balance and empathy between men and women—creating a kinship and connection that can change perceptions and actions.” This passion for women’s stories is what led Heather, ten years ago, to start a blog called Women in the Scriptures.
“I started the blog right after the birth of my first child. He was born at Christmas time, and I found myself feeling a deep sense of kinship with Mary, the mother of Christ. I marveled at her faith, her courage, and that fact that she went anywhere on a donkey at nine months pregnant! (and I am still convinced that she would have insisted on walking most of the way—a donkey does not seem to be a comfortable form of travel when pregnant!)
“Blogging has changed so much since then,” she recalled, “but it seemed one way to fill the void I found when I started searching for more information about women in the scriptures and found almost nothing.” After a decade, and a body of work that she terms “only scratching the surface” of the stories of women, she loves to issue a challenge to those new to her blog or her books. “I know God loves his daughters as much as he loves his sons. And I know that if you look for them, and study their names, you will find a new appreciation for what it means to be a woman, and a daughter of God.”
Since she started writing, shortly after the birth of her first son, Heather has posted more than one hundred profiles on her blog, and recorded many more in her two books, Walking with the Women of the Old Testament, and Walking with the Women of the New Testament. She has also had four more children, for a total of three girls and two boys. She loves to talk about how her children have continued to be an inspiration to her writing.
“When I was younger I grew up hearing only the stories that are told the most often in the scriptures, and most of those stories are the stories of men. I remember feeling like there must not have been women doing important things, or that those women had been forgotten, but I found it isn’t true. And I want my daughters to see that for themselves, to feel more treasured, and less out of balance in our world. To know that women are an important part of all aspects of life. I want them to read the narratives of amazing role models for themselves, to see them, to feel their importance. I want my daughters to know the value of their own stories, and of keeping a record of their lives.” Through her writing Heather quickly came to realize the importance of record keeping. “One of the reasons there are so few stories told about women is that they were not the ones to keep the records, to write the histories. And the people keeping those records tended to overlook the domestic, peaceful moments, the moments of faith that belong to women.”
Although Heather believes that her writing and her passion for women’s stories has been important for her daughters, she believes it is almost more important for sons. “I want them to learn how to value and treasure the role of women, and to realize the importance of the way women are portrayed—that men are not the only important part of history. One of my proudest mothering moments happened when my son came to me when he was about 7, upset because he had realized that he would never get to be a mom. And I realized that it was so important to build that empathy for the roles of men and women. All the prophets and patriarchs in the scriptures had incredible women who stood alongside them, and those women are just as important as their male counterparts. Finding the balance between male and female is important. All the times thing go well, historically, men and women are working together— they are not fighting each other, but finding an understanding of each other’s importance.”
When Heather reflected back on the process of searching through the scriptures and studying the women she found there, she found that there were some women that she felt a closer connection to than others. “During different times in my life, I have been drawn to different women. When I started my blog it was through a close identification with Mary.” Naming other women she felt drawn to, Heather mentioned Jehosheba, the granddaughter of Jezebel and daughter of Athaliah. “I have always wondered about her. She was raised with wicked women. How did she change her life? How did she go from being surrounded by terrible role models to being a righteous woman? These questions became personal for me. There is a history of mental illness in my family and it is important to me to see how you can change history and be different from those who have come before you.”
Heather went to Brigham Young University, where she studied public health. “I actually began by wanting to study nursing. I felt strongly that it was something I should pursue. But I pass out even when giving blood, so I kept coming back to the thought of how I would actually be able to finish my studies.” Eventually she decided to change her major, but her interest in nursing put her on a path to midwifery and doula practice. She had home births with all of her children, and is also the co-author of the book The Gift of Giving Life; Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth. “Women’s bodies are incredible and powerful, with the ability to create life. We can’t distance ourselves from our own bodies. We have to embrace it and honor it. Our female body doesn’t hold us back and keep us from being equal. We are complimentary to men, not less than them. I strongly believe that to empower women doesn’t mean we need to disenfranchise men.”
Heather likes to call herself a spiritual feminist, not a political feminist. “There are so many things about women’s issues that can be divisive. There is this need to feel valued and needed, but part of the politics of feminism has become an effort to pit men against women. You can see it in the Old Testament, and those same stories are a key theme today.” In fact, Heather is careful to encourage women to explore and love and find a passion for women’s stories, but not to feel anger about the historic lack of emphasis on women’s voices. “Anger is a deception. We need to stay away from the destructive paths of anger that would lead us away from the themes of family and unity. There is an awakening happening right now in women’s voices, but we have to be careful not to get it wrong. We need to know what banner we are marching under. We need to make sure our stories are not instruments of division but are instruments of collaboration and empowerment.”
Written by ShelliRae Spotts