Embracing My Strength

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“Do not let your adornment be merely outward…rather let it be…the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” 1 Peter 3:4. (NKJV)

How did this verse get so twisted and taken out of context that it stopped meaning having a heart that trusts Jesus and started meaning having a soft voice and quiet demeanor? I have no idea. Welcome to the crazy place where I lived during my teens and early twenties.

When you spend a decade or more being told that your personality, gifts, and abilities are sin, it takes a while to recover. But I’m working on it.

I know that I’m not the only strong woman out there who has been shut down by the traditions of religious Christianity. I’m not here today to argue theology, but rather to share my story in the hopes that it will encourage you. I want to encourage strong women to flourish in the gifts God has given them, and I want to encourage men to stand up and support women of strength as co-laborers for the kingdom!

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A year ago, my husband and I started attending a small group with our new church. It was amazing to meet with these people who were honest about themselves and accepting of us on our journey. God put that small group together and I loved it.

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But as we drove away that winter night, I was curled in a ball in the front seat, tears running down my face, my heart breaking and terrified. I’d done it again. The bad part of me had escaped and now they wouldn’t like me.

“What is wrong with me? Why can’t I keep myself contained?” I moaned. Then it got real. “How can they like me,” I asked my husband in desperation, “when I don’t even like myself?” Gut level stuff was spewing from a wound that I didn’t even know I had.

Even as I said it out loud, it hit me. “I don’t even like myself.” It was true.

What terrible thing did I do to cause this trauma? It was simple. Our group leaders had shared their stories and, along with the rest of the group, I asked some questions and made comments. Everything was fine until our leader complimented his wife for answering “when Christy came on strong.”

And that’s when I freaked out and shut down. I hadn’t meant to be strong; I didn’t even know I’d been strong! My strength had gotten me in trouble so many times before…

I’ve always wished I was naturally sweet, quiet, and gentle. I even spent three years in my teens pretending I was. But I’m not. I’m loud, and blunt, and passionate. And I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut.

I’ve learned over the years to keep myself in check, but the strength still occasionally escapes. Mostly because I’m not really a quiet pushover. I have strong feelings and opinions. I love truth. I care deeply about people…sometimes too much. I identify with Elsa from Frozen. When my strength finally blasts its way to the surface, it’s usually unhealthy and unhelpful. It gets me in trouble. I do and say things I shouldn’t…

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“Why do you have to control and hide your strength?” my patient husband asked. “Why can’t you just be who God made you?”

Because it’s bad.” was my quick reply.

My experiences, both during my ultra-conservative season and even more recently, told me my strength was dangerous, unwanted, and possibly even sinful. How could God have made me this way?

Why can’t you just be who God made you to be?” It was a valid question. What would happen if I accepted my strength and lived out of it? What if I stopped stuffing it down until it exploded? I decided it was time for help.

Our church has certified counselors on staff. Isn’t that amazing?! I went to see of them. I wanted to know if it was possible to be a strong woman and love Jesus at the same time.

The counselor listened patiently, like great counselors do. Then he made two observations and one suggestion.

  • “I think you have a deep need to be heard.”

I’d never thought about it that way before, but it was true. In fact, just about every big conflict in my life has happened because I didn’t feel heard or understood and then responded with negative strength.

  • “I like your strength and your passion.”

Being told my strength was good, even likable, was amazing.

  • “Try to let your strength come from a place of brokenness rather than a place of needing to be heard.”

Brokenness…I’ve got lots of that! But, it is interesting to stand back and recognize the way Jesus has used every bit of the brokenness I’ve experienced in both my recent and distant past to make me who I am today. He has humbled and softened me through pain. It’s funny how that works.

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Being broken myself allows me to understand other people’s brokenness a little better. I have more empathy and less judgement. Embracing my brokenness seems to stabilize my strength on a deep level. It is good.

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Probably the most healing part of this journey of living in my God-given strength is the men in my life recently who have encouraged me. It was a patriarchal society that originally told me I was bad, and unfortunately that same attitude often trickles into traditional Christian circles as well.

My wonderfully-opposite-husband, who never even heard the word patriarchal before he met me, has always supported and even pushed me to be the woman God created me to be. He’s never been intimidated by my strength, and from the beginning of our relationship knew how to lead and guide me in a way that encouraged rather than suppressed me.

I’m at a church right now that wants me, with my strength. When I was honest about what happened that night in small group, our leader not only acknowledged my feelings, but let me know that he didn’t mean strong in a bad way. The counselor I spoke with (who is also a pastor) told me he liked me with my strength and gave me pointers to use it well.

We were recently talking to our pastor of young adults. My husband mentioned a conversation the two of us had where I had called him out on something. The pastor laughed, and said, “Christy doesn’t beat around the bush, does she?” But there was no condemnation in his voice, just appreciation. He went on to say, “I want Christy and her passion in this ministry. I am excited to have you guys working with us.”

I’ve got tears in my eyes right now as I write this. Being accepted and loved like that…being appreciated and wanted…is an amazingly powerful thing. 

These days I am embracing words like strong, passionate, and fierce. I am passionate about truth; God has gifted me with strong faith and the ability to love fiercely. Strength can be a beautiful thing when it isn’t exploding in unhealthy ways, even in a woman.

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Choosing Trust

(Re-blogged with some  tweaks from a post I originally wrote a few year ago.)

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Looking at the ultrasound monitor, I didn’t need anyone to tell me. I knew as soon as I saw him. My baby was dead.

Less than an hour later, we sat silently in a small waiting room, surrounded by dim lighting and multiple Kleenex boxes, waiting for the doctor. Four weeks ago our baby was wiggling all over that monitor, waving to us, measuring just right, looking good. And now he was dead. Why would God do this to us again?

We had just lost our first baby seven months ago. By the time I started miscarrying at 18 weeks, he was already absorbing into my uterus so I had to have a D&C. I thought it was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through. We asked so many questions, felt so much grief, and yet God had carried us.

We had been way more careful this time, had many more ultrasounds, and things had been looking good. It seemed like God was answering our prayers. But now my heart was breaking all over again. Why? Why would God let this happen?

The doctor finally came. He told me our baby was bigger this time. He told me it would be better if I delivered him. He wanted to know if tomorrow would work. Tomorrow was Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day will never be the same for me, but I’m okay with that. I spent February 14, 2009 in the hospital laboring with my tiny baby. It was a bit surreal. To be on the maternity floor. To hear babies crying. It lasted all day until finally, at 9:34pm, we got to see our teeny, little, baby boy. He was about 15 weeks along, even though I was at 17 weeks, with tiny fingers and toes, and little ribs. You could even see his fingernails starting to form. The nurses let us spend as much time as we wanted with him. It’s hard to explain the pain I felt, kind of like my chest was ripping in two. I wanted that baby! I wanted him so much! But I wanted him to be alive. And he wasn’t.

I remember them asking if we had a name for him. I didn’t had any names for dead babies, only for living ones! We didn’t know what to do. My husband and I talked about it. We were struggling to trust God and believe in His goodness. It felt impossible to hold on. So, we chose to take a step of faith, and we named our son, Trust. Not because we felt it, but because we didn’t. We chose to trust in a God that we could not see and did not understand. And instantly, I felt peace flood my heart.

I know what it means in Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Because the peace I felt didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t like anything had changed in my circumstances…but I had absolute peace.

“…I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD who does all these things” Isaiah 45:6b-7.

I found this verse before my babies died, but afterwards it became my life verse. I had heard well-meaning people tell others who were grieving that God was sorry their pain happened. I didn’t want God to be sorry, because I didn’t want Him to be weak.

I didn’t want Him to be like, “Oops, sorry about that!” I wanted a God who was totally in control. It comforted me to read this verse and hear God tell me, “Christy, I took your babies. I did it on purpose. It was not an accident.”

Because a God who is completely in control and loves me is safe even if I don’t understand Him. I love believing in a Being who is good and loving, but so far above me that He doesn’t owe me an explanation for His actions. It brings me peace.

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Jesus carried me after my babies died. He held me five weeks later when I shared my testimony of loss and trust with a group of juvenile delinquents on a Reservation in South Dakota. He held me up so that I could still reach out to the junior high kids in our youth group. Jesus carried me through my friend’s pregnancies, and baby showers, and seeing young teen mom’s at Walmart. Oh, I cried, often! But they were not tears of hopelessness and despair, just of sorrow and somehow trust. Choosing to trust does not mean that we don’t feel pain. I was a blubbering mess just writing this!

One year after we lost Trust, despite thinking we might never have children, God miraculously provided a diagnoses, a fertility specialist who just happened to be one of the best in the nation, $8000, a surgery, and a brand new baby growing in my tummy.

Our daughter Zoe’s birthday (July 21) and Trust’s due date (July 23) are just two days and one year apart.

Sometimes God gives us the desires of our hearts even when it seems impossible, and other times He doesn’t. I have friends who struggle with infertility, even going through IVF and God has chosen not to give them a baby. Why? I don’t know.

Often we will never know that answer, but we can believe that God never loses control and we can choose to trust.

“…I the LORD, do all these things” Isaiah 45:7.

It gives me confidence knowing that nothing can come to me that hasn’t passed through the hand of my Heavenly Father. His plans and thoughts are so much larger than mine.

We can trust Him.

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This experience has continued to carry me through more heartbreak, disappointment, unanswered prayers, and pain. This broken world hurts and often things don’t make any sense. But I KNOW that God is real, that He is in control, that He loves me, and that He will not leave me alone. The same is true for you too!

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Thoughts About Obscurity

It started with one word.

Number eight on a list of Ten Traits of a Servant. Obscure.

Google’s dictionary defines obscure as “not discovered or known about.” It’s ironic.

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Every writers’ conference I’ve ever attended holds entire sessions on how to build your platform…how to become known…how to be found. If you want a chance at writing a book, you’d better have a couple thousand followers on at least one social media platform. Put yourself out there. Schedule posts that will keep popping up through out the day. Build your tribe! Find your people!!

Be a servant…be willing to be obscure…not discovered…unknown.

I don’t know if I can be both.

I’ve been wrestling with this for months. The pressure to build a platform has always irked me. But obscurity? How does that work? I want to write a book. Isn’t being an author and being obscure two opposite things? Yet, I resonate with obscurity. I hate the rat race of trying to collect followers.

Two weeks ago, I read this really long but incredibly deep blog post by Timothy Willard called “Have We Lost Our Minds?”

It was like Tim took the disjointed thoughts of my heart and put them into words. He talked about the lost art of thinking and the value that it brings to our lives. He reminded me about how much of our modern lives are made up of reacting, blurting, and doing.

“But the more I surveyed social media, where everyone including (especially?) Christians seems hell-bent on screaming their own point of view towards people, the more I concluded: we don’t care what anyone else thinks or says.

We only care for ourselves.

When we fail to look past our own ideas of how things should be, we cease to be people of vision, we cease to really think.” – Timothy Willard

Tim shared five examples of how the Christian community is failing because of “non-thinking.” One of these examples had to do with the Christian publishing industry. In his opinion, the industry is encouraging shoddy theology because so many of the new authors get published based solely on their online popularity and not because they actually have anything to say. Wow!

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My mind was exploding and I had no idea how to express it. It was time to think. 🙂

My thoughts led me back to “Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper. Seriously, you all need to read that book!

In a disenchanted universe, where God is absent or distant, building a platform makes sense. No one is going to make anything happen for you except you. Fame is the goal…along with getting your ideas out to the public. Therefore, you do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

But, I want to believe that we live in an enchanted Cosmos, with a Creator who is actively present. I want to believe in a mysterious Spirit who is intentionally working out His will. And if His will for me is obscurity, excellent! If His will is a published book that makes the best seller list, great. And if it’s somewhere in between, then fine!

I’m beginning to recognize gifts that God has given me…gifts that don’t always look like gifts. (You have them too!) My story is a gift, even the broken parts. My personality, as much trouble as it gets me in, is a gift…my ability to see truth and communicate it, my boldness, passion, and intensity. All of that is marred by sin and can absolutely be used wrongly…but it’s also still a gift.

I don’t want to treat myself as a commodity to be sold…spending my time worrying about who likes me, and how many followers I have, and if I can get published. I want to recognize the gifts God has given, and out of gratitude to Jesus, share them with you.

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More than anything, I want this blog and my social media posts to be about Jesus regardless of where that gets me in the publishing industry. I’m willing to serve in obscurity.

So what does that mean? 

I don’t really know. Maybe I will write less…but maybe I will write more. I want to write without the pressure of needing to share something once a week or once a day, but instead because I have something to share. I want to focus less on my social media presence and more on my real life.

It’s still winter in Michigan, the yucky part where Christmas is long past, but spring is a distant dream. We took the kiddos away for 24 crazy hours at Great Wolf Lodge enjoying 84 degrees and bathing suits.

I’ve been working as a Shipt shopper, buying groceries and delivering them while the kids are in school. It’s a fun and fast paced job, but not very Instagram worthy unless you like pictures of shopping cars and sales receipts. Haha!

We are settling into our new church family…learning to be “normal” Christians instead of being in ministry…learning how to have a relationship with God that has nothing to do with taking care of anyone else. We are slowly healing and growing, and it’s good.

That’s a glimpse of my real life. I want to value and enjoy it. I want to follow the Spirit wherever He leads. And I want to share my questions, frustrations, and God ponderings with you. Because you are also valued and loved. Thanks for being here. 🙂

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Learning from People I Thought I Disagreed with…

About a month ago, I set out on a journey of learning and discovery through reading. You know what I’ve discovered so far? I’m kind of a jerk. Good to know, huh? 😉

When I first started my book proposal a couple of years ago, there were three books somewhat contemporary to mine that totally irritated me. Not that I’d ever read them, mind you. But I knew (or thought I knew) the conclusions the authors came to and I disagreed with them. These women had all become disillusioned with evangelical Christianity and were looking for something different. They had significant followings. It irritated me. Prideful much?

In my last post, I talked about how I bought those books and was looking forward to reading them. Here is what has happened so far!

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I started with Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and was immediately hooked. Addie writes with shockingly brutal honesty. I could hear the subtle cynicism in her voice as she shared about her emotionally charged years in youth group, her disillusionment in Christian college, and her struggle with depression as a young adult. The Church People had Christianese answers that sounded good…but nothing touched the pain or satisfied the searching questions of her heart.

Surprisingly, I didn’t hate Addie’s book. Instead, I loved her. I was captivated by her story, and I needed to know if she ever found the real Jesus. So I immediately bought her second book, Night Driving, and devoured it in a matter of days.

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Addie is incredibly genuine in sharing her doubts, vulnerable about her brokenness. She asks questions for all of us. Points out the flaws in our Christianese…in our formulaic religion. Ironically formulaic for people who claim “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

I gave myself a few days off, and then I picked up Elizabeth Esther’s, Girl at the End of the World. I knew going in that we had similarities in our childhood, growing up in performance based, legalistic, fundamental, patriarchal Christianity. But I didn’t realize how abused she had been, that her grandparents were the founders of the Christian cult, or that she didn’t escape until she was a married mother of three. Grace, I needed to give Elizabeth grace. Seriously, it was amazing that she was even seeking to know God after all the craziness and abuse!

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The fact that Elizabeth and her husband converted to Catholicism kind of threw me for a loop. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes sense. Isn’t GOD big enough to use anything? She was trying to seek the real God, but kept running into her grandfather’s voice and interpretations of Scripture. She needed something strikingly different…and what is more different than the church she’d been taught was the “whore of Babylon” growing up?

They changed me…these books that I thought I hated. They changed the way I want to write.

I feel like I have a new understanding of my intended audience. If I’m going to reach the broken and searching, it needs to be with hope in an outstretched hand…with grace, and love, and questions instead of answers.

I’m realizing that we are all on our own journey as we try to find God. Thankfully, He’s happy to be found. God knows what we need, knows how to reach us, and how to speak to us individually…how to meet us where we are at. We’ve got to let Him out of our box. And I need to stop judging people before I read their books!

I have one book left, Rachel Held Evan’s, Faith Unraveled. I’ll be honest, I saved it for last because she scares me the most. I know that Rachel is pretty progressive and pretty vocal. But I’m willing to listen to her story, feel her hurt and frustrations, and try to understand where she is coming from. It’s good for me! And who knows, I’ve been wrong twice now…LOL.

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A Peek Inside My Heart

Welcome to a peek inside my heart… A random collection of my current thoughts and experiences. 

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A year ago I was in the middle of the darkest season I’ve ever gone through. It was bitter, and painful, and long. It felt like the Valley of the Shadow of Death that David talks about in Psalm 23. There were times that I just wanted to die. It completely broke me.

I’ll be honest, healing takes time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing good, and sometimes it still hurts. Last week, memories were coming back in a flood. I stood there in church during worship fighting back tears…just one person among hundreds…feeling so alone.

“Your brokenness was a gift.”

I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper…five words in the core of my heart. And as I recognized the truth, the feelings of pain, loss, and despair slowly melted away…

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” Psalm 23:4.

Jesus WAS with me! I feel like I walked through fire but didn’t get burned. Instead, I got melted. Which is a good thing! 🙂

Good gifts came from my melted brokenness.

I had six sessions with a fabulous therapist who is also a Jesus follower. After our first day, where I just poured out my heart, she spoke these words. “You have been hurt.” Sometimes we just need people who will acknowledge our pain. God used her to start my healing journey.

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I found a book called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. Seriously, every Christian should read this book! It put my experiences as a teen and young adult with Bill Gothard and IBLP into perspective while opening my eyes to more prevalent issues. Any of us are capable of abusing others when we lose sight of (or never experience) a life of grace in Christ.

I am less sure of myself and more willing to listen to others. Which brings me to my next step of learning and discovery…

When I first started the (lengthly) process of writing Impostor Jesus, there were three popular memoirs that irritated me. These authors all came from conservative evangelical Christian backgrounds but became disillusioned and left. They have large followings. I was frustrated because I went through “more extreme” circumstances and I still believed in an evangelical version of Jesus. How dare they lead people astray?! Prideful much?

Then I got melted and things changed. I’m realizing that there is a huge number of people who are angry and disillusioned with the evangelical church, and they have legitimate reasons. Their stories have value. Their hurts need to be validated.

I bought those three memoirs on Amazon and I’m looking forward to reading them. Not as someone trying to pick apart theology or judge beliefs, but as someone feeling their pain.

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Which brings me to my book.

I’m still planning on writing Impostor Jesus, but it’s changing. I’m realizing that my extreme experience in legalism is simply part of a larger problem. The modern Christian church is too often just a religious system instead of a group of people who love and follow Christ. We’ve lost sight of the real Jesus. If He showed up, I’m afraid we’d miss Him. Instead of being disciples, we would be the Pharisees…upset because God doesn’t fit our idea of who He is supposed to be.

It’s time for another revival, for another awakening. The church has been overhauled multiple times in the course of history. Let’s do it again!

Don’t Judge Me…A Matter of Perspective

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It really was innocent, but it looked scandalous.

Let me take you back to my last winter youth retreat in my “cult”. I was super close to being out. In fact, I was already a closet rebel as this story will confirm. 😉

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Our church had rented this small Christian camp for years, both for family camps and youth retreats. I loved the rustic chapel with its fireplace and knotty pine beams. I thought I knew every crook and cranny until my friend’s younger brother asked me if I’d ever seen the attic. Apparently there was a secret staircase in a closet that led up to a small storage area.

Always up for adventure, I decided to let him show me. Just going up to the attic together was sketchy because it was a boy and girl alone. But things got worse from there.

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From my Scrapbook! 🙂

For some reason the closet door was located about two feet off the floor and the closet was filled with old televisions and other junk. So we had to climb over and around to reach the stairs. Going in wasn’t a problem. But my long, straight, denim skirt became an issue on the way out. I tripped over a television, my legs got trapped in my skirt, and I fell out of the door. Fortunately, Dan was there to catch me. But that catch was another shocking sin because he was a boy and he touched me!

 

It would have been fine, but as we turned and he set me down, we were face to face with a young, all-in, super committed girl from the youth group. Her eyes and mouth were wide open. The realization of what it looked like struck us. We started laughing so hard we couldn’t even breathe let alone explain.

Christy and Dan were alone in the closet and came out touching each other and giggling!!!

It’s a funny story, but we all do it. We make snap judgments and condemn people without knowing all the facts.

Years later, I was out of my cult and working at summer camp. Normally I worked on the elementary camp, but today I was up at the high school camp helping my friend teach a choreography to some of the older campers. It was an elective drama class and there was one boy. I knew why he was there. Girls! He must be a total player with terrible motives. What a jerk. I only spent an hour with this guy, but he made such a strong impression on me that I can still remember what he was wearing.

Four years later I married him.

Yeah…

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I have come to discover that my perspective is just that, my perspective. In order to get a clear and accurate picture, I need multiple perspectives and all of the facts. It’s easy for us to feel wise and discerning, but we are not infallible. We need community, and we all need grace.

Will you join me? Let’s give grace before judgement. Let’s listen before we condemn.

“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” ~ Jesus, (John 7:24 NLT).

Making it to Round #2 of American Idol…Sort of. (A Book Update)

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On May 20th, I flew down to Asheville, NC by myself. Then I spent five days by myself at The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference (or BRMCWC for short). As a stay-at-home wife and mother-of-two, alone time is pretty scarce. Just being me for five days would have been amazing, but I also made it to The Second Round of American Idol. Sort of…

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That’s the best way to explain what happened. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I’ve been talking about writing a book…for some time…okay, maybe three or four years. It’s been a learning and growing process.

Anyway…

Last year I attended a different writers conference, called Speak Up!, here in Michigan. My dreams at Speak Up totally bombed. But because of them, I was able to take a completed book proposal, one sheets, and business cards to North Carolina…completely prepared, with little effort, for what God had planned. Funny how God works sometimes, isn’t it?

It was obvious that God planned this trip. Without me even searching for it, the BRMCWC fell into my lap (along with every penny of the $1150 I needed to pay for the conference, food and lodging, airfare, and even my baggage fees)!

The conference was incredible, even though it rained almost the entire time. I met some wonderful, precious, amazing people who love Jesus and encouraged me! My sister-in-law and I got to spend quality time together and deepen our friendship (which can be hard to do when you live 900 miles apart). I was challenged and stretched by talented authors and others in the writing industry. They gave me concrete steps to take and specific areas to work on.

AND… Three agents expressed interest and took my book proposal. Two publishing companies also requested that I send it to them. What? Woohoo!! (Unlike previous years, I actually sent it in.)

So…now I get to wait and see what happens. Nothing is certain; this is not a guarantee that my book will get published. But it sure is a step in the right direction! Very similar to making it to round #2 of American Idol. I didn’t get cut, but that doesn’t mean I’ll win.

Please continue to pray for me…

  • That I will obediently follow the path that God has so clearly set before me. I feel like I’ve spent the majority of the last 3-4 years fighting God’s leading, resisting, and making excuses. I long to cast off fear of failure and rejection and just run freely after my Savior.
  • That I will listen to the Voice of Truth and refuse to believe the lies of our enemy.
  • That I will boldly pursue the open doors in front of me…such as writing for online group blogs and magazines.

Thanks, friends! ❤

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Coffee and processing at Clouds, the amazing coffee shop at Ridgecrest Conference Center!

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I snuck out between storms to catch these beautiful rain drops and flowers.

“An Impostor Jesus” – The Introduction

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I wish I looked this cool when I write!

Last week, I gave you the first paragraph of my book. In honor of the fact that I am going to The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in less than a week, I have decided to give you more. 🙂 Pray for my journey! Pray that I will listen to the Holy Spirit, that I will be humble and available, that I will be bold and courageous, and that most of all God’s will is accomplished!

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***

“I’ve been brainwashed. The unexpected thought tugged at my mind. We were a sleepy bunch of teen girls, dragged from our beds after midnight to be lectured by an adult chaperone. Clumped together on a couple of ratty old couches, we yawned and tried to listen. I was all too aware that my alarm was going off in less than six hours. Prayer meeting started at 6:30am and if you cared at all about giving off a spiritual vibe, you would be there. Which meant getting up even earlier to shower, and blow dry and curl your hair, because for some reason curly hair was also a sign of spirituality.

Mrs. W droned on and on about cliques, and friendship, and I felt myself drifting off. Then she said it, the real reason this meeting had been called.

“It just grieved my heart, to look out the window today and see you all playing in the snow. I couldn’t tell who the boys were and who the girls were since you were all wearing snow pants.” Her voice dripped of judgmental disappointment.

Yes, at this winter youth retreat, we were all wearing snow pants to play in the snow. Shock! Horror! What?

In previous years, most of us, at least the “godly” ones, had worn skirts or culottes over our snow pants.

How do I explain culottes? They are kind of like gauchos only much, much uglier. The first ones I wore as a young teen were homemade and looked like an intensely gathered skirt with a waistband. However, unlike a skirt, if you grabbed the voluminous sides and pulled, voila, there were two sections of fabric, one for each leg. Over the years, our culottes eventually shrank down to a slightly larger version of the more familiar gaucho. We wore them when a skirt was a health hazard, such as swimming, horseback riding, or downhill skiing. However, it should be noted that downhill skiing in culottes, even skinnier ones, feels a bit like skiing with two flags attached to your legs flapping wildly in the wind.

The ridiculousness of it all began to sink in. We had been dragged from our warm beds in the middle of the night to be lectured about modesty and femininity because we had failed to put another layer of clothing over top of our already poofy snow pants.

I rested my head on the shoulder of the girl next to me and stared skeptically at the woman lecturing us. An increasingly familiar feeling of rebellion crept over me. I had always been a “good girl”, one of the “godly” ones, but that was about to change. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t rock music, or blue jeans, or college that was turning me into a rebel (like we’d been warned about). It was Jesus.

If you are at all familiar with TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” show and have seen the Duggar family, then you have an idea of how I grew up. Only, don’t think of the “stylish” Duggars we all know now. Do me a favor and Google the 2004 version of the Duggar family. Yup, that was me: long hair, awkward bangs, homemade jumpers and all.

My siblings and I were homeschooled before homeschooling was a thing. We were educated at home back in the day when kids like us were afraid of the yellow school bus (there were occasional conflicts with a local school district). Back when grocery store clerks had to scrape their chins off the floor when we told them why we weren’t in school. “Is that even legal?” was a commonly heard question.

Obviously, not all homeschoolers are Duggar-ish. How did I end up at a youth retreat getting lectured about snow pants at midnight? The short answer is that my parents joined a cult…

I’m skipping this section because you can read it on my blog. Just follow the link above.

“Once I “got out” I chose to close the door on my past. After being chased through Cedar Point by a former friend so that they could yell at me about my new cartilage piercing, I just needed to be done. We were no longer attending the cultic church, so I moved on and started college. (I might have still worn homemade jumpers and had waist-length hair my first year, but hey, it was a step in the right direction.) I told new friends that I had been homeschooled in a conservative Christian home and that was all. My husband didn’t even learn the truth about my past until we had been married for over five years.

A few years ago, I started to get connected with former ATI students and people who had been influenced by Bill Gothard’s teachings. Many of them were no longer Christians. Having been burned by the version of Christianity they experienced, they wanted nothing to do with God, Jesus, or church. I didn’t blame them, but it made me wonder. Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away? I started to go back and process for the first time in over a decade. As I worked my way through memories and former ways of thinking, I came to a simple conclusion. I met Jesus. He became so real to me, even while I was in the cult, that I couldn’t leave Him behind. I left the legalism and lies, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. After all, He was the one who showed me I’d been brainwashed.

One afternoon, after an online interaction with some of my former “cult-mates”, I found myself in my basement doing laundry and talking to Jesus. It broke my heart to hear from people who had such misconceptions of God and who didn’t want to give Jesus another chance. I got it, but I hurt for them. Sitting on my basement floor, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I whispered “I just want to represent You well.” And the Holy Spirit whispered back to my heart, “Write. Tell your story.” So, here I am.

It’s not just people raised in a Christian cult who are walking out on the church and Christianity. Many “normal” people raised in good, “normal” churches are leaving their former faith as well. Recognizing this growing trend, I started to wonder if there was a common thread. What if people across the board are leaving the religion and tradition of Christianity because they have never met Jesus? I think this common thread is what makes my rather extreme story universal.

Think of me as the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four. I met this amazing, radical, mind-blowing man named Jesus. He changed my life, and I want you to meet Him too. It is my prayer that as you read this book and hear some crazy stories, you will consider lies you might be believing, and question your own view of God and Christianity. By the end, I pray you will be able to say with the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42.”

I hope you enjoyed that sneak peak! Thank you for your prayers as I take the next scary but exciting step forward. 🙂

When God Opens a Door (A Book Update)

“I’ve been brainwashed. The unexpected thought poked at my mind. We were a sleepy bunch of teen girls, dragged from our beds after midnight to be lectured by an adult chaperone. Clumped together on a couple of ratty old couches, we yawed and tried to listen. I was all too aware that my alarm was going off in less than six hours. Prayer meeting started at 6:30 am and if you cared at all about giving off a spiritual vibe, you would be there. Which meant getting up even earlier to shower, and blow dry and curl your hair, because for some reason curly hair was also a sign of spirituality.”

This is the opening paragraph of the introduction to my book, An Impostor Jesus that I am writing. That I am writing… It’s strange to say that. It’s been such a process!

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Even though humanly, logically, if you know me personally, the timing doesn’t make any sense right now…

God is flinging open the door!

  • God provided $1,100 for me to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina in a couple of weeks!! Seriously! I’m still in shock.
  • This is a pretty intense conference: five days, tons of writers, agents, editors, etc. I know it’s the next step but I’m a bit terrified.
  • Not only did God provide money, I also get to go with my sweet sister-in-law! In fact, she is the one who suggested it and sent me her extra copy of The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017. Which is where I found the name Steve Laube…
  • Steve Laube is a highly recognized agent in the industry (he represented Jennie Allen), he is the author of The Christian Writers Market Guide, and he will be attending the BRMCWC. After reading his agency description in the Market Guide, I’m going to do my best to connect with him. Because you know, why not? Go big! I might be insane…
  • Mr. Laube wants three chapters in a book proposal, which meant that I had to write another chapter before the conference…which just happened to be the hardest chapter of the whole book…
  • But, it’s done! Chapter 2 is done. (Intro + 1+2 = 3, for those of you wondering at my math skills) All I can say is that it was God because even though I had scads of papers covered with scribbles, thoughts, and organization clouds, none of it made any sense. Until, it did. I seriously got the whole chapter written in three coffee shop sittings!
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Writing and latte art…does it get any better?

God’s timing is so crazy.

This last almost-year has been so hard…incredibly difficult…and yet…

  • God has used it to break and humble me. I can see this reflected in my writing, and it’s a great place to be when you are trying to tell people about the real Jesus.
  • I have more passion than ever for the call and purpose that God has put on my life.
  • I’ve spent so much time resisting the idea of writing a book, but now I am embracing it. God has made it SO CLEAR that this is what He is calling me to do. I’ll be honest, it terrifies me, but as a good friend said recently, “God’s not asking you to gather 50,000 Facebook followers, or be a famous public speaker, He’s just asking you to write this book. So, write the book!”
  • Words, and thoughts, and ideas are pouring out of my mind lately. I feel like I actually know where this is going, and I can see it happening. It’s really exciting! I know that it’s Jesus!

Want to know what you can do?

  1. Pray for me! I need so much prayer!!! Pray for the upcoming conference, for the contacts that I will make, for safety traveling, and that God will clearly show me the next step…
  2. Follow my blog. I know it sounds silly and I don’t usually talk about it, but publishing companies look at this sort of thing. They want to know how big of a “platform” you have. There is a place on the side bar where you can sign up with your email address. This will send you an email every time I write a new post, and it will make it seem like my blog is more popular. 😉
  3. Like my Facebook page. You can find a link in my sidebar. Again, another platform thing…but numbers are important to publishers.
  4. Share my blog or Facebook page on social media. Numbers again, but also getting the word out. 🙂 Thanks, friends!

I’ll close with the last paragraph of the introduction to An Impostor Jesus…it’s the absolute cry of my heart both for my book and my blog.

“Think of me as the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four. I met this amazing, radical, mind-blowing man named Jesus. He changed my life, and I want you to meet Him too. It is my prayer that as you read this book and hear a few bizarre stories, you will consider the lies you might be believing, and question your view of God and Christianity. By the end, I pray you will be able to say with the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42”

A High Ropes Course Called Life…

I strongly dislike high ropes courses. But, I adore zip lines. This has been my dilemma as a youth pastor’s wife for the past five years. High ropes courses seem to go along with youth retreats and camp experiences. I hate them. They terrify me. But, I want to participate, to be a positive example to teens who are also terrified. Plus, there’s almost always a zip line at the end! Did I mention that I love zip lines?

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For those of you who have never experienced a high ropes course, let me explain the horrors. High ropes courses are called “high” for a reason. They are located in trees or atop poles that I’m sure are at least 50 feet in the air. Okay, maybe not 50 feet, but high enough so your brain is fully aware that if you fall, you will die. Even though your brain also knows you are strapped into harnesses and ropes and such, there is still a primal fear that never really leaves. All obstacles are designed to terrify you further and are concocted with tiny, wiggly, cables, moving pieces such as swings or logs, and wobbly ropes that you are supposed to use to balance.

I do not attempt high ropes courses because they are fun. I do them to get to the zip line. Until last weekend.

Last weekend, I was at a special women’s retreat and one of the optional afternoon activities was a high ropes course. There were no teens around to encourage, and I didn’t even know if there was a zip line at the end. But, I knew that I needed that high ropes course. I needed a physical example of trusting God.

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My personal life is kind of like a high ropes course right now. It’s been a hard year…full of challenges, and fears, and doubts. Things haven’t gone like I wanted. Stuff fell apart. It’s been scary. It can be easy to look at the circumstances around me and wonder if God is really real, or if He’s really powerful, or if He really cares.

So there I was, standing at the bottom of the high ropes course that no one was making me do, talking to Jesus, telling Him that I needed a visual example of trust. I had my harness on, my lobster claws attached (see the next image), and my helmet secured to my head. The guy running the ropes belayed me as I clambered up some metal spikes stuck into the tree, and soon I was connecting my lobster claws to the cables and unclipping the carabiners holding me to my belay rope. It was just me, and my equipment, and the looming course.

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The first obstacle was a single tightrope with a few short ropes to help you balance. They were too short to keep hold of across the entire tightrope, so you had to let go of one and grab another. Who puts a tightrope as the first obstacle??

I made my shaky way across, talking to Jesus, telling Him that I wanted to trust Him. Somewhere in the middle, this verse popped into my mind: “You hem me in behind and before…”

I couldn’t remember where the verse was located or what came after that, but I realized something. In the high ropes course of life, Jesus is our harness and lobster claws! He’s beneath our bum and above our heads securing us, holding us together, keeping us safe. In the same way that my equipment was protecting me up in the trees, Jesus was taking care of my crazy life.

When I teeter across a challenging obstacle and all I can see is a shaky wire under my feet and the 20 feet of air beyond that, my equipment is still holding me. I might not notice my equipment or even think about it, but that doesn’t make it less real. Isn’t that just like Jesus? When prayers don’t get answered, or we get terrible news, or things are falling apart, and all we can focus on is the scary challenge ahead…when the terror is real…when we can’t see Jesus…He is still there holding us.

People, I prayed my way through that high ropes course! I made it to the end in one piece. And guess what? There was a zip line! 🙂

Later, I looked up the phrase “You hem me in behind and before” on my phone and this is what I found:

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:5-6

The whole first part of Psalm 139 is all about God knowing us intimately and His Presence never leaving us. So much beautiful truth! Our challenges, our circumstances, do not change who God is. Our inability to see or notice Him does not change the fact that He is with us. I love that!

No matter what terrifying or heart wrenching obstacle you are on in this high ropes course called life, Jesus is your harness and your lobster claws! He will not let go and He will not fail. You can trust Him. 

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