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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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!

Fireflies, Chili, and Hope

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“You are the light of the world…No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket…” Matthew 5:14-15.

How strange would it be…if you sat on your porch one summer evening and watched as one firefly after another flew into an open container. Instead of floating free, blinking their lights in the summer dusk, the fireflies huddled together. Willing captives in a jar.

And yet, I think many Christians do the same thing. Somehow, protection and safety have become more important than being the light of the world. They huddle together around common ideology and values. Protecting good things like marriage, family, the sanctity of life, and moral absolutes, but refusing to engage the culture and the people in it.

If this life really is a vapor and just the beginning of the adventure, what have we got to lose? Do you believe that?

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“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?” Matthew 5:14.

Wouldn’t it be odd…if you had a pot of homemade chili simmering on the stove, but despite adding multiple teaspoons of salt, it never became seasoned? Finally in frustration, you shook some of the salt into your hand, licked your finger, pressed it into the salt, and put it in your mouth. The salt was tasteless.

The same thing has happened to the church. Christianity is often something that just happens on Sundays. A religion separate from the rest of life. It is protection from hell, if we even believe in hell, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

If God really exists, and if the Bible really is the history of His interaction with humanity, and if this life is just a vapor and the beginning of the adventure…well, that changes everything. Do you believe this?

There are things on my heart that I need to tell you. This might be the strangest and most disjointed blog post I’ve ever written, but that’s okay. It’s real. 🙂

The darkness is very dark. This world is a mess and getting crazier by the day. It’s scary, I get that. But it’s not about safety and huddling, or about just getting by.

We were made for more. You were. And you know it. There is a restlessness that’s growing. A longing that can’t be satisfied. Because we were made in God’s image…made to be magnificent…made for a relationship and an adventure.

It can’t be about someone else telling you what to believe, or where to go, and what to do. It has to be about you and Jesus!

It can’t be about what people say, what the intellectuals think, or what is popular to agree with. It must be about you and Jesus!

It’s real, guys. Jesus is real…everything we see on this earth is just a shadow compared to Him and the adventure that is coming.

And because of that truth, we can do it. We can live the life that He has given us. It might not be easy, or safe, or comfortable, or fun, but that’s okay.

We all long for significance. We want to make a difference, to be important. But Jesus’ Kingdom is strange. It’s backwards, inside out, and upside down. The first are last, the last are first, and the Most High God became the servant of all. Think you are weak and powerless? You are the perfect candidate for adventure. Think you have gifts and abilities? Jesus might pick you to clean toilets. 😉 But either way, it’s okay because it’s about Jesus’ Kingdom and His plans.

Take heart, my friends, believe the truth, seek the Lord, and hold on to hope. Jesus wins! It’s not over yet! ❤

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Married to Your Best Friend…

It’s my fault. If I planned better, I would actually schedule a massage with one of my favorite female therapists. But, I usually wait until I’m in desperate pain and then I get whoever happens to be available the morning of my chiropractic appointment.

That’s how I ended up, face down, talking with my young male masseuse about relationships and his new girlfriend. After finding out I was married, he wanted to know for how long. At the time it was just over eight years. I will never forget his response.

“Wow!! (pause) You must be one of those people who is really into commitment!”

Yup! That’d be me…one of those commitment freaks.

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My wonderful and incredibly opposite husband and I are in our tenth year of marriage. After nearly a decade together, I feel like I can say a few things about married life.

Every relationship has its own unique flavor. My brother and his beautiful wife led the way in our family as classic romantics. They sat close together, gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes, and whispered sweet nothings. My father, who enjoys his children’s relationships almost as much as his own, would watch them with a sappy smile on his face. Then Josh and I came along. We preferred chasing each other through the house with water guns, or frosting, or rolled kitchen towels complete with screams and giggles. I’m pretty sure my dad thought we were nuts. On our wedding day, we chose to have cheesecake instead of traditional cake just because we wanted to avoid the whole “cake cutting” situation and the mess that was inevitable. 🙂

I married my best friend, you guys, and we have worked hard for almost a decade to maintain our best-friend-status. Some years were easier than others. The baby season was the hardest, but we conquered it…hormones, dirty diapers, sleep deprivation and all.

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Please join me for a peak into our marriage. This is shared with permission. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago Josh got sick. We have totally different sick styles. Typically when I catch a germ, it’s such a light case Josh won’t believe that I’m sick. When Josh gets sick, he almost dies.  I don’t do well when Josh is sick. I’m usually a strong, no-nonsense woman who can take whatever life throws at me.  But my husband is my rock, my support, my comrade, and when he’s practically dying, I sort of fall apart.

As I try to take care of my poor husband, I start to realize how much I love him…like LOVE him. You married people will understand this better than my single readers. Emotions and lovey feelings tend to come and go once you are married for a while. The commitment of love should stay, but the butterflies aren’t always there.

For the rest of the week, I continued to feel these super strong emotions as he recovered and I kept trying to show him how much I loved him…but he just didn’t seem to get it. (Love language differences and all.) At least he didn’t respond with reciprocal love like I wanted.

Finally we reached the last straw.

It was Josh’s day off and I knew he wanted to take a nap and I was hoping we could nap together. But he just came in and said, “I’m taking a nap” and didn’t invite me. My overly-emotional brain freaked out and felt super sad, and I wanted to go pout in the basement until he came and found me (Sound familiar, ladies?), but I knew that wouldn’t work because, duh, I’ve been married for almost a decade, and it never works. So instead I went and mowed the lawn.

I never mow the lawn. We have a push mower but a really tiny lawn so it’s not a big deal, it’s just always something Josh does. My thought was, “Maybe if I go mow the lawn (something he needed to do that day), he will get it and feel how much I love him and love me back!”

I was even nice and started on the side of the house away from our bedroom where he was napping.

My poor, tired, still-recovering husband slept all through the lawn mowing. He literally came out just as I was finishing the last 3 or 4 strips. I am pushing the lawn mower, now in the rain, and he is staring at me with a confused smile on his face. “What are you doing?”

“Trying not to pout.” It came out kind of grumpy. He shook his head and walked away.

I finished up and took the mower back to the shed where he was puttering on some stuff. “What’s going on?” he asked.

I don’t normally cry. But there we were, me blubbering about how much I love him, and him shaking his head and smiling at me and wiping the tears off my face. Next thing I know we are hugging, and I’m sniffling, and he’s laughing, and we are friends again.

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In the weeks following this, I started thinking about our relationship and wondering what it is that makes us best friends. I think these six things definitely help.

  1. We communicate, eventually. After nine years of trying to be telepathic, I have come to the conclusion that Josh cannot read my mind. He doesn’t get hints, even ones that I think are obvious. He needs me to spell it out for him. We try hard to be honest with each other and we take time to talk.
  2. We serve each other. While we do have his/hers chores at our house, we are (usually) willing to jump in and help the other one out. We also take care of each other…for instance, it is pretty normal for us to give shoulder rubs/back massages at least once a week.
  3. We laugh together and at ourselves. Although becoming parents has tempered our rambunctious frosting fights a bit, we still have regular times of laughter and teasing. We enjoy humor and messing around with each other.
  4. We have never gone to bed angry. There have been times when we went to bed still not seeing eye to eye on an issue, but we have never gone to bed actually angry with each other. Not once. We have tried, but someone always wakes the other person up and makes them talk. As a result, we forgive and don’t hold grudges.
  5. We do life together. Josh has been a youth pastor for most of our marriage. I have been a youth leader with him for all of that time. Even when the kiddos were babies, we packed them up and they played on the floor of the youth room. We are in ministry, not just him. Although we have separate hobbies, we make sure that our relationship has the priority. We schedule dates every month, and try to get a night away together (or home if the kiddos are with grandparents) at least once each season.
  6. We have a bedtime routine. People laugh at this one, but I think it’s one of the main reasons for our closeness. Literally, almost every night we do the same thing. After the kiddos are in bed, we watch Netflix or CBS online together and eat ice cream. Then we brush our teeth together and go to bed. Bedtime together is our opportunity to talk, laugh, and pray. The only times in our nine years of marriage that we haven’t gone to bed together is when someone is gone or sick.

 

I don’t want you to read this and think we are perfect. Far from it. I could write many more posts about our fights, misunderstandings, and stupidities. Marriage has the potential to be a beautiful, wonderful thing! My hope is that this post will encourage you in your own marriage, to be real, to seek friendship, and to keep fighting. It’s worth it!

Rejecting Perfection…We are All Broken!

It was a beautiful spring day, the warm sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze blowing, and the grass was turning green. I was winding my way down a familiar road, feeling each curve, radio playing, singing along. All of the sudden, I realized with a jolt that I was WAY too close to the road’s edge. The cold winter and spring rains had produced wheel-swallowing-potholes in this particular stretch. Breath caught, heart stopped, I knew that I couldn’t correct in time.

“Whump!” My front wheel fell into a small canyon.

“Bam!” My tire blew.

A sinking feeling filled my stomach.  I was going to have to call my employer (I worked as a nanny) and admit that I had broken her car for the second time in a week!

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It is never easy to admit when we break something, and even harder to admit that we ourselves are broken.

But the truth is, we are all broken. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others.

Let’s keep being honest. It’s easier to hide, cover up, and fake it,  isn’t it? We feel guilty about being broken. We feel alone. Surely no one else is as screwed up as we are! We don’t think anyone would understand. It doesn’t help that the church often seems to say, “You’re broken, so get it together! Fix yourself! Look better! Or at least pretend.” Somehow as a Christian community we have created two categories of sins, “acceptable” and “unacceptable”. I’m sure that you can immediately think of sin to put in each category. What happens when your sin is thrown in the “unacceptable” pile? We get good at hiding.

We feel like God is disappointed in us (as though He could possibly be shocked by our true selves). We push Him away too.

I’m done with this ridiculous pretend perfection! DONE!

The whole world has been broken by sin, people included. We are all sinners. And each of us has empty, lonely parts, that we try to satisfy in unhealthy ways. I don’t care if you struggle with anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, same sex attraction, anger, gossip, a porn addiction, cutting, or anything else. We are all broken and there is only one solution. We need Jesus. The REAL Jesus!

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We need the guy who let prostitutes wash his feet, rescued an adulteress from being stoned, chose traitors to be his followers, and said that He came to seek and save the lost. We need the Jesus who was holding children one minute and tearing up the temple with a whip the next. We need the One who says He is the exact image of the invisible God to bring us into the presence of His Father and heal us.

Contrary to the lies in our heads, our mess doesn’t shock God. He already knows. He doesn’t expect us to fix ourselves; He knows we can’t! He wants to fix us, but we have to let Him. We need to admit our brokenness and give Him all the pieces.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31-32

What if we just stopped pretending? What if we decided to be real and honest, honest with ourselves, with God, and with each other?

I’ll start. I was ridiculously grumpy last night for no reason. My poor husband was trying to help, but I was so ornery and moody and stubborn that nothing worked. I get stuck in my stubbornness, not unlike my four-year-old, and as a result, I did not eat the scrumptious ice cream my husband bought or enjoy the shoulder rub he offered. Instead I went to bed miserable. I am not the perfect wife (shocker, right?) and I am definitely not the perfect mother. I have issues, some of which I am currently working through in counseling. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s beautiful. Brokenness is beautiful.

It was the broken people that Jesus spent the most time with: the ones who knew and admitted that they were a mess and recognized how much they needed Him. The guys who thought they were “perfect”? Well, they were usually getting rebuked or left scratching their heads in confusion.

None of us have it all together and the sooner we accept and admit that, the sooner we can find healing and life in the amazing person called Jesus Christ. I’m in, pick me!