By Dr. Deborah Waterbury
I was doing an interview recently about my book, The Lies that Bind: And the Truth that Sets You Free, when the interviewer asked me something that sort of took me by surprise. Up to that point, the interview had been going pretty much like all of the others, but then this particular interviewer asked something that quite frankly, no one has asked me before, at least not so candidly or with such heart-felt sincerity. She simply paused for a second or two and almost whispered, “Deb, how were you able to share this part of your life? I mean, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t do it. How could you do it?”
I generally don’t skip much of a beat during interviews. As I just stated, I like them. I enjoy the opportunity, and I’m pretty quick on my feet. However, I have to admit, I paused for a quick breath. I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms. Truthfully, not sharing either what has happened to me or what I have done had never occurred to me. It’s not that I’m transparent, as so many have accredited to me. It’s just that I’m so grateful. I’m so appreciative. How could I not share what I have done if it means not sharing what God has done for me?
As a teacher and a minister, that truth takes on an entirely new level of importance. Once we take on that mantel of responsibility, we also step into a different arena when it comes to God’s accountability. He demands more of us, and He will call us to a greater reckoning. That is a sobering reality, and if it doesn’t make every leader who is reading this article quake just a little bit in her shoes, then you aren’t thinking straight. James wrote in James 3:1, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (ESV) Now just in case you might argue that you don’t teach, you simply lead or counsel, I would argue that every time you move in some sort of leadership over another, you take up the mantel of teacher, and therefore this verse applies to all who lead in the church.
So what does “transparency” or “candor” have to do with responsibility in leadership, especially when it comes to leadership of women in the church?
Women are relational. They are sensitive, and they are wary of judgment. I would venture to guess that is exactly why the interviewer who originally asked me the question at the beginning of this article was a woman. She couldn’t imagine sharing what I’ve shared because of the judgment she feared would come.
Conversely, when a woman feels a sense of security and peace, when she feels freedom and a knowledge that she is in a place where there is no judgment, she will receive truth and love and knowledge without restriction. She will open herself in ways that otherwise she would not, but that requires at least one person in this equation to have the courage to risk the judgment that every other hurting woman is trying to avoid. That woman must be the leader.
If God has called you to lead women or to minister to women, then I guarantee you that He has called you to some level of transparency. I can also guarantee you that there are more rewards than you can count when you will allow the charred ashes of your past be the beautiful balm that soothes the wounds of women in pain.
Let me end with a few ways you can be this candid, and let me stress, if you haven’t done anything like this up to now, it won’t come easy. However, as a leader, this attribute of vulnerability isn’t negotiable, not for the women’s leader. Some level of vulnerability is completely necessary, so even if you find it difficult, please give it at least some attention.
“This is not my life.”
“Those are not my children.”
“That is not my husband.”
Have you ever looked around at your life and thought any of these things? I mean, this isn’t what we signed up for, right? No one told us the day we walked down that isle or the day we graduated from school or the day we heard our child’s first cry that things would one day take us to the brink of despair.
That’s someone else’s life. That’s not mine.
But then one day it is. One day you wake up and all those women whose lives were battered by unfaithful spouses or lost children or sickness or death are suddenly not just remote prayer requests. No longer can you abstractly look at those sad and torn lives and feel sympathy. Now you are smack in the middle of empathy. You’re living it, and the only thing you can do is look around and wonder, “What happened?”
The truth is that if you’ve been an adult woman for longer than three minutes, you will have experienced these emotions, and you’ll experience them more than once. We were never promised a rose garden in this life, and for the most part, we realize that.
But sometimes it’s not just a weed-infested garden that we find ourselves in the middle of. It’s a pool of sticky, slimy toxic waste, and we think, “Nope. This is not my life.”
What are we to do in those moments? What does a Christian woman do when even getting out of bed seems abundantly out of the question?
I have recently experienced yet another of those seasons in my life as a woman, wife, and mother, and I was struck with these thoughts in rapid succession. Huddled in the corner of my bedroom, lights off, and curled up so tightly on the floor that my joints ached, the despair caught me almost off-guard. I wasn’t even crying correctly because I couldn’t breathe well enough to make a sound. I just rocked and gasped for air. And then my thoughts changed from “This is not my life” to “I have to fix this!”
Isn’t that the way we are? That’s how God created us women. We manage things. Paul referred to women as the “managers of the house” in Titus 2:5, and managers manage things. Consequently, our first instincts are to manage our situations.
It only took me a few minutes, however, to realize that I couldn’t manage anyone out of anything this time, and instead of moving from that realization toward Christian resolution, I moved toward anger with God.
“I know You think I’m this strong. I know You think I can handle this, and I know You said I wouldn’t be given anything more than I could handle, but I’m not this strong! This is too much!”
Of course, I didn’t actually yell these things out loud, although I have before. No, this time I screamed with boldness in my head. I really was confounded by God’s apparent misidentification of my supposed strength. I needed Him to reconsider.
Have you ever felt this way? Are you feeling it now?
I am ever amazed at our Father’s grace. I’m in awe of His constant and abiding love and patience toward us. He could have yelled back at me right then. He could have struck me down completely for my irreverence. That would have been warranted.
However, what He gently did was fill my head with these words:
Debbie, I do not ordain these things in your life to point you to your own strength. I ordain them to move you toward Mine.
You see, it will forever be our propensity to try and make things about us. It’s my knee-jerk reaction to bolster my own fortitude and figure things out, and then to be angry when I’m just not strong enough or smart enough or tolerant enough or when I feel forced to do things on my own. This is unfortunately an anger that when harbored will quickly turn into bitterness.
Indeed there are a lot of bitter women out there, and among them is no small number of bitter Christian women. Why? Because we simply aren’t strong enough, and truthfully, that was never God’s point.
Everything is about Him, and these times are meant to bring attention to Him, to His strength, His love, His mercy, His care, His tolerance, His grace, and His perfect plan.
What do we do as Christian women in moments of such complete despair that we can’t even breathe?
I was pouring out to a dear friend in the middle of this—which, by the way, I highly encourage you to do—and she reminded me of exactly what we are to do when we look at the life we now live and wonder how it all went so wrong so quickly. She reminded me of Psalm 121,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
When you are on your bedroom floor and the pain is beyond your ability to bear, you do the only thing you can do, you do the only thing you should do, and you lift up your eyes.
Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There are going to be moments in these lives as pilgrims in this foreign land when we are nothing less than confused by the things that happen. We can become downcast in our souls over the heartache inflicted on us by the ones we love the most, and we will gaze at our circumstances with a sadness that feels insurmountable.
What do we do?
We lift our tired, tear dimmed eyes toward heaven and unto our Father. We rest in His divine and loving purposes. After all, we have a hope that the world does not share, a hope and an assurance that we do not serve a God who is an “absentee Father.” Our Lord is fully involved in the lives of His children, and He has promised us that He has a plan, a plan that will not harm us but will bring us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) He has promised us that all of our lives are purposed for our good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)
So, my sisters, lift up your eyes to the hills. From where does your help come? Your help comes from the Lord, the very Maker of the heavens and the earth.
Do you sometimes find yourself saying things that your parents used to say to you, only to grimace and think, “Was that me?” I know I do—a lot. One of the things I used to tell my boys all of the time was that they just needed to be patient, that whatever was happening to them at the time wasn’t the end of the world. It’s just a season. It will all work out. It’s not as bad as you think. You’re being too dramatic.
Don’t miss the forest while you’re looking at the trees.
It’s a wonder they didn’t murder me in my sleep.
And now that I’m older and my boys have left the nest, I find myself in circumstances often where I remember saying those words to them, and even to others, and then find myself thinking that things ARE that bad. There’s NO WAY this is going to work out. This ABSOLUTELY IS as bad as I think. And I’M NOT BEING DRAMATIC!!
I certainly do not intend to write another article on being patient in the midst of trials, knowing that God is at work in all of them. Christians, by and large, know that Romans 8:28 is in every one of their bibles. They know and they’ve heard that God has a plan, just as He promised in Jeremiah 29:11, and that His plan is for their good. The problem arises when that plan doesn’t feel good. The confusion manifests when that plan makes utterly no sense.
What is God thinking? He has to see that this is not good! Why would He hurt me this way?
The issue becomes almost incredulous when we live in the middle of circumstances where seeing the love of God reconciled in the things He allows to happen is just about impossible. When our marriage ends, or a loved one dies, or we lose our houses or our jobs or our children—how do we see the forest of God’s love in the middle of rotten, stinking, dark trees?
I don’t have an answer, but what I do have is the same thing that all of us have, and that’s the bible. The stories and words of God are purposeful, and at the expense of beating this bush again, let me just remind you, and me, of the story of Job.
You remember Job, right? This guy did it all correctly. He was a righteous man, and by Old Testament standards, his riches and many children and great life were a direct result of this righteous life. God had blessed him above and beyond his fellow man. Job was living large, but he did so while humbly serving his God.
Can you imagine how he felt that day when he lost everything? In one fell swoop, Job lost his fortune, his livelihood, all of his children, and finally, his health. He had no friends who sympathized or offered him compassion. His friends assumed these horrible disasters happened because of some hidden sin that needed to be confessed. Even Job’s wife turned on him.
Can you imagine how this man of God felt?
I know that most of you have probably studied, or at least read the book of Job on occasion, and you’ve also most likely labored through it.
And yet, God put it in His Word, and we know that He did so because Job demonstrated for us the endurance of a believer’s faith, even when the entire world falls down around his ankles. Mind you, Job didn’t take it quietly. He yelled—a lot. He screamed at God and at his friends, asking why and what was going on?
The trees were falling, and Job was lost in a cataclysm of endless pain, but he never denied that God was God.
Now, cut to the forest that Job didn’t see, the forest that God showed you and me at the very beginning of this story. This is the forest we would all do well to remember when our own trees block our view.
When Satan came to God and told Him that he had been traveling around the earth, what was God’s first response? Job 1:8 records the Lord as saying to Satan,
“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (ESV)
In essence, God looked at Satan, and His very first thought was, “Have you seen My Job? I love My Job! Did you see how awesome Job is? Look upon My son, Job!”
I don’t know about you, but the idea that God would single me out while addressing the angels and say something like, “Have you seen My Deb? I love My Deb!” is a thought I would treasure above all else.
And when Satan asked to test Job, God allowed all of those horrible things to occur because He trusted Job. God looked down upon his child, and He trusted Job so much that He allowed Satan to take everything from him but his life, and God did this because He knew that His servant, Job, would stand in his faith. God knew that He would then use the testimony of Job for all time as a witness of unswerving faith in God’s very “God-ness.”
God looked upon this man and said, “Have you seen My Job? I trust My Job so much that I will allow him to be tested so that I might use him.”
This was the forest of reality in the heavenly realm that Job didn’t see because he was surrounded by the trees of this mortal existence. However, this beautiful forest was always there, even when Job didn’t see it.
My sisters and brothers, there is a heavenly reality occurring every millisecond of every day beyond our human sight. The trees of our lives may be falling and rotting all around us, but the essence of our faith is to emulate Job’s. The essence of our faith is in knowing that God is God, and though we don’t understand His ways, we know that they are ultimately good and right. Our faith comes from knowing the forest is there, even though we only see trees.
Most especially, though, we must remember that when God chooses to bring or allow horrible things in the lives of His children, it’s not because He doesn’t love them or is punishing them. It’s because He is choosing to use them. He’s building our stories, much like He built Job’s story, so that when He has delivered us, He will use us.
I know that when tragedy hits my life, God is in heaven saying, “Do you see my Deb? I trust my Deb so much that I choose to use her. I will deliver her, and once I do, she will be a vessel used to My glory.”
That, my friends, is a forest upon which we should focus, even in the midst of these sometimes very ugly trees.
Can you imagine just for a moment what it would be like if you were commanded to murder your only child to honor a ruler you deeply respected and loved?
The fear and rage at the unjust request would be, to say the least, absolutely debilitating. It would innately go against anything our maternal or even primal instincts would permit. We would die for our children and do anything to protect them and keep them safe. They become a part of us the moment God makes them known to us. He intrusted us specifically, to be their protector, nurturer, and provider of all that they would need in this world. When some of us take on this responsibility, we burden ourselves with thinking that when things go awry it must be because of something we didn’t do right or because of something maybe our kids did wrong.
It is so difficult when we watch our children face uncertain circumstances; it can sometimes be quite overwhelming. We may at times try to intercede to prevent the inevitable from happening, even to the point of of being completely frustrated and exhausted. We might even blame ourselves at times for their struggles. Often, we try to take control and do all that we know how to do to make it right and easier for them.
So how did Abraham do it? How was he able to be so willing to do the unthinkable, for God whom he loved? How could God take Abraham’s only son, that he waited a 100 years for and command that he be sacrificed as a burnt offering by Abraham’s own hand? How did Abraham endure the journey knowing with every step, he was drawing closer and closer to carry out what God had commanded?
To meditate on this scripture in Genesis 22, we see a clear example of how we are to parent our children, and in that, what it looks like to have unwavering faith, trust and confidence in God’s truth and promises.
Abraham knew God, heard his voice and responded in obedience to his command. His faith did not waver, he did not disobey, plead or ignore God. …Nor did he carry the burden of the weight of the wood…He laid the wood on Isaac’s back. It was for his son to carry…(just as it was for Jesus when God laid the cross on him). They climbed the mountain together all the while certain God would be faithful to fulfill his promise to Abraham as it is written in Genesis 17:16. He rested in this, confident in God’s truth.
God wants us to trust him with this same unwavering faith. He tells us in Psalm 55:22 “cast our burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved”.
It is good to learn to sincerely fear God and not withhold anything from him, not even our own children. There is a purpose in our children’s struggles and it is important for them to endure the weight. They will learn by climbing the mountain with us alongside them, keeping our eyes on the Lord. Our steady and assured confidence in God speaks much more to them than our words could ever say.
I have learned to fear greatly a life apart from God and that only in him is where I truly find peace and rest.
By Elizabeth Ryan
When we are young we grow a custom to our environment and the people around us. Unable to view our experience from any other perspective, because of course, this is all we know. We instinctively accept the behavior of others, adapt ourselves accordingly and believe that this is the way it is supposed to be. Whether our environment is happy and safe with lots of loving communication or it is scary and unstable with lots of abusive words…or maybe it could
be someplace in between…This is our world and this becomes the foundation from which we begin to build our lives and our understanding of others and our world.
If we could imagine for a moment that our experiences with others are like a constant exchange of garments. From the time we are little we are given all types of “emotional” garments and as we grow we learn to accept the garment no matter what is given.
Then, in turn, we begin our exchange of imposing garments. Some are heavy and cloak like. Others are scratchy and irritating and some tight and confining. While others can be sheer and light, some colorful and flowing or maybe soft and comforting.
Throughout our lives we exchange garments with those we encounter. Some of us have become so heavy-ladened with garments we find we can hardly breathe much less move or even see. We are sometimes panicked at the fact that we are unrecognizable even to ourselves trapped and hidden deep, beneath all the layers we cling to so tightly.
Our voices so muffled we are unable to be heard or even seen for who we truly are, whom God created us to be.
In our inability to bear the weight of all that we have accumulated we drop to our knees…Then, collapse into a heap on the ground. Broken and ashamed at the realization of all that we have given to others…In this, we are able to find true humility and are ready to let go. Our Savior removes the garments one by one, those that we have received and those that we have given, now we can begin to experience what it means to truly be free. As the bondage is
released Jesus is able to reveal to us the beauty of whom he created us to be without the garments of this world.
Through His grace and mercy we have been given the ability to see beyond the garments worn by others. We have a deeper understanding and true compassion for those who are unaware of their own garments and share with them the hope we have come to know when Christ removed ours and revealed to us His glory.
The garments, whether weighty or light, can only fully be seen by our Savior.
After all, He “knows” us. He was there when we received them, He knows fully from whom they were given and how weary and tired we have become from dragging all the bags we have accumulated behind us. He has seen all the garments you have given to others and yet He sees clearly that you are beautiful and you are His…Exactly the way He created you and no longer hidden, deep beneath the heap on the ground.
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Let us surrender the need to exchange the garments of this world and instead embrace the simple exchange of the only garment we need…The garment of God’s Glory.
**Featured Image Photo by Sonora Leif Photography
William Shakespeare was arguably one of the best writers in the English language. Some people just have a way with words, and Shakespeare was certainly one of them. From plays to poetry, I think it’s safe to say that Willie had a gift. Not only a wordsmith, he hailed from London, making it entirely plausible that he had a fabulous accent, putting him at the top of my list of people I would love to have read me bedtime stories. Well – except for the fact that he died over 399 years ago, so were he actually to read to me, I would likely have a panic attack of epic proportions and not the sweet sleep I had envisioned – but I digress…
Shakespeare is credited for the popular phrase The Eyes are the Window to the Soul and there are some scientific types who would tend to agree. Years ago, as I struggled through a biology course in college, I read a number of studies indicating that eye color directly affected things like pain tolerance. I specifically recall the idea that women with blue eyes were thought to have less pain in childbirth. That idea is surely bunk, as I am the blue-eyed mother of three boys and am here to tell you that bringing those fellas into this world was no picnic! The smarty-pants in lab coats have also had some thought-provoking theories about iris patterns being a sign of one’s tendency towards things like impulsivity, extending trust, or having a warm personality. Sure, my baby blues might be able tell you a bit about me; but if I were a betting gal (thankfully I’m not, as math is not my strong suit, making my poker playing abilities dismal at best) the average joe is less likely to ponder how intense my migraines are due to my pale eyes and more apt to notice my penchant for shades of grey…in the form of eye shadow of course. Due to the fact that I have some groovy artwork framed on my wall in lieu of a medical diploma, all I’ve got to go on is my personal experience. As luck would have it, I happen to be an expert in the field of my life. So here’s how I see it: the hair is actually the window to the soul – or at least it is into mine.
God has given us all amazing minds, so use your imagination and follow me back a couple of decades. Let’s go back to the 80’s – oh c’mon you younger gals may not have been fortunate enough to live in those amazing fashion years when hairspray was king, but thanks to modern technology you can take a quick sec and google it. There was some teased up-permed up-straight up nonsense going on back then for sure! I have to admit, though I was a late bloomer (epically late – like 40), I did jump on board the big haired wagon. As a teenager, I had the biggest, baddest mane on the block. It was long, thick, and at times held the distinct scent of a fresh perm. That is, until I came to the realization my appearance may be the cause of some pretty serious abuse I was enduring.
As many who find themselves the victim of sexual abuse, I felt lost and alone. What was going on was clearly my fault – I had to fix it. In my young mind, I reasoned that if I could make myself as unattractive as possible, then the madness would stop. The visits to my room in the middle of the night would cease. Maybe I could go unnoticed; become invisible. With my plan was securely in place, I was off to the salon. No more long locks for me – I went as short as I could go without involving a razor. As I sat in that chair, attempting to eliminate what I thought to be the catalyst of the abuse, my eyes wouldn’t have told you of the horrors plaguing my soul. However, the signs were evident in every flash of the scissors, each sweep of the comb. My freshly shorn hair was certain to be my protection, except it wasn’t.
As a grown woman, I wish I could’ve bequeathed a bit of advice to that young girl. For starters, lay off the hairspray, sister! It turns out Aqua Net wasn’t all that great for the environment. Living in the desert, the idea of global warming (fictional or otherwise) is kind of a drag. More importantly, it wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could have done to prevent the predator from choosing you as his prey and you were NOT weak. Living through that horrendous season makes you one of the strongest people I know. Much more importantly, though you may have felt isolated and alone, nothing could have been further from the truth. The truth is you were never alone – not then, not now, not ever.
As women, our feelings can be tricky – so misleading. Many of us feel things very deeply, which can be a good thing; God created us in such a way. However, I don’t believe He intended us to be led solely by those feelings or even the environment we find ourselves in. When we feel alone and isolated, that is when we need to pause and see what the Word has to say (even if we don’t feel like it).Deuteronomy 31:6 is crystal clear when it says, “…for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” So we aren’t alone? What great news! It gets better when we look at one of my favorite verses Jeremiah 29:11 , “’For I know that plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’” Now there is some fantastical news: no matter what the current situation or how we feel about it, our God has a plan. Guess what? It’s not plan B, C, or some thrown together fly-by-the-seat plan. The Creator of the universe – the one who flung the stars into the sky and paints the most beautiful Arizona sunsets – is on the road of life with you and is leading you to a good place, a place of hope.
There is a saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and I must say that I strongly disagree. As we allow God to work in our hearts and minds, often times the result is a softening. The one who has felt the sting of verbal abuse is more apt to tame the tongue. The one whose heart has been shattered is the one who shows kindness to those in the midst of heartbreak. As we allow God to work through our past, He has an amazing way of placing us in a position to speak peace, courage, and life to those who need it most.
Every now and again, my sleep is interrupted and I wake with my heart beating out of my chest, my dreams having been disturbed by the nightmares of the past. Those are the times that I have to remind myself that it wasn’t my fault; that I am safe now. I see my husband asleep next to me and think of my children down the hall – all part of His plan. As my breathing returns to normal, I roll over to check the time with a sigh, knowing I have got to get back to sleep. After all, I’ll need to be up early enough to tame my head full of long, crazy locks before I face the new day.