By Julie Luse
Why do we think we can do this on our own?
Why do we think when things get rough and our soul gets weak that we can pull ourselves out of it on our own?
A couple of weeks ago Brian Clark gave a great message on Galatians 5 & 6 talking about sharing in each other’s burdens, and he gave this interpretation of Galatians 5:25: “If you started in the Spirit – what makes you think you can finish in the flesh?”
Ok, so maybe those questions are just for me. They totally apply to the journey I want to share with you today—the one I’ve been on for the last three years.
First of all, there’s something you should know about me. Women make me nervous. Truly. This – makes me nervous. And I think it’s because I so badly want to belong here, and I want to be accepted, but too many times I’ve felt like an outsider in groups of women. Let me give you some background.
We moved here from beautiful Boulder, Colorado, about three and a half years ago. My husband and I were church planters in Boulder, and it was one of the greatest God adventures we’ve ever been on. It’s crazy because there were so many unknowns, but we’ve never felt as alive as we did then.
Something happens when you get out of your comfort zone and can do nothing but cling to God for the answers. We relied on Him and His kingdom for our monthly paycheck. We followed the example of the early church in Acts, meeting in homes and breaking bread together. We truly did life together with these people.
Some interesting habits develop when you do church in living rooms. We became immune to the idea of extreme vulnerability. When you are constantly encouraged to share what’s on your heart, whether it is good, bad or ugly, you just share and those around you do it too. It was a beautiful picture of the kingdom, and I made some deep friendships there . . . even with women.
After 4 years of this, God started to pursue us to come fill a youth position here at Lincoln Berean Church. We were hesitant at first but we kept praying “whatever you want God, just don’t let us become comfortable.” We desired to stay on our God adventure.
It’s funny when you pray a bold prayer like that, you don’t really consider how uncomfortable you might actually get if He answered it. I really thought we’d be very comfortable here. I went to college in Lincoln, grew up an hour north of here and had family in the area. I thought right away—oh we’ll buy a house, I’ll reconnect with old friends, we’ll get back into youth ministry which we loved before, our kids will be near family—it will be good.
But things didn’t pan out the way we expected. We weren’t able to buy a home when we first moved here. My husband immediately became overwhelmed with the sheer size of this youth ministry and his missional heart and how that would look with hundreds of middle schoolers and high schoolers.
We suddenly realized we weren’t as cool as we thought we were, and we definitely didn’t have the energy we used to for hundreds of teens. I had a hard time trying to fit into my husband’s ministry with his young staff and 2 young children of my own. We had always been a team in everything we did, but now we lived somewhat separate lives as far as ministry went. That was new and uncomfortable.
I struggled to make new friends. Here it seemed as if everybody already had established friend groups, and I felt like I would always feel like an outsider.
I had started a business while we lived in Boulder. It was my “baby” and I loved it. But as it became more and more successful, it took more and more of my time. It seemed there was no way I could keep this up and still keep my commitment to my family to stay at home with my children.
I felt God was telling me, “Sell it . . . walk away . . . it’s okay . . . I have bigger things for you.” I wanted to put my priorities in the right order and really wanted to obey God. So I did. But obeying God doesn’t always make everything feel great. I became depressed without a creative outlet. I experienced an identity crisis, trying to figure out who I was without it. I doubted that God really had bigger things for me.
I started coming here on Tuesday mornings, hoping to find a community. I desperately needed one. But I didn’t realize that this community might have different social cues than the last one I was in. I came ready to be brutally honest with all my struggles, and so I just laid it all out there on the table.
Umm . . . awkward.
I don’t think people expected a pastor’s wife to struggle as much as I did. And I started to believe this little lie that perhaps my vulnerability was a little too extreme for this group of women. And it didn’t seem to help me get any deep friendships. I started thinking that if I wanted people to be friends with me, I needed to act like I had it more together. But truth is, I didn’t have it all together. And really, I never do have it all together.
I felt lonely and my soul became very weak and Satan thought that was the perfect invitation to begin planting lies in my head. And when you don’t have people around to help you see the truth, and your weakness keeps you from pursuing the truth, those lies become very believable.
I started to believe that I wasn’t good at anything . . . that I wasn’t successful at anything . . . that I would never be good enough for deep friendships with women. I started to hate the ghetto apartment I lived in and began to envy everybody else who lived in cute houses and whose husbands didn’t bring their work home with them and who always had friends to turn to.
When you don’t have a community, comparisons can turn lethal and start affecting the thoughts you have about God and how God feels about you. I told myself I just wasn’t worth a nice home or friends or anything.
I tell you all this, not so you can think, “Wow, this pastor’s wife really is falling apart!” I want to leave you with a great example of what happens to a woman when she thinks she can do it all on her own.
And remember? I had prayed for this outside-the-comfort-zone thing, only I forgot about the clinging-to-God part. So instead of going on a great big God adventure with Him to the unknown, I traveled through a deep, painful valley alone. And it all started to unravel. I became very irritable, snapping at my children, discontented with motherhood. I wasn’t being fair to my husband, and he didn’t understand how to help me.
It all kind of came to a head one fateful day when I decided it was a good idea to leave my 5 ½ yr old son in the car to return a Redbox video inside the grocery store. Well, friends, let me tell you (in case you don’t know), it’s illegal to leave your children under the age of 6 in a car in a parking lot by themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a couple of minutes. It doesn’t matter if you have a safety auto start/lock thingy on your car. It doesn’t matter if you have a very well behaved child who remains buckled up listening to a kid’s radio program.
Someone will still be ready to work out his civilian duties and decide to report you. And the police will already be on their way to your home to charge you with Child Neglect. And no matter how much you plead with the officer, her hands are tied and you will soon receive a letter in the mail saying come to court, and you will be charged with Child Abuse – not just Child Neglect. And Health and Human Services will come out to visit your home to interview you and your son separately, and you will just die waiting for a letter in the mail from them stating what kind of mother they thought you were.
My world just crumbled that day. I couldn’t have Child Abuse on my record! My husband is a pastor. I work with young people. I gave up everything to stay at home with my children. I felt like my dignity had been stripped from me.
Luckily I qualified for this thing called the Divergence Program in which if you pay a bunch of money, complete hours of community service and a court-ordered parenting class you could have the charge wiped off your record. So of course I did that.
But I got to tell ya. When Satan AND the state tells you are a bad mother, and your soul is weak and you don’t want to talk about this with anyone, you kind of start believing it as truth. I truly thought I must be a bad mother. And it was kind of the last thing I had that I still felt like I was good at.
After throwing the world’s largest (and possibly longest) pity party, I decided something needed to change. I was truly at the bottom. I finally got on my knees, desperate for the Lord to change something. It was the summer of 2012. I heard him say, “Join Claudine’s bible study this fall.”
No offense Claudine, but I didn’t agree with that plan. I had something else in mind. But I, of course, was curious about what the Lord might do. So I signed up for the class. And when I did, I felt this immense peace about the decision. For some reason I felt free. I was stepping outside my comfort zone again.
There is no way I could have known how much that semester would change me. There is no way Claudine would know the impact she would have on me. When she told stories of her early church planting days and being a pastor’s wife, I finally sighed in relief that somebody could relate to the last 12 years of my life.
The class was called “Daughter’s of Encouragement” in which we studied the early church in Acts and a man named Barnabas who was a great encourager and walked alongside Paul when no one else would. You wouldn’t believe how that spoke to my heart. It was like the Lord was saying, “You see . . . I do know. I know exactly what you’re going through and I know where you’ve come from and I know the great plans I have for you.”
But it wasn’t just Claudine or the bible study that started the healing process in my heart. It was the group of ladies at my table. We came from all ages, all in different seasons of life, but it didn’t matter. I decided once again to go for it, be so vulnerable and hope that they opened up too. And they did. What’s more, they began to speak truth to me, things like: “Girl, that’s a lie . . . that’s not even true . . . God would never say that.”
Do you know how much I needed to hear that? You know how I was trapped by all those lies. A girl in my group gave me a book called Telling Yourself the Truth which totally revolutionized my thought life. And I began to tell myself, “I belong here.” Did you catch that? No one told me that. I had to tell myself that – because that was the truth.
When I started to get rid of the lies, the Lord started to speak louder and louder to me. He showed me that we women were not meant to size people up, critique one another; we weren’t designed to be afraid of each other – to feel like we don’t belong. He began to speak very loudly that every woman has struggles of her own and brokenness to deal with. I’m not “messed up” if I have them too, and I’m not alone.
Satan wants us to believe that it’s not appropriate to be vulnerable, that it’s not acceptable to be honest and that we can manage getting by on our own without deep relationships. Those are lies.
My relationships with women and my freedom changed when I changed my perspective. I had to tell myself this: “Stop waiting to belong. God already chooses you. You do belong.”
When I crushed the lie that “everybody’s an insider but me,” and realized that everyone’s got the same thought running through their head, even the apparent “insiders,” I became free from my fear of women and my fear of being truly me and being real with my struggles.
I know God wants US to be honest, He talks about it in Ephesians 4:25. He says “So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all part of the same body.”
I believe that the Glory of God is a woman who is FREE. One of the most beautiful precious sights is when free women come together and form this authentic, loving, accepting community that God designed us for. When women come together like this – lives are restored, pasts are healed, dreams are free to run, the world becomes a bright place, and Jesus is glorified.