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Let Others Tell You Who You Are

Published April 29, 2013 by joypatton

This video made by Dove has been widely viewed online. It was a very interesting experiment with a forensic artist. He sketched women as they described themselves to him and then he sketched the same woman based on how someone else described her. The difference was very telling. We don’t do a good job describing ourselves. We make ourselves out to be much worse than we really are. I was reminded of the importance of being known.

Only through community can we see ourselves as we really are. If we relied solely on our own perceptions, our picture of ourselves would be incomplete. I always hated when someone said you are your most rue self when you are alone in the room with no one watching. But The truth is that I rely on others to tell me who I am. Teenagers are always told this is a bad thing, but it is the way God wired us.  I would argue that our interactions with others show more of our true self than isolation.

This past week I struggled with what I was telling myself, and I needed my community to help give me a more accurate view of myself. I decided to step down from a leadership team. After I announced that I was leaving, five of the six leaders also resigned. I told myself it was a reflection of my poor leadership, that I hadn’t done a good job raising up other leaders to come after me. I felt it confirmed that I was not a good shepherd who looked out for the others on the team. It showed that my strong personality made it difficult for anyone else to shine.  The conclusion: I am a bad leader, and I should never lead again. These are the things I told myself.

But I want to share with you what the other five members of the team, my community, told me.  Not as a way of boasting, but as a way of seeing the situation more clearly.
“I forget how good at this you are.”
“You have been such a blessing to me. You are such an example of honesty and authenticity.”
“I keep reflecting on how good you are at this. Not just this, but overall since I have known you.”
“We have all worked well together and I’ve very much enjoyed serving with you.”

Two very different pictures. While the things I told myself may be valid to some degree, they are certainly not the whole truth. I needed my friends to remind me who I was, to show me what they saw. This is what happens when we are known. I have been living in community with these women for over three years. While I am very sad that our time of serving together in this way is ending, my heart is humbled and full of gratitude for these women.

And I also hear God saying to me “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  I have been taught that His voice is more important than all the others.  Yet sometimes he uses other people to get His message across.  I know that I can’t trust my own perceptions to tell the whole truth.  I need community to speak truth to me.  I need God and His Word to remind me who I am.  All of these work together to create an accurate and beautiful picture of who God has made me to be.

Greater in 2013

Published January 22, 2013 by joypatton

Toward the end of 2012, I was asking God all sorts of questions about where we had been.  I thought that I had listened to him.  I thought that I had been following him.  But at the end of the year, nothing looked the way I thought it should.  Is this really going to be worth it?  Have I missed You?  Did I take a wrong turn?  Have I ruined it?  Maybe I should have… I was so discouraged and began to believe that everything I had been doing was foolish and that nothing was going to change.  One dark day I consider stopping everything, including taking down this blog.

In late November I signed up for Melissa Taylor’s online Bible study of Greater by Steven Furtick.  In this book, God gave me sign posts to show where I had been.  He reminded me that I was not on a fool’s errand, but that everything that had happened had been intentional. The book used the story of Elisha to illustrate John 14:12 where Jesus that that anyone who has faith in me will do even greater things.  I wanted to share some of those signposts…mainly so that I won’t forget.

Burning the plows – Elisha was doing life behind a bunch of cows when Elijah chose him to be his apprentice.  Before Elisha left, he used his plows to build an alter on which he sacrificed the cows who had been pulling the plow.  Furtick talks about how this made it impossible for Elisha to go back to the former, lesser life he had been used to.

For the last six years I had been serving in women’s ministry at our church.  But this year I have stepped back.  I’m not teaching a study; I’m not leading a ministry.  This is a very strange place for me and doesn’t make sense for someone who feels called to minister to women and is trying to publish a Bible study for women.  As I have stepped back, I realized that far too much of my identity was wrapped up in what I was doing as a women’s Bible study teacher.  I have also felt a lot of freedom to just go where He asks me to go, to love and serve the women that he has put in front of me.  It has made me much more dependent on his plan than trying to forge my own.

Digging Ditches – An enemy army was pressing in on Israel and the king goes to Elisha for advice.  Elisha tells them to dig ditches because it is going to rain.  Even though there had been a famine in the land and no rain for a very long time, the army did what they were told.  Digging ditches didn’t seem like a good battle plan, but it was exactly the plan they needed.  The next day it rained and the battle was won.

Last year I had to dig some ditches.  I took a break from teaching a women’s Bible study at church.  I realized that I didn’t have time to write when I was teaching.  So I took a year off to write a Bible study of the book of Galatians.  God was asking me to write instead of speak.  It didn’t make sense on paper at all.  But by faith, I did what God was asking me to do.  In that year, I finished the book, took a pilot group and two other groups through the study and offered it online last fall.  None of that was possible without a finished book.  I dug the ditches, and God sent the rain…another signpost.

A Little Oil – Furtick recounts the story of the widow who had nothing left but a little oil.  God used that little bit of oil to save her family from starvation.  But the widow had to use what she already had in her house.

Last year finding the time to write a book was an overwhelming task with four children ranging from middle school down to preschool.  But God reminded me that I had all the time I needed.  Instead of using my kid-free time for grocery shopping and house keeping, I used the time to write.  I could take kids to the grocery store and pick up the house when they were home, but I needed my kid-free time to write without being interrupted.  I also realized that I could get my book to people in an electronic form without a big publishing deal or spending money on self-publishing.  God could use the material in any form.   It didn’t have to look the way I thought it should.  Last year I started using what I had in my house to do what God was calling me to do…another signpost for me.

Wasted Faith – The Shunammite women was miraculously blessed with a son.  When Elisha told her she was to have a son, she said, “No, my lord, do not mislead your servant!”  It’s a strange response to good news.  Years later when her young son dies, she falls at the feet of Elisha and says, “Did I ask for a son?  Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”  Elisha comes to her house and raises the son from the dead.

I have felt like that this year.  I thought we were going in a certain direction in women’s ministry and now I’m nowhere.  I remember telling a friend this summer that every dream I had was dead.  I was going to put my book on the shelf and go crawl in a hole and never teach again.  I felt like God had raised my hopes in meetings with publishers and agents only to have every door closed.  Not only were doors closed, but difficult things were happening for me personally.  A close friendship fell apart, I was not parenting my teenage well, and I felt rejected and misunderstood in other relationships.  This made for a difficult year with counseling sessions, many sobbing tears and gut-wrenching introspection.

Furtick said, “The faith of all the saints through the ages is not enough to eliminate the reality of suffering.  Because suffering is not a detour on the road to greater.  It’s a landmark.  Discouragement is often a marker, not of being on the wrong path but of being on the right one.”  This reminded me that all the closed doors, the death of dreams, the tears and the pain were part of the plan, not a detour from the plan.

Trust Fund Baby – Furtick argues that God doesn’t waste our faith.  We may not see the outcome we hoped for in a situation, but that doesn’t mean that believing for a job, for healing, for reconciliation is wasted.  It means that God is storing it up in a “trust fund.”  He’s teaching me how to trust him more.

Saving Captain Awesomesauce –  Naman came to Elisha to be healed of leprosy.  Elisha told him to go wash in the river Jordan seven times.  Naman didn’t want to humiliate himself by washing in that dirty river.  He wanted to go back home where the rivers were much cleaner.  But his servant said to him, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?”  Furtick says, “Pride is the most difficult part of the lesser life to leave behind.  It’s the most intrinsic to us.  We have a curious habit of posturing ourselves higher than the people around us.”

Guilty as charged.  This past year has been very humbling as I have had to take a hard look at my own pride and see my own sin.  I look back and see how my Orphan and Ice Queen patterns tripped me up once again.  Furtick talked about the importance of immediate obedience in learning humility.  God reminded me of small obedient steps I had made.  This fall I offered my study online, even though I was doubtful about whether or not it would work.  I saw God bless it and multiply it in ways I could not foresee.  I also signed up and started attending a study on Ezkiel, one of my favorite books of the Bible, but I had to drop out because God told me he wanted me to study John instead.  I hate backing out of things, but I had to obey.

Furtick also recommends keeping yourself small through your daily interactions with people around you.  This one is really hard for me and I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like in my life.  Jesus was so secure in his identity as the Son of God that taking the lowest position in the room took nothing from him.  His status, his value, his identity remained secure.  As a Princess, I long for that kind of security.

Where did it fall? – In this chapter he talks about the story of Elisha making an ax head float in the river.  A young prophet lost it and cried out to Elisha for help.  Elisha asked the simple question, “Where did it fall?”  Furtick talks about losing your edge and going back to the place you lost it.  He reminded me that when I get to that place, it’s not up to me to fix it or try harder.  I simply cry out to God and ask for help.  With God’s help, I traced the seed of some of the struggles of this year back to a meeting where I did not honor my heart.  I was not in a good place going into the meeting and in the process hurt those around me.  People missed me because I missed myself.  I was not careful with my heart.  God has been teaching me this year how to honor my heart and how to be true.

Open My Eyes – Elisha stands with a young prophet on the wall of the city looking out at an approaching army.  The army was much greater than the army of the Israelites and the young man was afraid.  Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes and the young man saw chariots of fire from God’s army that far outnumbered the enemy.  Furtick challenges us to open our eyes and see who is sitting at our table.  Sometimes we let people in who hold us back from the greater things God is calling us to.

My circle of friends has been small this year and that is strange for me.  I haven’t been in a community group or a small group study.  I really don’t like it, but I know this is exactly where he has me.  My close friends have been there with me and have not let me put my book on the shelf or crawl in a hole and never come out.  They have kept me going when I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other.  My friend prayed the perfect prayer for me last night.  She asked that God would open my eyes and that I would see the places and the people that I am teaching.  When I get discouraged, my eyes are closed to all the things that God has done this past year.  My husband especially won’t let me lie to myself and deny that any progress has been made on this journey.  This book was full of sign posts for me that I’m right where I need to be.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I would highly recommend this book.  I’m sneaking it into my husband’s reading pile tonight!

Free Advice Friday: What do you do when you feel like a preacher trapped in a woman’s body?

Published October 26, 2012 by joypatton

Recently I was talking with a friend and this question came up.  She was in a small group at church and very excited about taking the small group through some of the books and Bible studies that had been pivotal in her spiritual growth.  The small group was a mix of men and women, and she wanted to lead/teach/facilitate the group.  However as she prayed about it, the Lord graciously and gently took her to scripture to understand that she was not the one who should lead this small group through the material. (see I Timothy 2:11-14)

At first, she was frustrated because she felt like she had the same gifts in leadership and teaching as the male leadership in the group.  The only difference was that she was a woman.  This was where I could definitely identify with her story.  I too have often wondered why God put the spiritual gifts of a pastor into my body and then limited the use of those gifts in the church.  It’s enough to make the feminist within kick and scream and blow a gasket.

My spiritual gifts are teaching and shepherding.  As a pastor’s daughter, I have an innate understanding of how the church works.  I have vision and can see where a ministry needs to go or how things should be organized.  I’m outgoing and can talk to a wide variety of people.  I have a deep love of God’s Word, and I love speaking to large groups to help them understand His Word.  These are all things that God has put into me.  If I had been born as my father’s son, I probably would be pastoring or planting a church.  But alas, God also put a uterus into me and so (according to my personal understanding of scripture and convictions) the offices of pastor and elder are not open to me.

So what is a woman with the gifts of a pastor to do?  In my conversation with my friend, part of the reason she was angry about not being able to lead was because it seemed to reinforce what she was taught as a child, that women are not as good as men.  That God favors men over women and values them more.   This subtle lie creeps into our thinking and adds to our resentment.  The truth is that God values men and women equally.  In the eyes of God, there is no difference between men and women, Greek and Jew, slave nor free. (Galatians 3:28)  Paul also says that “God shows no partiality.” (Galatians 2:6)  I consider Jesus the first feminist because of the counter-cultural way he treated women.  He talked to the woman at the well and refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery.  After his resurrection, he appeared to women first.  Obviously he valued both genders equally.

So the fact that God made me a woman does not mean that he considers me second-class or less than.  Rather I have come to see that God has intentionally knit me together to accomplish His purposes in the kingdom.  It was no mistake that he made me a woman.  It was no mistake that he gave me the gifts and experiences he did.  The truth I must choose to believe is that he created me exactly the way he intended.

Does it mean I can’t use the gifts he has given me?  No, it simply means that I can’t use them the way I want to, the way that satisfies my flesh, the way that seems right to the culture.  It means I must trust him to show me how he wants me to use my gifts.  The light was not made to be hidden under a basket.  He put the light within me so that it would shine to the glory of the Father. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Personally I have realized that God has made me for teaching women the Bible.  Rather than seeing women’s ministry as a consolation prize for a second-class citizen, I choose to believe the truth, that it is the first prize.  When God changes a woman’s heart, it is the key to changing everything in her world.  I have seen that when a woman believes the gospel and understands how it affects her daily life, it changes the way she relates to everyone in her world: her husband, her children, her co-workers, her friends.  As she lives the gospel, she can’t help but share the good news with every person her life touches.  The world changes, and God’s kingdom grows.

For me, this is my “place in the wall,” my “battlefield.”  My friend reminded me of a scene in the final movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  A woman had disguised herself as a man in order to have a place on the battlefield.  When her uncle was mortally wounded, she came to his defense and revealed her true identity with her long hair flowing from her helmet.  The wraith, a horrible, ghost-like creature, turned to attack her and claim the life of her uncle.  The creature reminded her that no man could kill him.  She stood between the wraith and her uncle with her weapon drawn.  As she plunged her sword into his face, she said, “I am no man.”  Her unique nature allowed her to claim a unique victory.

If Satan can get us women to believe his lies that we are not a valuable as men in the war or if he can get us to fight the battles for position and power, then he can claim the victory.  If he can get us to pout in the corner and refuse to use our gifts because we can’t do it the way we want, then he wins.  We become paralyzed and ineffective in God’s kingdom.  But when we reject the lies and embrace the unique ways that God has knit us together, we can step into our unique place on the battlefield.  God’s light in us cannot be hidden, he is glorified, his kingdom advances and the enemy is defeated.

What is your unique place on the battlefield?  

Just One Look

Published September 19, 2011 by joypatton

All it takes is just one look from someone to make me doubt myself. The times when it hurts the most or catches me off guard are the times when I am just being myself. I was at a women’s ministry meeting a couple of weeks ago where the elders of our church were invited to come see what we were doing and pray for us. Our director went around and introduced everyone, and then she said, “Let me know if I am missing anyone.”  Well, I had been missed.  Because I value the ministry I’m doing this year, and I have no fear of being the center of attention, I threw up my hand and hollered, “You know I’m not going to let you forget me!”  My friends in the room who knew me laughed.

But out of the corner of my eye, I saw a look on an elder’s face that said, “Well, she’s certainly not a gentle, quiet, humble woman. Watch out for her.”  I doubt this man even knew what I read on his face, or even if that was the intended message.  But that was the message I heard.

The toxic shame I felt with just one look can send me into doubting everything I do.  Maybe I shouldn’t be leading in women’s ministry.  Maybe I should just keep quiet and never say anything in those meetings.  Maybe I should just stay at home where I will never be misunderstood or misinterpreted.  Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this church stuff at all.  The voice of the accuser says, “If you can’t figure out how to give God the glory, then you should just sit down and shut up.  You need to stop making everything about you.”

My deepest desire is for God to be glorified in everything I do and say.  However the enemy is at work trying to get us to be ashamed of who God made us and gifted us to be.  If the enemy can get us to a place of shame and keep us there, then our effectiveness is the kingdom is severely diminished.

When I feel this shame, I start to hide myself.  But I’m learning that the coverings I make for myself are severely lacking.

For me some of the ways that I hide my strengths are that I put myself down in order to be funny.  I like details and organization, so I call myself a nerd.  I did this recently with a friend because I was afraid she would be intimidated, so I tried to diminish my strength or hide it.  False humility is another one of my favorites.  I say things that sound humble and make you think well of me, but don’t reflect what’s in my heart.  Sometimes I withdraw from others or isolate, especially if my strength has hurt someone or made them feel bad.  I want to stay away so that I don’t hurt anyone else.   Sometimes I make excuses to not use my gifts, excuses that keep me in the background so I don’t look like an attention hog.  These are all ways I try to hide myself.  This is how I live as an Orphan and not a Princess.

Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves too when they were ashamed.  The leaf coverings they made were not nearly sufficient to cover their sin.  So God gave them a better covering.  One that cost something and that would last a lot longer than leaves.  He killed animals and used the skins to cover Adam and Eve.

When I try to make my own coverings, I forget that God has already covered me with the blood of Christ.  I don’t have to make my own clothes and sew leaves together.  Rather I can trust Him to take care of me and to cover me.

So what does it look like to let God cover me?  How can I hide myself in the Lord?  Am I trusting God when I stay at home and don’t use my gifts?  Am I letting Him cover me if I stay silent when I know I am free to speak?  Am I hiding myself in him when I let fear and shame make my decisions?

God has given me a closet full of beautiful clothes.  He has given me a personality and gifts for Him to use in his kingdom.  Some of my gifts are speaking, teaching, leading and writing.  I have a personality that is outgoing and loves to be on stage.  These are the clothes he has given to me.  But how does God feel when I look at my closet and declare that I can’t wear any of it because it is too nice.  If I wore those clothes, people would think that I’m full of pride and that I’m loud and obnoxious.  And God, why can’t I have the clothes in her closet?  No one thinks that about her.  “But her clothes would look ridiculous on you,” he whispers in my ear.  “Wear the clothes I gave you.  Use the gifts I gave to you.  Let me worry about covering you.”

Clothes are usually the first thing people notice.  Based on that, they make all sorts of assumptions about who you are.  My deepest desire is that Christ is the first thing  someone notices about me.  When I live out in my strengths, submitted to the Holy Spirit, abiding and resting in Him, I’m finding that sometimes other people are uncomfortable when they see me living in my strengths and not being ashamed of who God made me to be.  They don’t know what to do with me because our culture seeks to make everyone the same and devalues the individual.  We have been lied to and are afraid of acting in our giftedness because of what it would cost us or how it might look.  We also take the looks and comments and let them feed our fear and our shame.

Other people don’t get to pick what the Princess wears.  God does.  I have plenty of weaknesses to go along with my strengths and there is a subtle shift into the flesh.  But I am learning that if God can send clouds and an atmosphere to hide the sun and keep it from scorching our planet, then He is big enough to hide me and keep me in balance as long as my strengths are submitted to him.  Jesus says, “Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  You’ve gone around half-naked long enough.  The people I love, I call to account – prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.” (Revelation 3:18-19 The Message)

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