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Episode 15. Proclaiming the Resurrection (My Resurrection Story)

April 5, 2021

Episode 6. This is My Body: A Body Scan Meditation

Episode 18. Freeing Women from “Biblical Womanhood” with Beth Allison Barr

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I'm Morgan Strehlow - writer and host of the Sanctuary Woman podcast.

Meet Morgan

Welcome to Eastertide, the liturgical season where we celebrate the resurrected Christ and the new life we have in a risen Jesus.

In yesterday’s Easter service, where I attended church in person for the first time in a year, our pastor described the Resurrection story as both a cosmic story, as well as a deeply personal one.

Resurrection. Each of us have a resurrection story of sorts, and perhaps some of us have many resurrection stories that collectively make up a much larger narrative of our resurrection life. This pandemic year, for example, has led us into a sort of resurrection story. Or, perhaps in greater need of one.

What is your resurrection story?

Who are the key players in your resurrection story?

Who have you shared your resurrection story with? 

In Matthew’s Easter story – in chapter 28 – we read that two women, Mary Magdalene and another Mary, went to Jesus’s burial site where they found a stone, rolled away, an empty tomb, and an angel of the Lord. In verse 8 – we read “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Do not be afraid. Go and tell…

Just as Mary, a woman, didn’t shrink back from proclaiming the Good News to her fellow disciples, may we also be so courageous to go forth into our own communities with the Good News of Easter, as well as the Good News of our own lives. I’m so grateful that Mary followed Christ’s leading in her life rather than the culturally prescribed gender roles and expectations of her day.

“I have seen the Lord!” she said.

She – a woman.

It was quite radical then, and it’s actually quite radical now. When testimonies of many women are still considered to be unreliable.

It may not have been the way of culture then, or now, but it was the way of Jesus.. To put a woman in a role that is so critical and revolutionary in the gospel story.

Today I want to share with you some of my own resurrection story.

I met with a new friend last week over coffee, someone who as of last week I can now call a friend. Up until then, she was someone I have long admired and looked up to from afar. A woman pastor, a trailblazer in her church – a woman I first learned about in 2012. And in 2021, she invited me for coffee. Over the course of our hour together, I shared with her a bit of my resurrection story, and that was when I realized that this was not a story I had openly shared about yet. I’ve shared bits and pieces of it here and there. But some of the hardest fought victories I’ve kept to myself because I didn’t want to appear too fake, or like I was trying too hard to over-glorify a story of suffering and shame. I did have friends that made me feel that way. That the woman I’ve become on the other side of resurrection is a different person, a lesser person than the woman I was before.

But why? Why would I keep it to myself?

So here it is – my very incomplete, imperfect – and yet perpetually perfected, resurrection story:

I had the quintessential Southern Baptist church kid upbringing, complete with children’s musicals, choir solos, AWANAs and youth group. When I emerged in to the youth ministry, I was immediately pegged with “leadership potential” since I belonged to one of the core church families, so when I was initiated into our youth group’s student leadership team in seventh grade, the performance standards were raised. I wasn’t just expected to be a good Christian, but I was there to be Extra Christian – to win Christianity and bring as many people with me as possible. I went all in. And That year I invited so many new friends to church over the course of the school year, that I won a brand new Dell laptop in the annual Invite-All-The-People-You-Know-To-Church Contest of 2002. It was that Dell laptop that I started my first blog on Xanga where I would write daily musings about what Jesus was doing in my life and share about the books I would buy and read from our church’s book shop, about the Wednesday night sermons I heard at youth group.

That Seventh grade year was a formative one. At school I had made our middle school cheerleading squad, played competitive tennis, was struggling to maintain Straight A’s for the first time in my academic career, and did my best to survive all of the middle school girl drama. And then there were the boys. The boys who touched me.

It was all casual, embedded into the normalcy of the school day, in hallways and classrooms. Touching would happen when I walked by their desks or while I had my head in my cluttered locker. My lab partner in science would slip his hand up my cheerleading skirt when I wasn’t paying attention. Many times, though, I never knew who the hands belonged to. Maybe no one saw what happened; maybe they did. I silently wondered if this was just part of growing up, if unwanted touch by boys who may not even know my name was inevitable. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. Even if I wanted to, I didn’t have the language for what I was experiencing. I thought that perhaps it could have been my fault since, after all, I had been wearing a short skirt. I expected that’s what my youth leaders might have said – I was a leader in our youth group, after all. No one needed to explicitly shame me. That victim-blaming narrative was already embedded into my consciousness. I was 12.

 And I felt shame.

Body shame was not stranger to me. In fact, body shame, along with sexual shame, had been lifelong companion. It went everywhere with me – to church, to my grandparents house, to summer camp, to college, and even work.

I was probably 5 years old when I became aware that something might be wrong with my body. My older brother called me fat. We fought and yelled at each a lot, as siblings do. But this time was different. My mom immediately stepped in and reprimanded him – I remember listening to her give my brother a good talking to about why he should never call someone fat. She mentioned to him something about an eating disorder or a disease, and I wondered silently if I was going to get it. (spoiler alert: I did.)

I was 8 years old when I was excited to wear my new lime green two-piece swim suit for the first time. I had always wanted a two piece swim suit and my mom finally bought me one! But when my grandfather saw me in it he insisted that I wear one of his 2XL t-shirts over my swimsuit for the rest of the day – in the pool and out. “Nobody wants to see that!” He said to me disapprovingly.

At age 15, at church camp when camp t-shirts were being distributed, I asked for a small t-shirt, but was handed a medium shirt by a youth pastor who told me that the medium would be more appropriate for my body type.

I was probably 16 when a strange man stopped me in a crowded church hallway before a Sunday morning service to tell me he had me on his heart and had been praying for me all week. He asked to pray with him and then drug me into a dark classroom, where he proceeded to pray for me and then kiss me unknowingly while my eyes were still closed for the prayer.

When I was 19 and playing in a college tennis tournament, a tennis coach for another Christian university in our conference casually let me know in passing exactly what he thought about our team’s tennis dresses and who on our team looked best/worst in them.

I was 22 when I volunteered as a counselor for my little sister’s church camp, I was asked to tell one of my small group girls to change her shorts because they were an inch too short. That was after I was asked to show that my own shorts were in fact longer than “finger tip length”.

And then at age 24, at a professional sporting event I worked at, a television producer for a major network requested of me to continue wearing my glasses for the rest of the week because I reminded him of his librarian fantasies.

I could keep going. I could tell you more stories from almost every other year of my life. But – hopefully – you get the point.

Little girls don’t forget. Even if we wanted to, there will always be someone to remind us that our bodies are shameful. That our bodies are stumbling blocks for another’s sexual sin. This is what I learned at church, anyway.

This little girl grew up, in spite of my church’s best efforts at keeping me a good little girl forever. I eventually fell in love with my college sweetheart – literally the first boy I met when I arrived on campus for my freshman year. I loaned Sean all of the Christian dating books of my youth for him to read as a prerequisite for courting me – I was a Lady In Waiting who had kissed dating goodbye. I was obsessed with Purity. And somewhere along the way I mistook my purity for my actual salvation. And I needed Sean to know that I wasn’t saving myself for just any good Christian guy – but a man who was equally as committed to winning this Christianity thing as I was. So kissing was off the table. You know what that leads to, right?

Okay, so we kissed a little. But we successfully waited five years until becoming married to have sex. And if I’m being honest – I have some regrets. Not regretting to save sex for marriage, per se. You see, I had become an expert at my own sexual suppression. But nobody ever talked to me about being a sexual being and what to do with that – even within the context of a marriage. I had only learned how not to be. And I was good at it. A youth leader literally told me and a group of teenage girls that sex was the most painful thing she had ever experienced and that she only did it to have her children. It was almost like they feared I would have sex if they told me it was actually supposed to feel pleasurable or something.

That’s when my sexual anxiety set in. I feared sex. But – I also wanted to get married. You see where this is going. When I finally got married at age 23 to another virgin, sex was… um… complicated. And, sure enough, it was very painful. We were both incredibly naïve, and I was sexually repressed. I sometimes wondered quietly to myself if I was actually asexual. We were silently suffering – both individually and in our marriage. And it was affecting our faith. Neither of us had the sex life that we had always hoped for as the prize for our hard-earned purity. The good Christian marriage we were promised was not the reward we found on the other side of waiting for good Christian married sex. I had been a good girl. A good christian girl. Turned a wife who couldn’t please her husband.

My body is shameful, I thought.

My body is a stumbling block.

And now…. As it turns out…

My body is broken.

I felt so much shame.

Over those five or six years I had a falling out of sorts with God and with the church- particularly the conservative evangelical kind. I felt manipulated and betrayed and distrustful. I realized I had experienced a sort of spiritual and sexual abuse – the kind we don’t actually talk about. I didn’t feel like church was a safe place to be a girl, a woman, or a sexual being. I felt confused and lost and lonely. So, as I do, I withdrew. I intellectualized. I started reading and researching and theologizing and debating and I became a skeptic and a cynic and deconstructed all of the religious elements of my Christian faith that I ever knew.

And Sunday mornings lost her charm.

Churchy people lost their charm.

God lost their charm.

I lost my mine.

If you’ve ever been through a deconstruction, or are in a tireless season of deconstruction now, you can probably relate a bit to mine. It feels like a slow death. Even if you’ve never gone through a faith deconstruction, why my faith was falling apart probably makes at least a little bit of sense. And my deconstruction makes a lot more sense than my reconstruction, if I’m being honest. I was so angry, so skeptical and cynical and hurt – I can only tell you it was last ditch desperation and a supernatural hope that brought my faith back to life. But, unfortunately, it took a crisis. And it took a lot of therapy and processing of my pain. And it took spiritual direction and a pastoral guide to help me work through the mystery of faith and belief. And it took actually reading my Bible, as frustrating as it made me sometimes, and praying like I had never prayed before. Out loud.

“Help my unbelief,” I begged.

I had always been a prayer writer. Not a verbal prayer. If one was ever to ask me my biggest fear, next to a loved one dying, it would probably be spontaneous popcorn prayer. It feels a little bit out of control for me to do – to start a sentence before I even know how I am going to end it. But I did it. And before I knew it I would be praying the very words I needed to hear. Words that started to minister to me. Words that started to bring me back to life. Hearing my own hope and my own hard fought faith out loud was wildly transformative. It was almost like God was wanting me to get out of my mind and into my voice, and eventually into and expressing out of my body.

I had disconnected my faith and my spiritual life from my body for so long, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. Spirit good. Body bad. But I was never supposed to cut off this very good, image-bearing, curvy womanly body of mine from my spirit. I was never supposed to cut off my sexuality from my spirit. I was never supposed to cut off the embodied expression of God-given desire from my spirit. And it was when I began to take back what the church and the culture stole from me – a healthy view of myself, and choosing to learn about the very goodness of my own, whole, embodied self, my sexual self, and brought my body back in line with my spirit – that’s when I found my charm again.

Once I had gotten myself healthy – mentally and emotionally – then I was ready to open myself back up to God, and to my husband, and eventually to church. The church, who I needed to forgive for their wrongdoing. So I did. I was born and raised a church girl, and church community and religious life have always been a huge part of my life and my story. I have always loved the church, truly. The loss of that love was hard to overcome. My decision to forgive the church has changed me and my posture toward it – a posture that is more compassionate and service-oriented rather than a posture of being owed something. If I want to see the church be better and do better, it’s on me – who now knows better and must do better. So rather than running from the church, I’m running toward the church. Because I want to see the body of Christ become a safer place for more of us at the edge of our faith. I want to believe it can be. I’ve seen it. And I’ve since experienced it for myself.

This story is why I emphasize our embodied selves and our sexual selves on this podcast – because I believe that divorcing these conversations from our everyday conversations of faith, has the potential to do us real harm. And I’ve talked to many women in my community, in my private messages, including many of you who listen, and what I’ve come to learn is that my story is not as uncommon as I used to believe it was. What, perhaps, is the uncommon part is my resilient hope that led to a reconstructing of my faith leading me once again to discovering and embracing this resurrection life. So I will continue to recklessly hope, for the both of us, and believe enough, for the both of us, in this resurrection life.

If you, like me, have been hurt by religious people, remember that Jesus was also hurt and betrayed by the religious. It was the religious, after all, who nailed him to the cross.

Whether or not you believe in Jesus as your Savior, this is a man who was betrayed by his closest friends and confidants, beaten and bloodied by state actors while a crowd of people cheered them on assuming he surely must’ve done something to deserve it, and then left for dead. And YET. In his final breath, Jesus asked God for their forgiveness.

Friends, particularly those of you who have found yourself in a faith deconstruction you never asked for, on the edge of your faith with little to no hope: religious people can really suck sometimes – and do so in Jesus’ name. I suspect Jesus would be the first to agree with you there. And I suspect it makes him really angry to know that his name is being used to shame you for the same hurt they caused.

I hope you can spend some time today to find some kindredness with our Christ.

Because each of us has a resurrection story.
His story, after all, is our story. And our story, his. 

Prayer:

Jesus, Help our unbelief. 

We want to be free from the power of the spiritual abuses, the sexual abuses, the church hurt, and the doubt we have of your goodness. “You have seen, O Lord, the wrong done to me” (Lam 3:59) and “the battle is yours” (1 Sam 17:47). The responsibility for justice is yours, God. Our responsibility is forgiveness. Please help us to forgive daily as you lead us out of bondage and free us of our ongoing bitterness and blame and unforgiveness. Please bring healing and forgiveness and peace, Lord. Use this pain to complete an important work in our lives, as you waste nothing. May we submit to you the pruning, the planting, the sowing in this season so that you may spring up in us a harvest, a garden, that you may use to care for a weary and wounded world. Please help us to walk by faith through this process and believe the best in you (and others). We know that we may not ever have certainty, but we can have faith and we can have hope in you. Give us patience as you make us new, as you resurrect us from the dying of our faith. Teach us to love you better and to trust you. Grow in us the likeness of your character. Humble us, and change our hearts. May we choose the Good Portion, God. May we choose to believe and live into your resurrection and the resurrection life you offer us. 

Thank you for loving us, God. Thank you for calling us back to you. Thank you for raising us back to life. 

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