Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical edited by Hannah Faith Notess

When Mike and I wanted to join the church that we got married in, we had to go through an interview process. I am not sure exactly who interviewed us, but I was asked about my testimony. I stumbled through it with my usual hesitation . . . what do you say about your testimony when it’s less about a dramatic turning event and more about learning dependence on Christ rather than yourself? Whatever I said, it didn’t seem quite enough for the elder who interviewed us, and I left in tears, sure that he thought that I was not really a Christian.

My “testimony” was often a problem for me. I struggled with it through high school and in college, going to camps that tried to teach me how to tell it in a compelling way. I remember being told that it just wasn’t the kind of story that was going to encourage someone to turn their life to Christ because there was nothing to relate to. It was years before I started to realize that the story of growing and changing and taking God with me as I did so was just as powerful as any dramatic turning point.

In Melanie Springer Mock’s essay in Jesus Girls, she admits that she invented a testimony when she was in college so that she could have the requisite dramatic turning event rather than her real life, rather boring story. She talks about how it was easier to do that than to admit what her sin really was: jealousy, snobbery, sullenness. At the end of her essay, she said this:

Perhaps that’s the problem with testimonies: most people are compelled by compelling narrative. We don’t want to read a book without conflict, a story without a turning point and a resolution. I also imagine Christians are drawn to stories that reveal a remarkable God who enacts miracles, not some wimpy God who gives people boring lives, lives unchallenged by the trials that will compel them to seek contrition, to seek God. Still, somehow, we need to privilege an alternative story as well: a narrative founded not on climax, conflict, and change, but on God’s enduring mercy and love. For I believe God’s powerful forgiveness extends not only to the gravest of sinners, but also to those of us who live, day by day, felled by routine transgressions. Such mercy as this, extended to all, truly deserves its own kind of Celebration.

Can I share a few more passages with you? How about Sara Zarr‘s thoughts on church family and community after the death of her father, with whom she had a difficult relationship:

It’s that contrast, between the way things are when we’re on our own and the way they can be when we’re God’s, that keeps me looking to my church to be my family. Even in its most dysfunctional moments, a Christ-centered church family seems infinitely more right than a flailing biological one. With every Sunday service, potluck, home group, or hillside memorial, there’s a momentary glimpse of a dim reflection of the glory of true home . . . this is how it could be, this is how it should be, this is how it will be when Christ finally does return, and all our families are redeemed.

One of the things that drew us to the church that we attend is the sense of belonging that we feel there, that we are an important part of the community and that they are part of our family. When my own dad was sick and then died, people from my church showed up in every way imaginable. They spoke truth to me beforehand about what was happening. They brought food and sent cards and came to the service and let me cry and took me away for girls’ weekends. They still understand when I have a hard time around the anniversary of his death. They loved me so well in that, as they have loved me so well in other things. And I, who have felt the loss of both Mike’s parents and my dad (in very different ways), know how important it is to have people around us who help fill that emptiness. And that’s why I love every casserole and every cheesy skit, because they represent God’s love for us as seen in the people he has given us to share our lives with.

What about Anastasia McAteer’s thoughts on leaving the evangelical church for a more liturgical worship experience? (Some of this might sound familiar to you, because I have said those things often enough here myself.)

I had to leave the evangelical church because I had to find a connection to Christianity that went back to the beginning, even using liturgies that can be traced nearly that far. To find a God I could trust, I had to find a God in the community of love around me, not in my own decisions or beliefs. I could trust the church that had written the creeds, that had formed rhythms of prayer, that had spent hundreds of years in worship together, feeding on Christ’s body and blood, baptizing the new into the faith, and laying the dead in God’s arms. Even when I am afraid or confused or questioning, I know that I am not alone: neither in my doubts, nor in the answers that I will find. I know that the Spirit is guiding the church (slowly and mysteriously) toward the fulfillment of God’s agenda for the earth. I’ve joined the rushing river of her kingdom work, and I am happy to be carried along.

There’s plenty more – I never ever write in books, so this one is dotted with post-it notes marking all my favorite passages. There’s the same ambivalence I feel about the ways that women are treated, the humor I see in how awful and cheesy so much of the subculture can be, the pain that I feel from many of my youth group experiences, the anger that I have experienced about misuse of power, the questions and longing and fear and difficulty that was growing up in the church. (My brother once told me that he was thinking about selling shirts that said something like, “I survived [our church’s] youth group.” It wasn’t meant to be humorous. It was very serious indeed.)

And, just in case it needs to be said, there’s the sharp sweet scent of grace, that amazing feeling of being able to participate in something bigger than yourself, something you believe has the power to change the world. Even when there are so many things about it that seem so very wrong.

A long time ago, Sara Zarr mentioned this book on her blog, except it was called Growing Up Churched. (I can’t link to the blog that used to be for this project, because it’s not up anymore, but there used to be one.) And I was very excited about it, because there are all these messages that the church and the Christian subculture (especially, in my experience, the Christian subculture) send young people. I can only speak to the ones that girls deal with. And that is exactly what these women do. Some of them have left the church, and some are still there, but they all speak of things I know and experienced or things I saw my friends experience. It turns out that we were all kind of going through the same thing, even the people who looked like they had it all together.

This is not a book with easy answers. It’s about speaking the truth and speaking it plain. I give it my highest recommendation and I have a feeling that I will be passing it on to friends and revisiting it from time to time. If you are a Christian woman (or ever have been a Christian woman), I imagine you will find something to relate to as well.

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