As a recovering people pleaser myself, I certainly can relate to Kelly’s story. And when we’ve spent most of our lives shape-shifting and trying to fit in, sometimes it takes a drastic situation or event from outside of ourselves to get our attention. In Kelly’s case, God met her in a big way, far away from home. He made her aware of where she had been placing her value and identity, and to this day continues to guide her into freedom. I love Kelly’s story and the mission she’s found for her life. I pray that it encourages you to embrace who God made you to be too, sweet friend.
This is Kelly’s Freedom Story.
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Even as a little girl, all I ever wanted was to please people. If we were playing the game of “good church answers,” we’d say I needed Jesus. You’re right. I had church, but I didn’t have Jesus.
High school was a mess, but not many people would have really known because I did a pretty good job of managing how things looked. Thankfully, I met my now-husband and he took on the role of being the steady part of my life. All through my twenties, I fought to figure out who I was. I wanted to be the good Christian wife, but I hadn’t found anyone quite like me to imitate so I did my best to fit in, or at least not stand out.
Finally, at 30 years old, I started to understand who I was meant to be. Separated from all the distractions of my life, Jesus met me in a Guatemalan ghetto.
Being in Guatemala without the pressure to perform and responsibilities of home, I was free to experience God at work for the first time. I’ll never forget my first hike into the Maria Teresa ghetto. Walking down the steep steps, we stopped every so often to visit a family in their small, cobbled together home. Each time, God spoke through the families, assuring me of his presence and pulling me in even tighter. When we reached the bottom, the community who struggled to provide for themselves welcomed us like family with food and games. “Our home is your home. You are always welcome here.” Day 2 of the trip and I was changing.
Looking back I see my struggle. Without knowing God or understanding how he created me, I was never going to fit anywhere. The restlessness I felt was never going to get better because I wasn’t looking for the right things. All my life, I’ve been striving to be the best, to please people, and to be who they wanted me to be. It wasn’t always a bad thing. I have so much to be thankful for because people believed in my abilities and pushed me, but I also carry guilt and shame for the ways I disappointed myself trying to please others.
I know there are other women like me. We’re the ones on the fringe at church or just outside. Sometimes we try to be part of the group, to fully engage, but no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t feel right. You probably won’t notice though because we’re really good at hiding who we really are.
We’re playing a part, always dreading the reality that one day we might stand out. This is how I’ve felt for the majority of my life. The older I’ve gotten and the closer I am to God, the more uncomfortable I’ve become living what feels like a lie.
Life experience tells me to protect myself, to put up walls, keep everyone out, and avoid getting hurt. Self-preservation has been my go-to in the past, but the isolation is suffocating. I need people in my life who allow me to be real and still love me. When I’m wrestling with the tension of questions and faith, wondering if I have the right answers or if the questions even matter, I need people who aren’t afraid and won’t abandon me. Working to become who God is asking me to be isn’t a solitary assignment.
What I know for sure is God didn’t make a mistake when he rolled the dice with me. (If we’re being proper, there’d be no dice game for God, but I already told you I don’t fit in.) He isn’t disappointed with who I’ve become, even with who I’ve been in the past. Believe it or not, he isn’t keeping score at all.
I wish this story could be tied up with a beautiful bow and note saying I’ve found freedom and joy in believing who God says I am. But even now, at 38 years old I struggle to be confident in who I am and what God is calling me to do. I doubt myself constantly, my mind like a playback reel of all the ways I need to be better—be calmer, don’t curse, be more patient with the kids, and forgive old wounds—just to name a few. Letting go of my own shame and disappointment is almost impossible.
I fight to believe God could ever be proud of me just the way I am. My greatest fear is that one day someone will walk up, or let’s get real—comment online, that I am a terrible writer, a heretic, and completely unworthy of working in ministry to teach and share the gospel. I live my life waiting for the shoe to drop and someone to call me out as the imposter I fear I am.
Two very different narratives compete in my life at all times—God tells me he is strong and has an amazing plan for me, while the devil is making me relive all the minute (and sometimes not minute) ways I have failed.
Jesus met me in Guatemala eight years ago and keeps showing up. Sometimes he shows up through someone’s encouragement, occasionally the Holy Spirit pushes me in a way I can’t resist, and still other times there’s unbelievable ideas I can’t shake. I wouldn’t be a writer on my own. When I started my first blog, I didn’t even tell people out of fear they’d read my posts. Going to seminary was certainly never part of my plan. But seeking, learning, writing, and serving have all led me to the place he wants me.
I am the misfit in your church, the one who doesn’t really fit.
Without a doubt, God is asking me to be honest with you about who I really am, what I believe, what I question, and how he’s using me. Friends, we need to embrace the ones on the outside because he’s working in them too. My questions are not a measure of the faith I lack. Instead, it’s the way God works in me, allowing me to question my understanding to seek deeper truth and a sincere understanding of how he wants me to be.
Without him, I wouldn’t be sharing this story with you. Nor would I be working for an orphanage or writing a book for all of us who feel slightly on the edge.
I am choosing to believe in my freedom and the purpose he has for me. Even on the days when it’s a fight not to fall into the depths of self-loathing or when someone’s words cut straight to my deepest insecurities. If my book never gets published, or if it does and is quickly forgotten, I’ll keep sharing because if for no one else, this is God’s purpose in my life. He is asking me to go forward and be honest with others who feel like misfits.
This is for the one who was afraid to be herself until she heard my story. It’s also for my girls, who I desperately want to show how to face their fears. This is my story of walking with God, wrestling with my faith, and embracing who he created me to be.
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Kelly Beckley Shank found her passion serving in Guatemala. A writer, frequent flyer to Guatemala, and wannabe world traveler, Kelly encourages women to embrace their identity in Christ, especially those on the outside. When not traveling, she enjoys farm life with her husband, 3 children, and their myriad of animals.
P.S. Want to read more stories of hope and freedom? Read the Freedom Stories of more than thirty different women here. Only a few more left before the summer!