Jesus Found Me

Heather Penny

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Jesus Found Me_ One Woman's journey

 

One of my favorite stories is when Jesus heals a man who had been born blind since birth. After Jesus heals him, the religious leaders curse him and declare that he is following a man not connected to God. The man responds with…

Why, that’s very strange! He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know anything about him! Well, God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. Never since the world began has anyone been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do it.”(30-33)

Their response? They accuse him of being ‘born in sin’ (meaning that his blindness was due to sin), shame him for his boldness in daring to teach them, and then throw him out of the synagogue. Publicly shamed and rejected from their religious club, this is where Jesus re-enters the story.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ The man answered, ‘Who is he, sir, because I would like to.’ ‘You have seen him,’ Jesus said, ‘and he is speaking to you!’ “’Yes, Lord,’ the man said, ‘I believe!’ And he worshiped Jesus. (35-38)

Do you hear what happened? Jesus must have gotten wind of the mistreatment and searched him out. Why?

Perhaps to affirm his identity and self-worth
Perhaps to address the shame
Perhaps to take a stand with him during a time of isolation and abandonment
Perhaps to simply state that it was not his fault
Perhaps to reveal himself to this man, offer comfort, and befriend him
Perhaps it was all of these and so much more.

Jesus went and found him because he loved him.

How long did this healed man wander around before Jesus came and found him? What did he feel? What did this do to his identity? His self-esteem? Who supported him during this public shaming? Who jeered at him and abandoned him? What sort of state was he in when Jesus finally found him?

I know these feelings of rejection…being passed over…dismissed…shamed for who I am and what I believe. I know what it feels like to be in this desperate place of low self-worth, and being ‘cast aside’. Don’t we all? At some time or another, haven’t we all experienced a strong rejection simply for who we are?

Our world is uncomfortable with pioneers who shake things up…ask new questions…or simply people who get healed and want to share about it.

This story has shaped my faith over the decades in my walk with God, but most importantly it has shaped my friendship and my understanding of who Jesus is and how he deals with those of us being rejected. I love what this reveals about Jesus….

Sometimes we will be rejected simply for who we are, and even though this cuts the deepest, Jesus has not forgotten us and he comes looking for us.

Jesus always goes after the rejected. He comes after us and finds us.
He finds us to restore us
To reshape our identity
To affirm us
To raise us up…and to help us forgive. Like the healed blind man, this is why I too worship Him.

Jesus found me when I was rejected for being a woman, not allowed to lead or teach in religious circles even though I had more theology training than most as well as gifts of both leadership and teaching. I had wandered dazed, confused, trying to get affirmation from religious leaders…but being hurt instead. Doubting my identity, mistrusting who I was, and even angry for being born as a woman…Jesus came looking for me. He confirmed my perspective, my identity, my purpose, healed my wounded heart. and taught me to forgive. Jesus gave me permission to live fully for who I am and who I am meant to be. He taught me how to love those who want to curse me, shame me, and reject me. He taught me where to offer my gifts, spend my time, and give of my energy. He gave me permission to ‘bless and release’.

I realized I was spending much of my energy by either trying to apologize for who I was and/or defending my beliefs – my attention and energy were going to unproductive places. It wore me out. But Jesus took my anger, my shame, and my bitterness and replaced it with forgiveness, new vision, new hope, new opportunities, new permission, and new confidence.

So how does this affect me now?

I still go to a large church with an all-male elder board trying to figure out if women should be leading and teaching. Yep…sometimes it’s hard. So why do I do this? Several reasons – My kids love the church and I like the idea of being at the same place as a family. I love the people and Jesus keeps asking me to just wait.

Does this mean my passion has lessened? Nope. Does this mean I’ve stopped believing in the value of advocacy for gender rights? Nope. Does this mean I’ve stopped stating what I believe when asked? Nope.

But when Jesus found me outside the religious circles, we became great friends. I ask him for guidance regarding when to speak honestly and when to take a stand, but mostly, I am being called to live in this unresolved tension and dare to love boldly. Learning to honor one another wherever we are on our journeys is my area of growth. I am learning to engage a new strength…not one of just advocacy…but one of love.

In this safe posture of release, Jesus has gently turned me toward places, people, and opportunities where my gifts are needed.

For instance, I am working in a coaching capacity with the executive leadership of a large multi-million dollar organization comprised of all men (God’s sense of humorous affirmation) to develop and support their leadership…even though I’m not recognized as a viable leadership option in my own church.

I partner with clients from countries all around the globe in personal coaching to support high potential and thriving lives…even though I’m not allowed to offer leadership development in my own church.

I successfully founded a coaching company with retreats, conferences, and workshops to support a thriving life…even though I’m not allowed to teach a coaching workshop in my own church.

Does this sting?

Yep…but not like it used to. I am becoming stronger and I am using my strength to dare to love even when I am rejected – to speak the truth unflinchingly, but still honor the relationship. To stay in a community of people and hold an unresolved tension while still believing that we are all on a journey. And when it becomes a little too hard…or I feel a little too alone…I return to my friendship with Jesus.

Jesus. Finds. Me. Every. Time.

I have learned to use this rejection to drive me deeper into Jesus and gain my identity affirmation there…not from those around me.   And He continues to bless me beyond my wildest imagination. I hear His whispers about my gifts and how they were given to be used to the fullest potential. Not to frustrate me or be blocked by others. I am working all over the world as HE confirms my identity…awakens my potential…and allows visions bigger than I can even conceive to come true. In learning to lean heavily into this relationship with God, I release my own agenda and discover the joy of how ‘big’ He thinks for me. God is passionately pursuing me and revealing the potential I hold while teaching me what it means to do life together in partnership. I find myself wanting more of God.

And like the man who was formerly blind, I too choose to worship Jesus believing that God is listening.

Jesus has not forgotten me.

Jesus found me.

Heather Penny

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17 Comments

  • Thank you, Heather. I too felt called to stay for a long time in a church that did not honor, support, or use my gifts (a Free Methodist Church, by the way, Denny). But recently I have felt free to leave and rest and wander and renew. So I understand both the call to stay and the call to go.

    • Yes, Laura. I totally understand and appreciate your words. I can relate to your journey. Growing up in the church, I have walked with God since a child. I believe the more our relationship matures, the less formulas we follow…and the more we learn to lean into a conversation that is happening with God. It has been surprising when I have been guided to leave…to stay…to take breaks…etc. But I love how He loves me through it all. Life is not easy and the church is only one area where we may be experiencing discrimination. Learning how to walk with God through it all has given me new perspective and better questions to ask. My hope is to continue offering safe places that share honestly where we are being led and guided, and support one another with good questions that explore how we need to respond. May you find refreshment for your spirit during this time.

      Warmest regards,
      Heather

      • Thanks Heather. I love the fact that you used the phrase “lean in.” It seems to be a big part of the conversation God is having with me right now. Blessings to you as you work with the change God is bringing to your church!

        • Laura! Irony of ironies…you left the FREE methodist church because you were not free…I left the FREE presbyterian church for the same reason…makes you wonder why they insist they are “Free”?

          • Ha! Makes me think of where true freedom comes from…Gal 5:1…it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. I’m going to let my definition of “freedom” come from my Creator.

  • What a liberating message. To live in the tension of being called and qualified yet hearing God say “Wait my child, wait.” This search for affirmation is not limited to women in the church but, to all people who dare to bring a message which does not fit within the accepted norm.

    May Jesus continue to find each of us as we seek to live for His approval alone.

  • What marvellous testemony! If you have any contact or are interested in Brazilian women’s coach, please tell me. Your message touched me not only for the words but mostly because of my own experience. I would like to hear more about your journey both outside and/or inside the church.I am a priest of the Episcopal Church in Rio de Janeiro

    • Hello Arlinda! Good to hear from you. A priest in Rio de Janeiro! I’d love to talk with you. I work with clients all over the world and have learned how to communicate across time zones. 🙂 You can reach me at [email protected] and we can set up a phone meeting. As well you can visit my websites: heatherpenny.com & ariseandbe.com. Looking forward to connecting…

  • Heather, I loved your teaching and join you in celebrating God’s searching for all of his beloved. I have a question that I sincerely ask – not judging.

    Your decision to stay in a church that is not respectful of women is, in my opinion, similar to staying in a church that is not respectful to other ethnic groups. So, would you stay if your leadership was racist? And if not what is the difference for you?

    Our Free Methodist world honors women and yet when my son left home he went to a well-known church in Texas for a while that would not ordain women. Having two daughters, my son and his wife said they liked the church for the children’s program. But I asked, do you want your daughters to grow up thinking God limits them and they cannot use their gifts or respond to God’s call due to human limits imposed by the men who are the teaching and governing elders? He and his wife soon changed as they realized that to stay for the children was an unwise longitudinal decision.

    I ask this because I see it in broad application that women are allowing the sin of the man ruling over them to continue by participating in such ecclesial representations of our Lord’s church. And I honestly don’t understand why you or other wonderful, talented, gifted women would do so.

    • Hi Denny~

      So interesting you would ask these questions…I’ve asked them myself and definitely see the discrimination connection. You have caught me “mid-journey” and I want to say…”Check back in a year” and I’ll let you know how it’s going. 🙂 But meanwhile, a couple thoughts….

      1 – This past Summer, we went and tried out a church with a woman pastor and asked our kids (11 & 13) to explore this with us. After a couple months, we discussed it as a family and they respectfully requested to return to our old church. My husband & I prayed about it and felt led to do this. Not an easy choice, but we definitely felt the gentle persistence of Christ asking us to trust Him.

      2-Guess what happened just last week after returning for the past month? They hired an African-American pastor who is on the Executive team and is vocal about the need to have women in leadership. Furthermore, the elder board is being replaced because the church is asking for new leadership that includes women. AND the coaching ministry approached me and asked me to lead at an upcoming function with several hundred people. Shock! I felt the gentle confirmation from Jesus affirming our decision to return. And I thanked my kids for listening to their hearts.

      3-Lastly, I do need to gently push back on your assumption regarding the perspective my daughter is gaining. 🙂 You know what she is learning in a church that is 7,000+ members? That God is bigger. She is watching doors open nationwide for her mother AND she is watching me love those who oppose us. She is also watching what it means to take a seat at the end of the table and let God raise you up. She is learning about patience in the journey and what it means to let people change as they need. She is watching her parents trust God to move and listen to His leading. She is watching us be honest about what we agree with and what we oppose, and yet still choose to honor relationships. She is learning to live in tensions and let God be bigger than any organization. She is learning to be a part of the process and how to trust the journey together as a family. She is learning how to listen to God…not to rules, organizations, or policies. When we follow Christ…we get so much more. This is our journey for now…it doesn’t mean it should be everybody’s journey…but it is ours’ and apparently there’s something here for me…for us…that we get to trust.

      But again…check back in a year and I’ll let you know how it’s going. 🙂

      Warm regards,
      Heather

  • Hi Heather – thanks so much for sharing this! Not only the reminder of Jesus searching us out and removing all our guilt, shame and freeing us – but its such an encouragement to know there are other women out there who God is calling to have patience in their church situations.

    • Yes, Lydia. We are each called in our own ways. Some are called to advocate…some called to release…some called to stay…some called to remain. We are just branches attached to THE VINE….apart from Him we can do nothing. I don’t want to live apart from the Vine….it’s too much work. 🙂 Learning how to stay connected is definitely the challenge. All the best to you in your journey….may you live boldly with clarity, confidence and courage.

      Warmest regards,
      Heather

  • That’s tough when your family is happy in the church…I left the fundamental reformed movement after my husband left. He left for different reasons…perhaps subtly related to some of my reasons. Now, as a free agent, I will never darken a door of a church where they consensus is that only men can lead. I am glad that my husband left before me…that made all the difference…it is so freeing to be in the Salvation Army, even though I don’t agree with all their doctrines. The other church was a perfect fit for my beliefs except the big one…I was not a real person there…and was smothered by the aggressively male domination. I would like to find a fundamental reformed church where women are truly treated as human beings with a mind and a soul…as priests before God…in our “kingdom of priests” and where “there is truly neither male nor female, but we are all one in Christ” BUT where the doctrine is fine tuned to a thoughtful understanding of scripture

    • Oh Judy…I so hear you. I definitely said the same thing at one time…honestly, it’s such a surprise to find me here. 🙂 I am so glad you found the church that fits you. I agree…once the line has been crossed into one that makes you feel diminished and smothered…get out. Fortunately, I still have such beautiful friends at this church that love me and love our family…and the people (men & women) are kind and trying hard. I think we are called to give them a chance to change…but this makes it all so much more complicated. For now, this is where we land…but I am really curious for how long and what God is up to….because I know I was not created to sit on the sidelines for long. I’d appreciate the prayers for me, my family, and a church that might be on the edge of a tipping point. Wouldn’t that be an awesome ending to this story? 🙂

      Warmest regards,
      Heather

    • Thank you, Beth. High praise…I think I’ll carry this around in MY pocket. 🙂 May you increase in clarity, confidence & courage as you navigate your journey.

      Warmest regards,
      Heather

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