(These are my notes from Sunday at Alamo City Church where I was honored to get share a small part of my story, and where the Lord has led me)
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As most of you know, I grew up as the Pastor’s daughter here at Alamo City- the oldest of 3 (Kate and Adam have the really cute kid, Evan and Erinn live in Pleasanton and run a successful Ag business, and I am the singer married to the Football guy).
I was the firstborn to my parents, the experiment to the young pastors of a growing church in Amarillo, and from the first day of my life- I had a large church of people watching and evaluating my every move. That was just life for me- literally, watching my every move. The first time I held a boys (my steady middle school boyfriends) hand, someone had already called my parents and told on me by the time I got home.
As if that isn’t dramatic enough, I am actually a 4th Generation Southern Baptist’s Preacher’s Daughter. What on earth does all that mean? Well, that means my Daddy, Grand-Daddy, and Great Grand-Daddy were all Southern Baptist Preachers for all, or most of their lives. That means one entire side of my lineages’ “family business”, as my husband calls it, is CHURCH. The family business is church.
Lord have Mercy on us all.
We sound like a great time don’t we? Life of the party for sure.
All kidding aside, the spiritual legacy that I inherited from my family is one I am deeply grateful for, and forever humbled by. But just like anyone’s family- we come with some baggage, and spiritual baggage at that. We all have things we have to work through- and as a feisty, sassy personality in the middle of the Southern Baptist church world, I had PLENTY to work out.
The following stories are just a few of the things I have had to work out in my own life to find my own real relationship with Jesus and the freedom to be fully, 100 percent, no holding back ME.
Because a great deal of my life unfolded in the culture and expectations of the Southern Baptist church, I experienced a great deal of pressure from the culture and tradition holders- the Southern Baptist Church Ladies.
I’d like to note that we all experience pressure from people, standards in our lives- our families, bosses, Mother’s, Grandparents, cultures etc- this is just where I experienced mine.
Now, Southern Women are a sight to behold and a force to be reckoned with.
How can I describe a Southern Woman? Well. Imagine the most beautiful, sweet smelling, and inviting flower you’ve ever seen. As you draw in closer and breathe in the heavy fragrance and soak in the beauty of the vibrant colors- you suddenly realize, that hidden inside of that pretty flower is a legit stick of dynamite. Sure- you don’t see a fuse that’s been lit, or hear a ticking clock attached ready to explode, so there’s not really any pressing danger, but that stick of dynamite is there at the heart of that flower, and a wise person would proceed with caution.
That, my dear friends, in many ways, is a Southern Woman.
Beauty, grace, charm, and intelligence- wrapped around a war-sized firecracker of spirit, loyalty, maternal instincts, and belief. She is a wondrous thing to behold- but to be sure, you don’t want to cross her.
Now, that’s just a Southern Woman- a Southern Baptist Woman is a whole other phenomenon, wrapped in faith, tradition, religion, and protocol- but for times sake- just know this...
There is absolutely a right and a wrong way to be a woman in the South, and most especially in the church house. Needless to say, my spitire personality and high strung spirit were not exactly a natural fit.
Now, in my humble opinion, no one loves to throw around the “gentle and quiet spirit” Bible verses about “real Godly women” quite like the Southern Baptists do. We’ll get into why later, but for now, it’s important to know that just like in any other culture, or family, or industry - ladies can and will straight up LADY-SHAME you when you step out of line- with a smile on their face, sweetness in their voice, and a casserole in their hand.
Their founding creed seemed to be taken out of the New Testament’s 1 Peter 3:3-4
“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
First of all, let’s be honest. That Biblical description hardly sounds exciting, very NON-Beyonce in fact, but it’s a big deal in the church house.
I heard that verse out of 1 Peter 3 more than I ever wanted to… and although I desperately wanted to please Jesus and the church people, in every possible way it seemed to shout that everything natural about me, and that I was drawn to, everything that I found life in, was WRONG.
For starters: I LOVE me some big hair, giant gold jewelry and fun clothes. LOVE IT. Like I have too much of all 3 of those things- and in complete joy and excess, I have them.
At this point, Panic has now set in on my heart- “I’m sorry- did 1 Peter just call me a “lady of the night” for my love of these things? Mercy. I am way worse off than I thought. This is really bad.
Second of all:
4but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
Ya’ll. This was the nail in the coffin. There’s not a darn thing about me that is gentle or quiet.
“This is really, really bad.”
No matter how hard I tried to beat myself into submission, every single time I heard that verse, I cringed down in my soul. I HATED it. It was so condemning, so shaming, and straight up embarrassing for someone wired like me.
From that moment on, it was clear: even God Himself thought I was too much. The church ladies absolutely thought I was too much, and they made sure I knew it. I was miserable, trying as hard as I could, and mad about it all at the same time. I tried so hard, so incredibly hard to reign myself in, but it wasn’t pretty.
You may be wondering, just how deep does the crazy go here, Ab?
Well, I was also convinced that somehow these weirdly powerful church ladies also held the keys to my happiness in love. I just knew that if I got myself “gentle and quiet enough” that I would finally find my husband. (Bless it. Bless my heart.)
I mean, every good church lady knows that good, Godly men don’t like “spirited women” as wives. As lovers, sure. But you better keep it between the lines of propriety if you want him to put a ring on it- or so I believed.
I spent years of my life trying to win over those church ladies, trying to tame my wild heart, and in the end, I honestly found myself hating everyone, but especially women (from where I sat they were the ones tormenting and rejecting me), and I was miserable and exhausted.
When you spend every waking moment of your life trying to change everything about yourself, second guessing every decision in hopes that it will make people like you better- it’s just a matter of time before you pretty much lose your mind. It’s exhausting, humiliating at the very core, and sends you to a crashing end.
In my life, it has been at those significant breaking points- the places where I am ready to admit I am done, I really must be as crazy as they say I am, exhausted, worn out, and ready to just give up….. THAT is where the Lord comes in with His wild, expectation-shattering TRUTH to set me free. This was true of this point in my life.
Exhausted from the war on myself- I finally turned to Him and pretty much said …
“Listen God, I know that everything about me is wrong, according to, well, everyone, but I’m also pretty sure that You made me- all of me, exactly like this. Crazy over the top emotional, passionate, sensitive, intense and all, Sara Abigail Walker. So I’m gonna need to work this out with You, because I can’t even crawl across the floor at this point, I am so beat up. I promise I can learn to trust You- I can learn to tune out the other voices, but I am going to need to hear from YOU. Help. Help me please.”
He answered, in power and mercy, to my weary, bloody heart.
JESUS IS NOT THE CHURCH, NOR THE CHURCH LADIES.
Over the last decade, one of the greatest truths to learn in my adult life is that Jesus is NOT the church, nor their well meaning, but often sharp-tongued brothers, and sisters.
Jesus is not my mother. Jesus is not my Father. Jesus is not my family. Jesus isn’t my boss. Jesus isn’t the same as people.
Jesus is Jesus.
When we internalize and take as truth what others have said about us, how they have valued or devalued us, and how they have treated us- we are setting ourselves up for failure. It’s a thwarted system, because it’s not based on TRUTH.
“The problem with seeing yourself through other people’s eyes, or living for their approval is that at any given moment, regardless of what YOU are doing, or how well you are doing it, you are being filtered through THEIR mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical state. And most people are flat out crazy. Live accordingly.”
I won’t lie- it took me a good long while to get here- but after a lot of therapy and more than a few “Come to Jesus meetings” with the REAL Jesus- you know, the One who created me in my Mother’s womb and intentionally designed every part of me because He knows the plans He has for me- He who delights in my firecracker personality, I have finally embraced my “High Strung Spiritedness” and I feel closer to Jesus than ever before.
I now can see His power in and through me in ways that make my heart sing, and I am walking in an authority and confidence that can only come from knowing who you really are and that who you are is GOOD. He says that what He made in me was GOOD, and I trust Him. Everyone else can just work it on out.
Over the last decade, one of the greatest truths to learn in my adult life is that Jesus is NOT the church, nor their well meaning, but often sharp-tongued brothers, and sisters. The church has always been full, and always will be full, of humans- warm hearted, well meaning people- but HUMAN nonetheless. And humans can misinterpret, wound, confuse, and reject you. But Jesus- He misinterprets NOTHING and He knows the depths of our souls.
It’s extremely important to me that you hear this- we don’t throw out the church or it’s people because of it’s inevitable humanity, NO. Rather, we must approach it with a different expectation and understanding- always looking to Jesus alone for the real TRUTH, and extending grace to the humanity of all things.
A really great prayer and one of my faves is : “Separate the precious from the vile, Lord.”
It’s true in my life and very likely in your own, that many people, (for me, it’s obviously been the “church ladies”), are often much more comfortable with us when we’re trying to stuff ourselves into the unchallenged narrow box of what they see as a “gentle and quiet spirit”, a “good woman”, or my personal favorite, being “appropriate”.
Two very important things happened in my life that freed me of the heaviness of these expectations and pressures.
The first is that I finally realized that the church ladies, or whomever felt critical of my personality, spirit, or life choices at the moment- well they could just take their concerns straight to the Good Lord Himself.
Despite the sheer panic in my heart when I hear the hen cackling spreading through a room or gossip trail, I could, in fact, trust HIM with my reputation. No matter what they misinterpreted in my life, accused me of, or disapproved of- He was a big enough GOD to handle it. To handle THEM.
I could trust HIM with their criticisms, release them to Him (not just randomly release them- that never works), and I really never had to pay attention to them again. He was a big enough God to handle the church ladies.
Hallelujah, y’all. That’ll preach.
Yoda The Grandmother
Second of all, during my tormenting mid-twenties, a tiny little white haired woman named Lida Smith agreed to mentor me.
I have a lot of amazing women in my life, for which I am deeply grateful, but Lida Smith just very well may be the most incredible woman to walk this earth. First of all- she is the cutest, sweetest, most amiable little hip Grandmother you’ve ever seen. Her glossy white hair is cut in a perfect bob, she has the trendiest, most flattering glasses to compliment said “perfect bob”, she makes enchiladas that can feed a part of you that you never thought could be full, and her sweet voice calms your very soul with just a few words. With so much internal chaos raging inside of me, I decided Lida was my lighthouse in the storm. She was going to be my Holy Grail for that dadgum “gentle and quiet spirit” I had to have, and so I gathered up my courage and my crazy, and begged her to mentor me, to take me under her wing.
I had never seen Lida out of control. I had never seen her angry. I had never even seen or heard her say anything out of place, and I had known her for as long as I could remember. She is the Director of Women’s Ministry for my Dad’s church. Bonus points there- she did incredible work with church ladies, (a Nobel Prize feat in and of itself,) and from my perspective, she was I Peter 3 incarnate. She was all I thought I was supposed to be- sweet, genuine, kind hearted, and, quiet-mannered. You know, the things God, and men, love.
If I’m honest- I was hoping that if I was just around her enough, and sat close enough to her that maybe her peacefulness and gentleness would rub off on me. Osmosis, don’t fail me now.
The funniest thing happened as we met weekly to talk and pray.
This precious, soft spoken, white-haired woman shocked me. She wasn’t some churchy-stepford wife. Nope.
Lida, was a pistol.
She had fire in her belly, the heart of a warrior, and she wouldn’t back down unless God Himself told her to, and even then she might fight with him about it! She was so fierce of spirit that it intimidated me at times, and I adored her.
As we wrestled through my many issues, most often my excessive “strength of spirit” problems, one day she looked calmly into my eyes, and simply said the word, “Meekness.”
I immediately recoiled, and probably would have hissed out loud if I didn’t think someone might try to pin me down and pray a demon out of me.
It’s funny because it’s true.
“Here we go again- I have to abandon every natural thing about myself, I have to beat myself into that small, humiliating box to be gentle and quiet…” Meekness - ugh. I hated that word. Let’s be honest- everyone hates that word. Meekness sounds like someone who can’t look another person in the eye, someone who is beaten down, unworthy, defeated, and powerless. Surely Lida didn’t like that word either?
But again, this little woman challenged everything I thought I knew.
In her sweet, soft voice, but with all the authority of heaven, she said, “Sweet Abbi, meekness isn’t weakness or humiliation. Meekness is great strength under control.”
Great strength, under control.
This tiny little grandmother Yoda broke down a wall in my soul prison with one sentence, and for the first time in my entire life, I saw light through the dungeon. I saw hope.
You see, I could hear the words “great strength under control” from Lida, because she wasn’t controlled by anyone or anything. She willingly and happily chose to submit herself to things, if and only how she wanted to. She did not limit, or crush anything in her, but she did control, direct, and harness the greatest strength of spirit in a woman I had ever seen. As if that wasn’t impressive enough- she was the happiest, most powerful, and AT PEACE, person I had ever been in a room with.
She had to be right. She had to be on to something. With big eyes, I leaned in to learn more.
What made Lida even more trustworthy and amazing, was that I knew Lida hadn’t led a perfect, charmed life. She had experienced heartache, betrayal, and humiliation at a level that would make any other sane person just lay down and die. She had known it all- and it hadn’t destroyed her, jaded her, or made her quit. In fact, she pressed into life harder than even before her world was torn apart, and y’all, she glowed. Her skin literally glowed from how alive her spirit was, and I stood in awe.
When you see something like that- you know you are in the presence of greatness, of a miracle, and you should take off your shoes- for that is Holy ground. That is ground that God Himself has visited, and I wanted it more than anything I had ever wanted in my life.
Power and peace cohabitating in the chest of a woman who radiated happiness.
Sign me up.
1 Peter 3:3-4 REVISITED
The closer I got to the real Jesus, and who I knew Him, in my bones to be- the more the fact that the “gentle and quiet spirit” teaching as it had been presented to me, and my own experiences with God and who He celebrated me to be, didn’t theologically line up- REALLY bothered me.
So eventually, I rolled up my sleeves and I dug in. I mean, I got out my giant leather bound Hebrew-Greek Key Word study Bible and I Beth-Moored the pants off 1 Peter 3. Not because I was trying to change myself, but because I was now sure of who Jesus really was, and I was also sure that there had to be something really important missing from the “gentle and quiet spirit” teaching as I had heard it. You know, that you were supposed to be sweet, soft, and never worked up.
I’ve grown to never underestimate the power of perspective- the angle from which you view things. Everyone has a different one, and two people can look at the exact same thing from two different directions and legitimately see two completely different things. In fact, no two people can ever stand at exactly the same place at the same time- meaning they will never see exactly the same thing, at exactly the same time. Consider that the next time you feel frustrated- your perspective is 100 percent unique. It’s supposed to be!
The way we view the world has an unmatched affect on what we see and look for in this life, and the most amazing thing is, that our perspectives can and should be constantly growing and changing as we learn.
I grew up already thinking that God and everyone around me thought that I was “too much”, and so when I heard the “gentle and quiet spirit” verse, it already lined up with the story I had been hearing and repeating to myself my entire life.
If I am completely honest- it is what I saw and heard in that verse, because it’s what I was already looking for in that verse. Like it or not, we need our worlds to make sense- even if it’s a miserable world, at least we think we understand it.
But after encountering the real Jesus, and women who were strong and at peace, like Miss Lida Smith, I came back to 1 Peter 3:3-4 and heard these things instead…..
3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
First off, praise Jesus and Hallelujah for the word MERELY.
“Your adornment must not be MERELY external….”
I read this from the new perspective that Jesus loved and delighted in me, and saw the word MERELY. 1 Peter is saying don’t let your beauty, and all of your effort JUST be great hair, big gold jewelry, and fun clothes. He’s not saying you can’t have them or love them, he IS saying what we all know to be true- you’ve got to be more than how you look, and your efforts should do the same. Yes Lord.
Then, the big one:
4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
So what do gentle and quiet really mean? Not the way the church ladies taught it to me, but what do those words really mean?
First of all, the word gentle is most usually and immediately compared to my new jam, “meekness”. Because I had learned earlier from Lida that meekness is “great strength under control”, I didn’t revolt, I smiled and dug further in.
My Hebrew-Greek study aids firmly showed that the English translation of gentle to the word meek isn’t wholly accurate as meekness suggests weakness. However, the Greek word used in this text described gentle as
“a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness not in weakness, but in POWER. It is a virtue born in strength of character.”
COME ON WITH IT.
Another phrase used to describe this idea was “grace of the soul”.
And, perhaps one of my most favorite of all: The attitude of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist.
Ya’ll. Not only did He love me, not only did He delight in me, His heart was to transform my conflict and misery into PEACE with myself, not by being someone else, but by coming to peace with all that what was within me. You cannot be at peace and trying to annihialte and change everything at the same time- SO A big part of that peace was accepting that what He had made was GOOD. That as it was just stated above, that God’s dealings with me, and you, are good and we are not to dispute or resist them. We are to TRUST Him, even when it looks like we don’t fit anywhere.
It was like my spiritual self could breathe again reading those words.
To top it all off, my studies on the word “quiet” revealed this wasn’t about volume level (thank heaven’s because I am loud.), hallelujah, but about PEACE, being undisturbed. Like an undisturbed pond- clear, still, and at rest.
Power at peace- rest in my soul. No longer striving to earn His love or attention or approval, or people’s for that matter.
REST. No longer trying to live and make myself small. Instead embracing power and directing it to do great things, to love fearlessly, and to forge my own path. You can REST and let everyone else have their opinions, interpretations, and freak outs- because their response to your life is not your responsibility. That’s between them and the Lord.
Our responsiblity is to live like we are a child of the King, called beyond all that we can see or understand, and to step into all He has called us to be. In my opinion the more Unconventional, rebellious, and misunderstood the better.
WHY? Because Jesus Himself came and literally turned the religious world upside down. He offended just about every high ranking religious official by refusing to be owned by their system, and having eyes and a heart that only obeyed HIS FATHER> He challenged everything they thought they knew- He has not called us to walk mildly along in the crowd. Don’t miss His calling on your life just because you think it sounds crazy, or your family will hate it, or your Mom’s group won’t understand.
When I was fighting through all of this, I had no idea that God would literally shut doors in the Christian music world, and usher me into the world of contemporary secular music. He would dare me to just be a person who loved Jesus, and felt His pleasure when I sang- especially in non-church environments. No way to earn approval of men by being a worship leader,or spiritual teacher- He asked me to just be me, and He said that was more than enough. I cannot begin to express to you the joy, the freedom in my heart in this new place of life.
What I fought so hard to change in my spirit, temperment, and personality is exactly what HE alone knew I needed to do what He would call me to do- to chase down a big dream in the middle of the world, believe when all odds were against me, and show up in big ways to LIVE, and to be able to love people right where they were- not trying to change or convert them so that i would feel approved as a Christian.
It’s as unconventional as I ever could imagine, and yet- there is no doubt this is where He has called me. Nobody understands it, and for the first time in my life, nobody has to.
6 years ago, I was just barely stepping out and into the secular music world. I was invited to compete in The Recording Conservatory of Austin’s Singer/Songwriter competition- I made it to the finals, and in order to perform in the competition, I would have to sing my songs at a bar in Austin called The Mohawk. For the most part, this was my first ever show/performance NOT in a church setting. I was so nervous that I just shook, and it was also one of the first shows Ryan ever played guitar for me.
Here is how the Lord showed up to the most vulnerable place of my heart. I had started to dare to step out and learn to trust Him with the criticisms and judgments of others, including my own friends and family.
You will never guess who showed up at The Mohawk Bar in Austin, Texas late on a Sunday night. You’ll never guess who, after a full day of preaching 2 services, drove through downtown Austin traffic to some place he did not know, foundnd parking, paid a COVER FEE at the door, and made friends with the 300 pound bouncer named TINY.
My Dad. The person I was most terrified to disappoint. The person I was so afraid I would embarrass on this new path. The person I didn’t even ask to come, because I never thought he would be comfortable to come.
But He came because He wanted to, and I will never, ever forget looking back through that smoky bar and seeing my Dad- dressed liked Longmire: Starched shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots- smiling at me through the crowd as I dared to sing my heart out in a BAR.
Ya’ll. I had never known love like that. I had never experienced that kind of unconditional, limitless love.... and it floored me.
Don’t you dare underestimate the power and fierceness of your heavenly Father’s love for you - especially in the places where He calls us out from what we’ve known and what’s been expected of us. When we are willing to step out, regardless of what kind of kickback we may find- He MEETS US THERE.
Following Jesus doesn’t just mean you go on a mission trip, or get called into the ministry.
Following Jesus, for me, looks like stepping onto a stage at The Rustic here in San Antonio in a couple of weeks and singing my heart out because I feel His pleasure when I sing. I feel His pleasure when I sing- even in, and most especially in, a bar, at the rodeo, or in a honkytonk. And in that place, His glory shines- and you don’t have to understand it, but I absolutely love it.
If we submit our lives to the opinions, expectations, and interpretations of others- we will lead small, fearful lives that in no way reflect the glory and the Bigness of the God who made us. Who crafted every part of us- our talents, skills, inclinations, joys, and personalities.
But if we dare to bring every boulder of expectation, opinion, pressure, seed spoken into our hearts and minds to Jesus and abandon them to Him- refusing to pick them up again, and instead lock eyes with the One who delights in every part of your soul. The one who knows that when you hear that type of music, or see that type of art, or hear your children’s laughter, or stand back to look at your hard work and your heart swells with JOY and LIFE - His heart swells to.
This morning we have an opportunity to lay down our burdens- the expectations, the pressures, the opinions, the talking heads in your lives… that are sucking all of the oxygen out of the room- THEY ARE NOT JESUS, and He is big enough to handle all of them.
Submit to them no more. Let’s draw a line in the sand and say “Jesus- they are too heavy.” Let us instead lock eyes with the One who knows and stirs your soul- He will meet you on the water, step on out of that boat, and surprise you with His goodness and LOVE.