A Heart the Size of 12,000 Miles

For the first 18 years of my life I lived in Columbus, Ohio. For 17 of those years I lived in the same house. I attended two churches and three schools in all that time, surrounded by the same people. My parents had a solid and affectionate marriage (unless they attempted a home improvement project together), and I knew very few families affected by divorce or death. My childhood was a picture of stability. 29c4a78abd3f1b0c3e24c1d8b84e94d4 Ohio is a great place. The people are friendly. The housing and groceries are affordable. The weather isn’t unduly harsh in any season; and if you’re a college sports fan, Columbus is Mecca. Ohio is generally so well liked by its inhabitants, that people who grow up there tend to stick around for college. Then they start careers and nurture families there. As a middle schooler, I noticed that no one ever left. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – some went to Carolina beaches for summer vacation, and in extreme cases a Ohioan might go to Indiana or Illinois for college – but everyone seemed destined to boomerang back.

I loved my childhood in the heart-shaped state, but when I pictured my future, I hoped for a bit more variety than the Midwestern suburbs I called home. Even if just for a while, I wanted to fly far away to something new. To experience new smells and flavors, and people with stories different from my own. I wanted my life to be big and vibrant, or at least for a little while, broader and more colorful than the corn and soybean fields that are Ohio’s backyard. So at 18, I chose an adventure.

In a graduating class of 500, I was one of two to choose California for college. I attended a small, private school in a quaint, coastal city. There I met people who used words like stoked and dude in everyday sentences the way I used the words happy and Ben. Girls went to class with bikinis under brand name cutoffs and tank tops; guys wore board shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops stained with salt and sweat. Everyone looked beach-ready, but in a glossy magazine photo way. I’d never owned a pair of overalls in my life, but next to all the tanned, sleek bodies with their casual sophistication, it was as if every outfit I owned screamed farm girl!

Those four years at the beach were difficult but good for me. Despite my Midwestern-girl-next-door vibe, people were generally friendly and accepting. In California I discovered a love for learning and for the avocado. I learned that seafood is edible and delicious when fresh, that cyn is the abbreviation for canyon (that’s an embarrassing story), and that God wanted me to be a pastor. Even though I felt constantly oafish, that feeling got me to a moment every young woman needs – the moment when you look in the mirror and see yourself for exactly who you are, with all your strange beauty and glorious awkwardness, and you lift your chin and say, “This is who I am. And this is good.” And then you step into the sunshine and live.

Those early years in California helped me realize that life is too short and too important to let comparison or insecurity bridle me. I will probably never be thin. I will probably always laugh a little too loudly. I will continue to be more interested in maintaining my friendships than I am my appearance. I’ll bore people at parties with stories about my nieces and nephews. I’ll occasionally cry at work. I won’t stop myself from being goofy near babies. These are just a few of the things that make me, me. Sticking out in California helped me see myself. Because I felt the love of God shining on me even when I felt awkward, I was able to love myself in all my oafish glory.

That profound movement from insecurity to acceptance made me confident and courageous. It turned me into an adventurer who chooses newness and change, and who embraces discomfort and awkwardness, because those things are markers on a treasure map for the soul.

Though I think of it fondly, I never moved back to Ohio. Since my leap to the left coast, I’ve moved a total of 12,377 miles. I’ve lived at 11 different addresses across 5 states and Canada. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where being white and speaking English made me a minority. I’ve joined churches where standard potluck fare was spam and sushi rather than the chicken casseroles and apple pie of my childhood. I’ve also been able to travel to 18 countries on three continents.

This adventure has enriched me, but not without cost. I now have the eyes to see things like white privilege, poverty, racism, and systemic injustices – domestically and around the world. These are things you can’t unsee. They come with some nasty emotions like anger due to a sense of powerlessness, and a grief so thick it stains like mud. As painful as this descaling of my eyes has been, the good news is that these 12,000+ miles have enlarged my heart. My ability to listen well and be compassionate has expanded along with my worldview. Now I don’t want to only meet and hang out with people like me; that’s comfortable but boring. I’d rather seek out people who are different from me. I want to hear their stories, to laugh with them, to discover what makes them tick, and to have their friendship increase my vision for God’s handiwork.

Each new place, people and culture, has marked me in some way, but none have changed me fundamentally. I’m still Corrie – a friendly, somewhat clumsy, unsophisticated, indoorsy, Midwestern girl – but now I’m layered with other landscapes, stories, and experiences. When I look in a mirror now, I see the same person I was at 18, but there’s a shimmer. Like the moment when colors burst and blend as you slowly turn the barrel of a kaleidoscope, there’s a richness to me that wasn’t there at 18. If you look and listen carefully, you can see it in my gaze and hear it in my laugh.

The best way to learn a new neighborhood is to go out and get lost. Leave the GPS at home and go wander. Walk down a quiet side street or get in the car and take five random turns, just to see where they lead. It’s a little scary to do this, especially in a foreign country, but when you do the feelings of being lost and out-of-place fade quickly. Habitual wandering makes unknown landscapes familiar. And one day you will realize that those unassuming side streets are your best route home.

When Women Preach

(This post was originally published by the Commission on Biblical Gender Equality Blog of the Evangelical Covenant Church. To see the original post and comments, go here.)

My friend John (not his real name) is the lead pastor of a small church. One day, as we talked ministry over coffee, John said, “Women aren’t gifted preachers.” His manner was as startling to me as his message. He spoke casually and with assurance, like this was an indisputable fact. I asked John how many women he’d heard preach in his life. He said three. One was during summer camp, the other two during chapel services at Bible college.

In 2011, a Covenant church hired me as their interim associate pastor. Preaching and teaching were part of the job description. A married couple in the church believed so strongly that women should not preach, that they left the church shortly after I was hired. They’d never heard my testimony, heard me preach or seen any of my gifts in action. All they needed to know was that the new pastor was a woman.

Many Christians form negative conclusions about women preaching with a simple reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Sincere, devoted followers of Jesus, some of them my family and friends, believe that women who preach are sinning. But for those of us who’ve been called to ministry, and for the men that advocate for us, it’s not that easy. We believe these seemingly prohibitive passages – like all scripture – must be examined, interpreted and applied under the light of the full gospel. We believe these verses must be reconciled with passages like Galatians 3 and Ephesians 2:14 and 4:16.

I think this debate often comes down to a matter of authority. I can’t speak for all women, but I certainly didn’t go to seminary, become a pastor or get ordained to get attention and status. Not a step of my spiritual journey has been motivated by the desire to have spiritual authority over others. I wanted to serve God, the church and the world in love. More than anything, I minister out of obedience to God.

If I’d known how difficult a life’s work it is to lead and serve the church, this would not have been my recurring prayer since childhood: God, my life is yours. Show me how you want me to serve you.

If I’d know that, as a female pastor, pain and persecution would more regularly come from my brothers and sisters in Christ than it would from unbelievers, I might not have had the courage to follow the call to ministry.

It’s this call that will not let me escape or quit or back down from the pulpit. God called me. God’s love compels me to preach. Sometimes I’m so in awe of the privilege and responsibility of preaching, that I feel like nothing I say could be enough. I wonder – who am I to pass on God’s story? (Really, who are any of us?) Then I remember that God gave me the gifts and talents needed to shepherd his people, and it all comes down to this – who am I to squander them?

As the children of God, we’ve been beautifully crafted in God’s image, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, joyfully adopted into one family, and commissioned to spread the gospel. Because of Jesus, I have a testimony that can encourage the broken-hearted. My testimony is just as critical as any of my brothers’. God called me to add my voice to the chorus of preachers around the world spreading the gospel.

When I preach, I’m usually trembling inside. It’s a quaking of both holy fear and abiding joy. My sermons spring from the joy of what Christ has done for me and for us all. As a woman, I don’t preach just because I can, because I’m entitled, or because I think I’m great. I preach because God is great.

I preach because of God and for God.

I preach because the gospel heals and I want to spread that medicine.

I preach to worship God and so that others might worship God.

I preach to proclaim God’s matchless glory.

I preach as surrender to God.

I think if you’re doing it right, preaching requires surrender. Surrender of ego, personal opinion, and your agenda for your congregation. To preach well we must first listen well, to the Spirit that is in us and in the text.

Preaching requires all that we are. In my experience as a congregant, the most powerful sermons always have personal stories. When preachers are vulnerable and share their stories with others, something incarnational happens; God takes a seed from one heart and sows it into another.

My experiences as a girl and as a woman are elemental parts of my testimony. After I preach, women often come up to me and tell me that the sermon connected with them in powerful ways, ways that the stories and experiences of a man could not. That is why I believe God has called women and men to preach, so that his gospel might penetrate every human heart.

If you believe that women aren’t gifted preachers, I invite you to listen to the sermons from Triennial XIV. Using a variety of styles, each of the featured speakers powerfully preached the gospel. Through these women, the Spirit brought healing, accountability and forgiveness to me and hundreds of others. I was challenged, inspired and empowered. Their sermons continue to impact my life.

Our sisters have the good news in them, news that can transform our souls.

Will we listen?

Matryoshka Syndrome


As a child I played for hours with a matryoshka doll. If you are not familiar with them, matryoshkas are wooden dolls first fashioned in 19th century Russia. Their smoothed wood surfaces are painted with vibrant colors and intricate designs. My doll had a crimson and rose design exactly like the picture above. My childhood delight in the matryoshka was not just about its artistic beauty; the doll was like a treasure box with ten more treasure boxes hidden inside. Each matryoshka has a seam and when I opened mine up, nestled inside was a smaller but equally beautiful doll. I’d lift out the next figure, take a few moments to study her design and then open that one to find another, and another, and another until I got to a baby matryoshka no bigger than a quarter. I’d take them all out and line them up in a row, full-grown to infant, studying the changes in their shiny coats. I imagined them a family of sisters posed for a portrait or perhaps images of a single girl captured at each stage of her development. There was something magical in the metamorphosis before me — the infant whole, her design simple, with every doll down the line growing bigger, her planes and slopes an ever-expanding canvas for the artist’s brush.

Twenty-some years later, the matryoshka is gone from my parents’ home but I thought of it today as I shared coffee with my friend Natalie. Natalie and I were catching up for the first time in several months and as such conversations go, we started off with general updates about our lives but were soon soul-deep in a conversation about the complex decisions and struggles we are facing and the spiritual weight of it all. We discovered ourselves asking the same profound question — what is stopping me from doing the thing that is good for me?

Natalie and I are intelligent women. We can easily identify what we want, what we need and how we can get to where we want or need to be. We agreed that the sticking point is often that we don’t do, that we don’t follow through. We wonder if that’s because we don’t have the courage or the energy to tackle what seem like a thousand matryoshka-like steps to our goals.

I’ve always had an expressive personality. When I was a little girl and I felt something (anything), I felt it strongly. I expressed my feelings in a spirit of freedom and exuberance, my volume and tone matching the fervor of my feelings. But as I grew from a girl to a teen, I received so many messages that said my feelings were too strong and that it was not okay to express my feelings strongly. Ultimately, the message I heard was that my feelings didn’t matter that much and therefore I didn’t matter that much. Inundated with these messages, I began to filter and dilute my expressions and to hold my ‘unacceptable’ feelings within me. At first it was like swallowing a zoo, but the longer I kept my cage closed, the more my feelings settled down. Eventually they diminished from roars to squeaks and moans dull enough to be mistaken for wind passing through branches.

From girlhood my life seemed to move with warp speed and I was suddenly in my mid-twenties in a counseling session talking about the abuse I was experiencing and about body image and some self-destructive behaviors that I felt powerless to overcome. As a competent professional and a seminary graduate, I believed that counseling was an investment in my health. As Corrie sitting in a room with a counselor, my choice felt way more scary than healthy because it meant reopening the zoo and letting all the animals out. I fought the stupid cultural stigma of needing counseling. Those old voices that told me I was making too much of my struggles rose up and taunted me like ghouls. I was taking steps toward a healthier me but I felt weaker and phony. Most days I strode through my work and relationships tall and confident. While counseling affirmed the strengths I had, it also forced me to see and feel the things that I had kept hidden within me for so long. Like when you walk across a sturdy lawn and your ankle rolls in a soft patch, there were now moments in each day when I stumbled upon and sunk into my vulnerabilities. After a few months of sessions it seemed like my life was just one big soft patch and my soul felt swampy — but it wasn’t all bad. It was also healing to have someone listen to my feelings and not minimize what they found. Wonder of wonders, my counselor thought that my emotions were natural, healthy even. With her it was acceptable to have a stale, zoo-full of feelings and it was safe to let them out.

Today, over a creamy chai latte I shared some of my story with Natalie. I reflected on how much I’ve healed and how I continue to grow from the seeds of that counseling. I’ve learned that there is a very healthy medium between suppressing my feelings and letting them control me. Sometimes it still seems a dangerous and scary thing to acknowledge my feelings to others, especially when I need to tell someone they’ve hurt me, but I need to tell them. There is a high cost to denying, diminishing and suppressing my feelings; when I do that, I drown myself in emotional debt.

A few weeks ago I received a series of emails from a man who was disappointed and frustrated by my actions. Knowing that few resolutions happen over email, I called him to ask for his perspective and to share my own. We cleared up some misconceptions and I accepted responsibility as I needed to. The teenage me would have never picked up the phone. The twenty-something me would have called but stuck to the surface and the facts and quickly ended the conversation. But the woman I am today made the call and took another very important step. Toward the end of our conversation, I kindly said that the language and tone of his emails made me feel belittled and patronized. I told him that my relationship with him is important to me but that I felt his method of giving me feedback was hurtful and therefore difficult to receive. I asked him to please call me or come to me in person the next time he has an issue with me. He had very strong response to my feedback but that’s okay. One of the most important things I have learned over the last decade is that in conflict you can’t control someone’s response, you can only control what and how you communicate. Though confrontation and working toward resolution is messy and difficult and not always successful, it is very important that we try our best.

Jesus taught that greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of your heart, soul and mind. He said that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. I don’t know how you are wired, but for me it’s very easy to love God. As an individual and as a pastor, my passion is to love and care for others. It’s the “as yourself” part where Jesus and I wrestle. I’ve never been great at loving myself…I guess I just heard too many messages that told me that my feelings didn’t matter and so it wasn’t worth speaking up. But I am trying to love myself better and in many ways I’m succeeding. Being honest with that man and respectfully acknowledging that his words and methods hurt me was not just about me loving my neighbor, it was also a significant expression of me loving myself!

A few years ago one of my mentors asked me if I felt that I had a voice. That stunned me; it was a new question with a devastating answer. In an instant I said no and in the next instant I was saturated with grief over all of the times that I stewed and suffered in silence. As a girl, when my feelings were rejected and I began to stuff them inside — in that abyss of powerlessness — I surrendered my voice. As Natalie and I were talking today, the image of the matryoshka doll popped into my head. For so many years I lived out of the smallest version of myself. I was like a matryoshka frozen in the infant stages; I spoke only with a diminished or diminutive voice. The reality is that I am a woman worth so much, capable of so much more!


How many of us live as a shadow of our true selves? How many of us lead with a shaky whisper when our voices should ring with confidence? Learning to love ourselves makes all the difference. It’s no surprise to me that Katie Perry’s song Roar and Sara Bareilles’ Brave have become huge hits, especially with young girls. It seems like an epidemic, so many girls receive messages that they are worth less than others, especially boys, and that their feelings are not an important or acceptable part of the human experience. Maturity teaches us that these are lies. We are full of worth. Emotions are an important, God-created part of our being. This is so fundamentally true that even women who don’t know or love God are writing songs to encourage girls to find their voices and speak up.

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
when they settle ‘neath your skin
kept on the inside and no sunlight
sometimes a shadow wins
but I wonder what would happen if you
say what you want to say
and let the words fall out
honestly, I want to see you be brave”  (Sara Bareilles)

“I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
scared to rock the boat and make a mess
so I sat quietly, agreed politely…
I’ve got the eye of a tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me ROAR” (Katie Perry)

Nesting-Dolls-dolls-2282268-353-333It takes a lot of love to heal from the toxic messages we hear. It takes time to rediscover your voice and courage to use it. Maturity born of mistakes teaches us to live large and use our voices without harming our neighbors. This is difficult work, but it’s so important to living an abundant life that it’s worth any cost.