November 7, 2016

A Wholehearted Courage Story

Featured image for “A Wholehearted Courage Story”

A Note from Luminex: The blog post below comes from Pastor Jess Shults, and was originally published in August 2013 on We are grateful that Jess has given us permission to republish her post, and that she has added a few additional reflective thoughts at the end. While this is her story alone, we trust that you will find it edifying and inspiring. Enjoy!

Brené Brown defines courage as being able to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. It has taken me a long time to have courage. Finding courage was hard because my story seemed radically different than the story told by other women in my community.  In the Christian circles I grew up in, no one told my story and those who tried paid a great cost.

My story, the one I tell with my whole heart, is about being a wife to an incredible man, a mother of two precious boys, and a pastor of a daring congregation. My story is different than the story my mom tells, my sisters tell, the story other wives and mothers in my congregation tell and in many cases the story the church universal tells of the right way to be a Christian woman.  Stories that differ are often made wrong and so for a long time I only told part of my story because of the shame I experienced when I told it with my whole heart.

Before I found courage, it was easy to allow others to tell my story. That way I didn’t have to. And along the way, others took joy in trying to do so. They would tell the story they wished for me or a story they believed was more faithful to God’s role for women. For a long time, without even knowing I was, I let them. Why? Because just like everybody else I wanted people to like me, to accept me, and I thought the way to do that was to hide who I really was or only tell part of the truth.

My fears were reinforced by events along the way and the meaning I made from those experiences. One of those included a phone call a week after we began sharing the news that we were expecting a second child. The phone rang at about 9:00 p.m. and on the other end was one of the current church leaders offering his congratulations. After a little small talk, the real reason of the call was revealed. He said something like this, “As I work on the church budget for next year, I assume that I can write you in with a part-time position, rather than full-time, since you will have two kids.”  In shock I fumbled over my words lacking the ability to have a crucial conversation in that moment.

Even in the midst of my lack of courage, God was powerfully writing my story even when I resisted letting him. Experience taught me that the place of greatest peace for me and my family was when I choose to be faithful to my story. God’s story for my life included weaving together the roles of wife, mother and pastor in very full yet faithful ways.

In the midst of my struggle, I was invited to reflect on scripture passages where God had called his people by name: “Samuel, Samuel!” “Mary!” “Saul, Saul.” I heard, “Jess! This is what I made you for. You don’t have to hide, you don’t have to be filled with shame, you don’t have to pretend you have not clearly heard your name.”

When God called “Jess, Jess!” God was saying, “Jess, I have created you to be a wife, a mother and a pastor, and until you are willing to courageously tell that story and accept that this is your unique story, you won’t experience wholehearted life with me.”

This is my story, and mine alone. And I’m learning to tell it with my whole heart.

Postscript: As I reread what I wrote three years ago I am filled with gratitude for how the Holy Spirit spoke to me through leadership growth experiences like the Ridder Leadership Initiative and Faithwalking; or through individuals like my RCA coaches and significant colleagues in ministry.  Their affirmation, love and deep care helped me to find the courage to tell my story with my whole heart.  If you feel like your story is still struggling to unfold or you are uncertain about a calling in your life, I encourage you to participate in one of the many fabulous opportunities offered by the Great Lakes Region or our denomination (Reformed Church in America).



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