In the summer of 2013, a piece called, The Church Lady in the Mirror was published here at Christian Woman magazine with a survey attached asking ladies to respond to a few questions about their interactions with church women. The book, Soles Defining Souls, is a result of your generosity, transparency and love. Below is an excerpt.
Let’s face it, the topic can be tricky to explore, but with a fun shoe analogy and some creativity, the journey needn’t be excruciating! We can, in fact, take a painless peek into different sisters’ soles to get some insight into why they “do what they do”. Having taken that walk, we’ll learn not only how to keep our own soles clean and in good repair . . . but also how we can stop stepping on each other’s toes in the process.
The higher the heel, the closer to heaven!
“Hey, Stella!” Much like the dramatic scene from A Streetcar Named Desire, our Stella Stiletto leaves an impression that is not easily forgotten. Unfortunately, the imprint is often left on poor, unsuspecting toes. She’s a strong personality, and everybody knows and reveres her . . . or fears her.
Stella sat at the kitchen table with her Bible and devotional book open. Outside, the sun was just peeking out from behind the mountain. She sat quietly, taking in the sweet silence—the calm before the storm. Her husband and three preschoolers would soon awaken, and she would be thrown into overdrive.
Taking a few deep breaths, she lined up her colored markers on the crisp tablecloth while it was still clean, picked up her cell and snapped a picture of her quiet, still-life moment. In an hour the table top would be covered with sticky Cheerios, spilled milk and slopped coffee. Sighing, she uploaded the shot to her favorite app that posts scheduled, encouraging messages to various social media feeds throughout her day. A lifesaver! As the women’s ministry leader, and a busy wife and mother, whatever she could find to make things more efficient was a bonus.
Having saved the entry, Stella clicked open her calendar app and let out a gasp. She had forgotten to order more of the church business cards, visitor records, and their popular little green Jesus Knows Your Name brochures.
What’s wrong with you? People are depending on you . . . is it so hard to make a phone call?
Shaking off the inner condemnation, she set a reminder for first thing Monday morning. She wouldn’t forget again.
Three hours later, Stella slid her manicured feet into her favorite six-inch spiked heels and clacked across the garage toward the freshly washed SUV. She was already exhausted, and the day had only begun. Just when they were ready to leave for church, their three-year-old twins had thrown temper tantrums, stripping off their tights and shoes, kicking and refusing to redress. Her husband Bob could not understand why she was fighting tears, as he found the whole scene to be rather entertaining. He captured the moment on his cell phone to share with his mom.
Soon, it wasn’t just tears Stella was fighting. She lashed out at his insensitivity. His mother already thought Stella was an incompetent mother, did he really need to add fuel to her fire? With the mention of his mother, Bob’s voice rose to meet Stella’s and they began to bicker, both of them throwing sharp, verbal darts.
Becky, their impressionable five-year-old, had taken in the whole ugly spat and acted up too. Perhaps her mother-in-law was right. Maybe she was a horrible mother after all.
The ten-minute drive to church felt like an hour with the weight of Bob’s hurtful words still hanging in the air. Pulling into the church parking lot, Stella’s heart sunk at the sight of the bouncing woman waving madly. Can’t I have five minutes to gather my thoughts and pray before being needed?
‘‘Stella!” A serious, gregarious woman continued her dramatic dancing gestures.
As if she couldn’t be seen jumping about in her oversized, unfashionable galoshes. Mercy no. Not this morning.
Waiting in front of the church was Betty Boot, the head of children’s church, shut-ins’ visitation, and maintenance ministry. The woman had her feet, and hands, in everything. Clearly she was going to ask for help of some sort. Maybe if she wasn’t spreading herself so thin, she wouldn’t be bothering me every week.
Plastering on a smile, Stella managed to speak under her breath through her toothy grin. “Bob, take the kids to the children’s wing . . . and please don’t share your newest shame video with anyone!”
It was show time.
Swinging open the car door, she flung her shiny shoes onto the uneven gravel parking lot. It was beyond her why the congregation hadn’t raised money to pave it after more than ten years in this state. If the men on the church board had to navigate it in heels, it would have been finished toute suite. With determination, she pushed back her shoulders and walked confidently toward the wild, waving Betty. When Stella’s ankle twisted beneath her, she went down on the ground like the post-makeover scene from Miss Congeniality. Jumping up, she competently recovered and continued her walk, smiling through the pain.
Having grown-up as a pastor’s daughter, Stella had known her role well. She was bred to lead. To ‘live up to a higher standard’ as her dad would say. For a brief time as a newlywed, she had found a friend with whom she could unmask and be real, without judgment or condemnation. But, alas, a transfer had taken her friend miles away and they drifted apart. Stella had yet to find anyone else she could trust in that way. Women could be so catty.
Sure, Stella had over a thousand friends and followers on social media, but there was no one of substance in her real world. Being a ministry director, she felt the need to keep smiling and showing the joy and love of Jesus—regardless of how she really felt.
Oh, how she wished she had someone to talk to. Someone she could share her marriage problems with in confidence. She had once tried to talk to her mom, but as her parents’ relationship was far from perfect, her mother’s only response was, “You made your bed; lie in it.”
And lie she did.
“Betty! Hi!” Stella enveloped Betty into a big hug. The warmth from her complicated friend’s embrace felt good in comparison to Bob’s coldness that morning. As much as Betty sometimes drove her crazy, she always made Stella feel loved. “How are you doing? You look a bit stressed; everything okay?”
“Stella, I hate to bother you, but since you asked, I just need to tell you that Pais . . . I mean, uuuummm, one of the women had to bow out of the Children’s Church rotation due to scheduling changes at work.” Betty shifted her weight from one foot to the other in a strange, nervous dance.
“Relax, Betty!” Stella said, giving her friend’s arm a squeeze, “I’ve got it aaalllll under control. I’ve been meaning to speak to a few different ladies who don’t seem to sign up to help with anything. God will provide the workers!” With a confident wink from Stella, the two entered the quiet sanctuary with only an hour to prepare before crowds would appear. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones, Betty. Let’s be sure to keep joyful. We don’t want to be crushing anyone’s spirit!”
Oh, Stella. So many people are watching her. She’s been stuck behind the mask of perfectionism for so long, she’s struggling to breathe. How can anyone expect to be joyful and capable 24/7? As a leader, it’s not easy for her to keep all the women in the congregation happy. In fact, it’s impossible as she can’t be responsible for anyone’s happiness, but she learned as a young child that as long as she was wearing a smile, it seemed infectious to those around her.
And so smile she does.
This fictional interaction represents many of the Stella stories I’ve heard.
Don’t believe me? Let’s hear from a few Stella Stilettos:
“Have definitely found cliques operating that exclude some people. Because I’m friendly by nature, I’ve had no trouble finding friends. However, I realize how hard it would be for a shy person or an unhealed person to find friends. Sadly, these are the ones who need it most! I often make jokes that I’ve survived 32 years of church life so I must be tough. It can be hard for people who are easily offended, those with rejection issues etc., because we are a motley crew really. Even I offend people without even trying! I’ve offended 2 women by accident that I know of, there could be more!”
“I recognize that I fall into the trap of putting my ‘good Christian girl’ face on while interacting with people at my Church. I struggle and sin just as much as anyone else but often find I have to be a ‘good’ example so [I] don’t let too many people in.”
~27-year-old Australian Stiletto
Lori is an award winning Canadian author, speaker, wife, mother and servant of The Cobbler. Her heart is for hurting and lost women, and for the Lord. She has walked in many different soles, through many different seasons. Connect with Lori online at www.solesdefiningsouls.com.